The Buffalo Sabres took part in a grueling practice Monday morning at HSBC Arena to prepare for an equally strenuous week.
The Sabres leave for Chicago tomorrow, to begin a stretch of five games in eight nights.
“Today was our last hard practice day,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “We wanted to get a real good one in. It was probably as tough as you can make it but I thought we accomplished what we want to get done.”
After playing back-to-back games against the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings this weekend, the coaching staff opted to give the players Sunday off. The team made up for it Monday in a nearly 90-minute skate that featured an inter-squad scrimmage.
“Sometimes you wish you don’t get those days [off],” Derek Roy
joked. “But we needed to work on some things so I think we worked on them and worked hard at them all practice long… We made some steps today.”
“It was a good practice to get everybody back at it physically and mentally as well,” Teppo Numminen said.
The Sabres will have to be ready as only one of the next five match-ups will be played at HSBC Arena. The team will travel more than 5,500 miles over the next week to Chicago, Dallas and Florida.
However, that could prove to work to the Sabres’ advantage.
Buffalo has been solid on the road this season, particularly on special teams. They are ranked second in the NHL, killing 89.9 percent of penalties on the road. At home the Sabres have only killed 84 percent.
The same pattern applies to the power play. Buffalo is ranked fourth in the League on the road, capitalizing on 24.3 percent of opportunities with the man-advantage. They have only scored on 17.8 percent of chances when at home.
“We’ve had some good games on the road. We have to keep that up, we have to go into another team’s building and stick to a game plan,” Ryan Miller
said. “The biggest thing that is going to help us moving forward is learning a little bit from the Red Wings game. We hung with a tough team on back-to-back nights and I don’t think we were really that far off.”
“We want to play real solid, tight, stingy, defensive hockey and look for opportunities offensively,” Craig Rivet said. “I think that was our mentality throughout our first part of the season playing on the road. It’s worked for us so far.”
Ruff said he will continue to rotate seven defensemen in the lineup for the time being.
Chris Butler and Nathan Paetsch were healthy scratches for Friday’s match-up against the Rangers, while Butler played in favor of Henrik Tallinder in Saturday’s game against the Red Wings.
“Butler has played well enough to warrant staying in the lineup,” Ruff said. “I don’t want to start this vicious circle of plucking too many guys in and out. Some games you are going to have a bad game and some games you are going to play real well. That’s just the way it goes. At the same time, if Butler is going to be here he needs to play.”
Ruff also addressed the status of Maxim Afinogenov. The winger has missed the last three games with a groin injury he suffered Jan. 3 after taking a hard hit from Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
“He’s doing better,” Ruff said. “Treatment yesterday was the first time he’s felt pain-free and rode the bike. He’s progressing.”
Afinogenov missed 25 games last season due to a groin injury. He has 12 points (2+10) in 34 games this year.
QUOTABLE: “It’s kind of like a golf swing. That’s how I try to explain things to people. You go to the range and you’re thinking about six different things: Where is the weight on this foot, back hinge, the elbow, all this stuff. Goaltending is a lot like that. My stance, my hand positioning, where I am in the crease, how much I challenge, my glove side not being too low or too high, trying to get dialed in. The last few games I’ve felt good… I’m starting to feel more like where I think I need to be.”
on making 88 saves in the last two games.