HSBC Arena looked a bit empty on Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Lindy Ruff opted for an optional skate that saw only about a dozen players take the ice, in preparation for a busy month ahead.
The Buffalo Sabres will play 15 games in a span of 27 days in the upcoming weeks, including two stints of four games in six nights.
“That’s just the way it’s going to be this year with a condensed schedule,” netminder Ryan Miler said, who was among those absent from the skate. “Take your rest where you can get it.”
“Some guys that we made it optional for decided to come out because they felt it’s the best way to get ready,” Ruff said. “In Ryan’s case, with the number of games he’s played, Sunday was a day off and he takes a day off today – that’s pretty good rest for him. You look at the bulk of the schedule coming up, I think he knows his body better than anybody, knows where he’s at and we’ll just stay in close touch with him.”
Beginning with Monday’s 3-0 win in Toronto, Buffalo has begun a stretch of seven games in 14 days. With little time to rest, Ruff said Tuesday’s practice may be a sign of things to come as the grind continues.
“It just seems that with this season be as compacted as it is, this is a very unique schedule,” Ruff said. “We’re going to have to make adjustments that maybe we’ve never made before.”
One such modification? Balanced ice time.
“When you look at some teams that have to play players 25 - 26 minutes in a tough schedule, I don’t know if that works,” Ruff said. “If you’re playing four [games] in six [nights], I don’t know if there is a player that can handle that workload and be fresh and ready night-in and night-out. We’ve attacked it from almost a four-line standpoint, some nights three lines… I think these type of ice times are going to pay dividends for us.”
One player that did participate in the on-ice session was captain Craig Rivet. The defenseman has been skating on his own after suffering a knee/ankle injury in last week’s win in Philadelphia, but has not been practicing full-board.
“He did well. If you want to define well, he made it through today,” Ruff said. “I don’t think, if we had a game tomorrow, that he’d be ready to play, but we will get through practice tomorrow and see where we’re at.”
Ruff also commented on the Keith Ballard incident, with a sympathetic voice. The Florida Panthers’ defenseman accidentally struck his teammate
, goaltender Tomas Vokoun, in the head with his stick after Ilya Kovalchuk scored in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Thrashers. Ballard was upset at the goal and attempted to break his stick on the crossbar, striking the netminder in the process. Vokoun was taken off the ice by paramedics and later hospitalized.
“There’s nobody in the world that feels worse than Keith Ballard. Nobody,” Ruff said. “There was no intent to harm, that was just utter frustration. That’s more about being scored against as a defenseman and I’ve been there where you want to break your stick over something. And I’m pretty sure I have. It’s a tough play when you’re asking players to bring a lot of emotions to the plate, it’s a tough play to criticize… when you’re asking players to show a lot of emotion and care about being scored against and care about winning games. He reacted to what he felt was a big goal against and that’s what happens.”
Watch Ruff's full interview by clicking play: