The players in the Buffalo Sabres dressing room were happy to hear that coach Ted Nolan had signed a contract extension and that the interim label had been removed from his title.
Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford are two players that have played well since Nolan took over. They combined for four goals and seven assists in the 20 games prior to Nolan’s arrival but have been Buffalo’s most consistent offensive weapons, especially since the start of the new calendar year.
During an 11-game stretch from March 3 to March 23, they combined for 15 points (10+5).
“I obviously feel like I’ve flourished playing under him,” Stafford said after practice at First Niagara Center. “I love playing under him and he’s a guy that I think is perfect for this type of rebuild.
"He understands what guys are going through and the right buttons to push, whether or not to be hard or soft on certain guys. There’s not a lot of complicated things that he brings up. It’s very, very straightforward, very simple. He wants you to compete and show up and not take this for granted, any opportunity that you’re up here."
Ennis started the season on the wing but has developed into the team’s top center under Nolan’s watch. Nolan has helped him get back on his game.
“I think he’s just brought back a little bit more competitiveness and a little bit more confidence that I had in the past years,” he said. “I kind of was slumping there a little bit before he came in and he’s helped me out a lot.”
Ennis currently leads the team in goals and points. He has 19 goals – just on the cusp of his second-career 20-goal season – and 38 points.
“He gave me confidence and told me, ‘Don’t be a robot out there. Go out and play your game. You’re creative but play hard,’” Ennis said. “It’s kind of my game right there is to be offensive and creative but at the same time kind of play with a little edge. He’s kind of let me do that. ”
Nolan has tried to instill a message that everything on the ice must be earned and that includes not only goals and wins, but ice time as well.
Ville Leino was pulled from the team’s game in Nashville on Thursday after feeling light-headed during his first shift. He underwent further testing and did not play Saturday night at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He was back on the ice for practice on Monday and said afterward that he was diagnosed with a type of migraine.
“Your eyes have a delay so it took me a couple of days. I couldn’t really focus much,” Leino said. “Your eyes are delayed, so you talk to someone and you don’t realize you’re talking to him because your eyes fall away. It’s a weird feeling but I’m feeling better now.”
Leino said he didn’t feel well before the game, but when it didn’t pass during his first shift, he was taken into the dressing room for testing.
“I knew it just a couple minutes before the game but sometimes you have feeling like that and they just go away. But this time, they stuck through during the game and it’s a little worrying,” he said. “I wanted to go back to try one more shift but the trainers said not to go because you’re going delayed. So if somebody hits you, you might not even feel it. Something bad might happen so it was better to stay out.”
Leino said he doesn’t anticipate any further issues and that he should be ready to play Tuesday night when the Sabres host the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m.
Goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, defensemen Tyler Myers and Alexander Sulzer and forwards Chris Stewart, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell all did not practice as they are recovering from various injuries.
Rookie forward Nicolas Deslauriers did not practice for unspecified reasons.
88 Cory Conacher – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
19 Cody Hodgson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 65 Brian Flynn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
32 John Scott – 37 Matt Ellis – 23 Ville Leino
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 4 Jamie McBain
20 Henrik Tallinder – 5 Chad Ruhwedel
31 Matt Hackett
50 Nathan Lieuwen