Special teams were the focus of Thursday’s practice at HSBC Arena, as the Buffalo Sabres prepared to get back on track.
After sustaining a pair of losses to Pittsburgh and Ottawa this week, the Sabres want to try and rebound with back-to-back games this weekend; hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, then traveling to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Pat Kaleta remained the only player unable to participate in the skate, still healing from a foot injury, while Andrej Sekera
is continuing to provide some competition on the blueline.
Sekera has missed 15 of the 17 games as a healthy scratch, but found himself back in the lineup last night in place of Steve Montador. The defenseman responded by scoring his third goal of the season, beating Brian Elliott in the third period and putting the Sabres on the board.
“I thought he was good. Obviously he scored the goal that got us going,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s got good quickness with the puck. The play he made on the goal, it was a quickness play. The plays where I’d like to see him improve a little bit are the shots on the power play that have gone wide of the net. We spent a good period of time with practice today on the power play and trying to get shots in the paint and try to get shots around the goaltender.”
Sekera wasn’t the only change Ruff made to the defense in Wednesday’s game against the Sens. He also split up the tandem of Chris Butler and Craig Rivet, pairing them with Sekera and Toni Lydman respectively.
“We just tried to get as much mobility as we thought we could get against their other top line,” Ruff said. “I felt for the most part it wasn’t the pair breakdown that hurt us. We had some individual mistakes… but I liked what the pairs were doing for most of the game.”
Ruff would not confirm whether Montador would be back in the lineup tomorrow night against Carolina, but did say that the breakdowns were in part due to the frequency of the contests with the upcoming Olympic break.
“I think sometimes lack of focus with the number of games we’re playing has a little bit to do with it, but every team has to do it,” Ruff said. “I think you see from different nights more and more mistakes. We’ve seen it in our game obviously… but you’ve got to be ready to play, you’ve got to be prepared to do your job on your shift and you can’t be walking around looking for excuses.
“We take a lot of pride in staying consistent and staying on track. The last two games have been disappointing; getting a two goal lead in Pittsburgh and coming back in this game only to give two points away, I think we felt even more pain last night than we did in Pittsburgh.
“Obviously guys are upset but you have to put it away and get ready for tomorrow.”