As it had been for much of training camp, the focus of practice on Wednesday continued to be on systems and getting the little details right. It wasn’t until the end of the session that Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan addressed something that’s likely been on the players’ minds – that opening night is only a day away.
The Sabres will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday at 7 p.m. at First Niagara Center and it means a definitive fresh start.
“The way we’ve been talking in the last week, we can tell it’s a different feeling coming into this year,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It’s always exciting getting the season going, but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Nolan said his wife asked him Tuesday night about how he felt going into his first opening night as a coach since 2007.
Nolan said it was the first time he’d really put much thought into it being his first season opener in that long because he’d been so busy trying to prepare the team for the upcoming season.
“I’ll be nervous like everybody else,” he said. “I thought about it today on the ice and mentioned to the players, whether you’re on the ice for 50 years or it’s your first time, opening night is always exciting. There are always butterflies floating around like crazy. If it doesn’t happen then something’s going to be wrong.”
It’ll also be Nolan’s first home opener for the Sabres since 1996. He re-joined the organization after 20 games had already been played last season.
“As I mentioned when I first got here, my body left, but my heart and soul’s always stayed here, so to coach the Buffalo Sabres once again on opening night is pretty special and pretty exciting,” he said.
One of the players who will be experiencing opening night for the first time will be Sam Reinhart. The second-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft is set to play on a line with Cody Hodgson and captain Brian Gionta. Nolan hopes that putting Gionta on his right wing will ease some of the nerves Reinhart will inevitably have.
“We know what he has to offer and now he has to deliver it in a big man’s game. He can’t afford to be nervous,” Nolan said. “He’s got to go right in and play as best as he can. I’m quite sure the vets will help him get through those early jitters.”
ENROTH MEETING HIS GOALS
The last time Jhonas Enroth started an opening night, he was in goal for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League back in 2010. He’ll be between the pipes Thursday night for the Sabres’ first game of the 2014-15 season after a stellar training camp.
He’s been looking forward to starting Thursday’s game since last season ended.
“That was my goal going into training camp,” he said. “I’m a little bit more excited and ready to go.”
He entered training camp in a goaltending battle with Michal Neuvirth. Enroth shined in the preseason, winning both games he played and allowing only one goal on 58 shots.
However, he knows the healthy competition is still open and Neuvirth will eventually get another chance to play.
“It’s only for one game, I think. I have to stay humble and keep performing well. Otherwise Michal’s going to take it over,” he said. “I know it’s a tough competition and I’m sure it’s going to be a couple games that Michal’s going to play well and you guys are probably going to call him the starter.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 23 Sam Reinhart – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 65 Brian Flynn – 17 Torrey Mitchell
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
6 Mike Weber – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 24 Tyson Strachan
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
On Tuesday, the Sabres announced that five players were placed on injured reserve. Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe, Patrick Kaleta, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett will not start the season on the active roster.
Pysyk could start practicing again sometime this week while McCabe, who has missed the last two days with a lingering injury, could be out for another week. McCabe’s injury was first thought to just be a day-to-day injury.