After a whirlwind of a weekend off the ice, the Buffalo Sabres were met by some new faces at practice Sunday morning.
Forward Chris Stewart and goaltender Jaroslav Halak joined the team on the ice at First Niagara Center for their first practice with the team since being acquired from the St. Louis Blues on Friday for Steve Ott and Ryan Miller.
Between the trade Friday and the sudden resignation of president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine on Saturday, there have been a lot of distractions for a team that’s now won its past three games to deal with.
Interim coach Ted Nolan, who was brought in by LaFontaine in November to help steer the on-ice product back in the right direction, is locked in on what the team needs to do to have success moving forward.
“I think we’re all numb right now so right now, we’re just going to try to get this team focused on the Dallas Stars and that’s our next opponent,” he said. “We’ve got two new players in here and they come into this situation.”
As far as his future with the team is concerned and a possible contract extension, Nolan said he didn’t he didn’t think it was the right time to discuss those matters.
“When you’re emotional, you never want to make emotional comments on anything,” he said. “Yes, we did talk about a contract. Right now, it’s not about the contract. It’s about what’s transpired in this organization, it’s about what happened to a very dear friend and we’ll leave it at that.”
The Sabres jumped on a plane to Dallas after practice in preparation of a Monday night meeting with the Stars. Tyler Ennis should be ready to play after missing the past two games with general body soreness, Jhonas Enroth will start in goal and Stewart will play on a line with Matt D’Agostini and Cody Hodgson.
“The younger players, they need direction and they need coaching,” Nolan said. “They don’t need to hear all this stuff. The one thing about hockey, they go on the ice and they play.”
D’Agostini played with both Stewart and Halak when he was with St. Louis from 2009-13 and also played with Halak when both were in the Canadiens organization.
When D’Agostini was traded from the Blues to the Devils last season, Halak told him they’d be on the same team again at some point down the road.
“I told him we might meet again and here we are,” Halak said.
D’Agostini is looking forward to playing with his old – and new – teammates.
“Definitely no slouches that we go back so we’re happy to have them,” he said.
With the NHL Trade Deadline set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, more trades occurring that involve the Sabres would not be out of the realm of possibility. The two newest Sabres could potentially be on the move as well.
Both Stewart and Halak have heard the rumors and aware of the possibility that Buffalo may not be their final destination this season.
“As long as I’m here I’m just going to focus 100 percent of my energy on winning hockey games for the Buffalo Sabres,” Stewart said.
The Blues are currently battling for the top spot in the Western Conference and are preparing to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. The Sabres, on the other hand, sit in 30th place in the League and will miss the playoffs for the second season in a row.
“Obviously it’s tough when you’re traded from almost being the first one to being the last one,” Halak said. “But I’m here and I’m going to try to do my best here when I get a chance.”
Stewart is also looking forward to a new opportunity with the Sabres.
“I’ll tell you, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at first, but if you think I’m going to come in here and pout and feel sorry for myself, that’s not the kind of person that I am,” he said. “So I’ve got to make the best of this situation and look at the positives. They’ve got a good young team here.”
With Ott now in St. Louis, Nolan said he won’t look to name a new captain right away.
“I don’t think anyone can replace a captain like Steve Ott right now. We’ll pass around the leadership,” Nolan said.
He then singled out Drew Stafford as a player that’s really impressed him lately as a leader.
“We’re going through an emotional period right now and the way Drew handled himself [after] losing one of his close friends and losing your captain, he really stepped up the other night in that room and took the lead,” Nolan said. “He kept his personal feelings behind so that’s what we’re all trying to do right now.”