Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Ted Nolan's head coaching job this season might be akin to playing the role of one of those Chinese plate spinners. When it's balanced, it's a pretty amazing feat considering what he has to work with. He had the hockey world gazing in wonderment at his act as the Buffalo Sabres bench boss managed to make the Sabres look like a playoff contender for a few weeks.
During the Buffalo Sabres recent 10-3 hot streak, one which included two, four-game winning streaks, Nolan was able to delicately balance one-line scoring, rock-solid defense from his top-pairings and exceptional goaltending. But that came to an end the last two games.
The balancing act has been thrown out of whack in back-to-back 5-1 losses. Nolan's top line of Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis turned cold. His "Twin Towers" on defense, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, were a combined minus-10, while his goalies stopped only 50 shots of the 59 thrown at them (.847 sv.%.)
It was enough to send Nolan wobbling, and as injuries/illness eat away at the team's already thin depth, the sound we're hearing is the sound of plates crashing to the floor.
Buffalo began last night with forward Cody McCormick going on injured reserve and forward Torrey Mitchell ruled out. Defensemen Tyson Strachan and Mike Weber were also out. Although this group of bottom-tier players shouldn't be considered game-changers, they're decent depth players who have provided some good, solid play, especially during that aforementioned stretch.
That's four down with three more hitting the injured/illness list last night.
At 5:00pm over in, Rochester Amerks forward Johan Larsson got the call, jumped in his car and headed west to Buffalo. He was called up to replace Moulson who couldn't go because of "flu-like symptoms." Larsson arrived with barely two minutes left in the warm-ups and was thrown right into the fire. He was the only Sabre to score last night as he netted his first career NHL goal.
Top-pairing defenseman Tyler Myers suffered a "lower-body" injury in the second period of last night's game. Myers has been playing exceptionally well and is ninth in the league in time on ice logging 25:21/game. He's out for tonight's game at Boston.
Forward Patrick Kaleta, who left the game in the second period last night, is also out.
To replace this group, GM Tim Murray sounded the Rochester bugle. Amerks forward Mikhail Grigorenko was called up for the second time this past week and will remain for tonight's matchup at Boston. So will Larsson. And with Myers and Kaleta no-go's the team called up defenseman Mark Pysyk and forward Tim Schaller this morning.
It's the first call-up of the season for Pysyk, who was sent to the Amerks on October 16 after he recovered from a preseason injury with the Sabres. The 23 yr. old former first-round pick (23rd overall, 2010) has one goal and nine assists in 28 games for Rochester this season with a minus-9 rating.
Pysyk has been having a bit of a rough-go in Rochester to the point where Rochester Democrat and Chronicle writer Kevin Oklobzija suggested that "he wasn't himself" due to his demotion to Rochester.
"Pysyk isn't playing poorly," wrote Oklobzija back on November 8, "But he's not an elite AHL defenseman right now, and he should be. He has made some uncharacteristic turnovers in the defensive zone. He has made coverage errors that just don't happen very often."
Oklobzija thinks that Pysyk was caught fighting the mental aspect of getting sent down while rookie Zadorov (somewhat forcibly) stuck in Buffalo. "It's probably not surprising," he continued. "[Pysyk] played 44 games in the NHL last season. He played 19 with the Buffalo Sabres the year before as a first-year pro. And now he can't play for the worst team in the NHL?"
At that point in the season the Sabres were 3-10-2 and possibly playing worse than that. But it wasn't something that Pysyk should've taken personally. Not only was he caught up in a numbers game in Buffalo, but Zadorov's CHL/KHL conundrum complicated matters leaving Pysyk was left to fight through it being the odd man out.
"I think mentally it's probably been a hard thing for him," said Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy at the time. "But you have to play where you're at. We've talked to him.
"He has to show Tim (Murray) that he can help the team win games, and he has to start doing that here (in Rochester.)"
Even with Rochester's poor record over the last six weeks, Pysyk will be getting his opportunity now thanks to the injuries and illness that's hitting the team. And it's up to him to make it work.