BUFFALO – Sitting out hockey games, watching them in a suit from the press box high above the ice was a new and difficult experience for 18-year-old Sabres rookie Mikhail Grigorenko, a healthy scratch three straight games and four of the last six before returning Saturday.
“I think every hockey player wants to play hockey,” Grigorenko said prior to the Sabres’ 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders inside the First Niagara Center, his first game under new interim coach Ron Rolston. “Last week … it was a little bit hard. This never happened to me in my life.”
Clearly, Rolston, who coached his first game Thursday, a day after taking over for Lindy Ruff, needed to evaluate Grigorenko a bit. Rolston had only spent time beside the first-round pick during the Sabres’ summer development camp.
“It was finding the right developmental time in terms of making sure that we’re doing it properly and getting him in the right situations, and when you put him in there, we want him to be playing with players we can play with, make plays and build confidence,” Rolston said Saturday morning.
Grigorenko skated only 6:00 over 10 shifts against the Isles between Jochen Hecht and Patrick Kaleta.
“He’s talented,” Rolston said following the game, “but he’s got a ways to go in terms of game situations and costly mistakes. Certainly, everyone makes them.”
Ruff’s departure worried Grigorenko, who said it was “really, really sad” when Ruff got on the team’s bus and said he had been fired.
“I was just thinking he’s working for 15 years, it must be the worst day of his life,” Grigorenko said. “It was really sad with him. Everybody was really sad. It was a hard day. Personally, to me, he brought me to the NHL. He got me here.
“I was a little nervous something would change because he trusted me and stuff. Hopefully, Ron will trust me, too.”
Grigorenko called Rolston “really intense.”
“I think he has a lot of conditions,” he said. “I think it’s really good for a coach. He really wants to win. He tries to give us everything he knows. I think he works really hard as a coach.”
Did sitting help Grigorenko? Before Ruff was fired, he said scratching Grigorenko occasionally would be part of his development.
“Maybe I saw something. Maybe I remember something,” Grigorenko said. “But it will happen on the ice. I will do something I will have learned. Right now, I can’t tell you what exactly I’ve learned.”
Meanwhile, winger Ville Leino (hip) skated Saturday morning, his first on-ice appearance with his teammates since Jan. 18, two days before the season opener. The Finn has been trying a new treatment.
“It definitely felt (the) best I’ve felt so far,” Leino said.
More on the hip later.
Leino, who’s not afraid to speak his mind, felt badly Ruff got fired, laying some blame at the players.
“It’s disappointing,” Leino said. “It’s not the coach always. A lot of times it’s players and everything else, too. … We’re trying to make it better. We’re doing moves to make things better. … We want to win. We’re doing everything we can. It’s pro hockey, and we got to demand more out of coaches, players – out of everybody.
“One of the things here’s I’ve noticed since being here over a year, we got to have higher demands, higher priorities in the games and working better and keeping each other accountable here. It’s not always a happy family. You got to have some controversy, some guys pushing each other. It’s not all smiles and happy and be nice.”
As for his hip, Leino acknowledged prior to Saturday morning he had some doubts his season could be over.
“In my head, it’s not like I can say now I can play in a couple days or so,” he said.
He added: “It’s around these times it’s going to have to turn around or you’re going to have to do something about it. But it felt good today. We’re excited about that.”
Leino’s dealing with some pain and range of motion issues.
Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera returned from a three-game absence (charley horse). Defensemen Jordan Leopold (hand) and T.J. Brennan (healthy) both sat. Tough guy John Scott was also scratched (healthy).
Notes: Rick DiPietro cleared waivers Saturday and was assigned to the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. The goalie has eight years and $36 million left on his 15-year, $67.5 million contract. Yikes! … Former Sabres forward Brad Boyes and defenseman Joe Finley played for the Isles.