BUFFALO – The 412-day wait to play a home game has been excruciating for Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, an Angola native.
Since his last appearance here Oct. 10, 2013, the 28-year-old has endured a 10-game suspension, a surprising demotion to the minors, a torn ACL and what was basically a broken face.
Finally, Kaleta will play again tonight at the First Niagara Center. It might be a different experience, too. Kaleta, a winger his entire nine-year career, could play some center.
He doesn’t care.
“Just to play at home for me is special, obviously for obvious reasons,” Kaleta said this morning after the Sabres prepared for the Winnipeg Jets. “It means a lot to me just to be able to play a game for Buffalo in Buffalo. So we can sit here and talk about that probably for about an hour. But you guys don’t know how much it means to me just to be able to put on a jersey.”
When was the last time Kaleta played center?
“Probably West Seneca Wings,” he said.
So it’s been a long time.
“I’m just happy to be able to get back in the lineup,” Kaleta said.
Kaleta’s presence basically forced the Sabres to pass on recalling a center, coach Ted Nolan said. Nolan’s first plan appears to be shifting Marcus Foligno, an occasional center, to the middle. Kaleta, a regular right wing, could go to the left side. Chris Stewart’s the other linemate.
Nolan might also give his other centers an extra shift on that line. He isn’t keen on moving Foligno, whose game has been improving.
“You have to work with what you got,” Nolan said. “Right now, that’s what we got. We might just keep Patty in the middle because of that fact. Marcus is starting to come. Stewart’s playing a little bit better. So we maybe use him as a safety valve at the center ice position.”
Kaleta has played once this season, a 6-3 loss Nov. 13 in Minnesota. Slowly, Kaleta, who took a puck in the face Sept. 28, has been feeling better.
“I’m anxious,” he said. “I feel better today than I did in Minnesota. In Minnesota, I was really nervous and stuff like that. Today, I feel more calm and controlled and all that stuff.
“Even in the last couple weeks, even during practice, I started feeling like I’m starting to get my legs back and my power and all that kind of stuff.”
One thing will make tonight extra special, Kaleta said – legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time to hear my name called by R.J,” Kaleta said. “So I’m definitely looking forward to that.”
In other news, Sabres center Cody McCormick skated with his teammates this morning, another step in the concussion protocol he must follow. McCormick was hit in the head Saturday.
Update: Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who blocked an Alex Ovechkin shot with his left hand Saturday, isn’t on the ice for warm-ups. Andre Benoit, a healthy scratch the last three games, will replace him.