BUFFALO – Hours before scratching Jochen Hecht on Thursday, Ron Rolston praised the veteran’s play. Following practice a day later, the Sabres’ interim coach complimented the 35-year-old forward again.
So why did Rolston make Hecht, the Sabres’ longest-tenured player, a healthy scratch for the first time in his 10 seasons here?
“We had a lot of scenarios going on with players,” Rolston explained Friday after the Sabres practiced inside Cazenovia Ice Rink. “We have a lot of good players. We wanted to get (tough guy) John (Scott) back in there in that environment with the last time we played (the Devils), it was a little testy. So we wanted to make sure we had some coverage, especially now that Patrick Kaleta was out. …
“Other than that, Jochen’s been playing real good hockey. So it’s more or less personnel and making sure we have the right pieces in there.”
Clearly, the benching has left Hecht fuming. He wouldn’t talk to reporters prior to the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout loss in New Jersey or again Friday.
Rolston likes that anger.
“You want guys like that, no question,” he said. “You want to be disappointed about not being in the lineup. Again, he’s playing good hockey. It’s just a matter of having the right roster out there.”
Where Hecht fits on a team with a changing roster and a new coach is unclear.
Will he return Sunday in Philadelphia? Would the Sabres waive him with the lineup getting crowded? Does he have any trade value?
Rookie Brian Flynn, who played most of the season under Rolston in Rochester, stayed in the lineup Thursday, scoring his first NHL goal. Winger Ville Leino should also make his season debut next week.
Hecht, brought back on one-year deal in January after battling concussions last season, had been manning the left wing beside rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and Drew Stafford recently, a spot he appeared comfortable in during limited action.
Former coach Lindy Ruff, who was fired last month, respected the German greatly, sometimes to the chagrin of fans.
When Ruff kept playing Hecht big minutes earlier this season – he skated 21:08 on Feb. 3, more than superstar Thomas Vanek – they went irate.
Vanek was arguably the NHL’s most dynamic presence for three or four weeks. Hecht has six points and scored his first goal last Saturday in his 22nd appearance.
Hecht’s ice time dropped to 8:01 in Rolston’s first game Feb. 21, almost a seven-minute dip from the previous contest. Rolston has skated Hecht more than 10 minutes only two times in seven games.
Obviously, Rolston doesn’t quite share Ruff’s opinion of Hecht.
Without Hecht on Thursday, the Sabres lost their third straight (0-1-2), blowing a third-period lead for the second time in five days.
But unlike Sunday’s see-saw 3-2 shootout loss in New York against the Rangers, the Sabres simply imploded, allowing two scores in the final 6:30, including the tying goal with 1:04 left.
“It’s tough, and we’ve had that a couple times now,” Rolston said. “We just talked about that on the ice. It’s part of our growth right now. You look at it, you throw the first two games out, Toronto and the Islanders, and the last six we’ve gotten eight points. And when you look at those games, potentially we should’ve had 10 points out of 12.
“So there’s certainly things that we want to have back like (Thursday’s game). But there’s also a lot of things that are going positive right now. I think we’re building some good roots in the ground right now for our team to grow, and we just have to stay with it. That’s the most important thing right now is guys have the right attitude, stay positive.”
Backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, who was injured on Patrick Elias’ tying goal and had to be helped off the ice, practiced Friday.
Enroth said Thursday he cramped up because he drank too much coffee prior to his first start since Feb. 5.
Shouldn’t an NHL player know he should stay away from coffee?
“If that was the case, I’d be a mess,” Rolston joked. “It’s part of his growth. I don’t know what the final outcome was on it. It’s about his growth as an athlete to make sure he’s taking care of himself in that way, and I know our staff has gone over it. It’s just something he’s got to take care of himself in the future.”
Rolston on Flynn, whose first NHL goal put the Sabres up 2-0: “He could’ve had at least one, maybe two in Carolina (on Tuesday). He’s a player that I think’s going to get better and better. He needs some time to get acclimated. He’s pretty quiet.”
Rolston upped the winger’s ice time to 15:15 on Thursday.
The Sabres’ power play was three of 59 before getting a goal in each of the last two games.
“We’re seeing some better things there,” Rolston said. “Better puck movement. More options on the power play for us right now, and I think that’s going to continue to grow.”
Related: Sabres’ Leino hopes to return next week; Leopold and Sekera also close to playing
With Rolston in charge, Hecht’s long Sabres tenure could be ending
Sabres rookie Flynn makes NHL debut as injured Vanek sits
Sabres’ Hecht thrilled about return: ‘Everything worked out’