BUFFALO – With 2:17 left in the second period of Thursday’s dismal 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers absorbed P.K. Subban’s wicked one-timer from the point with his leg.
After blocking the lethal shot, Myers hobbled off seconds later when the Canadiens converted their five-on-three power play.
The 23-year-old finished the game, though, skating 25:37, his third-highest total this season, while blocking a game-high four shots.
Following the contest, Myers found out he had broken a bone in his leg. His season is finished with seven games remaining. Myers doesn’t need surgery.
“Obviously, it’s a huge hole for our defense corps,” defenseman Mike Weber said after practicing Friday inside the First Niagara Center. “He logs a lot of minutes. He’s a core guy for our power play. It’s kind of a repetitive statement right now, but someone’s got to step up again and kind of fill his role for power play and his minutes.”
Injuries and trades have whittled the Sabres’ defense depth down dramatically recently. Incredibly, only five healthy defensemen in the organization possess NHL experience.
Interim coach Ron Rolston wouldn’t say which defenseman the Sabres plan to recall from Rochester for this afternoon’s tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Alex Biega, a 25-year-old with 193 games of AHL experience, seems like the probable candidate.
The Harvard graduate, a fifth-round pick in 2006, has four goals and 22 points in 67 games with the Americans this season.
“He’s a good D-man,” Sabres defenseman Adam Pardy said about the 5-foot-11 Biega, his defense partner about 10 games in Rochester. “He’s got good skills. He skates really well. He’s got his head up.”
Pardy began the season in Rochester as the organization’s No. 9 defender. Now, less than three months later, he’s a fixture on the NHL blue line.
The Sabres traded T.J. Brennan, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr for draft picks before the trade deadline. Myers and Alexander Sulzer (torn ACL) are out for the season.
“It’s pretty crazy how it works,” Pardy said. “You got to be prepared for anything. You look back to January when I first got put on waivers, it seemed like a longshot to even get back in the lineup here. … It definitely was tough not knowing what was going to happen.”
At times this season, the Sabres couldn’t figure out what was happening to the 6-foot-8 Myers, their alleged franchise defenseman.
In the first season of a seven-year, $38.5 million contract, Myers, who received a $10 million bonus on July 1, struggled mightily, especially early on.
Myers reportedly came to training camp in less-than-stellar shape. Former coach Lindy Ruff scratched him twice during a February slump.
Not long ago, Rolston and his staff told Myers, a slick puck-rusher and point-producer in the past, to concentrate on defense; they didn’t care if he only got one more point the rest of the season.
Myers had rebounded a bit recently. Rolston kept playing him big minutes while complimenting his game.
“I thought he was doing good,” Rolston said Friday.
Myers compiled three goals, eight points, a minus-8 rating and 32 penalty minutes while averaging 21:18 during his 39 appearances this season.
He also broke his ankle late last season blocking a shot against Pittsburgh.
Teammates like the gutsy effort Myers showcased Thursday.
“Once you get that will in your mind to continue to push forward, that’s pretty awesome, scary in the same part because it probably could’ve been a lot worse of an injury,” Sabres winger Steve Ott said.
Weber added: “What he did in a losing effort was huge for us. I mean, we need more guys to step up and make big blocks like that.”
Very few Sabres stepped up in Thursday’s embarrassing defeat. The shellacking may rank as the worst loss in recent memory.
Weber expects a better effort this afternoon from the Sabres, whose playoff chances have all but disappeared following consecutive losses this week.
“Guys are playing for jobs, contracts, spots, ice time,” he said. “I mean, there’s a huge amount of things you’re fighting for. You only get a certain amount of time in this league. So everyone’s fighting for different things.”
Pardy believes the “main problem is just in between our ears.”
“It’s not work ethic,” he said. “We’re losing way too many battles, being a step behind – two, three steps behind (Thursday).”
During Thursday’s game, CBC cameras captured Ott trying to lick – yes, lick – Jeff Halpern’s helmet or visor.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ott said when asked about it Friday.
Ott then smiled and cackled before leaving the dressing room.
Don’t forget, Ott also blew a kiss to Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf earlier this season.
Rolston on the poor production from the Sabres’ top forwards: “Your best players on every team have to be the best players in this league. That’s why you hear the word ‘top six.’ Those guys got to get it done. So it’s huge for every team.”
Tyler Ennis has zero points in the last six games. Cody Hodgson has one goal and two points in nine contests. Drew Stafford has zero points in seven games.
Thomas Vanek, once the NHL’s top scorer, has two goals and three points his last seven appearances. Rolston said the winger, who just sat six games and has missed 10 this season, is healthy.
Rolston said backup goalie Jhonas Enroth will start this afternoon or Sunday when the Sabres host the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Former Sabres star Daniel Briere is expected to return from a 10-game absence (concussion) today.
Update: According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Sabres have signed UMass Lowell defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, a college free agent. The 22-year-old could play as soon as this afternoon if his contract gets registered quickly enough.