Ville Leino’s questionable for this afternoon’s season opener. ©2013, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Leino questionable for opener; Grigorenko set for debut

BUFFALO – The Sabres have their first injury of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

“A nagging little” problem that flared up kept Ville Leino from practicing Saturday, coach Lindy Ruff said.

The winger’s questionable for this afternoon’s season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers inside the First Niagara Center.

Leino, who left practice early Friday, plans to skate this morning before making a decision. It’s believed he’s nursing a leg injury.

“If he feels like he’s good, ready to roll, we’ll get him in,” Ruff said.

Leino’s been skating beside 18-year-old rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko and Steve Ott. Ruff finally confirmed Saturday that Grigorenko will play today. Ruff informed the first-round pick on the ice.

Jochen Hecht moved up from the fourth-line center spot into Leino’s place. Matt Ellis took Hecht’s spot between Patrick Kaleta and John Scott.

“The thought is Jochen can be there,” Ruff said. “We can bump Pat Kaleta up. We got a couple options there.”

Grigorenko was 4 years old when the 35-year-old Hecht made his NHL debut in 1998-99.

“He’s a really good player,” Grigorenko said. “He’s twice older than me. It’s so much experience. It’s awesome to play with those guys.”

Grigorenko can play five times before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in. Naturally, he’ll be a little nervous this afternoon.

“Hopefully, a little after warm-up it’ll be good,” he said.

The Russian doesn’t mind being under the microscope.

“I feel like people are (expecting) a lot from me,” Grigorenko said. “But to me it’s not a lot of pressure. I kind of like it.”

With only a five-day training camp before the 48-game season, Ruff designed the Sabres’ practices and schedule to avoid injuries.

“I tried to look into that week and make sure we didn’t do anything that put us in a tough spot,” he said. “The day off was real important from a hydration standpoint, staying away from muscle pulls. Even not a lot of extra skating at the end to fatigue the players, and we’ve come through it OK.”

Sabres owner Terry Pegula, a Penn State graduate and backer, denied a recent report that a $1.3 million donation to football coach Bill O’Brien’s salary came from him. O’Brien had been drawing NFL interest.

“That’s totally inaccurate,” Pegula said Saturday.

He added: “That report is so far off base I don’t know where it came from.”

If Pegula had been asked, would he have helped?

“I know Bill very well and obviously I was involved with keeping him, at least talking to him,” he said. “Where that report came from is just one of these things where I’m sure the guy that wrote it doesn’t feel real good about.”

Pegula financed Penn State’s new hockey arena.

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier acknowledged Saturday the futures of franchise goalie Ryan Miller, captain Jason Pominville and winger Thomas Vanek – whose contracts all expire after next season – have been discussed.

“It’s something we’ll continue to work on and review as we move forward,” Regier said. “But it’s obviously in our focus.”

UPDATE: The Sabres announced this morning legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret isn’t feeling well and won’t call this afternoon’s opener. Paul Hamilton will sub. Jeanneret’s at home and hopes to call games later this week, the team said. The Hockey Hall of Fame honored Jeanneret, who’s been calling Sabres games since 1971, in November.

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