BUFFALO – Uh-oh. Starting tonight, the ninth-place Sabres will be missing star defenseman Tyler Myers for three straight games during their furious fight for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Early Tuesday night, the NHL suspended Myers for ramming Scott Gomez’s head into the boards from behind Monday in the Sabres’ 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens.
“At no point during Myers’ approach to the check does he see anything other than Gomez’s back,” NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan said in video posted on NHL.com explaining the suspension. “The onus therefore is on Myers to avoid this hit completely, or at the very least minimize it. He does neither. Rather, he drives into a defenseless player with force.”
Myers was assessed a boarding minor at 13:11 of the third period, and then returned to score the overtime winner inside the First Niagara Center.
The excitement surrounding the Sabres’ ninth win in 12 games was tempered a bit Tuesday afternoon when Myers, a first-time offender, learned he had a phone hearing with Shanahan.
“It’s going to be tough, for sure, if there is some sort of suspension, especially with 12 games left and it’s a tight race,” Myers said about possibly sitting. “It’s not a good feeling to even be in this situation when I haven’t even had the phone call yet. Whatever they decide … I’ll have to live with it.”
Myers will miss tonight’s home game against Colorado and road tilts versus Florida and Tampa Bay. He’ll lose $14,189.19 in salary.
The Sabres, who are already without Andrej Sekera (pneumonia), will likely summon a defenseman from Rochester.
“He’s been a big part of our back end,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said about Myers shortly after the phone hearing ended Tuesday afternoon. “With Sekera out, it would be another big blow for us.”
Shanahan said the boarding call, Gomez’s injury and Myers’ clean fine and suspension history also factored in his decision.
Ruff explained Myers’ hit like this: “As Gomez was turning in the corner, Gomez’s feet were going up the ice and he anticipated Gomez to keep on going. If you watch the video, Gomez turns his skates and goes perpendicular at the last second.
“That’s a tough read. I thought Tyler did a good job staying low, not getting his arms or elbows or anything out. He put himself in a bad spot, and Tyler had a split second to hold up, and maybe could’ve done a little bit better job holding up.”
The 6-foot-8 Myers has been trying to showcase a greater physical edge recently. He hopes the suspension doesn’t soften his style.
“I definitely have tried to be more physical the last five to 10 games,” Myers said. “I want to carry that into future play. Whatever happens with this hearing, I want to continue to play that way. But at the same time, I have to be smarter. I don’t want to put myself in these positions.”
With Myers’ size, it’s easier for him to knock opponents in the head. He must be careful.
“He’s in a tough spot because he’s such a big man he’s got to stay low in some cases,” Ruff said. “He knows that he has a good foot on some players. A lot of that puts him in a situation where his elbows are head-high and you got to keep those tucked. He’s going to suffer some consequences at times. But he needs to play physical.”
When Myers hit New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus in the head in November, Shanahan only spoke informally with him on the phone.