By Bill Hoppe
So, did, as the Sabres announced after Boston’s Milan Lucic steamrolled Ryan Miller recently, the goalie suffer a concussion? Miller isn’t sure now, saying “I don’t know for certain what it was.”
However, Miller, who’s missed the last seven games, is improving from his mystery ailment. He’s been working out and riding the exercise bike. He faced some shots informally before his teammates practiced Monday. He plans to participate in this morning’s skate and practice fully Wednesday if that goes well.
The 31-year-old still has no timetable for a return.
“I’m just going to take it easy and make sure I have everything feeling good,” Miller said Monday inside the First Niagara Center after his teammates prepared for tonight’s contest against the New York Islanders.
More on Miller later.
There’s other good news on the injury front, as the Sabres, down an astounding nine players Saturday for their 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals, should receive a few back tonight.
Wingers Patrick Kaleta and Drew Stafford (lower body) and defenseman Robyn Regehr (upper body) all practiced Monday.
“All three of those could be available,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Defenseman T.J. Brennan and forwards Paul Szczechura and Corey Tropp have been sent back to Rochester.
Miller, meanwhile, said he believed he had suffered a concussion after Lucic leveled him as the two chased a loose puck Nov. 12.
The Sabres, who rarely reveal injuries, were irate at Lucic. Ruff said it couldn’t be open season on goalies. General manager Darcy Regier said Miller had been concussed, hoping the NHL would suspend Lucic, which it didn’t.
“I definitely felt I took a good impact. I certainly felt that way,” Miller said. “(I) also had some symptoms in my neck. That was proven through some tests. (I) had to wait and let that settle down until (it was at) a place I could get on the ice. I’ve been good for a few days now. Now I just have to get through good after some intense workouts.”
Miller also said: “I feel good. Symptom-wise, I think it was more neck, something where I aggravated a disc in my neck pretty good. We had an MRI and CT-scan (backing) that up. I think that’s the source of a lot of tension and a lot of discomfort. It definitely limited my range of motion.
“It’s something, talking to the doctors, even they felt it was important to let settle down. We’ve let it settle down. I’m trying to improve some strength in that area, get my endurance and strength back.”
In other injury news, winger Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain, 16 games) practiced on a line Monday. He’s nearing a return but is out tonight.
Winger Zack Kassian and defenseman Brayden McNabb, who made their NHL debuts Saturday, are still with the Sabres. Brennan and Tropp were recalled before them, so why have they remained up?
“Various things. Some of it is the five factor,” Ruff said, referring to Saturday’s score. “We’d like to take a look at those guys again in maybe a tougher situation. … They weren’t challenged as much as they could be.”
It turns out the Capitals’ listless effort here Saturday, their eighth loss in 11 games, cost coach Bruce Boudreau his job Monday. The Carolina Hurricanes also axed Paul Maurice, bringing the total number of NHL coaching changes since the Sabres hired Ruff in 1997 to a whopping 166.
Only NBA coach Gregg Popovich, who took over the San Antonio Spurs in 1996, has a longer tenure in the four professional sports.
“I feel fortunate to have my job as long as I have,” Ruff said. “I think that’s the one thing when you see two fellow coaches lose their jobs, you don’t feel good about it. I think it sums up how tight this league is and the pressure there is to win. It’s tough.”
The Capitals hired Dale Hunter, who had been coaching the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
Ruff remembers Hunter, a notoriously tough player during his 19-season career with the Quebec Nordiques, Washington and Colorado Avalanche, very well.
“The dirty dog knocked me out with a hit!” Ruff said. “That would’ve been a suspension now, though. East-west. I woke up snoring.”
The Sabres signed defenseman Joe Finley, the 27th pick by Washington in 2005, to a multi-year contract Monday. Finley has been playing in Rochester under an AHL deal.
The American, 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, was invited to training camp on a tryout and impressed. Ruff lauded him, saying only Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who’s the same height, was a better skating big man.
Finley, whose career was derailed by injuries, has turned heads in Rochester, compiling one goal, two points, a plus-10 rating and 57 penalty minutes in 18 games. The 24-year-old had played only eight AHL contests prior to this season.