By Bill Hoppe
A cup of coffee, that’s all Corey Tropp has experienced so far. Patrick Kaleta can return from his head-butting suspension tonight in Boston, so it’s possible the Sabres will send the rookie winger back to Rochester.
But Tropp wasn’t merely filling space for four games. Despite skating only about eight minutes a night, mostly on the fourth line, the 22-year-old played well, scoring a goal and turning some heads.
“He’s really establishing himself as an NHL player right now,” winger Cody McCormick, Tropp’s linemate, said Friday prior to the Sabres’ 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators inside the First Niagara Center. “I know they’re probably going to have to make decisions and that. I think he’s really given them something to think about the way he plays.”
Tropp’s high motor makes him noticeable most shifts. He’s terrific battling for the puck and in the corners. That was evident in the first period on Friday, when he outworked an opponent, earning his first NHL assist on Matt Ellis’ goal.
The American possesses a nose for the net, too. He scored his first goal early in Tuesday’s 6-5 overtime win against Winnipeg in front of the crease.
“He’s just tenacious,” McCormick said. “He’s really good along the boards, and I don’t think he’s lost a battle yet. I think that leads into the tenacity in his game. He’s real easy to play with.”
Tropp, who had four goals and seven points in the AHL, said he’s happy but not satisfied with his eight-day NHL run.
“There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement,” Tropp said Friday morning. “For a cup of coffee here, I personally feel like I’ve played pretty well. Hopefully, I can just continue to build off that.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff added: “He’s played well. He’s worked hard. He’s supplying real good energy for us. He’s been in around the net and he’s done a great job with the pucks down low. And that’s with limited ice time. Kudos to him for playing as well as he has.”
Kaleta, who’s aggressiveness is notorious, hasn’t played since head-butting Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek last Wednesday.
Another player might’ve received a lesser penalty. But the league clearly wants Kaleta to calm down. In suspending him, discipline czar Brendan Shanahan cited two previous head-butts.
“He’s got a history,” Ruff said. “He’s got suspended I think a little bit more because of the history of some of the incidents. Pat has to learn from it. We need him on the ice. We don’t need him sitting in the stands. I think the league has made a statement, and players have to make adjustments.”
Notes: The Sabres scratched winger Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain), center Jochen Hecht (concussion) and defenseman Mike Weber (healthy). ... The Sabres, with Hasek’s Heroes, Western New York Sled Hockey and the VA Hospital, will be hosting on-ice clinics for wounded servicemen and women. Interested veterans can contact Norm Page at 716-984-2585.