If Mike Weber couldn’t play Wednesday, then when would the 23-year-old defenseman ever make his season debut?
Two home losses last week had suddenly ended the Sabres’ torrid start. With the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia Flyers in town, they needed a spark, a physical presence Marc-Andre Gragnani, the struggling No. 6 defender couldn’t provide.
Enter Weber, a sturdy regular the second half of 2010-11, who quietly waited 26 days and 10 games to play this season.
“I need him to play before he gets so frustrated we lose him, and that’s the bottom line,” coach Lindy Ruff said prior to the Sabres’ 3-2 loss inside the First Niagara Center. “He’s worked hard. A player gets to the point where you got to get him in. He was an important part of our team. He played good minutes and played hard. They’ve got some players that we’d like to play hard against, so this game was a good fit for him.”
Ruff paired Weber with gritty veteran Robyn Regehr, shaking up all three pairings. Tyler Myers, Regehr’s partner all season, went back beside Andrej Sekera, his defense mate much of last winter. Jordan Leopold, Gragnani’s partner, skated with Christian Ehrhoff.
Why the changes?
“I don’t want to give up the reasons,” said Ruff, who added he did it “for nothing bad.”
Weber, a scratch 20 of the first 22 games last season, was squeezed out by numbers, not poor play. He skated 12:31 Wednesday, registering a minus-2 and fighting Braydon Coburn as the second-period ended.
“To be paired up with Robyn, that’s a pretty big statement to say, ‘Do your own job,’” Weber said Wednesday morning. “Both of us (are) defensive-minded, make sure we take care of some more skilled players.”
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Weber loved watching the 31-year-old Regehr, an NHL regular since 1999-00.