By Bill Hoppe
Monday wasn’t the first time Tyler Myers suffered from the embarrassment of being a healthy scratch. Nope. Way back in junior, about five years ago, the Sabres defenseman sat shortly after joining the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
What happened then? Just like recently, Myers was struggling, undeserving of a lineup spot.
“Same thing,” Myers said Wednesday prior scoring twice in his return, a 5-3 Sabres loss to the New Jersey Devils at the First Niagara Center. “I’ll figure it out. It’s something that needed to be done, and I understand why they did it. It’s just a matter of responding.”
Clearly, sitting lit a fire under Myers. He never wants to experience it again. The 21-year-old star responded by channeling his elite form from the past, skating aggressively and playing physically in 22:01 on the ice.
Myers scored a first period power-play goal near the crease, his first tally since March 1, a 37-game stretch. He zoomed down the right wing and beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur in the third period. Early, however, Myers was caught out of position on a short-handed goal.
“Tyler skated well, got up in the play, made a great shot getting up,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “But he was in on four or five other opportunities. He probably skated as well as he skated. He had a little bit of an edge to him, too, which was nice.”
The 6-foot-8 Myers showcased that edge in the second period, knocking down Dainius Zubrus, who’s three inches shorter, with an arm to the head as the two battled for the puck. Zubrus, playing his 1,000th NHL game, left and later returned.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer said he “didn’t like the look” of the hit.
“It looked to me like one of the head shots they are trying to get out of the game,” DeBoer said.
Does Myers, who wasn’t penalized, expect to receive a call from the NHL?
“If I do, I’ll address it then,” Myer said. “Right now, I couldn’t even tell you where I hit him. It happened so fast it’s something you’d have to look on video.”
Nonetheless, Myers knows he must keep bumping.
“That’s what I have to do,” Myers said. “After tonight, even though we lost, I have to really take in the physical part of my game. I think that’s what ultimately allowed me to bounce back the way I did. I’m going to have to try to find a way to play like that night in and night out.”
Myers had been awful, a gaffe machine. He was a minus-3 twice last week, including Saturday in the Sabres’ 6-2 loss in Boston. When Milan Lucic steamrolled goalie Ryan Miller that night, Myers, who was on the ice, never responded with force.
Ruff then benched Myers for the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout win in Montreal.
“A little bit of both,” Ruff said when asked if the scratch was related to Myers’ performance or tepid response following Lucic’s hit.
Myers, of course, is too talented to stash in the press box.
His skid has been troubling, though. A year ago, when Myers started wretchedly and played through his slump, he was a minus-9 on this date. But he also had five goals and eight points.
Right now, he has six points and is a minus-3. Ruff insisted he hadn’t lost confidence In Myers.
“Not at all,” Ruff said. “Young players, there’s a history, they go through tough stretches. He’s had some good game, but recently a couple that we’d like to improve on.”
Myers played well defensively beside Robyn Regehr earlier this season. His aggressiveness disappeared beside the veteran, however. He wasn’t jumping into rush and creating offense, arguably his greatest asset.
He also showcased some terrible decision-making beside Andrej Sekera this month. A mistake here or there sometimes marred an otherwise solid effort.
The Sabres scratched Marc-Andre Gragnani to make room for Myers.
In the wake of Miller getting laid out trying to play the puck Saturday, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier put goalie protection on the agenda at the GM meetings Tuesday in Toronto.
Lucic wasn’t suspended. A similar incident could be handled differently now.
“I took away a lot of support from the GM group as a whole with regard to the needed sensitivity to goaltenders in general and goaltenders specifically playing the puck like Ryan did in the Boston game,” Regier said minutes before faceoff Wednesday. “Based on my conversations, it certainly seemed wouldn’t be viewed in the same light as it was unfortunately in Ryan’s case.
Sabres winger Tyler Ennis, who’s week-to-week with an ankle sprain, is progressing and skating again. He hopes to begin stopping and putting weight on the ankle– really testing it – soon.
Notes: With winger Cody McCormick out with an undisclosed injury he suffered Monday, the Sabres summoned Corey Tropp, who was sent down after four games Friday, from Rochester. The rookie skated 7:42. … Myers’ only other two-goal game came Jan. 8, 2010 in a 3-2 win over Toronto. … Zubrus, the Sabres’ big 2007 deadline acquisition, played 34 games with Buffalo, playoffs included.