By Tim Schmitt
BUFFALO — Although he was bleeding, an early shot to the face of Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta only drew a two-minute penalty for Marc Staal in the Sabres 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at HSBC Arena on Saturday night.
Kaleta delivered a huge hit on New York defenseman Paul Mara, knocking the veteran out of the game with a head injury. Mara tried to get up, but was obviously woozy. He didn’t return.
That’s when Staal came in and hit the St. Francis product, clipping him with his helmet.
“I just went hard and finished my check. That’s what I have to do,” Kaleta said. “I got a little cut above the eye, but I’ve got lots of scars on this face. It doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Later, Kaleta dropped his gloves with Sean Avery when the two got tangled near the Rangers blueline.
Marc-Andre Gragnani got into the lineup with a rash of injuries hampering the Sabres, and the recent Rochester callup had a debut he’d probably prefer to forget.
Gragnani only played 6:28 on the night, yet had a pair of penalties. He called for hooking in the second period, then got whistled for another hook in the first 65 seconds of the third period. The Rangers didn’t convert on either opportunity, however. On the night, Buffalo went 0-for-4 on the power play while the Rangers failed to score on three attempts.
Coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t happy with the Sabres performance on the power play.
“We made some mistakes,” he said. “The first power play was good, the last two were awful.”
Thomas Vanek’s streak of four consecutive games with a goal came to an end, but it wasn’t because he lacked chances.
Midway through the third, Toni Lydman sent a long pass to Vanek and freed the former Minnesota star for a breakaway. Vanek tried to shoot on Henrik Lundqvist, but the Rangers goalie made the save.
“That line had a chance to win it,” Ruff said after.
That would have been nothing new. Vanek is tied for second in the league with seven game-winning goals, and has notched the winner in four of the team’s last five wins.
Vanek finished the contest with a team-high five shots.
Although Ryan Miller wound up with 31 saves on the night, he struggled early, allowing a soft goal off the stick of Nigel Dawes.
For Miller, the game marked the 15th straight game in which he played. Also, Miller has seen action in 39 of the team’s last 41 contests.