By Bill Hoppe
Don’t judge Matt Ellis by his meager statistics. The Sabres certainly never will. In 132 games, the forward has 10 goals and 26 points. That’s .20 points a game.
Last season, in 15 total games, Ellis accumulated zero points and was a minus-4. The Sabres went 12-2-1.
Since Ellis joined the club on waivers prior to the 2008-09 campaign, the Sabres are an incredible 76-40-16 when he plays.
Why? What makes the journeyman’s presence so special?
“He doesn’t take a single second of practice for granted,” coach Lindy Ruff said Tuesday prior to Ellis’ season debut in the Sabres’ 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the First Niagara Center. “He is the consummate pro, from how hard he works, how hard he hard he trains and an unbelievable attitude.
“If you could take some of his attributes and if you could drop one or two on different players, it’d be a hell of player. It comes with the battle of him trying to stay in this league, too. It’s a determination that’s pretty impressive.”
That determination took the undrafted Ellis from the ECHL to regular NHL duty for two seasons. But even without a regular spot for him last year, the Sabres still valued the 30-year-old, making him their captain in Portland as he shuttled between the AHL and NHL.
In the offseason, the Sabres awarded Ellis a two-year contract with a one-way deal in 2011-12. That guaranteed NHL salary could make it tougher for Ellis to clear waivers if they send him down again. It’s believed Ellis would be named Rochester’s captain.
“That’s the reason we signed him,” Ruff said. “He’s a good leader. He’s a guy you want to influence young players. You want to have your young players around Matt Ellis. They learn how to work. Whether he’s here or whether he’s in the American League … he’s the consummate pro. You don’t have to ask him to do things. He just does the right things.”
Right now, Ellis is staying put. Center Jochen Hecht’s concussion early in training camp secured his place as the 13th forward. Winger Tyler Ennis’ ankle sprain Saturday finally opened up a lineup spot after Ellis sat the first seven games.
He skated 6:49 Tuesday, mostly between Cody McCormick and Brad Boyes. On his first shift, Ellis assisted on Boyes’ goal 2:31 into the game.
“At this stage of my career, I accept it as my role,” Ellis said about being a depth player. “I accept it as part of my value to the hockey club. It’s not easy sitting out, but it’s your responsibility to stay sharp, make sure you’re well-conditioned.”
While Ellis accepts sitting out, it’s not always easy. The worst feeling, he said, is entering the dressing room after a game.
“You sit in the stands and you watch the game not being in the battle with the guys,” Ellis said. “Those are the things that are tough to handle. We got a great locker room. Guys understand what goes on. They make sure you feel included and feel a part of it, even though you’re not in battle each and every night.”
Around Christmastime 2001, as a 19-year-old with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, Brad Boyes got mono and missed 15 games. The Sabres winger hasn’t missed a game to an ailment or injury since.
Boyes played his 500th consecutive NHL game Tuesday, a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the First Niagara Center. For good measure, he scored his first goal since March 19, a 19-game stretch.
The ironman streak ranks third behind Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin.
Boyes has missed only one game as a professional. With the Providence Bruins in 2005, he fought after a playoff game had ended, earning a one-game suspension.
As expected, Ville Leino skated on the left wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. Leino had been playing center. Ruff also switched two defense pairs, putting Christian Ehrhoff with Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani beside Jordan Leopold. … Boyes played on the first power-play unit. … “He’s struggled a little bit.” … Hecht visited the doctor Monday. “It went good,” Ruff said. “Still not ready.” … Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta fought former junior teammate Steve Downie. Minutes after Robyn Regehr hip-checked Tampa Bay star Vincent Lecavalier into the boards, Ryan Malone and the Sabres defenseman briefly scrapped. Both were given roughing penalties. … Two large exterior “First Niagara Center” signs were lit up for the first time before the game. The building was named HSBC Arena until August. … Sabres legend Pat LaFontaine attended the game.