Patrick Kaleta was nervous. The Buffalo Sabres winger is still a young guy, and forwards were competing for jobs throughout training camp. He didn't know where he was going to end up.
Relax, people told him, you're sure to be in Buffalo and not the minor leagues. That turned out to be true when the opening-night roster was finalized. But almost no one could have predicted where Kaleta would appear in the first game -- on the penalty-kill unit.
The right winger earned the first short-handed ice time of his NHL career Friday against Montreal, playing 49 seconds and helping to silence last season's top power-play unit.
"I did all right," he said Saturday. "I've still got a little bit to learn, but I felt I did OK."
It appears Kaleta will get more chances, too.
"He killed penalties in Rochester, and killed on a regular basis," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's real good in the shot lane, he's willing to block shots, he's a real good skater. So depending on ice time, I will use him. I think some people think that's a little bit strange, but it is something that he's good at."
The 22-year-old is known more for his punishing hits than his defensive prowess. But he showed he can play while his team is a man down.
Leading up to the game, he also showed the real-life side of the hockey business. The Angola native is settled in Hamburg now, but he was worried his world would get flipped at any minute. A demotion to Portland would do just that. He was wondering and asking whether he'd be among the Sabres' final cuts.
"You think about it once in a while," he admitted. "For me it's a little bit easier because I can do things around the city and hang out with my family and go watch my brother [Chris] play [with the Buffalo Junior Sabres] and stuff like that. It kind of takes my mind off it a little more, but it's always in the back of your mind."
The worrying disappeared when the roster deadline came and he didn't hear a peep from the organization.
"I want to be here," Kaleta said. "I'm from here, I love playing in Buffalo, and that was my goal coming into the season, the first part of my goal-setting. I've got one, and I've got to keep going now."
Ruff wasn't too worried about his power-play unit's 0-for-6 showing against Montreal. After all, it didn't have time to practice.
The man-advantage team was altered at the last minute when center Tim Connolly couldn't play with a hairline fracture in a vertebrae. So all the cohesiveness the unit acquired during the week disappeared.
"For spending the whole week working on one thing and then having to change the day of the game, we were in on four chances, which isn't enough for that amount of power plays," Ruff said. "But at the same time I thought our penalty killing did a great job against their power play [going 4 for 4]. If special teams is even, I think we've got a great chance to win."
Connolly was the only player who didn't practice Saturday and is expected to miss a week.
Winning the opener in a shootout was redemption for the team, which struggled in extra sessions last year. It was also redemption for goalie Ryan Miller.
Miller was 4-7 last season and allowed 14 goals on 33 shots. His save percentage of .576 ranked 46th in the league. So far, he's batting 1.000 after stopping Robert Lang and Saku Koivu.
"The difference with me was mental," Miller said. "I had to stay out of my own head, go out and try to make the guy change his mind and make him miss.
"You can't give guys the kind of time because NHL players can do tremendous things with the puck. Where I've been good in years past -- and I always considered myself a good breakaway goaltender -- was try to make a guy do something he doesn't want to do and force him into a situation that isn't ideal."
It worked against Koivu, who bit on Miller's fake poke-check and lost the puck.