Craig Rivet, back in his old rink, was the first member of the Buffalo Sabres to take the ice for practice Wednesday. The captain skated alone for a few minutes, firing pucks at the net while his teammates continued getting ready.
Was he just excited to skate again in HP Pavilion, his home for two seasons? Not exactly.
"That just has to do with the plane ride," said a smiling Rivet, whose team left Denver in the morning for the three-hour flight to San Jose and bused right from the airport to the arena. "You're nice and stiff, so it's nice to get out there and loosen up. But yeah, it's good to be back here."
Rivet also could be excused for wanting the extra ice time at practice since he isn't getting much in games. The Sabres have used a seven-man defensive corps the past two games, with Rivet serving as the spare. He skated just 5:33 against Colorado on Tuesday after playing 6:47 against Boston on Saturday.
"Playing five minutes, it's extremely tough," he said. "You play a couple shifts here and there. I think I played one shift in the second period [his final one of three came with 6:52 left], and I think my next shift came about an hour and a half later [he played one shift in the third, with 13:08 to play]. It's extremely tough to do, but that's the position that I'm in. I have to try and do my best with what I'm given.
"I'm a player that hasn't been in this position before at any part of my career. Playing in a game, you aren't playing five or six minutes, let alone the minutes I've been playing this year, 14 minutes." Coach Lindy Ruff has decided to give his top six forwards more ice time because of the season-ending injury to Derek Roy, so he hasn't needed extra forwards. He doesn't need the extra defenseman much, either.
"I'm not a big fan of it, but like I said, I'm trying to get our top guys more ice time," Ruff said. "It's tough on any player. You play shortened minutes and it's tough to get into the rhythm of the game."
The decision to use one fewer forward has pushed left wing Nathan Gerbe to the sidelines. He has one goal in 24 games.
"Maybe the disappointing part is the number of real good opportunities he's had to put the puck away and hasn't been able to score as much as we thought," Ruff said. "I think as a young player, he's got to bide his time. When he's in, he has to produce."
The Sabres closed practice with the forward lines doing three-on-zero drills against backup goaltender Patrick Lalime. The line of center Luke Adam, left wing Rob Niedermayer and right wing Cody McCormick scored, so Ruff gave them another chance. They scored again. Given a third opportunity, they found the net a third time.
Lalime finally stopped the trio, which has just six goals in a combined 82 games, and Ruff ended practice.
"It was good to see," Ruff said. "They've got to do it in the game, though."