A key reason the Buffalo Sabres limped to a 1-3-1 finish that knocked them out of the Stanley Cup playoffs was the untimely injuries suffered by defensemen Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff.
As it turns out, the Sabres would have been without them had they made it into a first-round matchup with the New York Rangers. Myers and Ehrhoff met the media Monday for the first time since getting knocked out of the lineup, and neither was optimistic about returning much before round two.
Myers confirmed he suffered a hairline fracture in his ankle blocking a shot by Pittsburgh's Paul Martin on March 30, while Ehrhoff said he sprained his knee during an innocuous collision three nights earlier with Washington's Troy Brouwer.
"In the hunt like that, it wasn't a very good feeling at all to know you couldn't be out there to help the team in the fight for that last position," Myers said on locker clean-out day in First Niagara Center.
"It always seems to happen on plays that are pretty innocent," Ehrhoff said of the play that sidelined him. "The guy [Brouwer] fell into my knee and then my skates caught the ice and twisted it, and that's all it took. I felt it right away. Obviously a very bad time of the season for an injury like that, and I'm very disappointed the way it ended for me."
Ehrhoff led the Sabres in ice time this season at 23 minutes, 3 seconds per game and Myers was second at 22:29, so it's no surprise the Sabres struggled without their top two minute-eaters.
The Sabres were 30-14-3 this season when both Myers and Ehrhoff were on the ice -- and just 9-18-8 when at least one was missing. The numbers are also stark for each player's absences.
Buffalo was 8-11-7 in the games Myers missed due to injury or suspension, and only 3-10-3 in the 16 games Ehrhoff missed with injury.
"It makes it a lot tougher when you go out and the team is not winning," Ehrhoff said. "It's never fun to be hurt, and you want the team to be good."
Myers missed only two games in his first two seasons, and those were because of the flu. He managed to play only 55 games in what he called a "very strange year" after sitting out one as a healthy scratch, three for an NHL suspension, 19 for a broken wrist suffered in November and four for the latest injury.
"It just felt like a little stinger, just like any other day," Myers said of the Martin shot. "Instead of getting a little better each shift, it got a little worse. I took the skate off [after the game], and it blew up pretty quick."
Ehrhoff said it was "a big disappointment" to miss the playoffs for the first time in his seven years as an NHL regular.
"I watched TV Sunday, and you see the pairings and talk about the playoffs, and you don't get a chance to play for the Cup. That's every player's goal," said Ehrhoff, who played in Game Seven of last year's Stanley Cup final for Vancouver. "It's really tough."
Both players played their best hockey as the season moved along, but both realize they need to be better next year, especially offensively. Myers had eight goals and 15 assists after averaging 10.5 goals and 42.5 points in his first two seasons.
Ehrhoff, meanwhile, was coming off back-to-back 14-goal seasons in Vancouver and averaged 47 points in them. He got a 10-year, $40 million contract from the Sabres that he lived up to ice time but not in production after finishing with five goals and 32 points.
"When we had that good run, I thought I was playing my best hockey of the season," Ehrhoff said. "Next year I hope for a little more consistency and to help out on the goal side more."
While Ehrhoff became a big-ticket item this year, Myers is about to join that club. His cap goes from $1.3 million to $5.5 million next year in the first season of his seven-year, $38.5 million extension signed in September.
"I don't want to change my mind-set just because of a contract," Myers said. "You always want to come into a season wanting to do more for a team, but I'm starting to figure out that less is more.
"I consider this season a failure, especially knowing the potential we had coming into this season and the way we played the last 30 games of the year. Knowing we can play that well, it's devastating to not make the playoffs."