Patrick Kaleta is eager to return to the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup, but it won’t be tonight.
The forward has been watching his teammates struggle and slide through the worst month in franchise history while he served a 10-game suspension for a hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson.
Now Kaleta just wants the opportunity to do his part to help breathe life into his team.
“I’m just going to try and infuse some energy in the lineup and bring hard work, hard work and hard work,” Kaleta said. “Try to play passionate and like I said bring some hard work.”
Sense a theme?
Hard work is something the Sabres have lacked. It was particularly evident in Thursday night’s 2-0 loss at the New York Rangers and became a point of emphasis in Friday morning’s practice at First Niagara Center as the team prepared for tonight’s game with Anaheim.
Kaleta will not play, despite having served the final game of his 10-game suspension. Coach Ron Rolston said today a roster move would come later.
That hard work “looks like on the ice when you’re winning one-on-one battles constantly, supporting guys, supporting the puck,” captain Steve Ott said. “You tend to break out easier, you tend to puck retrieve better as well. All those things are from work.
“When you have to support somebody, you have to get there. You have to put the work in, the extra 10 steps to get there. That’s something watching video today, we lacked a lot of. We’ve seen a lot of it over the last month or so of our first periods, our hesitation and our slow starts.”
Hard work and competing have been the buzz words around the Sabres and they return two key players who can help in those areas.
While Kaleta comes off his suspension, Corey Tropp returns from injured reserve after breaking his jaw in a preseason game against Toronto.
“Both those players work. Let’s be honest here,” Ott said. “Corey Tropp’s all heart, all work. Patty Kaleta, the same thing.”
It’s been a long road back for Tropp, who has played in just a handful of games over the past year.
Last season in the opener with Rochester, he scored two goals then tore ligaments in his right knee. He returned to play five more games at the end of the season, but the organization shut him down as Tropp still was recovering his step and strength after surgery.
“He’s missed like a year and a half of hockey or close to it with the injuries he’s had,” Rolston said of Tropp. “He has a good attitude but it’s probably going to take him a little bit to get to where he wants to be, I would imagine, but you can see the energy he brings to the table for us.”
The hope is that energy can translate into some goals. In 2010-11 with Portland, his first season in the AHL, he had 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 76 games.
In 2011-12 he played 27 games in Rochester (9 goals, 13 assists) and 34 games with Buffalo (3 goals, 5 assists).
“He gets to the hard areas,” Rolston said. “He plays a pretty north-south game and he gets to the net so he’ll be around there to have opportunities. And he can finish. He’s got a good release around the net and he’ll be there a lot.”
Tropp has been forced to learn patience and has talked about how he’s been humbled over the last year with his injuries.
But his sideline view of the games has helped him see what’s lacking with the team and where he might be able to be of assistance.
“I’ve been watching a lot of games. It’s never easy. It’s frustrating,” Tropp said. “Every guy works hard all summer to come in and set themselves up for success during the season. Right now, we’re in a hole, but we still have 60-something games left. We’ve just got to keep pushing through.
“We’ve got to find a way to make teams respect us and it starts with the work. That’s what it comes down to. It can’t be one period or five minutes here at the end of the game to catch up. It’s got to be from the drop of the puck on and it’s got to start to carry over every single day.
“We can’t play good in the third period then not turn it on until two games later in the second period. It’s got to start early. I think the message is clear. It’s getting to the point where it’s enough talking. It’s time to do it.”