Things have been going really well for Tyler Myers. That’s about to change.
The Buffalo defenseman has a phone call with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan scheduled for this afternoon. Myers is in line for a fine or suspension (of up to five games) after an illegal check to the head of New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus on Saturday.
Myers went airborne to hit Zubrus along the boards, and the head was the principal point of contact.
“It happened pretty quick, but I felt like I got all shoulder,” Myers said.
Replays showed otherwise. Coach Ted Nolan did not comment on the legality of the hit but questioned its necessity. It came during a New Jersey power play and resulted in a five-on-three for the Devils. They scored with the two-man advantage for their only goal in the Sabres’ 2-1 victory.
“Those type of hits in that situation, we don’t need them,” Nolan said. “We’ve got to kill a penalty more so than a big hit.”
This will be Myers’ second chat with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. He served a three-game suspension for boarding in March 2012.
A forced absence will be a disappointment for Myers after a run of high moments. He was getting ready to hit the ice in Winnipeg last week when assistant coach Teppo Numminen walked into the dressing room with an unexpected message.
“I heard Teppo come in and tell the equipment guys to patch it on,” Myers said of the new “A” on his sweater. “I didn’t see it coming at all.”
Myers has served as one of Buffalo’s alternate captains for the past three games. With regular alternate Henrik Tallinder out with injury, Nolan decided Tallinder’s defense partner deserved the honor.
“The way he’s transformed his game over the last month, he’s getting better and better,” Nolan said. “He’s getting more competitive, more engaged with the play, getting louder in practice. He looks like he’s really maturing into that type of defenseman, that type of leader we need on this team.”
Myers credits the transformation to Nolan and Pat LaFontaine, the president of hockey operations. There definitely has been a change.
In the opening 20 games under ex-coach Ron Rolston, Myers was an unproductive mess. He had one goal, four points and a minus-9 rating. In the 22 games since Nolan took over, Myers has three goals and eight points. He’s minus-6, but he’s just minus-1 in the last 10 outings.
“I had a conversation with Ted and Pat when they first came in,” Myers said. “They basically gave me free reins to do whatever I want offensively. Any chance I get, if I see something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Basically, the chains were off, as they put it. It was nice to hear that.”
Myers has nearly doubled his shot total under the new regime. He had 25 shots in the opening 20 games. He has 43 in the last 22.
It helps that he’s not under siege and stuck in the defensive zone. He was 50 percent or better in Corsi rating (shots directed at the opposing net compared to shots attempted at the player’s own goal) in just four of the 20 games under Rolston. He’s been 50 percent or higher in 13 of the 22 outings with Nolan in charge.
It’s easier to play when shots aren’t constantly whizzing toward you.
“If you look at our group earlier, it was very uptight hockey,” Myers said. “It was very nervous hockey. Now I think for a lot of us as individuals and as a group, we’re just playing. We’re getting back to having fun again.
“The way Ted handled me coming in helped me out a lot. It seems to be having a lot of effect on other guys, too.”
The effect is more visible with Myers. He has a big “A” on his jersey.
“It always feels good to be recognized that you’ve shown leadership,” Myers said. “There’s a lot of guys in the room that have done a lot to try and push this team and help this team along. There’s a lot of guys deserving of it, but obviously it’s a big honor.”
The Sabres took Sunday off and will return to practice today. They host the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday in First Niagara Center.
In the meantime, the Sabres have a decision to make with Mikhail Grigorenko. The center completed his world junior experience Sunday by leading Russia to the bronze medal.
The Sabres hoped Grigorenko would go to the world juniors and excel. They hoped playing with and against guys in his age group would allow him to feel good about himself and his game. It appears the plan worked.
Grigorenko scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Canada, a victory that deprived the Canadians of a medal for the second straight year. Grigorenko led Russia with five goals, eight points and a plus-6 rating in seven games.
The next step for Buffalo is to determine whether the 19-year-old is ready to rejoin the Sabres and get ice time. They can also send him back to juniors, where a trade from Quebec is a possibility. The deadline to make deals in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is Tuesday.
Fellow Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov had four goals and five points for the Russians. He’ll return to London of the Ontario Hockey League.