There are no good times for an injury, but for the Buffalo Sabres, the one that has sidelined winger Brad May for the next four weeks couldn't have come at a worse time.
"It's disappointing," coach Lindy Ruff said after getting the word that May has a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will be lost to the team for about a month. May suffered the injury in Monday's 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
"You know you look for a lot of emotion on this team and the emotion comes from Rob Ray, Brad May, (Matthew) Barnaby," Ruff said. "We lost Rob Ray (broken thumb) for a long time and now we've lost Brad May. It's something we didn't want to see."
May has just two goals and nine points, but he provides two elements that have been in short supply this season: size and a leadership element.
"It's disappointing anytime you lose a player," Ruff said, "but in that (the emotion) and the size category, Brad's a player you don't want to lose."
Especially right now. This was supposed to be catch-up time for the Sabres, who tonight host the Ottawa Senators (7, Empire, Radio 104.1 FM, 710). After their tough start and numerous on- and off-ice problems, the team had begun to play better behind goaltender Dominik Hasek's strong outings in December. A stretch of eight games, five of them at home, over the holiday period was being viewed as a good time to try to move up on the pack in the standings.
Back-to-back shutout wins over Montreal and the New York Rangers were a good start, but now the Sabres have lost three of their last four and are struggling again. Losing a player who's important in the locker room and on the ice won't make the chances of winning either of the next two home starts -- tonight and against Colorado on Friday -- any easier.
"It's going to affect us for sure," Barnaby said. "Brad's a big part of this team, an alternate captain. . . . Maybe not the most talented guy, but he comes and works hard every single night.
"That's what we're going to miss, his character and the way he sticks up for his teammates, but we have to go on. We're behind the 8-ball right now and we can't put ourselves any further behind."
The Senators can do that. Even without injured Daniel Alfredsson in the lineup Ottawa has moved past the Sabres and become a force in the Northeast Division standing. They are third in the division and comfortably seated in fifth in the conference.
"Based on the (playoff) series we had last year (the Sabres won in seven games), there's obviously going to be a lot of emotion there," center Brian Holzinger said. "They are playing pretty well right now and we know we're going to have to play better."
Ray took part in the annual open practice Tuesday morning and is close to returning. He said he's gripping the stick fairly well and his broken thumb is healing well.
For the first time this season, the Sabres reached out to acknowledge some of the principals of their most recent success. Chairman of the board Northrup R. Knox presented a silver stick to Hasek in recognition of his winning the Vezina Trophy and the league's MVP award last season. He also gave a replica of the Selke Trophy to Michael Peca.
Knox also displayed silver commemorative pucks that the Sabres will send to former general manager John Muckler and coaches Ted Nolan and Paul Theriault in recognition of their contributions to the Sabres winning the Northeastern Division championship last season.
Knox made the presentations in the Sabres' locker room prior to the open practice, and his remarks were broadcast to the fans via the Jumbotron.