The preseason is merely two games old, but Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been happy with what he has seen so far.
Sharp goaltending, team speed and an aversion to the penalty box helped the Sabres win twice over the weekend, and it's a formula the NHL's longest-tenured coach predicts will be effective in the regular season.
Mika Noronen will take his first turn in the net at 8 tonight when the Sabres visit the Minnesota Wild in the Xcel Energy Center. Noronen will be following triumphant efforts by fellow goalies Martin Biron and Ryan Miller.
"You just go in there and try to have fun and try to play well," Noronen said after Monday's workout in the Amherst Pepsi Center.
Biron made 27 saves in Saturday night's 3-2 home victory over the Washington Capitals. Miller stopped 41 shots in beating the Columbus Blue Jackets by the same score.
"I thought both of them were very good," Ruff said of the opening goaltender performances. "I thought Marty had a very sound game, made a lot of big saves. Ryan had one screen shot beat him that he didn't see at all, and then a huge scrum in front of the net, where the puck ended up getting pushed over. He was very good."
Miller is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Capitals in the MCI Center -- the Sabres' fourth game in five nights -- partly to avoid using Biron twice against the same team. Biron should make his second start Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the St. Pete Times Forum.
Ruff attributed much of Buffalo's immediate success to being aware of the NHL's new rules. One of Ruff's chief objectives in training camp is to prepare for the added wrinkles, particularly the obstruction crackdown.
"We want to adapt to the new standards and be on the leading edge of that," Ruff said. "So far we have. If we can continue to improve and stay away from the very suspect calls or the incidental stuff that'll hurt us in games, it'll be in our favor.
"We've had six (penalties) both nights, which I think is very good under the new terms. You look around the league there's been 12, 14. Teams are taking that many penalties, and we don't want to be in that category."
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Forward Adam Mair was held out of Monday's practice because of a groin injury and will not play tonight. Ruff deemed the injury "minor."
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Angola's Andrew Kaleta and 2005 first-round draft pick Marek Zagrapan were among the six Sabres prospects who returned to their junior teams Monday. Also gone are Mike Card, Michael Funk, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Andrej Sekera.
The remaining players with junior eligibility are forwards Dylan Hunter and Mark Mancari and goalie Adam Dennis.
Ruff said the training camp roster of 43 players would be whittled down to about 30 by Saturday, with Rochester Americans camp opening Monday.
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Noronen was drafted by the Sabres in 1997, yet he never had a Finnish teammate here until defensemen Teppo Numminen and Toni Lydman were acquired in the offseason.
The goalie admitted it was nice to finally be able to speak his native tongue in the dressing room, but denied they talk about their teammates behind their backs.
"That's what the French guys are doing," Noronen said wryly, "but the Finns are not doing that."