For the first time since the spring of 1997, someone besides Lindy Ruff was in charge of coaching the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.
Ruff was in Buffalo for a previously scheduled doctor's appointment for his 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine. He left the team Sunday in Ottawa and never made the trip to Georgia, missing Monday night's game against the Atlanta Thrashers.
Assistant coaches Brian McCutcheon and Scott Arniel shared the coaching duties.
"We are going to do anything we can to allow things to run smoothly here," McCutcheon said. "This is the last thing where we want his mind to be. I think he feels confident with us and feels it's in good hands, and he can think about the more important issues right now."
A quarter-sized mass was found on Madeleine's brain two weeks ago. She continues to undergo tests to determine the extent of the problem and the next course of action.
McCutcheon, who usually handles the defensemen, took over the forwards during the game. Arniel switched to the defense.
"Brian's still going to be the voice in the room," Arniel said. "Certainly, when we're talking to the guys we don't want to make it too different with information coming out of two different guys."
Ruff joked once that with all the duties Arniel, McCutcheon and goalie coach Jim Corsi handle, Ruff didn't have to "do a damn thing." The collaborative effort has become a benefit in this unexpected situation.
McCutcheon, a former head coach at Cornell and in the minor leagues with Rochester and an ECHL team in Columbus, Ohio, is in his sixth season with the Sabres. Arniel is in his fourth year.
"We've grown real well together, and we work well together," McCutcheon said. "I think our meetings game in and game out are very consistent. There's a routine there that the players have come to expect. They know what's going to come from Scott, they know what's going to come from me, and most importantly they know what's going to come from Lindy."
Sabres players didn't feel that Ruff's absence contributed to Monday's loss.
"It would be nice to have him here," defenseman Brian Campbell said, "but we've got to take care of ourselves. It's been 60-70 games, we know the system."
Center Tim Connolly missed his third consecutive game because of his left medial collateral ligament. Connolly is skating well and seemed agitated to not be playing; Arniel said Connolly "is not quite there."
Left wing Jochen Hecht, meanwhile, tested his right MCL for the first time and was surprised to feel no pain. He skated laps in a warm-up suit and shot the puck off the boards, but he didn't do any start-and-stop drills. He is still expected to be out at least another week.
"I didn't go full speed, obviously, but the stuff I did out there, I had no problems with it," said Hecht, who had the same injury in February. "It feels a lot better than last time."
The Thrashers were without third-leading scorer Marian Hossa. He has the flu. . . . Thrashers coach Bob Hartley had a pair of gems after the morning skate. On not getting down after a loss: "The Beatles are split and Elvis is dead, but there's always another game." And about 6-foot-4, 240-pound center Bobby Holik: "He's a diesel truck in a Formula One race."