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Return of Myers gives Sabres crowd on blue line

Tyler Myers' trip to Calgary this week was full of surprises. The Buffalo Sabres' defenseman knew he'd see family and friends for his first NHL game at home, but he had no clue how many. They came out en masse, with unexpected acquaintances popping in unannounced from all over the place.

The biggest shock to them all came when Tuesday's game started and Myers was nowhere to be found. He felt terrible during the pregame skate and decided he'd be no help to the team. He sat out his first professional game, and it came during his inaugural appearance in his hometown.

"It was the worst timing ever," Myers said Friday. "I had a bunch of family and friends out there to watch me, and to have to sit out was sad, but it was good to see them all the same. I'm looking forward to my first time playing in Calgary still."

The way the NHL's schedule works, his first game in Calgary won't come for two more seasons. His next game will come tonight.

Myers will be back after his two-game illness absence, and he's set to face the Boston Bruins for the 16th time in his career when the teams meet at 7 p.m. in HSBC Arena.

"Right now I'm feeling a lot better, feeling good," Myers said after practice in Northtown Center in Amherst. "I'm definitely excited to get back and playing. [Sitting out] was different, for sure. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced in a while, and I don't want to feel it again."

The return of Myers means the Sabres have eight healthy defensemen once again (excluding an eye infection for Jordan Leopold that isn't expected to cause him to miss any time). Chris Butler has been scratched the past four games, leaving coach Lindy Ruff one more blue-liner to place on the sidelines.

The pairings for Wednesday's 4-2 victory in Edmonton were Leopold-Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber-Steve Montador and Shaone Morrisonn-Craig Rivet.

"We've had good play from that corps for the most part," Ruff said. "We've had the odd mistake that has been spread around. It hasn't been the same guy making all the mistakes."

There was a mistake on the last goal allowed by the Sabres, one that could make Ruff decide to put Rivet back on the outside. Rivet hopped on the ice, coasted backward toward the Buffalo net and allowed Edmonton's Ryan Jones to skate past him for a tap-in goal to cut the Oilers' deficit to 3-2.

It wasn't an unforgivable error, but Rivet doesn't figure to have much goodwill in his account. Ruff scratched the captain for 11 straight games before reinserting him for the past four, during which the Sabres have gone 2-2.

"The one goal against in Edmonton I think we could have done better on," Ruff said. "In particular, I think Craig could have done a better job of eliminating the body coming to the net, but I thought overall he's looked quicker, he's made quicker decisions. His battle in our zone has been better.

"He's the only guy that can make a difference by knowing that he's got to play at a high level. He's got to keep his feet moving. He's got to be involved in the physical end in our zone. It makes a difference."

Whichever defenseman takes a seat, the remaining members of the corps will need to be stingier than they were for most of December. The Sabres have allowed 35 goals during their past 10 games, an average of 3.5. For a team that scores just 2.57 goals per contest, that's obviously not good enough.

"As a team, we still need to be better. It's not something that's going to happen overnight," said goaltender Ryan Miller, who is relieved all eight defensemen are healthy for the first time since Dec. 3. "Everybody should push each other and be hungry to play. I think that's how you handle it."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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