Thomas Vanek tried to grind through another game Thursday night but it's clear the Buffalo Sabres' leading goal scorer is playing hurt.
Vanek has skipped the team's last two practices due to an undisclosed upper-body injury and stayed in the locker room for the third period of the 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played just 10 minutes, 50 seconds and was not credited with a shot on goal for the second straight game.
For now at least, coach Lindy Ruff said he thinks Vanek's status will be day to day.
"It's the same thing he's been nursing. He couldn't go," Ruff said. "He's missed two practices. We didn't have a lot of options. He tried to get through it and wasn't able to."
"He gave a valiant effort trying to come out and play hard," said center Derek Roy. "Nobody knows that you're hurt but you're playing hurt. He just didn't have it tonight. He was a little bit too sore."
Vanek, who was not in the locker room after the game, took a hard hit near the knee last Friday when the Leafs were in First Niagara Center but it turns out that wasn't the problem. Vanek said Thursday morning the injury actually took place Saturday in Pittsburgh. How long will he go without practicing?
"I really don't know," Vanek said following the morning skate. "I'm just hoping to use these three days [before Monday's game against Washington] to rest and get ready again for the second half."
Vanek joked that the official scorers in Ottawa missed a couple of shots on goal. Still, Vanek was not very effective Tuesday and could only play for 7 1/2 minutes at even strength Thursday.
"I understand we're in a little bit of funk," Vanek said. "Guys care. They care a lot. They want to win. Sometimes when you want it that bad, it goes backwards. It's tough to tell somebody to relax and just play but that's what it comes down to."
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard had his crease crashed Wednesday in Vancouver, leading to a Canucks goal, and said afterward he was "sick and tired of being run over." Al Montoya of the New York Islanders was knocked out of Tuesday's game in Winnipeg when he was bowled over by Jets forward Evander Kane.
So Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who has dealt with two hard hits this season, was naturally a big focus of the Toronto media Thursday morning.
"I think it's becoming a little bit of the guys are trying to arrive at the net without a plan," Miller said. "I ran into [former referee] Bill McCreary the other day [in Ottawa] and he just said, 'If it's an alligator pit, they'd stop.' But it's not. It's where you go to score.
"These guys have the ability to stop on a dime, turn, cut, take a hit. Just a little more attention has to be paid and the only way they pay attention is if you penalize them."
Ruff drew a rebuke from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan for saying it was "open season" on goaltenders after Miller was bowled over by Milan Lucic on Nov. 12 in Boston. Ruff said his opinion has hardly changed.
"All you had to do was turn on TSN [the Canadian sports network] this morning and there are goalies getting bumped," Ruff said. "It falls in that almost the open season category. I think we're in a dangerous territory with some of that stuff."
Due to their spate of injuries, the Sabres have tied Minnesota and Winnipeg for most skaters (30) and players dressed (33) this season. All NHL teams are in their holiday roster freeze. There can be no player moves or demotions to the minors until Tuesday. Former Sabre Tim Connolly went 10-2 on faceoffs in the game as the Leafs went 32-25.