Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges have had tonight circled on their calendars since they joined the Buffalo Sabres in July. Between them, they played 767 games for the Montreal Canadiens and were teammates there the last five years.
Tonight is the Sabres’ first game of the year against the Habs in the Bell Centre. Gionta, the former Montreal captain, is waiting to see what kind of reaction he gets. Gorges would love to play, too, but it’s looking doubtful his injured knee will allow it.
“I’m sure it will be weird going back into the building,” Gionta said before Friday’s 2-1 victory over the Habs in First Niagara Center. “But until I go back there, I won’t really feel it. I’m very grateful for the acceptance there. I loved the five years I had.”
Gionta said he has no idea how he’ll be received after signing a three-year deal with Buffalo.
“I hope it’s good,” Gionta said, “but at the same time you never know.”
“I’m sure there’s no hard feelings. At least I hope there’s not,” Habs winger Max Pacioretty said. “He did nothing but help the team. Two conference finals when they hadn’t gone there in a while. He did a great job in Montreal and I’m hoping he gets a warm reception.”
The captaincy of the Canadiens has almost a mythical role in hockey circles, and Gionta became the first American-born forward to inherit the slot. The only other American to captain the Habs was Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios.
“An American kid coming in there, they gave me a lot of love and I appreciate that,” Gionta said. “For sure, it’s a special thing to have there. I enjoyed it. The fans embraced me and my teammates were great.”
Gionta ended Friday’s matchup in an ornery mood. Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin dropped his former teammate with a hard shoulder to the head with 1:54 to go, and Gionta jumped into the ensuing scrum after spinning to the ice.
Neither player commented after the game.
“Those type of hits are not good to watch,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Those could be career-ending hits, so we’ll see what the league does with that.”
Gorges acknowledged the knee injury he suffered Nov. 11 in St. Louis was supposed to keep him on the shelf for 4-6 weeks. But he has started skating fully this week and is itching to get back in the lineup.
“I’m very disappointed. I don’t like to miss any games. I hate to sit on the sidelines watching,” Gorges said. “I’m not known for that. Obviously these games, especially the one Saturday, were marked on the calendar.
“As much as you say you don’t think about it and you don’t worry about it, you’re going back to where you used to play. I want to be in that game and help my team win. If I’m not going to be able to play tomorrow, it’s going to be disappointing.”
Nolan, however, didn’t give Gorges much hope of playing. Said Nolan: “We’ll probably sit on the side of caution more so than being too optimistic.”
The Sabres were not happy to learn that Winnipeg rookie Adam Lowry got only a one-game suspension for his boarding penalty Wednesday night against Patrick Kaleta.
“It was a vicious one from behind,” Nolan said. “It wasn’t one of those ones where you kind of clip the guy. This was right from behind. But the league thought it deserved one and we’ll just have to support that.”
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety video on the play was released Friday, delayed a day by Thanksgiving.
In the video narrated by Patrick Burke, the league’s director of player safety under Vice President Stephane Quintal, it’s made clear that Lowry saw Kaleta’s numbers from the faceoff circle to the end boards and that Kaleta did not change his posture or make any sudden movements just prior to the hit.
Said Burke: “The onus is upon Lowry to avoid this check entirely or, at the very least, minimize it.”
Tyler Myers returned to the lineup after missing one game with a lower-body injury. Andre Benoit returned to the scratch heap but Andrej Meszaros stayed in the lineup.
The Sabres haven’t made a recall on defense from Rochester. They haven’t called up a center with Cody McCormick still down and continue to play Kaleta there – even though he had not centered since his youth days.
Why not call up somebody from the AHL? Nolan said he regularly talks to General Manager Tim Murray about the issue.
“My primary thing right now is making sure these guys try to play to the best of their capabilities,” Nolan said. “Those guys are down on the farm team for a reason. They’re developing their skills to get ready. When they’re ready, I’m quite sure Tim will call them. With the way Kaleta played the other night, I’m not too sure who could do much better. He did a good job. It’s a little bit unorthodox but we’ll do what we have to do here.”
The Sabres have signed a late-blooming junior player to an entry-level contract.
Free agent Jean Dupuy, a forward for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League, has signed a three-year deal. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has five goals and 19 points in 19 games. Dupuy totaled 10 goals and 18 points in 48 games last season.
In 159 career games in the OHL, the 20-year-old has 22 goals, 52 points and 177 penalty minutes. The alternate captain, who attended the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp, will remain in juniors. When he starts his pro career, he’ll make $635,000 in his first season, followed by $650,000 and $675,000.
News Sports Reporter John Vogl contributed to this story. email: firstname.lastname@example.org