DETROIT – Taking a look at college free agents has been a recent trick that has provided the Buffalo Sabres some success, as in the additions of forward Brian Flynn and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.
Center Tim Schaller is another signing in that mold, a former Hockey East Defensive Player of the Year at Providence whom the Sabres took a chance on in 2013. Schaller has been a standout this season in Rochester and just completed a weekend where he scored a goal in three straight days.
The first two were in the AHL. The third one was the biggest of his life, as his first NHL goal nearly stood up as the winner before the Boston Bruins rallied to hand the Sabres a 4-3 overtime defeat Sunday in TD Garden.
The flu- and injury-riddled Sabres took Monday off and Schaller might get another chance at NHL action Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena.
Schaller took a feed from Nicolas Deslauriers and scored at 1:27 of the third period, jamming the puck under Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask. It gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead that held up until Boston’s Dougie Hamilton got the tying goal with just 1:31 left.
“Something I strive to do every shot is get pucks to the net,” said Schaller, 24. “Nicky made a nice play to the net there, I got the puck to the crease and it went under his feet, it slid in and there was a big smile from there.”
Schaller’s brother and girlfriend were in the crowd. So were his parents, who were getting an early Christmas gift after the game.
“I’m excited to get the puck to them,” Schaller said. “That will be really good for them.”
Schaller played 11:01 in the game, which was his third of the season in the NHL. He had two shots on goal, three hits and went 7-5 on faceoffs. The Sabres were pretty much down to three lines in the final two periods after Brian Gionta was injured following a tough hit by Boston’s Matt Bartkowski and Marcus Foligno hurt his hand in a fight with Bartkowski following the hit at 14:02 of the first period.
“You got to go against Patrice Bergeron and it’s quite a tall order, especially when we had only three lines going,” said coach Ted Nolan, referring to Boston’s standout two-way center. “Facing who he faced, I thought he did a good job for us.”
With the Amerks this year, Schaller has a team-high eight goals and has compiled 18 points. He had 11 goals in Rochester last year, leading the team’s rookies and earning the club’s Most Improved Player award. Nolan had big praise for Schaller in September as one of the Sabres’ training camp surprises.
Schaller scored a penalty shot goal Friday in a 3-2 win against Adirondack and a more traditional tally in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Milwaukee. He joined Mark Pysyk in flying into Boston early Sunday morning, a major career moment for a former New England collegian who is a native of nearby Merrimack, N.H.
“I was pretty much speechless when I got the call to go to Boston,” he said.
Schaller and Johan Larsson scored their first NHL goals on consecutive nights. The Sabres had not had a pair of players so that since Mike Ryan and Nathan Paetsch tallied on March 2-3, 2007.
Bartkowski got a major penalty and game misconduct for his hit of Gionta but that’s all he will get as the NHL’s Department of Player Safety ruled there would be no suspension or fine on the play.
The DPS issued an explanation of its Gionta-Bartkowski decision Monday afternoon via Twitter.
“Bartkowski/Gionta is an example of incidental head contact on an otherwise full body check,” the league said. “The head is not the main point of contact. Also, Gionta puts himself in a vulnerable position making contact with his head unavoidable. Bartkowski neither extends upward, nor does he ‘pick’ the head.”
Bartkowski’s penalties forced him to miss roughly the final 49 minutes of play. That’s pretty close to a one-game suspension on its own.
With the off day, the Sabres issued no updates on their 10 sick or injured players regarding their status for Tuesday’s game.
Center Sam Reinhart, the Sabres’ top pick in the June draft, and presumptive 2015 No. 1 pick Connor McDavid have been named alternate captains for Team Canada for the World Junior Championships.
Ottawa Senators prospect Curtis Lazar, who scored his first NHL goal in Buffalo last week against the Sabres and was then released for the tournament, was named captain.
Sweden announced that goaltender Jonas Johansson, the Sabres’ No. 3 draft pick in June, will miss the tournament due to an undisclosed injury. Johansson was likely to be Sweden’s No. 1 netminder in the tournament.
The Red Wings will likely get forward Stephen Weiss back tonight from a shoulder injury and they need him. Detroit is in an 0-4-2 rut and has scored just six goals in those games. The Wings are 8-1-2 with Weiss in the lineup and 9-7-7 without him.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard (groin) practiced lightly Monday and could dress tonight after missing the last two games. If he doesn’t, Petr Mrazek will start in goal and Wheatfield’s Thomas McCollum would back up.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock isn’t taking the Sabres lightly. Said Babcock of Buffalo after practice Monday: “Everyone was talking about McDavid or Eichel going there. It doesn’t look like either one is going there.”
The Sabres have lost five straight here and haven’t won in The Joe since Oct. 13, 2006.