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Sabres notebook: Ruling on hit to Gionta rankles Buffalo

DETROIT – The Buffalo Sabres are certainly unhappy but have grudgingly accepted the fact they have lost their captain on a vicious check that the NHL deemed not worthy of a suspension.

Brian Gionta did not play Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings after getting KO’d Sunday in Boston by Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski. Gionta was hit in the shoulder and head and was cartwheeled to the ice on the play late in the first period.

The league announced Monday on the Sabres’ day off that there was no suspension because contact to Gionta’s head was incidental and not the principal point of contact.

“I didn’t see all the angles,” coach Ted Nolan admitted Tuesday after Buffalo’s pregame skate. “From the angle we saw on our camera, it certainly looked like the head was the main point of contact but that was only from one angle. We couldn’t really tell. The league has all kinds and I don’t think anything is going to slip by them so we’ll have to accept what they give up.”

One thing that concerned the Sabres was the league’s statement that Gionta put himself in a vulnerable position trying to field Marcus Foligno’s pass and thus took much of the onus away from Bartkowski.

“In that one, he was completely vulnerable and defenseless,” said defenseman Josh Gorges. “There’s no way he could have done anything different to protect himself. If you’re coming across to get a pass, that’s not putting yourself in a vulnerable position. You’re going to get a pass. But they make the decisions. You just have to live with it and there’s nothing we can do.”

Added Nolan: “Sometimes, unfortunately, some of your players put themselves in vulnerable positions. Does that give you the green light to hit them in that position? Sometimes the sportsmanship should come out but, once in a while, that doesn’t seem to be the fact anymore.”

Nolan said Gionta is not suffering from a concussion but has an undisclosed upper-body injury that needs further examination when the team returns to Buffalo. Gionta was seen in the Sabres’ dressing room area following Tuesday’s pregame skate but the team said he was not available to comment.

“It’s never a good thing to see,” Gorges said. “You never want to see anybody get hurt, and hopefully he’s not out too long. I’m not really sure how that’s handled. It was a five-minute penalty, major and a game. I thought it was supposed to be an automatic hearing and review. But they make their decisions and we live with it.”

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In addition to Gionta, the Sabres played the game without seven other players: Foligno (hand), Tyler Myers, Tyson Strachan, Cody McCormick and Torrey Mitchell (all undisclosed lower body), Mike Weber (knee) and Matt Moulson (flu).

Foligno is going to be out long-term after injuring the hand in the ensuing fight with Bartkowski after the hit. Nolan said Weber could have played Tuesday and will almost certainly be ready for Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders, and McCormick is back skating with the team.

Nolan said Tuesday on his weekly radio show that Myers would be out week to week but amended that after the pregame skate, saying this weekend might be realistic for the big defenseman’s return.

Patrick Kaleta returned after a bout with the flu that left him ill on the bench Saturday night against Colorado.

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Zemgus Girgensons’ lead in balloting for the NHL All-Star Game slipped some this week in totals released by the league, but he still is more than 400,000 votes ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane in voting for the game Jan. 25 in Columbus.

Girgensons has 1,291,186 votes while Kane is at 815,990 and Chicago teammates Jonathan Toews (803,034) and Duncan Keith (790,922) are close behind. The next two players are Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford.

More than 25 million votes have been cast thus far – and 30 percent of them have been for players from either Buffalo or Chicago. Voting concludes Jan. 1, with the top six vote-getters by position – three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender – getting slots in the game. Among other Sabres, Jhonas Enroth is now seventh among goaltenders (190,006), Myers is 12th among defenseman (203,607), and Tyler Ennis is the top Sabres forward (15th at 172,005).

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With Gionta and Moulson out, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford joined Gorges in serving as alternate captains. No one wore the ‘C.’ ... The next meeting between the Sabres and Red Wings will be Jan. 13 in First Niagara Center, the night the Sabres will retire Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 in a pregame ceremony. ... Wheatfield native Tom McCollum, a first-round pick in 2008, served as backup goaltender for the Red Wings. McCollum, who played one NHL game in 2013, is 5-8-3 this year for Grand Rapids of the AHL, compiling a 2.57 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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