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Sabres’ Kaleta proves he’s a ‘tough man’

No, Patrick Kaleta says, he did not punch himself in the head during a fight with Ottawa’s Jared Cowen on Monday.

The video evidence, though – which has gone viral by appearing on national websites like Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated – would suggest otherwise.

During a heavyweight bout in the first period against the Senators, Kaleta landed a straight left to his own face before coming over the top with a haymaker that caught the right side of Cowen’s head.

It’s enough to make you say … what the heck was that?

“From the looks of it, when he switched up, I was looking to block myself so I didn’t get hit in the face,” Kaleta said Tuesday after the Sabres wrapped up practice on the second rink at HarborCenter. “Even though it looks like I did” punch myself in the face, “I don’t really think I did.”

So it wasn’t some twisted motivational ploy, even though Kaleta said he’d be OK with that, too.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes to win a fight, then that’s what happens,” he said with a laugh.

Kaleta’s fighting major was the Sabres’ 23rd of the season according to the website hockeyfights.com, most in the NHL. But it was the first time Kaleta has dropped the gloves this season after getting hit in the face with a slap shot in the preseason. That necessitated facial surgery, during which plates and screws were inserted to repair the damage, so fighting has been something Kaleta had avoided.

“Good to get my first one in,” Kaleta said. “I felt like maybe at that time we could use a little bit of a spark. It is what it is. I don’t know if technically I should be fighting or whatever, but I did it. It’s over and done with.

“It was a little bit different right off the bat, especially. You get a couple in, you’re back to normal. It’s just like riding your bike.”

That’s some bike.

“He’s a tough man,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said of Kaleta.

That was on display in the third period against the Senators, when Kaleta got tangled up with Cowen in the Ottawa zone and crashed hard into the end boards. He was down for several minutes before being helped off the ice.

“The way he went into the boards and the way he went down, we thought for sure he’d be out for a while,” Nolan said. “Then all of a sudden, we come into the room a couple hours later, he’s got a smirk on his face. He said, ‘I’ll be ready to go.’ And certainly he was on the ice today, so that’s a good sign for us.”

Kaleta sported a nasty gash over his right eye – which impacted his vision and prevented him from returning against Ottawa – but otherwise was OK after the play.

The 28-year-old was initially scared that he had hurt his surgically repaired right knee after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in it last season.

“I was scared a little bit,” he said, “but got back and started feeling better. I practiced today, so it was good.”

Kaleta should be in the lineup Wednesday (6 p.m., MSG, 550 AM) against the Tampa Bay Lightning in what has the potential to be another physical game. In the teams’ last meeting Dec. 4 in Florida, there was a combined 106 penalty minutes in the third period alone.

Six players took misconducts – Kaleta, Nikita Zadorov and Cody McCormick for the Sabres and Victor Hedman, Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow for the Lightning.

“You’re battling to win,” Kaleta said. “You battle every single shift, and whatever it takes to be a positive influence on your team to get the ‘W,’ that’s what we have to do. I wouldn’t expect anything less than a hard-fought, battling game.”

Defenseman Tyler Myers practiced in a red non-contact jersey, but won’t be ready to play Wednesday against the Lightning, Nolan said. Myers has been out the last four games with a lower-body injury.

“We’ll see how he responds tomorrow after skating today,” the coach said.

Defensemen Josh Gorges and Mike Weber were given “maintenance days” Tuesday and will be in the lineup against Tampa Bay. However, defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen, who missed Monday’s game in Ottawa with the flu, did not practice Tuesday and is expected to miss the game

“That bug gets you, it gets you pretty good,” Nolan said.

Without Ristolainen, who averages more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, the Senators were able to cash in some easy chances directly in front of Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth during a 5-2 victory.

“You miss that youthful enthusiasm,” Nolan said of Ristolainen. “His hockey sense, his hockey ability … for a young man, he plays some big minutes for us, so we certainly miss his presence out there.”

Center Torrey Mitchell, who has been out since blocking a shot off his foot Dec. 16, is “still limping around pretty good, so he looks like he’s going to be out another little while,” Nolan said.

Goaltender Matt Hackett cleared waivers Tuesday and was sent to Rochester. Hackett has been rehabbing with the Sabres after suffering a knee injury in April against Boston.

The 24-year-old played in eight games with the Sabres in 2013-14, going 1-6-1 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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