One day after the NHL delivered its verdict on Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres responded with a verdict of their own.
“It’s an overreaction,” goaltender Robin Lehner said Friday.
Not surprisingly, Buffalo was disappointed and frustrated to see Ristolainen get a three-game suspension for hitting Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel.
“I didn’t expect anything,” Ristolainen said in KeyBank Center. “They are the decision-makers, so I’ve got to respect the decision they make.”
The defenseman will miss his first game Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. He’ll also sit Monday’s home game against Florida and Tuesday’s visit to Columbus.
“Three games is a lot,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “It’s a tough decision, and it’s tough being those guys that make those decisions. It’s never easy.”
The league’s player safety department determined Ristolainen hit a defenseless player who didn’t have the puck. The blue-liner had Guentzel lined up just past the Penguins’ blue line Tuesday, but Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons intercepted the clearing pass.
“If that puck ended up keep coming and didn’t get separated, it’s a clean hit and we don’t even talk about it,” Gorges said. “The intentions of the hit were not to be dirty, malicious or hurt anybody.”
After Guentzel suffered a concussion, the NHL scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Ristolainen.
GIF: Ristolainen gets a game-misconduct for this hit on Guentzel. pic.twitter.com/08O7GztgcG
— Benstonium (@Benstonium) March 21, 2017
“Their point was he didn’t have the puck, and I need to make sure he has it when I touch him,” Ristolainen said. “I don’t know what I can really do different there because it was a split second, half-second. It’s a quick time, and I was skating backward. It’s really hard to stop there, and I don’t think I can.
“Unfortunately, the play happened and he got injured.”
Ristolainen can practice with the Sabres, but he won’t join them for a game until the New York Islanders come to town April 2.
“When anybody goes out it’s always tough to fill holes,” Gorges said. “When you talk about losing your No. 1, you can’t replace it.”
Although Dmitry Kulikov will return from injury and Justin Falk might be back, the Sabres will still need to call up a defenseman from Rochester. Whoever it is won’t play 26:42 per night and be fourth on the team in scoring with five goals and 44 points in 74 games.
“That’s one you can’t replace,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s what we’re going to have to deal with in the next three games.”
The Sabres could get back as many as four players against the Maple Leafs. In addition to Kulikov and Falk, forwards Kyle Okposo and William Carrier are expected to return.
Falk is the only one who’s not definite.
“He had done well the last couple days, had a conditioning skate yesterday, and practice today was a test for him,” Bylsma said. “We’ll see how he responded to that, and it’s a possibility to see him in our lineup.”
The Sabres added a wrinkle during their power-play workouts. The top unit had all forwards: Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Okposo.
“It should be dynamic,” said Bylsma.
With the Sabres’ streak of no playoffs about to reach six straight years, the “S” word is being bandied about.
It gives the players and fans something to look forward to during the final eight games, but the word created a look of disgust on Okposo’s face.
“No, I’m not a believer in that,” he said. “I don’t look at that. You’re not trying to spoil. You’re trying to play well for your own, and you can’t really look at where anyone else is. You have to try and get better for your squad.”