The hit that concussed Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in Amalie Arena on Monday night resulted in supplemental discipline from the NHL Department of Player Safety.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, who was not penalized for knocking Dahlin out of the game with an elbow to the face at 17:26 into the second period, received a two-game suspension following a hearing Tuesday. Dahlin, 19, was holding his nose while following a trainer down the tunnel shortly before the intermission. Cernak also was fined $7,500.
Sabres winger Jimmy Vesey said Dahlin was "cut open pretty good," though most of Dahlin's teammates told reporters they did not see the hit. Following the 5-2 loss to the Lightning, coach Ralph Krueger revealed that Dahlin was diagnosed with a concussion and said the Sabres' focus was on "getting him healthy and hoping it’s not a long-term injury."
Krueger deferred to the department of player safety when asked if Cernak's elbow was the type of hit that should be eliminated from the National Hockey League.
"I think it’s better for me not to judge it right now," Krueger said. "I know we have vehicles that will analyze and take a look at it. Let’s see what that judgment is because we’re emotionally connected to the situation and as wrong as it feels, that’s always from a bias viewpoint, which is ours. Let’s see the neutral bodies take a look at that."
The Lightning unsuccessfully argued that Dahlin's glove drove Cernak's elbow up to cause the head contact. That judgment was handed down ahead of the Sabres' matchup against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday in KeyBank Center. That's little consolation, though. Buffalo (11-10-3) has fallen to sixth in the Atlantic Division as the result of a 2-8-1 record in November.
Now, the Sabres could be without their top offensive defenseman and quarterback of the top power-play unit. Dahlin's 15 assists rank second on the team behind Jack Eichel, and his 18:59 average ice time ranks third among their defensemen. If Dahlin misses time, the Sabres will have seven healthy defensemen on their roster: Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju, Marco Scandella, Zach Bogosian and Brandon Montour.
Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak has been suspended for two games for Elbowing Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin. https://t.co/yB9zgyF1sR
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) November 26, 2019
The Sabres have dealt with a rash of injuries during their November swoon, having already lost Vladimir Sobotka (lower body), Marcus Johansson (upper body), Kyle Okposo (concussion), Evan Rodrigues (lower body) and Tage Thompson (upper body). That has forced them to recall Thompson, Curtis Lazar, Rasmus Asplund and Jean-Sebastien Dea from Rochester this month.
Krueger has taken somewhat of an unorthodox approach to the challenge, dressing seven defensemen and 11 forwards three times in the past four games. Johansson was expected to join the Sabres during the final two games of their most recent road trip. However, the team has taken a cautious approach with his recovery. Krueger said the hope is Johansson, a 29-year-old center, could return sometime this week.
The Sabres are expected to hold a morning skate Wednesday, their first of three games in four days. They'll also play a home-and-home series against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday and Saturday. The schedule provides Krueger with little time to make corrections.
Entering Tuesday, the Sabres had scored the second-fewest goals (23) and allowed the fourth-most during November. Their power play is 1-for-31 over the past 11 games, while the penalty kill has allowed one goal in nine consecutive games.
"We come together on game day again and we need to find those moments of high-quality teaching," Krueger said. "We use a combination of video, board talks, group talks and it is a phase where we need to learn through the games. We need to learn between the games where the spaces are there for us to use, and I think we've been doing a good job with it. ... Our motto is small picture and keep improving, trying to improve every day."
There was one promising development to come out of the Sabres’ loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vesey, who Buffalo acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 1, scored his first goal in 21 games this season.
The 26-year-old intercepted a pass near the Sabres’ blue line and scored on a breakaway for a 2-1 lead in the second period. Buffalo’s bench erupted in celebration while Vesey let out a roar.
Vesey missed the net on a breakaway Sunday in Sunrise, Fla., and had been earning more opportunities in recent games. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Vesey is tied for fifth on the Sabres in individual scoring chances created at 5 on 5. He also nearly scored a power-play goal that would have given them a 3-1 lead over Tampa Bay.
"Breakaway [Sunday] as well and then I think the next shift on the power play I had a Grade-A [scoring chance] in front," Vesey said following the loss Monday. "I just have to keep working and capitalize on those. That power-play chance, if I score there it's 3-1 and it might be a different game. Good feeling to get that out of the way, but tough feeling overall without getting anything from tonight's game."
Carter Hutton was at a loss for words Monday night. The Sabres’ goalie allowed five goals on 27 shots in his first start in more than a week, and he didn’t have much of a chance against the Lightning.
Hutton was screened on two goals, allowed another on an incredible deflection and was left hung out to dry by his teammates on both shorthanded goals in the third period. The 33-year-old is 0-5-2 with a .869 save percentage over his last seven starts.
Remember, Hutton won his first six starts this season, recording a .943 save percentage during a stretch that included back-to-back shutouts.
“I just don’t have the answers right now,” Hutton said. “It’s frustrating. I can tell you more than anybody, I put a lot into this, so it’s pretty hard right now.”
Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot will not be on the ice Friday in KeyBank Center against the Sabres. Kerfoot, whom the Leafs acquired from the Colorado Avalanche this past summer, received a two-game suspension Monday as the result of his cross-check on his former teammate, defenseman Erik Johnson, last Saturday.
Kerfoot has five goals among eight points in 22 games for the Leafs this season.