With Craig Rivet playing his way to the bench earlier this year and newly acquired Shaone Morrisonn posting the team's worst +/- rating, the Sabres needed a boost on the blue line, and so they turned to a kid from Portland who was primed to stake out his spot in the NHL.
In speaking with the media after practice yesterday, Lindy Ruff had growing praise for Mike Weber. "I think we're getting all we thought we could get," said the coach. "There's a lot of good things about his game. There's some limitations but at the same time other teams don't like playing against him." When was the last time the Sabres had a guy you could say that about?
Ruff continued, "I've seen a kid play real hard, physical. He's made a few mistakes, but those mistakes have been only a few here or there; it's been overshadowed by what I would call 'strong play.'" Weber agreed with Ruff's sentiments, but said "the biggest thing is making sure I stay consistent and give the coaching staff a reason to keep putting me in the lineup."
Weber has made some crucial mistakes this year - we all remember him gift-wrapping a game-tying goal to Nathan Horton against Boston. But Ruff was impressed with how he's responded since then, saying "The answer to any tough mistake in a game is how you react afterward. Even the way he finished that game was something I was impressed with. He's only elevated his game - he had a good hit and a scrap last night, he's been in different people's faces. He just plays and plays hard."
Weber himself was earnest in his comments to reporters about how he feels he must work hard every practice and every game to cement a spot in the NHL . He used the word "earn" multiple times when talking about his effort and play, and so far it looks like he's doing just that.
Turning his attention to Florida, the Sabres coach was more subdued. "You can't take them lightly," said Ruff. "The fact that they walked into Philly and beat them handily tells you that that team's playing well right now." When asked if the Sabres players would be motivated by their embarrassing loss to Florida six days ago, Ruff simply stated "The fact that we played so poorly in our own end is motivation alone. We want to finish out before Christmas here and try to make amends for a little bit of that trip."
Mike Grier thought that the Sabres success in the few weeks before the Florida trip may have caused them to look past a team or two. "It was a step back, but hopefully we all learned from it," says the balding Grier. "We gotta handle success better - we were doing the right things and playing better and things were starting to go our way, but you can't let it go to your head."
Echoing a longtime fear of many Sabres fans, Grier continued, "It's a little bit of a maturity thing as a group, but hopefully now that we're getting into the second half we can learn from it and put some strings together."
Buffalo enters tonight's game in 10th place in the East, 6 points behind Boston and the 8th spot. Florida is in 12th, but just 2 points behind Buffalo.