But really, DiPietro was never going to play tonight, and neither was Poulin even if he hadn't played in last night's brawl-filled loss to Springfield. (By the way, Michael Fornabaio's blog recap has wonderful echos of 2002.) No matter who warms the bench behind him, tonight is Evgeni Nabokov's start, and he owes his team one after giving up enough to let Ryan Miller steal the last meeting in a game the Islanders frankly deserved to win.
But even that is in the shadow of the chief variable tonight: Ron Rolston's second game behind the bench for the Sabres. Or more broadly, how the Sabres respond in their second game since 1997 without Lindy Ruff.
Mid-season coaching changes are really hard -- a replacement is stuck between leaving his own mark and system on a squad and babying them with few changes while they adjust to the bigger shock they just experienced.
In Rolston's first game, the Sabres were the same team in a 3-1 loss in Toronto. They surely see tonight as a good chance to get Rolston his first win. Rolston surely sees it as another step in his audition to win the job permanently.
Ken Hitchcock says a team that's just had its coach fired is in a "fragile" state, and an immediate internal concern is to get them to trust themselves and feel confident in their abilities -- because the first sign of trouble in games can cause the "here we go again" unraveling.
At Die by the Blade, Rafal Ladysz describes what ailed the Sabres under Ruff:
With an active owner with a wallet, it's unlikely the Sabres' changes end with the coaching move. From small to large, Rolston will impact the lineup, and with Terry Pegula around there are rumors the Sabers would be willing to buck up for Ryan O'Reilly.
They came out miserably (again) the other night in Montreal, only to have the powerplay and some even strength awakening help them rally to steal an OT win. They can't afford to come out so flat again.
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