The Buffalo Sabres are descending toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference and may have just been dealt a crushing blow in Tuesday night's tilt versus the Montreal Canadiens. According to John Lu of TSN, winger Thomas Vanek left the contest with an injury suffered after taking a slap shot to his upper body:
#Sabres Vanek suffered an upper body injury on an Ehrhoff slapshot in the second period. Will not return tonight.— John Lu (@JohnLuTSNMtl) March 20, 2013
UPDATE: Friday, March 22 at 12:45 p.m. ET by Matt Fitzgerald
According to Sabres beat reporter Bill Hoppe of the Times Herald, Vanek plans to return to the ice tomorrow night for Buffalo's road contest against the Montreal Canadiens.
#Sabres Thomas Vanek plans to play tomorrow.— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) March 22, 2013
Paul Hamilton of WGR550.com asked Vanek directly about playing tomorrow night.
“Yes, I assume so unless I have a setback tonight, but as of right now I feel good.”
--End of Update--
UPDATE: Thursday, March 21 at 11:30 a.m. ET by Tim Daniels
It's now official. Vanek won't play for the Sabres on Thursday night against their division rivals from Toronto, as reported on the team's Twitter feed. Interim head coach Ron Rolston hopes he's ready to return by Saturday vs. the Montreal Canadiens.
Thomas Vanek will not be in the lineup tonight vs TOR. Rolston said he's a possibility for Sat @ MTL. --^KS— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) March 21, 2013
---End of update---
UPDATE: Thursday, March 21 at 10:40 a.m. ET by Tim Daniels
The Sabres' official Twitter feed reports Vanek didn't take part in the morning skate ahead of tonight's game against the Maple Leafs. Although he hasn't been ruled out yet, it certainly doesn't bode well for his chances of playing.
Thomas Vanek is not on the ice for today's morning skate at FNC -- ^KS— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) March 21, 2013
---End of update---
UPDATE: Wednesday, March 20 at 1:50 p.m. ET by Tim Daniels
Vanek is considered questionable for Buffalo's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, reports Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald. Interim head coach Ron Rolston didn't rule him out, saying the decision will come down to Vanek's ability to handle the pain.
"He’s a little bit better but still going to be day-to-day, what he can tolerate," interim Sabres coach Ron Rolston said this afternoon inside the First Niagara Center. "He’s certainly a possibility."
---End of update---
Positioned deep in the Canadiens zone during a power play, Vanek was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Teammate Christian Ehrhoff loaded up for a shot from back near the blue line, and it struck Vanek's upper body. He was then taken out of the game and did not return to the ice with his teammates following the second-period intermission.
The entire sequence was strangely familiar for the 2012-13 Sabres. They were 10-15-4 heading into Tuesday night's game, good for 24 points and a second-worst standing in the Eastern Conference. The team has struggled on power plays and just about every other scoring opportunity and could be in store for a major overhaul by the April 3 trade deadline.
Despite all of his teammates' struggles, Vanek has remained one of the few bright spots. He came into Tuesday night's game with a team-high 31 points, scoring 14 goals and adding 17 assists. A 29-year-old winger in the prime of his career, Vanek has been one of the faces of the franchise since Buffalo drafted him back in 2003.
Though their playoff dreams are just about finished, the Sabres will undoubtedly want to get a good view of their future the remainder of the season. There are bound to be even more new faces in the future, and they will want to evaluate how each plays within varied lines.
Without Vanek—the team's franchise player—in the lineup, there is no proper way to do that. So while the team won't be rushing him back, they certainly will be anxiously awaiting word on his condition. Any long-term injury could not only hurt the team's present, but its future, as it tries to climb out of a season-long abyss.