By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Ten days ago, as Andrej Sekera was preparing for warm-ups prior to the Sabres’ tilt against Carolina, the defenseman began feeling ill.
“Just came out of nowhere,” Sekera said Friday after practicing inside the First Niagara Center. “My stomach hurt before the game, and then it just hit me – fever, headaches.”
Sekera sat that game, and then hoped to play two nights later in Ottawa.
Instead, the Slovak’s condition “got worse and worse.” He was later diagnosed with pneumonia.
“I didn’t know what it is,” Sekera said. “Then I figured it out. I tossed it into my cell phone in Slovakian language and I understood what it is exactly.”
The illness left Sekera bedridden for five days and short of breath. Even going upstairs was tiring. Sekera lost several pounds, a number between “three or four and eight or 10,” he joked.
Finally, Sekera’s feeling well again and close to playing. Friday was his first full practice. He could skate tonight in Florida against the Panthers. He’ll see how he’s feeling this morning.
“I’m getting a little bit better every day,” Sekera said. “I felt pretty good today. … I will be back to normal in a couple of days.”
But which defenseman gets yanked if Sekera returns from his five-game absence?
With Tyler Myers only one game into a three-game suspension, Brayden McNabb’s still up from Rochester. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the rookie played “OK” in Wednesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado.
Newcomer Alexander Sulzer, a spare part before Sekera became ill, has turned heads subbing. He’s been skating more than 20 minutes a night beside Christian Ehrhoff. Sulzer also scored Wednesday.
Pulling him would be difficult.
Mike Weber, based on his wretched minus-20 rating this season, could be scratched.
“We’ll have to play the guys that are playing the best,” Ruff said. “If Sulzer is playing better than somebody, he’ll play. He’s put in a pretty solid stint with us so far. I think him and Christian have played well together. …
“Hopefully, we have to make a decision like that. That just means we’re healthy.”
Ruff added: “With (Sekera) and Myers back in, it’s different. We need those two guys back.”
Weber sat early this season before securing a lineup spot in early December. His plus-minus ranks 861st in the NHL, however. Only nine players are below him. Still, he’s played 42 straight contests.
On Jamie McGinn’s tying goal with 1.9 seconds left in regulation Wednesday, Weber pursued Gabriel Landeskog behind the net, leaving the front of the goal unprotected.
Ruff called the mistake a “tough play” following the game.
“Nothing I can do about it now,” said Weber, who admitted he should’ve stayed in front.
Weber believes he’s playing better than his rating indicates, though.
“It means something,” Weber said. “But a lot of those minuses you could be on the other side of the ice and have nothing to do with it and you’re still on the ice. … It’s one of those stats where you can’t really worry about. It’s one of those things that could change and be a huge swing.
“Obviously, I’m not happy about it. … This year, it just seems that those bounces aren’t going my way.”
Ruff added: “I think minus-20, it is what it is. It means you’re not on for enough goals for and you’re on for way too many against.”
Meanwhile, Sekera’s conditioning is “almost there.” He’s only been skating since Wednesday.
“I’ll see how it goes from period to period,” he said.
Sekera said he also had pneumonia once when he was 13 or 14 years old.
“That was also with mono … so I was in the hospital for like a month,” he said.
It could’ve been much worse this time.
Chew on these startling Sabres shootout numbers.
They’re 5-0 in road shootouts, converting a gaudy 65 percent of their chances (11 of 17). With Wednesday’s defeat, they’re 2-5 at home, scoring at a 24 percent clip (seven of 29).
“The shootout is always a tough one to figure out,” Ruff said. “Brad Boyes has gone cold on us. He was money in the bank earlier in the year. (Colorado goalie Semyon) Varlamov we knew had a great shootout record going into the game.
“I got no way of explaining why the road’s better than home. That’s a tough one to figure out.”
The Sabres usually shoot first at the FNC. Home teams can pick their spot.
“I like to try to apply the pressure to the other team, get the first goal,” Ruff said. “I think I’ve done it once where I let the other team shoot first. Just to switch things up I’ve thought about letting the other team go. I’ve thought about standing on my head behind the bench, too.”
Notes: Winger Nathan Gerbe (muscle pull) skated alone Friday and accompanied the Sabres to Florida, where they also play Monday in Tampa Bay. … Ruff mixed up some lines during practice, putting rookie Corey Tropp on the left wing with Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. Thomas Vanek went beside Cody Hodgson and Ville Leino. … Ruff, who broke three ribs in a scary practice collision last month, wore a jacket Friday featuring stop and yield signs that his friend, PGA golfer Dudley Hart, sent him. “I said, ‘I’ll wear it once,’” Ruff said.