The homecoming went as well as can be expected for Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff in Buffalo.
The debut for Sabres newcomer Matt Moulson was a memorable one, too. Even Buffalo captain Steve Ott managed to check-in with a goal in his first game against his old club.
About the only one who still felt the sting of tough times during the Stars 4-3 victory at First Niagara Arena on Monday evening was Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.
He can't go a game these days without hearing the chorus of "Fire, Darcy." The chant emanates from the 300 level of his own building, and despite Moulson's two-goal debut, Regier failed to feel the love even though he extracted Moulson as well as first- and second-round picks from the New York Islanders in exchange for Thomas Vanek on Sunday.
The Sabres find themselves in 30th place with a 2-11-1 start and in rebuild mode. Moulson, who like Vanek is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, could find himself moved again for young assets or draft picks by the trade deadline. The same goes for Buffalo's dependable veteran goalie Ryan Miller.
The downward trend for the Sabres began after Ruff had steered Buffalo to back-to-back appearances in the East final in 2006 and 2007. They never received anything in return when they lost Danny Briere and Chris Drury to free agency in the summer of 2007 and as a result the Sabres haven't won a playoff series since.
Ruff was fired last Feb. 20 after a slow start. But he departed as the winningest coach in club history with a 571-432-162 record after 16 seasons.
He was greeted warmly in his first game back in Buffalo since he was dismissed. He walked into the building for the morning skate and received a hug from James the security guard.
"Not tonight I can't," Ruff said when asked before the game whether he still cheers for the Sabres, a team he also played for and was its captain. "I can root in between games and they're in the East. I root for the city and I root for the team. I want to see them do well."
Ruff was feted and left misty eyed with a scoreboard video tribute during the first television timeout. The montage showed Ruff from his playing days, including his unforgettable playoff run-in with Islanders goalie Billy Smith in 1980, a highlight from his press conference when hired as coach in Buffalo and the piece ended with the written words, "Thank you Lindy #22."
"Awesome, first class." Ruff described the tribute. He added that he has a tremendous amount of respect for the organization and community.
Ruff wasn't out of work long after his days in Buffalo ended. He coached Canada at the world championship. Then after Jim Nill was hired as the new general manager of the Stars, his first major move was to install the 53-year-old Ruff as his head coach.
Ruff's start with Dallas, well, has been rough. The win over the Sabres evened the Stars record at 5-5-1, but it was the first win in Buffalo for the Stars in seven games at First Niagara Center since they won the Stanley Cup there with Brett Hull's controversial game-winning goal in 1999.
"I said to Jim when I first agreed to meet with him, 'I'll meet with you, but we can't meet in the crease,'" Ruff said with his trademark sense of humour when he was hired by Nill.
There was some controversy again in Monday's contest. With the game tied 1-1, Ott was handed a slashing penalty on Dallas defenceman Sergei Gonchar. He barely touched Gonchar, but Ott did swing his stick at him after Ott was punched in the face. He also was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty for pleading his case. Less than four minutes later, the Stars enjoyed a 3-1 lead.
Ott would not whine about the call afterwards and held himself accountable.
Meanwhile, Moulson scored during his second shift of the game -- his first shot as a Sabre -- and made it 4-3 with another goal late in the second period with a power-play rebound.
"I'm not going to lie," Moulson said. "That was probably the most nervous I've been for a game since my 1st NHL game.
"I've never been traded so everything is kind of a whirlwind right now. It's exciting to be a part of a group of young guys that are excited to play and be in the league and compete. So I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun.
"I'm just going to take it day by day and if it's for however long -- a long period of time, short period of time, whatever they have planned -- I'm going to play and compete and play my game and try and help this team get wins."
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