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The Morning Skate: Another biggest game of the year

April 5, 2012

Yet again Sabres fans will be touting tonight’s game as the biggest of the season. In a way, they’re correct. However, they’re also putting too much weight on the singular aspect of tonight’s game against the Flyers.

Yes, if the Sabres do not win this evening they can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. However, if they win, they will be playing in another biggest game of the year on Saturday. See how silly this is?

What made me realize this is the accusation that many Sabres players seem to receive regarding their status as big game players. Don’t confuse this with mental toughness. I’m just talking about those who are criticized for not showing up when their team needs it the most. Whether you’re talking about Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller or anyone else you wish to pick on. Saying these guys don’t show up when it counts is a load of crap. Every game is relative to the ones that come before and after it. There isn’t necessarily one biggest game, so to speak.

Look at it this way. Had Ryan Miller not gone on his torrid streak, the Sabres would be talking draft picks right now. The same goes for last week against the Caps. That was the biggest game of the season, to that point. Miller performed and the Sabres rolled. Derek Roy was the hero on Tuesday but was chastised much of the year for not stepping up when his team needed him most. I’m not saying that criticism of Roy isn’t warranted at points, the same goes for Miller and other players. Had the Sabres shown up last weekend, these final two games wouldn’t matter as much. So which game matters the most?

What you need to realize is that bitching about a player’s big game-ness is a futile task. Hockey is a team sport and is played in a marathon setting, not a sprint. The collectiveness of the whole effort is what matters most, not necessarily one player’s actions in one game.

Now, allow me to contradict myself. Tonight’s game is massive, there is no getting around that. The Sabres remain in do-or-die mode as they try to sneak into the playoffs.  They face a tough task playing a Flyers team that has owned them for the whole season and are still battling for home ice in the first round. The only thing to Buffalo’s advantage is that the Penguins have distanced themselves from the fifth-place Flyers by a bit and Ilya Bryzgalov is just returning from injury.

The Sabres have been a defensive train wreck these last three games and they desperately need to remedy this if they hope to skate with Philly. The Flyers have a potent attack that will dice the Sabres if they don’t play a responsible game.

Buffalo has been scoring goals lately, getting to Bryzgalov early will be important. He was yanked against the Rangers and will still have some rust to shake off tonight. If he is unsettled, the Sabres will have a glorious chance at getting two points.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres’ defense vs. Flyers’ big guns. Philly boasts a number of potent scorers; Buffalo’s blueline has been depleted and has given up some glorious chances the past three nights. The Sabres need to be physical and engage the Flyers early to prevent scoring chances. Too often the Sabres have played soft on entries and offensive cycles which has allowed time and space for their opponents. Unless that is remedied it will be a long night for Ryan Miller.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Flyers 7, Wells Fargo Center, 2/16/2012

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