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Double Minors: Jackets topple Sabres in season opener

October 10, 2014

The Sabres finally played a game that counted and it has left many fans counting the days (259 as of October 10) until a Connor McDavid jersey isn’t a faux pas.

Buffalo was thoroughly outplayed by a shorthanded Blue Jackets team last night, losing 3-1 and being dominated in terms of puck possession. Even with Ryan Johansen seeing his first ice with NHL players since the playoffs and with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Nathan Horton on the shelf, the Blue Jackets were the better team for nearly the entire evening.

However, the Sabres were in the game right up until the final minutes. Jhonas Enroth was steady as he turned aside 37 shots and Zemgus Girgensons turned in an impressive individual effort to tie the game at one in the second.

In the end, it was about as textbook of a result that many Sabres fans may be hoping for this season. There is a fair segment of those who simply want the team to win now at all costs. There is another segment who are actively hoping for losses as the prize at the end of the rainbow surpasses any short-term success in their eye. Then there is a third segment. One which seems content watching the Sabres night-in and night-out, hoping to see a win but taking solace that a loss isn’t something to worry over.

Last night showed a Sabres team with some improved pieces, guys who will try hard and be more entertaining to watch but a group which will likely fall behind the pace of most other NHL clubs. Only Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons had positive Corsi ratings at even strength (each was plus-one) while the entire roster was well into the negatives in all situations. I’d expect this to be the case through many games this season.

Of course, it is only one game. Enroth shouldn’t be expected to dazzle every night and he’ll certainly have his cold streaks. Buffalo will find their footing and put up a better fight in many games. The Sabres are going to be easier to consume than last year’s roster. However, this is still not a team that is built for puck possession and the very early returns didn’t show much improvement on special teams.

I’d imagine the biggest challenge for fans this season will be to not over analyze each and every game and how they affect Buffalo’s chances to pick first. It’s a long year and there are far too many positive story lines to follow instead of pulling out your hair hoping that the Sabres earn a stranglehold on 30th place. Read more…

Sabres should improve but still won’t contend in 2014-15

October 8, 2014

Things are going to be better for the Sabres this year. Mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last year.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL by a country mile. The Sabres were 14 points back of the 29th place Florida Panthers, the same Florida Panthers who also finished 29th in goals for in 2013-14 (39 goals better than the Sabres).

Tim Murray had quite a reclamation project to work on as he inherited a team that was 14 points and 39 goals south of the second-to-last team in the league last year. If the status-quo were to remain, the Sabres would have quite a hill to climb just to leap frog one team, let alone make a run at the playoffs.

Buffalo’s historically bad season was accomplished with only a month-and-a-half of Thomas Vanek, and interim stay from Matt Moulson and two-thirds of the year with Ryan Miller. Miller’s .923 save percentage was good for a monumental point share during his time here and I’ll be interested to see how Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth perform as a tandem.

Enroth is without doubt the number one goaltender on the roster. To say Neuvirth was shaky during the preseason would be an understatement and he may need a little more time to settle into a groove. Meanwhile, Enroth was tremendous in his preseason appearances and he’ll certainly see the lion’s share of the work early on this year. Will he be able to improve on his .911 save percentage? Will he avoid the lengthy losing streaks that have plagued his young career? The latter is perhaps the most important question here as Enroth’s up-and-down performances have been nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde of goaltending.

It’s safe to say that there will be a slight decrease in performance in the Buffalo crease. It may not be a regression so steep that it costs the team multiple wins, but it’s safe to assume that the expectations in net will differ from recent years.

Of course, the Sabres roster is vastly improved. The team that will take the ice on Thursday is heads and shoulders better than the one that took the ice in 2013-14. In addition to the departures of Vanek and Miller, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, John Scott, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain and Matt D’Agostini are all gone. There is some good and bad in that group, but the Sabres are more than improved from top to bottom.

A full season of Moulson and Chris Stewart alone should inject a fair bit of life into the Sabres offense as should the addition of Brian Gionta. With 23, 15 and 11 goals scored by the trio last season, it’s easy to say the Sabres have indeed made up their 40-goal shortfall from last season. Putting Moulson on the wing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford could potentially give the Sabres a bona fide scoring line, although I’m not expecting anyone in blue and gold to surpass 30 goals this season. Read more…

A look at how the Sabres roster might shake out

October 6, 2014

UPDATE: This was written as the news regarding Mikhail Grigorenko’s demotion broke.

The puck officially drops on the Buffalo Sabres season on Thursday night when Columbus rolls into town. Today marks the final day for roster trimming and the Sabres still have a few moves to make in order to work their way to 23 players.

Ted Nolan’s job isn’t going to be easy, especially when it comes to choosing his forwards.

Buffalo’s roster, for the most part, is fairly easy to project. A handful of defensemen – Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Weber and Andre Benoit – are all but assured a spot as are a fair group of forwards. Namely Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford and Zemgus Girgensons.

That leaves only a few spots for a number of players. Read more…

Buffalo can take a page from Cleveland’s book on a waterfront project

October 6, 2014

You may have heard that Cleveland has been on a bit of a run lately. Similar to Buffalo, Cleveland has been working to reinvigorate their downtown core and much of their work is paying off as the 2016 Republican National Convention will descend upon the burning river. lakefrontpedestriandrawbridge_01

Much of what’s happening in Cleveland, however, is working to shake the opinion that it’s a rust laden burg with little to offer. In fact, the city planning in Cleveland over the past 30 or 40 years wasn’t nearly as bad as Buffalo’s which has given our Ohio cousins a bit of a headstart when it comes to revitalization. Cleveland is on the brink of adding countless new projects to their books that probably would labor in public hearings and subcommittees in Western New York for months (if not years) before dying on the vine or being drastically scaled back before construction.

For example, Cleveland will soon be home to a gleaming 28-story Hilton hotel tower that will connect with their convention center as an anchor for major national and international conventions. Buffalo’s bunker of a convention center is so far obsolete that any such hotel project would be a non-starter, but I can hear the cries from Donn Esmonde and his cronies about the lack of architectural integrity and historical consideration based on the sleek tower’s design.

Buffalo does have plenty to brag about. HARBORCENTER will be hosting games and serving up food at (716) before the month is over, the Embassy Suites anchor one of my favorite buildings in Buffalo and the Delaware North Tower is rising at an incredible clip. So don’t mistake consternation over Cleveland’s success for ignorance of everything great happening in Buffalo. In fact, Buffalo’s civic leaders ought to lift a page right out of Cleveland’s book.

One of the many projects that are working towards completion in Cleveland is a 143-foot pedestrian drawbridge that will connect portions of Cleveland’s lakefront. As the picture above shows, this is a visually pleasing bridge that will provide direct pedestrian access to an otherwise difficult to reach location. Sound familiar?

Buffalo will have a neat and convenient ferry that will shuttle people and bicycles from Canalside to the Outer Harbor in quick trips that will reduce or eliminate the need to even trek down a newly renovated Ohio St.  With the long-term plan of putting an at-grade bridge across the Buffalo River, why not look into a pedestrian bridge like the one above as a compliment to everything else that is being worked on?

The project cost of the Cleveland project is $5.5 million. That’s not small potatoes. Considering that any span across the Buffalo River would be nearly three or four times the length and the bridge would need to draw high enough to allow the lake freighters through as well. The easiest location would be to connect across near the end or Erie street or even at the mouth of the river across to the lighthouse walkway.

Unfortunately the shortest span would be at the mouth of the river and even that length would likely far surpass the $5.5 million price tag of the Cleveland bridge. I could see that making this a cost-prohibitive project. But maybe a bridge, combined with the new ferry and a renovated Ohio St., would buy more time for a vehicle bridge at the inner harbor. Maybe it’s simply time to strike out and add another signature item to our bustling waterfront.

 

 

Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

September 26, 2014

If you get the chance, take a drive down to Canalside this weekend. Every square inch of concrete has been poured on the historically aligned canals and yet another major milestone has been reached by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Now it’s time to wait.IMG_3563

Aside from the literal waiting that will accompany the concrete’s 28-day curing process (per The Buffalo News) it also appears that we will be waiting for the next significant move from the ECHDC. Tom Dee is always careful with his words but he never hesitates to reveal significant items when the opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s development was no different as Dee said that Canalside is well past it’s tipping point.

I have to disagree with his sentiment. This is the tipping point. Read more…

Between the Pipes: Sabres shutout Canes in preseason home debut

September 23, 2014

It seems safe to assume that Sam Reinhart will be seeing significant minutes in each of the Sabres’ preseason contests. The second overall selection saw action in a second-straight game and had the opportunity to skate in a second line role for the third period.

After opening the game on the “third” line with Chris Stewart and Nicolas Deslauriers, Reinhart was moved between Zac Dalpe and Brian Gionta for the final stanza. He didn’t produce any points but was adept with the puck and played a sound game. While he may not necessarily be ready for the NHL, Reinhart has been displaying the skills that set him apart in the eyes of Tim Murray and the Sabres scouts.

His most impressive play came in the third period when he warded off a forechecker and exhibited enough patience to create time and space and make an outlet pass to Andrej Meszaros behind the Sabres goal. It was a small play that may have gone unnoticed but it was an impressive one. Read more…

Five Storylines to Watch as the Sabres Head to Camp

September 18, 2014

Sam Reinhart- This is the obvious one; expectations are sky high for the Sabres’ highest draft pick since Pierre Turgeon in 1987. By all accounts Reinhart played well in Traverse City despite not finding the back of the net. Reinhart will obviously face a step up in competition as he heads into his first NHL camp. The rookie will most certainly get his shot at the beginning of the year with his nine game pseudo tryout before a decision must be made on his future. All eyes will be on him as he attempts to force his way into the Sabres’ top six forwards, but looking at the Sabres’ roster make up, don’t be shocked to see Reinhart headed back to Kootenay for another year.

The Defense- Only seven, maybe eight blue liners will be on the roster when the puck drops against Columbus on October 7. The team currently has ten candidates for those spots, with the rest shipped down the thruway to Rochester or sent back to juniors for the beginning of the new campaign. Looking at the roster, four spots are locked up in Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, Andrej Meszaros, and Josh Gorges, plus the signing of Andre Benoit to a one way deal likely wraps up the fifth spot on the back end. That leaves Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Ruhwedel, and Nikita Zadorov to battle it out in camp for the two or three remaining spots. Zadorov took a seat for a period or two in Traverse City due to a perceived lack of effort and looks set to be on the way back to the OHL for another year of seasoning barring an exceptional camp. While play on the ice will obviously be the major factor in deciding who sticks with the big club, contract flexibility may also pay a factor; a player like Rasmus Ristolainen is still able to be shuttled between Buffalo and Rochester without going through waivers, which makes him a more likely candidate to start in the AHL.

Top Six Forwards- Tim Murray was able to add much more depth to the NHL ranks on July 1, and the majority of that depth comes in the form of top six forwards such as Brian Gionta and the returning Matt Moulson. Those additions, along with the likes of Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, and Chris Stewart would lead folks to believe the Sabres’ top two forward lines are fairly set. There are still some questions positionally, mainly who will man the middle. Cody Hodgson’s defensive deficiencies have led some to believe he could end up on the wing, while Tyler Ennis saw time at both center and wing last season. With these players seemingly locked into scoring roles barring a trade or injury, it looks like a tough task for anyone, including Sam Reinhart, to break into the group on a permanent basis. Another name who gets lost in the shuffle is Mikhail Grigorenko. The odds are certainly not in his favor for an opening night spot, but he has added 15-20 pounds of muscle and heads into this season in what looks to be a much better frame of mind when compared to last year; I’m pulling for him to put forth a good showing in camp.

Bottom Six Forwards- The Sabres have a ton of bodies looking to fill the final eight roster spots (including healthy scratches). While Zemgus Girgensons is basically a lock to man the middle for the 3rd line and likes of Marcus Foligno, Brian Flynn, and the repatriated Cody McCormick also look to have spots, there are still plenty of questions. Torrey Mitchell barely got on the ice for the team last year before getting hurt, and is thus a bit of an unknown. Nic Deslauriers acquitted himself well in limited duty last year, and Matt Ellis is back in the fold for another year. Add in the now healthy (and sometimes forgotten) Pat Kaleta, new signing Zac Dalpe, Johan Larsson, and new addition Jordan Samuels-Thomas (who played very well in Traverse City) and the competition for the last few spots will be fierce.

Goaltending- For the first time since the early 90’s the Sabres go into the season without a definitive answer in the crease. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth head into camp as the goaltending tandem for the Blue and Gold, and all indications point toward a scenario where the two are viewed as option 1a and 1b by Ted Nolan. While it is unknown how Nolan will split time in net during the preseason, the two 26 year old netminders will be looking to show that they deserve the nod on opening night. The year may start with the time split relatively even, Nolan will likely not hesitate to go with the hot hand. While the opening night starter is by no means a guarantee to play 55 or 60 games, whoever gets the start will have the first chance to prove himself to the coaches. New goaltending coach Arturs Irbe may also play a role in determining who eventually wins the job. Irbe was considered an undersized goaltender throughout his career and he is now tasked with mentoring the 5’ 10” Enroth and Neuvirth, who is listed at 6’ 1”. Whichever goaltender is able to take to Irbe’s methods quickest may benefit in the form of more playing time.

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