The Morning Skate: No room for error against Devils

Happy Valentines Day, we are two weeks away from the trade deadline and the Sabres are in must-win mode for the rest of the season.

The Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they are in a position where they need every point available to play in the second season.

There is a chance that Lindy Ruff will be back behind the bench, but that has yet to be confirmed. Zack Kassian appears as if he will remain on the wing with Brad Boyes and Matt Ellis for the near future. Buffalo is still without Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick, but are otherwise healthy – particularly with regards to their skill players.

Buffalo’s lack of scoring and slow starts have been just about an epidemic this season. The Sabres need to shake that habit immediately if they expect to be playing well into April. That starts with finishing chances. Buffalo has missed on a number of glorious opportunities this season and it has reflected in the standings. Ryan Miller has been providing excellent goaltending as of late but hasn’t gotten the necessary goal support.

If Buffalo can score more than three goals for more than just two games in a row, they will have a punchers chance at reaching the postseason.

Highlighted Matchup

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek vs. New Jersey’s defense. There is no mistaking the two most valuable players on Buffalo’s roster this season. Vanek has been back for two games and has a goal and an assist. Pominville has the same stat line in those two games. It just so happens each assisted on the other’s goal. New Jersey’s defense has gotten pretty thin as of late and Buffalo could really take advantage of a weak set of defensemen tonight. Of course they also have to deal with Marty Brodeur.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NJD: Martin Brodeur

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Devils 1 SO, Prudential Center, 1/24/2012

Double Minors: Offense continues as Sabres top Bruins

It would appear re-investing in XM Radio this week came at the right time. I can only imagine what the whiner line (and message boards) are saying about the idea of leaving James Patrick behind the bench permanently.

News flash, Lindy ain’t going nowhere. Seriously though, the team had begun to turn things around before Ruff’s injury. This game was not a magical cure-all because Ruff was watching from the press box.

The fact of the matter is that the Sabres set the tone out of the gate and maintained that attitude for the entire game. It is something the team has struggled to do this season, but they played 60 good minutes tonight and were rewarded on the scoreboard.

Billy Jaffe may have said it best on NHL Tonight. He acknowledged that Buffalo doesn’t have the DNA to push teams around, but they pushed back this evening and proved they aren’t complete pushovers. Despite the fact the Sabres lost each of the fights they were a part of, I was impressed with the physical side of Buffalo’s game.

Ryan Miller turned in another sparkling performance, making 36 saves for his 25th career shutout. The shutout and his recent run will make it tough for Lindy Ruff to rest his starter this weekend. In fact, a Saturday start for Jhonas Enroth could be a long shot.

The Sabres have ran up an impressive run of nine points of their last ten; they’re still in need of a handful of points from their next games. The four points available on Friday and Saturday will go a long way in determining how for real this run could be.

  • I give credit to Ryan Miller for being diplomatic about the no goal call he received in the first period. It was an obvious blown call and he admitted that the Lucic incident from earlier in the year likely had some impact on that call.
  • Ville Leino has flourished playing on Buffalo’s top line. He has five points in his last six games and four points since receiving the promotion to the wing with Pominville and Roy. Leino made two nifty passes tonight and has slowly begun to look like the player the Sabres were looking for last summer.
  • I wonder if Mike Milbury needs to go on the way he does during the intermission and pre/post-game reports. I feel like he is trying to be Don Cherry and he doesn’t need to imitate CBC’s resident curmudgeon. Cherry’s personality has developed for some time, I feel as if Milbury has turned his attitude up a notch recently. I understand his dislike for players who fight with visors (Cherry has dibs on that one) but Brad Marchand is virtually the same guy. So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?
  • I do really like Tim Thomas. I could care less about his political opinions, he is a darn good goalie and seems pretty down to earth. For example, he pretty much gave Tuuka Rask a shoulder shrug and a “no big deal” when he went in to replace the young Finn.
  • Cody McCormick is a fine fighter, but he isn’t in the same class of Shawn Thornton. Needing a fighter of that caliber isn’t entirely necessary. But none of the Sabres were able to hold their own tonight, all were over matched. Kaleta bit off way more than he could chew with Lucic and Mike Weber clearly needs to take boxing lessons this offseason, I’m not sure he has ever won a fight in the NHL.
  • It was cool to see Tweets about the rowdy Mannheim fans upping the volume late in the game. What is disappointing is the fact that so many fans with such a high hockey IQ felt the need to leave a 6-0 beating of Buffalo’s main rival so early. The louder fans stuck around and made some quality noise as the game came to a close.
  • Tyler Ennis is officially the number two center. No need to split hairs anymore. He shouldn’t take another shift at wing for the rest of this season. He gives a mean hockey hug too, eh Harrison?

Game Summary/Event Summary

 

The Morning Skate: Bruins present a stiff test for surging Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have taken seven of their last eight points thanks to some strong shootout play in net and from the forwards. Points nine and ten are on the table tonight.

Of course the Boston Bruins stand in the way of those precious two points. The Bruins remain a team this current Sabres roster is not built to take down. The Bruins are big, physical and tough. The SabresĀ  are small, agile and soft.

Because of the hole Buffalo dug between November and December, this is a must win game. Of course expectations will likely be a bit lower considering the way Boston has played Buffalo this year.

The Bruins’ last visit to First Niagara Center was the “grudge match” game after Ryan Miller was hit by Milan Lucic. The Sabres lost 4-3 in a shootout that night after playing 20 minutes of physically engaging hockey in which they controlled the play. The following 40 were far more passive and the team paid for it with the loss.

Buffalo not only needs to set an early tone, they need to carry it throughout the night. There are players on the roster capable of providing a steady physical presence, the key is making sure it survives beyond the first period.

With the possibility of not having Lindy Ruff on the bench, I’m curious to see how the team responds.

Highlighted Matchup

Nathan Gerbe vs. Brad Marchand. Both have the honey badger moniker following them around. Although, Marchand seems more fond of Nose Face Killah. Both are agitators who can easily stick in their opponent’s craw. Last time Marchand scored a big second period goal and acted like a real professional while taunting the Buffalo bench. Gerbe was the most physically active Sabre that night, but was ineffective on offense. Both have the ability to have an impact on this game. It will be interesting to see who has the better night.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

BOS: Tim Thomas

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Bruins 4 SO, First Niagara Center, 11/23/2011