Between the Pipes: Moulson shines in Ruff’s return

Matt Moulson must be some kind of magician. Because with a flick of his wrist he made a legion of fans forget about Thomas Vanek hours after they were bitching about his departure.

At least that’s the narrative I’m going with.

Moulson’s Sabres debut was a strong one. He scored a pair of goals – one beauty and one in a “dirty area” – and helped energize Buffalo’s new top line alongside Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis in a 4-3 loss to the Stars.

Moulson’s debut was likely overshadowed by the return of Lindy Ruff and another tick in the loss column as the #SuckForSam sweepstakes continue. Perhaps Moulson’s start helped to draw some attention away from Ruff’s return considering last night’s loss was one of the few, shall we say, competitive contests the Sabres have played all year.

The issues were still there as Buffalo’s in-zone coverage continues to resemble some sort of union of mini-mite group puck chasing and a glitchy version of Lemmings for Windows 95. Never was it more evident than on Vernon Fiddler’s opening tally in which Mikhail Girgorenko and Drew Stafford were left spectating as the Dallas forward crashed the crease to stake the Stars to a 1-0 lead.

While the Alex Goligoski goal was simply a well-placed snipe. Both Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn potted goals off of atrocious Sabres turnovers that managed to create two odd-man opportunities below the faceoff dots. To give up not one, but two situations such as that is something that shouldn’t occur in the NHL. Continue reading

Basement Brigade presents Black & Red Night on October 28

As you may have heard, Lindy Ruff is coming back to Buffalo on Monday. His return is expected to be accompanied by a tribute from the team, which is nice.

Eric, from 3rd Man In, has come up with a little event to coincide with Ruff’s return on Monday. Eric, along with many additional members of the Basement Brigade will be calling for fans to break out their red and black Sabres gear as a way to honor the team’s former uniforms on a night when their former coach – who coached plenty of teams in those colors – returns to Buffalo.

Head over to 3rd Man In to get more of the specific details, but it is really quite simple. Pull out your old red and black gear from the late 90s and early 00s and wear it to Monday’s game. You may not have liked the red and black jerseys, but no one liked the Slug jerseys and plenty of lemmings went out and bought them, didn’t they? This is a cool little idea that isn’t a protest, complaint or anything else but a way to honor what may just be the most successful era in team history.

In the event you didn’t hit the link to Eric’s site the first two times, here it is again: Basement Brigade presents Black & Red Night on October 28

Update: The site and Twitter account with go with the red and black theme as well for the week. Here’s a sample of what I’m getting at.


Familiarity may cloud judgment on choice of Rolston

Ron Rolston’s return was somewhat expected. He wasn’t a total catastrophe during his stint as Buffalo’s interm bench boss and he was rewarded with the removal of the interim tag at a vote of confidence as Buffalo’s head coach moving forward.

While not too many people were happy about it, I’ve been left wondering one thing: Isn’t this exactly what everyone wanted?

The sluggish start to the regular season eventually led to the axe falling on Lindy Ruff with Rolston stepping in to fill Ruff’s 15-year old shoes. He did so with a carryover coaching staff and what ended up being a significant portion of the Rochester Americans opening day roster in front of him. With the season wrapped, the Sabres let both Kevyn Adams and James Patrick walk away, leaving the door open for Rolston to bring in a coaching staff of his choosing. Therefore, once the 2013-14 season begins, the Sabres will have a brand new coaching staff behind the bench; precisely the type of cast they have clamored for over the past few seasons.

Obviously Ron Rolston isn’t the sexy choice for anyone. He’s a relatively mild mannered guy who won’t make too many press conference highlight films. Some have said he’s a carbon copy of the GM and I can’t say I disagree. This is probably why everyone is so upset at the choice of Rolston as the permanent coach. Not so much because he doesn’t have the potential to be a good coach, but because his name isn’t Patrick Roy and he was likely cherry picked by the browbeaten GM for the role. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card

A fired coach, traded captain, booing fans and missing the playoffs typically doesn’t not make for a very successful season. That was certainly the case for the 2013 Buffalo Sabres.

While there were a few bright spots amongst the doom and gloom, the lockout shortened season is certainly one to forget for the Sabres. Before shutting the door completely I wanted to grade out the team and players on how the year played out.


Coaching: It had been rumored that Lindy Ruff’s message had grown stale some time ago. Finally, after a number of listless losses, Ruff was fired after nearly two decades coaching the Sabres. Frankly, it just looked like the team had tuned him out and needed a change. While Ron Rolston arrived and helped to energize the roster, his presence wasn’t enough to lift the Sabres back into playoff contention. Entering the offseason, many are wondering if Rolston will have the “interim” tag removed from his title and command the bench for a full season. Grade: C

Powerplay: It is almost as if the Sabres don’t consider the possibility of an odd-man rush against while on the power play. It also seems likely that trying the same thing over and over again (zone entry) is not the definition of insanity. The power play simply wasn’t good this season and endured a massive dry spell in the thick of Buffalo’s ugliest stretch of losing. They would get an F but they managed to score every now and then. Grade: D+

Penalty Kill: Buffalo decided to run a unique, if not peculiar penalty kill which basically turns into a 1-1-2 in the zone and rotates with the puck. After Ruff’s departure it appeared as if things began to change, but the base of the kill still worked off the 1-1-2 set up seen earlier in the year. I personally didn’t like it as the second forward was rarely in the right position to deny passes across the zone. Grade: C-

Management: A lot was made over the end of the season press conference and other silliness. My focus is on what Darcy Regier did for the hockey team and if he made them better or worse. He traded away two veteran defensemen and his captain and came away with a first round pick, five second round picks, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. Overall it was a solid haul for what was given up (Leopold and Regehr) but the pieces acquired really won’t have much impact for at least two more seasons. Add in the firing of Ruff and it was a pretty tough four months for Regier. While he handled himself well I find it hard to see how he still has the reigns for this rebuild. Grade: C Continue reading

Rolston’s debut spoiled by familiar flaws

Hopefully you didn’t expect Ron Rolston to show up for 24 hours and sprinkle a magic cure-all on the Sabres roster. There certainly wasn’t much of a difference between the final game of the Lindy Ruff era and the first game of the Ron Rolston era.

A quick, uptempo start was erased by a poor second period littered with turnovers, penalties and a squandered lead. Ultimately the Sabres dropped another game (their second to the Leafs this season) and fell further into a hole that is looking near impossible to climb out of.

Firing Lindy Ruff was probably one of the toughest decisions Darcy Regier ever had to make. However, it was a necessary move that probably needed to be made sooner. Naming an interim head coach did a few things for the Sabres, namely keeping all options open once the season comes to a close.

You also might be able to speculate that having Ron Rolston take over on an interim basis keeps Darcy Regier untethered to any hire and may play a role in the expiring shelf life for the general manager. If Rolston has little impact on the roster, the writing would be on the wall for the Sabres to part ways with Regier at the end of the year.

As for Rolston, his impact wasn’t going to be felt in game number one. He officially took over just 24 hours previously and only had a morning skate as an introduction to his new team. Even tomorrow’s game against the Islanders will likely be a challenge as he will still have very limited ice and video time to impact his roster with.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation would be to wait until Tuesday night’s contest against Tampa Bay. By then Rolston will have had two full days of practice in addition to today to install some of the systematic tweaks he will want to run. Hopefully by Wednesday he has a firm grasp on running the team. Continue reading

A new path for the Sabres as Ruff’s time ends

After 170 coaches came and went since Lindy Ruff was first hired, the time finally came for the Sabres organization to take things in a different direction. It certainly seems like an overdue decision.

Lindy Ruff truly is a terrific hockey coach. It was said by Ted Black that no one has done so much with so little over the past number of years. You really can’t contend with that logic. Calling the shots for a club handcuffed by an internal budget, forced to deal with trade deadline acquisitions that often left many wanting more, Ruff was able to cobble together a number of impressive campaigns.

Perhaps his most impressive work came before the lockout when the Sabres were truly hampered by their lack of an owner and further lack of talent on the ice. His post-lockout success has been intermittent but still significant. A pair of conference finals and a President’s Trophy was built on the strength of a deep, talented roster that keyed on a puck possession system. Two further playoff berths came with an arguably lesser roster but were visibly stamped with Ruff’s brand of hockey.

Of course it was probably that brand of hockey that may have done him in. The post-Drury/Briere era has been riddled with inconsistency and bland hockey. More often than not fans and media reverted to pointing at the stale message coming from behind the bench or the front office as the same ugly issues cropped up year after year.

This season was no different. An inconsistent stat devolved to a tailspin that needs to be corrected. The team hasn’t been able to defend or provide consistent scoring. The same slumping players are experiencing the same slumps they have over the past handful of seasons with no answer as to how to snap them into reality. At his press conference yesterday, Ruff truly looked like a man with no answers.

For the first time in his long tenure I truly thought he was at the end of his rope. Turns out that was exactly where he was. The past five seasons have come with two playoff berths but have also been accompanied by mismanaged goaltenders, the lack of progress from young players and long spells of listless, uninspired play. Sixteen more games of the same song was finally enough and I can’t say I’m in disagreement. Continue reading

Are Regier’s moves being mismanaged?

Part one of this post ran yesterday, I hope you read it. Also, be sure to participate in the poll below.

When analyzing the most recent moves by Darcy Regier, I see decisions that were motivated by adding toughness (Ott, Regehr) and talent down the middle (Leino, Hodgson). While the success of those deals is obviously up for judgment, the one thing that is clear is that Regier is not only capable of identifying his club’s shortcomings but is capable of addressing them.

What is sometimes lost in translation is that the direction Regier has attempted to point the team in has been widely greeted with praise recently. The execution with those acquisitions has been what has been questioned. Ultimately, those fans who are quick to judge see these moves as terrible decisions and trace the timeline back to Regier and ultimately place the blame on him.

Again, remember how you felt about the Regehr trade when it happened and as he settled into the roster. You would have been hard pressed to find a fan who didn’t think much of what the Sabres gave up and the type of player they got in return.

The issue lately has been how these players are being implemented. Should the blame be placed on the coach? Are some of these players just not fitting in? Are some of the players busts? All valid questions and each is probably part of the equation at some point.

For example, it is looking like Ville Leino just isn’t the player they expected to sign. His contract is now cumbersome and he hasn’t offered anything to the Sabres in terms of production. He obviously falls into the “miss” category. However, for players like Regehr and Hodgson, they’ve brought a wrinkle to the roster that was missing and have undoubtedly filled a need.

That brings us to coaching. Plenty have clamored for Lindy Ruff to be fire. Hell, Jerry Sullivan had a nice pre-written column that just needed to be slightly tweaked after Thursday’s win. I can’t say I disagree anymore. Continue reading