The Morning Skate: Sabres searching for a streak

It has been a long while since the Sabres won two in a row. They have a chance to do that tonight at the Prudential Center, a building this team has had some success in.

Perhaps the only obstacle Buffalo will face occupies the six inches between their ears. The Sabres have gotten healthy in the past week and suddenly have a lineup that is worthy of skating at the NHL level. Brad Boyes brought quite a bit of skill to the lines that don’t include Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville and Jochent Hecht offered Lindy Ruff a real NHL center. Now, Hecht still isn’t the answer for Buffalo’s top line, but he is certainly a better option than Paul Szczechura.

The key for Buffalo this evening will be to get an early lead on this Devils team. Marty Broduer is not himself this season. He has very pedestrian numbers which need to be exploited. The Sabres allowed Brodeur to settle in last time the teams played and the future Hall of Famer made them pay. An early goal and controlling the play would go a long way to earning two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo power play vs. New Jersey penalty kill. The Devils have a group of six defensemen that many teams would envy. Anton Volchenkov is a shot blocking machine, Bryce Salvador is good all over, Adam Larsson is a budding superstar and the rest of the unit follows suit. The Devils penalty kill is lethal (thanks TBN) and the Sabres power play has managed to heat up over the past few games. The newly active power play has put up good numbers and could be the difference tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 20 GP 9-8-2, 3.05 GAA, .904 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 20 GP 9-9-0, 3.06 GAA, .884 SV%

Last Game

11/16/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 3 – Devils 5

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Devils 5

Depending how you spin it, the Sabres either had a hiccup along the line of a solid run; or the Sabres have dropped two of their last three.

The latter may be more appropriate considering Buffalo has allowed five or more goals in three of their last five games – one of those was a victory over Winnipeg. Clearly the team’s streaky defense is becoming an issue while Lindy Ruff’s line shuffling continues to be an extreme success or failure.

New Jersey rode two early goals to a 3-1 first period lead and never led by less than two the entire game. Another slow start at home as to be concerning to the staff, it certainly has the fans questioning the team’s talent. Frankly, the fact that this team so often stumbles at home is starting to become a serious issue. The task now is to identify what is causing these slow starts. Is it the coaching staff, the players, a combination? No matter where the onus lies, this is something that needs to be hammered out. Ryan Miller has been hung out to dry in the opening minutes of a home game twice and Jhonas Enroth was the victim last night.

  • The only bright spot for the Sabres was Tyler Myers. His trip to the press box brought him back in full force. He played an aggressive game and was rewarded with two goals. The official stats credit him with only one hit, but I doubt that is actually an accurate number. Based on Myers’ response to being benched, perhaps Lindy Ruff should shelf more of his stars in the coming weeks.
  • Christian Ehrhoff takes the cake as the biggest disappointment for me early in the season. He is playing with zero passion and often looks as if he is loafing about the ice while he counts all of the zeros on the game check he will be collecting. It is about time that Ehrhoff find his game, he was an effective peice of the puzzle in Vancouver but hasn’t found a way to contribute in Buffalo. Just goes to show what happens when you overpay European players.
  • Jhonas Enroth is, in fact, human. While he didn’t get much help last night, the youngster had a very average outing on his way to being yanked after allowing five goals. He definitely got the Ryan Miller treatment from his teammates yesterday.
  • Don’t assume that Enroth being pulled was only because he played an average game. Ruff was likely trying to get him a few minutes to truly rest entering the weekend. The ten-minute respite may be an indication that Enroth will get the start on Friday and Saturday.
  • Slow start aside, it was the Sabres special teams which cost them yesterday. On the whole, the special teams units have been a big reason for Buffalo’s success. But a power play and short handed goal in the first five minutes is a recipie for disaster.
  • Fun times: Ville Leino picked up another apple. Dude just needs to keep finding his legs down the left wing. I have faith he will come around.
  • Still hate Derek Roy at center with Vanek and Pominville. The change-up pushed Luke Adam all the way to the fourth line while promoting Brad Boyes to center with Stafford and Leino. I contend that Stafford and Leino need a finisher at center, maybe Boyes meets that quota, but Adam is not at the point in his development where he can adapt to numerous lines. He fit perfectly with Vanek and Pominville, it would seem that moving him elsewhere is not going to work out.

Three Stars

1. Patrick Elias

2. Tyler Myers

3. Martin Brodeur

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres look to extend Northeast Division lead at home

The Sabres return to First Niagara Center today to face the New Jersey Devils, a team fresh off a trip to Boston last night.

Buffalo remains without Ryan Miller and it appears that Cody McCormick may miss the game due to an injury sustained in Montreal. While no word has come down at this time the Sabres have two options, call up a forward from Rochester or dress seven defensemen. Obviously option two is far more attractive, especially considering the play of Corey Tropp in his four-game debut. Many fans are clamoring to see Zack Kassian, but it may be too soon for that. Marc-Andre Gragnani could end up on the wing, but that just seems like a monumental waste. However, he is probably better served in that position than any other.

The Devils fell to the Bruins thanks to a three-goal third period from the B’s. New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference ‘s top eight. Their position is due, in large part, to a shoddy start and an injury to Marty Brodeur. Of course, Brodeur wasn’t stellar in his time before or after the injury either, so it could be a case of an aging core playing in front of an aged star.

Considering Johan Hedberg played in Boston, it should be expected that Brodeur will be in net for the Devils this evening. The Sabres will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he is expected to see the lion’s share of work until Ryan Miller returns.

Highlighted Matchup

Zack Parise vs. Thomas Vanek. Both were NCAA superstars, both the Devils and Sabres offense run through them, respectively. Vanek has been on fire all season, Parise has decent numbers through 16 games. It will be interesting to see which player comes out on top tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 8GP, 6-0-0, 1.76 GAA, .942 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 6GP, 2-3-0, 3.02 GAA, .880 SV%

Last Game

3/26/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Devils 0

 

2ITB NHL preview: The East

Another NHL season is upon us after a summer that was filled with more Buffalo hockey news than you could shake a stick at. The entire Eastern Conference saw a shake up over the summer and the conference could see a similar playoff race, with seeds 7-12 all within shouting distance of each other. I think the same playoff cast will return this season, but with a few minor changes: Continue reading

Looking back at my conference predictions

A prognosticator I am not. My mock NFL Draft senior year was about 15% correct. When I went about predicting the NHL’s playoff picture back in October, I didn’t have high hopes. Let us see how 2ITB did:

East

Prediction – 1. WAS, 2. PIT, 3. BOS, 4. NJD, 5. BUF, 6. OTT, 7. MTL, 8. PHI, 9. NYR, 10. CAR, 11. TOR, 12. TBL, 13. NYI, 14. ATL, 15. FLA

Actual – 1. WAS, 2. PHI, 3. BOS, 4. PIT, 5. TBL, 6. MTL, 7. BUF, 8. NYR, 9. CAR, 10. TOR, 11. NJD, 12. ATL, 13. OTT, 14. NYI, 15. FLA

So I was a bit off in the middle. Not too many people would have bet on that epic collapse by New Jersey and I, admittedly put far too much stock in Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire. Philadelphia overachieved (according to my original calculation) and I vastly underestimated Tampa Bay.

Washington was a pretty easy choice to make, as was keeping Atlanta, Florida and the Islanders at the bottom. Otherwise it was a hodgepodge of close calls and near misses.

West

Prediction – 1. LA, 2. VAN, 3. CHI, 4. SJ, 5. DET, 6. NSH, 7. ANA, 8. CGY, 9. COL, 10. PHX, 11. STL, 12. DAL, 13. MIN, 14. CBJ, 15. EDM

Actual – 1. VAN, 2. SJ, 3. DET, 4. ANA, 5. NSH, 6. PHX, 7. LA, 8. CHI, 9. DAL, 10. CGY, 11. STL, 12. MIN, 13. CBJ, 14. COL, 15. EDM

Since the West is such a crap shoot it would have been pretty hard to predict either way. I gave LA too much credit and it turns out the Hawks didn’t have close to enough depth to compete at the level they did last year.

My biggest oversight was with Colorado at nine, turns out they really stink. The Western playoff picture is extremely interesting this season, with the amount of parity out there it isn’t a stretch to say that any team can advance and any team could have finished two to four places higher.

Telling weekend for Sabres

This is one of those weekends that you could bill as the biggest of the season, until the next set of back-to-back games rolls along. So I will refrain from dubbing tonight’s game against Florida and tomorrow’s against New Jersey as the two most important games of the year.

Buffalo's poor play against Florida this year needs to be put in the past entering this weekend.

However, the Sabres are in a position of power and can tighten their grip on a playoff spot if they take at least three of four this weekend. In actuality they could split the weekend and maintain the same lead they have on Carolina going in to tonight. There are so many different ways this can play out you can nail down one option and say “this is how it has to be.” Continue reading