Between the Pipes: Canucks blank Sabres

The Sabres mailed in yet another listless effort on home ice, allowing 28 shots through two periods and watching the Canucks skate away with a 3-0 win.

A pair of storylines have dominated the Sabres season thus far and they have been the stellar play of both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth to go along with flat efforts from the ranks of the Sabres skaters. Thursday was yet another prime example of both. While Miller weathered the storm, the Sabres struggled to generate zone time.

Chris Higgins’ one-timer off Cody McCormick’s feed – yes you read that properly – was all that was going to be needed by Vancouver. Brad Richardson scored on a shorthanded deflection and Ryan Stanton scored his first career goal in the third.

That was the long and the short of it as the Canucks were operating on serious cruise control in the third and that’s likely the only reason they didn’t break 40 shots. A 28-14 edge in shots through two periods was a continuation of what has occurred in each and every game so far in this young season.

Miller chose not to speak to the media after the game and I can’t blame him. He’s been hung out each game, has been phenomenal in each performance and has a 1-5-0 record to show for it. Even if he was playing at an average level, no goaltender deserves that type of treatment. There are few players in the league, let alone the Sabres roster, who are more passionate and outspoken than Miller. I can only imagine his comments would have created some sort of firestorm with the media and fans alike. Besides, he stood tall all game, it was about time he was granted a reprieve.

Ryan Miller

What he did well

This will read quite similar to Tuesday’s round up as Miller was phenomenal for the entire game. He saw a game’s worth of pucks in the first 40 minutes and held his team within striking distance all night. You hear a lot about his inability to steal games for his team, if he was playing behind goal support I’m fully confident he would have stolen a whole lot more than he’s given credit for.

Where he struggled

Miller was deep in the net on Vancouver’s first goal. He was forced to make a quick adjustment on the original turnover and likely wasn’t expecting the one timer to come once the puck reached Cody McCormick. Still, he was on the goal line and didn’t have much of a shot at a save.

Save of the game

Miller had a number of dandies but the breakaway stop in the second period was indeed the best. It was a strong move on top of the paint and a well timed poke. He got some help from Ristolainen on the way through, but it was a nice stop.

Roberto Luongo

What he did well

Lu tweets with the best of them, I can tell you that much. As for the game, Luongo was able to kick back and relax for three periods as the Sabres barely tested him for most of the contest. Still, he controlled his space and earned his shutout.

Where he struggled

He looked out to lunch on his turnover behind the net in the third, but when you get a shutout you typically don’t have many shortcomings.

Save of the game

There were a few net-front battles that I really was impressed with throughout the night. Luongo covers the bottom of the net well, especially when he gets his butterfly wide.

Notes:

  • Once again Mikhail Grigorenko played a miniscule role for the Sabres. While it’s obvious that he still needs to mature in many facets of his game, the roles he’s been given are far from what you’d expect for a highly touted prospect the organization hopes to develop as a cornerstone of the franchise. Or at least that’s what you’d expect.
  • Support in the defensive zone from their forwards may be the biggest issue for the Sabres currently. While there has been some inconsistencies from the blueliners but support from the forwards has been abysmal at times. The Stanton goal is a great example as Brian Flynn was sucked all the way down to the crease along with Johan Larsson and the defensemen. That needs to be improved.
  • Some of the biggest issues that seem to be coming up – power play, defensive coverage etc. – certainly seems like it may be tied to coaching, not just talent, no? Something to think about.
  • The Miller and Vanek trade rumors are going to keep rolling along. They’re going to command plenty of attention up until the deadline, I hope you’re ready.

 

Between the Pipes: Miller, Sabres outlast Isles for first victory

This probably doesn’t seem too familiar to some out there in Sabres nation. Winning has been something relatively absent from the psyche of Sabres fans for a while and was amplified by the team’s o’fer start to the year.

However an offensive – can I say explosion? – explosion from the Sabres pulled their contest with the Islanders to overtime where Ryan Miller eventually shut the door on two of the three New York shooters on the way to his first victory of the year. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres in the skills competition.

The shootout victory came after yet another shooting gallery effort from the Sabres skaters as they were outshot by the Isles 44-34 on the night and giving Miller another 40-save effort. Miller, who has seen over 40 biscuits in three of his five games, ranks first in shots against and saves in the entire league. As unbelievable as that may be, he has indeed seen the most shots in this young season.

Luckily for the Sabres he has been up to the challenge. I opined earlier this year that if there’s ever a time to want Ryan Miller on a roster it is during an Olympic year. He was a man possessed after his snub in 2006 and saw his name etched on the Vezina after standing on his head in 2009-10. I’m not ready to guarantee an Olympic roster spot or a Vezina season, but I’m fully confident that he will be maintaining this top form for most of the season.

Where there is going to be a disconnect is in the win and loss column. Only 1-4-0, Miller’s record is far from sterling despite his sublime stat line and plenty of shortsighted fans will point to negative decisions as evidence to how overrated, average, overpaid, soft, etc. Miller is. Despite the exact opposite to be true. 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

Defense still reeling as Vanek puts the Sabres on his back

Although the Sabres are still searching for answers, they at least escaped Thursday’s game with two points. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still worth two points.

The same flaws that have ailed them to start the year were evident throughout regulation as three of Montreal’s goals came on plays in which the goal scorer was either uncovered or on an odd-man rush. Their fourth came on an extended five-on-three advantage, the only goal scored of a settled offensive zone cycle.

There is no getting around the fact that the Sabres are bad defensively. They allowed four goals for the sixth-straight game and continued to make questionable decisions in their own end. While the first week and a half of the season provided the Sabres with strong efforts from Ryan Miller, he has not been at a level in which they can be comfortable leaving him to fend for himself.

A week ago in Boston, Miller was strong throughout the game and did indeed carry his team to victory despite yielding four goals to the Bruins. Since then he has not played as strong, still allowing four goals in his least three outings and playing well enough but not so stellar that he can hide the glaring defensive shortcomings of the team.

Two perpetuate an obnoxious argument that many fans blessed with high hockey IQ (sarcasm) revert to, Miller has shown he is capable of carrying the team and winning games on his own. There have been flashes and proof of this in Toronto, the final 30 minutes against the Bruins and even the disastrous first period in Montreal last Saturday. Should the Sabres continue to defend like a beer league team, Miller will continue to need to not only make countless saves, but trying saves on quality chances. Continue reading

More chances, more goals and more losses

There isn’t all that much to sum up with the Buffalo Sabres at this point. Another game, another night allowing four goals and yet another loss. This is the same broken record that’s been playing for this entire 1-6-1 stretch.

Due to injuries, Adam Pardy made his Sabres debut and Lindy Ruff also chose to get Jhonas Enroth some action although the result on the scoreboard and from those in front of the goaltender didn’t differ. A few key faceoff losses hurt the team, as did continued struggles from the special teams units.

The point will be made by many that this is only 10 games worth of hockey. Others will argue that the season is almost a quarter of the way through. Regardless of which side you stand on, the glaring shortcomings on the Buffalo roster cannot be ignored. Even if it is too early to make a rash decision or trade, there needs to be some sort of remedy found for what ails this team.

There were certainly Ryan Miller detractors all over Sabres Nation claiming that he was once again letting his team down and getting paid far too much money after his last few games. He was, in fact, quite average in his last couple of starts and that shouldn’t be ignored. However, after seeing another four-goal outing with a different goaltender in net, I’d hope that the lightbulb would go on for many of those fans who only see Miller as an overpaid, overrated goaltender.

The Sabres simply cannot defend. Even when the defense corps plays a sound game – which you could technically define tonight as – the forwards are invisible defensively. Not to point the finger at one player, but Cody Hodgson was not only wandering in the corner on the penalty kill that led to Erik Karlsson’s goal but he also made a crucial error on the play that led to Daniel Alfredsson’s goal in the first period. Continue reading

Lackluster play defines another pair of losses

 

At some point the Buffalo Sabres will reach a point in which they’re confident and competent when playing in their own end. Unfortunately it looks like that day may be a ways down the road.

 

Two more ugly defensive games magnified a pair of decent, but not spectacular, efforts from Ryan Miller as the Sabres dropped two more games to Montreal and Florida this past weekend. While the effort in Montreal was simply dreadful, Sunday’s loss to the Panthers was perplexing as the Sabres carried the play and a 3-1 lead prior to the end of the second period.

 

Of course when it rains, it pours and it certainly poured on the Sabres on Sunday. This year’s hallmark has been poor defensive zone coverage and effort and it was evident as the Panthers clawed back to tie the game at three just seconds before the second period ended on Sunday. Brian Campbell’s winning goal was all but inevitable as most of the third period was played in the Buffalo end.

 

In similar fashion to the way the team opened the game on Saturday – one shot in the opening 20 minutes – the Sabres closed Sunday’s game with a relatively listless effort. While they didn’t register a shot until the midway point of the third, they also allowed 13 shots in what was a tie game.

 

In the meantime, the Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville line continues to be the only trio worth their salary as they attempt to carry the Sabres through the dismal stretch of hockey. Vanek’s torrid start was paced by a two-goal, two-assist weekend while Hodgson (1+1) and Pominville (1A) got in on the act Sunday.

 

This 1-5-1 stretch has been magnified by poor efforts in closing games (Toronto and Florida) and generally bad defensive coverage from everyone on the roster not wearing goaltending equipment. The lone win in this stretch was one in which four goals were still conceded despite a fine game from Ryan Miller. The two most recent games weren’t as dazzling of performances by Miller but were defined more by poor efforts from various forwards and defensemen and less by poor goaltending.

 

For example, the two-goal flurry the Canadiens enjoyed in the second period came off a well-placed three-on-two shot (born off a poor Tyler Myers pinch) and an impressive finish from Lars Eller after Alex Glachenyuk walked through a trio of would-be defenders. Both were shots that you would like to see stopped, but are also situations that you don’t need to put your goaltender in front of each and every period.

 

The crowd who likely hates Miller’s recent play is probably growing and there is some justification as to why he could have pulled a few goals from the scoreboard. However, making a save on Parros or Eller would have done little for a team that has hung their goaltender out for 54 shots against in the last five periods he has played.

 

What frightens me at this point is that the Sabres will need a Hasekian effort from Miller each and every night if they even hope to contend. That is, if this style of firewagon, no defense hockey continues. Miller is certainly good enough to steal games. He stole the third period against the Bruins, he shut down the Leafs at ACC, contrary to popular opinion Ryan Miller does win games on his own. However, no goaltender is good enough to steal two points each night. What is unfortunate is that the defensive shortcomings on the Sabres roster are beginning to require just that.

 

  • It is true, Tyler Myers has become a train wreck. He is also entering a zone in which nothing he can do will be enough. There have been times when he has made good decisions and the puck still ends up in the net, but so many fans just see him on the ice. This is similar to what Tim Connolly and Max Afinogenov suffered from late in their careers with the Sabres. Goalies not named Dominik Hasek also suffer from this stigma. For some ultra-intelligent hockey fans, you’re never good enough. Of course, Myers has been bad and when the player who is expected to anchor the blueline is only serving as an anchor, things are going to get bad in a hurry.
  • I’ve liked the fact that Drew Stafford has come out playing physically and has shown a penchant for two-way hockey. However, he’s been a ghost in the offensive zone and that needs to change. He’s just as much of a streak scorer as Thomas Vanek and one or two tallies could get him cooking in a hurry.
  • Mikhail Grgorenko reminds me of Thomas Vanek in a number of ways. He is smooth with and without the puck but isn’t necessarily an electric, up-and-down player. At least not yet. He’s been a little invisible at times these last few games, but I think that could be a product of his line mates more than anything else. I’d like to see him get more time with more skill around him.
  • The “tougher to play against” narrative was going to get old fast and although it is great that John Scott is fighting, there isn’t much need to have him dress in each and every game.
  • Let’s face facts, even a goaltending combination of Hasek and Roy wouldn’t put up very strong numbers the way the Sabres are playing in front of their goalies. One thing to keep in mind for the “Trade Miller” “Miller is overrated crowd” just think of what this team would do with a lesser goaltender in the pipes.
  • Special teams hasn’t been kind to the Sabres as of late, particularly the penalty kill. It seems as if they’re ill-suited at forward to effectively kill penalties and the poor high-zone rotation of the forwards is leading to more chances for the opposing power play. I’m not sure if this is a skill or coaching issue, however.
  • On the faceoff narrative: Yes, faceoffs do matter. They’re important and it is important to have a guy who you can count on to win draws. Winning every single one is not a big deal, however. Losing faceoffs at key times and in key situation is what is hurting the Sabres.

 

Third loss sets Sabres back below .500

A few familiar flaws cropped up in the last three losses for the Sabres as they dropped to 2-3-0 on the season after opening the year with a pair of victories.

Today’s loss to the Capitals came despite opening the scoring and controlling much of the play in the first period. Yet, the Capitals battled back and the Sabres were unable to discover the necessary depth scoring to get over the hump.

It is likely that many fans are panicking over the fact that many of the same issues have yet again hampered the Sabres in a string of losses. Naturally these losses are that much more prevalent with the fact that the shortened season has many focused on getting a quick start and finding security for the playoffs. Depending on how you break things down, this is just five games out of 48. Or you may see this as 10% of the season already behind a team that is looking to return to the playoffs.

Coupling today’s loss with the back-to-back losses at the hands of the Hurricanes paints a picture of a team who not only has struggled to find goal scorers beyond their first line and some up-and-down play from the blue line. Continue reading