Double Minors: Vanek powers Sabres

Tuesday night didn’t end well. Ryan Miller allowed a pair of questionable goals and there were some struggles from various players on the roster. However, Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Leafs was followed by a 7-4 win over the Bruins.

Thomas Vanek continued his Hart-worthy play with a five-point effort that was complimented by his first hat trick since 2011. Buffalo’s defensive struggles remained evident in the win, but Ryan Miller made a number of massive saves throughout the course of the evening, aiding in the Buffalo win.

Vanek was straight-up dominant on Thursday. He’s been strong all year and quickly jumped into the Hart Trophy race with a five-point game right off the bat and an incredibly impressive point streak. Vanek has registered at least one point in every game that he has played.

This is exactly the type of hockey that you need to see from Vanek. He has developed terrific chemistry with his linemates and providing him with a steady, talented center in Cody Hodgson has been playing dividends. Vanek’s line has combined for 33 points (15+18) thus far. Lindy Ruff has found lightning in a bottle with this line and I’d argue that no matter what type of slide the Sabres may hit that this line should remain untouched.

The one constant between Tuesday and Thursday’s games are the continued struggles on the defensive side for the Sabres. Tyler Myers has had an up-and-down season and Thursday was certainly a down game. His partner, Jordan Leopold, wasn’t much better in a contest where the Bruins skated freely in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Buffalo’s defensive zone lapses aren’t focused on one area either. In fact the defensemen, centers and wingers have all been culpable at times this season. Even the goaltenders have laid eggs of their own – Enroth in Carolina and Miller on Tuesday. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Torrid schedule continues in Boston

Buffalo came forth with a strong bounce back effort against Carolina last night after dropping a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Monday.

The Sabres are now heading to Boston on a night that a pair of their playoff race competitors are in action. Toronto’s loss last night gave the Sabres more help in the playoff race. Getting a win tonight and regulation losses in Vancouver (Winnipeg) and Washington (vs. Tampa Bay) will keep the Sabres collective heads above water.

Boston has been up and down in recent weeks, playing strong hockey while laying eggs shortly thereafter. The Bruins and Sabres have played an interesting series this season, I have to wonder how Buffalo will fare against a supremely physical team with the general lack of physicality on the Sabres roster.

I fully expect to see Jhonas Enroth in net tonight. Ryan Miller has started 21-straight games and has played at least 30 minutes in the last 22 games. He has seen a ton of action in every game since last week – save for last night – and needs some time prior to this next run of games he will be sent on.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres toughness vs. Bruins toughness. The absence of Paul Gaustad has yet to show much effect on the Sabres. Boston plays a hard game and I wonder if the Sabres have the muscle to run with a team that plays such a style. Obviously players like Chara, Lucic and Thornton will be too much to handle. But like the 6-0 win last month, Buffalo simply needs to push back and show they’re capable of not backing down.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

BOS: Tim Thomas

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Bruins 1 SO, First Niagara Center, 2/24/2012

The Morning Skate: Weekend results to determine Monday’s stance

No one really knows if the Sabres are buyers or sellers just yet. Most fans would lead you to believe they should be sellers. Many members of the media would likely say the same thing. However, it would appear the verdict is still out down at Seymour H Knox III Plaza.

The Sabres sit seven points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the same place they were before their win on Tuesday. As you can tell, this is going to be a difficult journey. Buffalo are well within striking distance of a playoff spot and simply need to continue the run of strong play they have been on since the All-Star break. That evidence alone would lead me to believe that the organization wants to wait before determining what steps they plan on taking on Monday.

Tonight’s game will do a lot for that decision. For that matter, tomorrow’s game carries just about the same weight. If the Sabres end the weekend 0-2, they can all but kiss their chances goodbye and begin to retool on the deadline. If they come away with four points – six points for the week – there will be some careful stepping by Darcy Regier and company when deciding in what direction to move.

The last time the Bruins came to town the Sabres didn’t wilt under the weight of Boston’s physical game. The Sabres pushed back and showed they’re not completely incapable of standing up for themselves. Of course, the Sabres got handled in all three fights. But they didn’t back down.

Buffalo also enjoyed some poor goaltending and cruised to a 6-0 victory. I doubt that the Bruins will come with another poor effort tonight and the Sabres will need to be prepared. Ryan Miller has been playing terrific hockey and needs to extend that streak as it seems obvious the team still rolls with his fortune.

The Sabres simply need another full effort if they hope to win. They have proved they’re capable of playing more than 30 minutes of hockey lately, they just need to carry that swagger into this weekend’s games. Continue reading

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 Sabres  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

The Morning Skate: Judgement day has arrived

The day of reckoning is upon us. That is to say, the Bruins are in town and most Sabres fans and media personalities expect a brawl during warmups.

Personally, I have the over/under for fights at two. 2ITB reader Chris Wasik is taking the under, as am I. If there is one fight, I won’t be surprised. But if there is less time spent throwing fists and more time throwing body checks the fans can’t be too upset with the Sabres’ response.

Bottom line, the Sabres didn’t respond how they needed to when the Miller incident first occurred and the time to answer the bell has passed. Lindy Ruff said it best in his morning presser (thanks to TBN),

We have to play a real hard game. That’s the message in all areas. Hard on the puck, hard getting it back, hard physically.

Buffalo will have a tough enough task cooling down the NHL’s hottest team. The Bruins have won nine-straight and have climbed to the top of the Northeast Division. Well, until Toronto won last night. To put it bluntly, Buffalo, Boston and Toronto will be playing musical chairs atop the Northeast for some time.

Tonight marks the first in a run of 10 games in the next 12 to be played at First Niagara Center. Judging by the Sabres hot and cold reactions at home, they will need a good run to keep pace with the Eastern Conference playoff contenders.

Despite the main focus of tonight’s game being on trying to take Milan Lucic’s head off, the focus should be on beating the Bruins and starting a run that will separate the Sabres from the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Highlighted Matchup

T.J. Brennan. The rookie will be making his NHL debut in a pretty big game. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his two seasons in the minors. While Brennan may not see a ton of ice time, he will need to play a sound game in order to prove he is capable of remaining the first man up from the farm as the season progresses. Not to mention, this is a defensive corps without two of their best defensive zone players, Brennan will need to be responsible in his own end all night.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 11GP, 7-2-0, 2.06 GAA, .931 SV%

BOS: Tim Thomas 14GP. 9-4-0, 1.77 GAA, .938 SV%

Last Game

11/12/2011, TD Garden, Sabres 2 – Bruins 6

The Sabres expected response against the Bruins

The time for retribution has passed. As sad as it is to say, the Sabres opportunity to truly get payback for the hit Milan Lucic put on Ryan Miller was two Saturdays ago. Unfortunately the Sabres cowered at the thought of putting up a fight. They turtled and are now a laughing-stock for their soft play.

I can circle for $50 if you want.

Many Sabres fans are expecting a bloodbath tomorrow night. Fans have been calling to Joe Finley to be called up from Rochester in order to fight the big bad Bruins. I wouldn’t be surprised if some were expecting Dr. Hook McCracken, Screaming Buffalo Swamptown and Ogie Olglethorpe to take the morning skate. However, I doubt there will be anything close to a bloodbath tomorrow night.

Yes, the Sabres truly dropped the ball when Miller was run over. There needed to be some sort of toll for Lucic to pay after taking a run at Miller. Sadly, nothing was done. While it will be too late to truly may Lucic answer for his actions, a fight probably won’t be out of the question tomorrow. However, it is doubtful that multiple scraps will be in the cards. That doesn’t mean the Sabres are still a bunch of pansies. If they come out and play a physical game, they will prove there is more to this bunch than the soft shoves Lucic was handed last time around.

The one thing I have taken away from this situation is the overall resolve of this group of players. Sure, they can’t seem to figure out how to win at home and they often have slow starts which doom the outcome of some games. Still, Miller has let his voice be heard. As have Paul Gaustad and Robyn Regehr.

It seems as if the resounding message is, “we want to win and we want to win often.” Continue reading