NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. Continue reading

New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

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

Plenty of Northeast play on the horizon for the Sabres

As was illustrated last week, one loss can really be magnified with such a short schedule. Three losses can send a fan base into an absolute state of terror.

With two losses to the Canes followed by another defeat in Washington, a number of fans seem to be inching closer to the panic button as 10% of the 2013 schedule is now behind the team. Of course, that is only five games worth of a 48-game schedule.

The reactions to these losses seem to be fueled more by the way in which the games were lost more so than the actual outcome. However, there is still plenty of time to right the ship as the Sabres prepare to close out February with a pair of division games; their second and third within the Northeast Division this season. In fact, five of their next six games will be against Northeast Division rivals.

Buffalo’s win against Toronto was a practice in great goaltending and clinging on for dear life. You might say that the below average third period carried into the loss at Carolina two days later and has stayed with the team since. Ryan Miller’s stellar night against the Leafs last week was the catalyst in Buffalo’s victory; along with another great night from the team’s top line.

Tonight’s First Niagara Center debut from the Leafs is different only in that Toronto has suffered two ugly losses down in New York and are still searching for answers in the James Reimer/Ben Scrivens debate. Reimer impressed against Pittsburgh last week before getting lit up for five against the Rangers but wasn’t victimized by the Islanders as Scrivens was. I’d expect to see Reimer between the pipes tomorrow night. Continue reading

Sabres on their way after two wins

Well that was a fun couple of days, no? A 5-2 beat down of the Flyers followed by a near textbook road win against the Leafs and the Sabres have gotten off on the right foot for this shortened 2013 season.

Sunday’s opener was about as sloppy as expected, as the Sabres and Flyers plodded through forty minutes of fairly average hockey before the Sabres third period explosion put the game away. The one takeaway from that opener was seeing the rust on both teams. Even with a game under their belt from the day before, the Flyers still looked sluggish in many ways along with their hosts who were playing their first game of the season.

The Sabres did do plenty of things right, however. They engaged physically from the opening faceoff, scored the game’s first goal and maintained composure after falling behind in the second period. Drew Stafford’s unexpected fight was pointed to as the spark that drove the Sabres into the third period and their scoring surge in the final frame got the job done.

Defensively there was plenty to improve upon in front of a strong outing from Ryan Miller – who benefitted from two disallowed goals. Special teams was a bright spot as the powerplay was clicking and the penalty kill did great work outside of allowing Claude Giroux to wire a one-time home for Philly’s second goal of the game. Continue reading

Double Minors: Saving the drama for the finish

To quote a loyal 2ITB reader regarding yesterday’s game, “simply stunning”.

After 20 minutes of listless hockey, it would have appeared the Sabres were cooked. Not only for the game but their season as well. However, the slow crawl back began on a second period power play and ended with Derek Roy’s game winner on the man advantage.

It certainly wasn’t an ideal victory, with the early deficit and stale first period effort after a strong opening 10 minutes. But they don’t ask how, they ask how many. Buffalo’s victory keeps them at pace with the Capitals and the Panthers, who only managed a point against Winnipeg last night.

The Sabres seem to be missing the presence of Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff for no other reason than because their big minutes have been distributed among players like Alex Sulzer, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Brayden McNabb. Even Jordan Leopold has seen an uptick in his time. None of these players have reacted particularly well to their increase in ice time and it has certainly shown in the defensive zone. Although, the Sabres did buckle down in the final 40 minutes, allowing 12 shots in the second and third period versus 13 in the first.

The past three games haven’t been too kind to the Sabres in a defensive sense. Ryan Miller wasn’t particularly sharp, but made a number of impressive saves along the way this evening. I would have to say the Sabres won the game in spite of Miller’s play. However, there were a number of huge saves that he did make which took goals away from the Leafs.

Thursday and Saturday will be a pair of tough tests for this team, especially if they continue yielding the type of easy chances they gave up to Jake Gardiner’s, Clarke MacArthur’s and Tyler Bozak’s second goal. Of course, there is still some hope left that the Sabres will be able to pull off the improbable.

  • Despite their recent success, the Sabres still appear to be a one-line team. The current hot line is obviously the Regulator line of Foligno, Ennis and Stafford. The other two lines are having some success but could seriously use a bump in success to keep the Sabres rolling.
  • Along that line, the Sabres got three goals from defensemen which is a huge bonus for any team. However, it would be really nice if the other lines can produce for these final two games.
  • Alex Sulzer had an up and down game, but his three points make things easier to stomach. Even after a rough outing, he is still heads and shoulders better than Marc-Andre Gragnani.
  • Andrej Sekera’s game has slipped as of late. After a great run of play that came during Buffalo’s surge, he has seemed to regressed some these past few games. Given the need the Sabres have for steady play on the blueline, Sekera will need to turn things around.
  • Marcus Foligno made Mike Komisarek look like a complete fool on that tying goal. You wonder why Komisarek has fallen off so drastically, it is because he makes idiotic plays as he did last night.
  • With a pair of fights, the Sabres are up to 39 on the season. That is a significant increase from last year. For all the questions that were raised about toughness, it would seem as if the Sabres have improved in that department.
  • That being said, Brayden McNabb may have bit off more than he could chew with Jay Rosehill, but he and Marcus Foligno showed fans more of what they’ve been hoping to see from their rugged prospects.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Just win, baby

With my one-week layoff complete, the Sabres are in no better shape than they were in when I departed. However, the road to their current state was an interesting one.

A huge 5-1 spanking of the Capitals put Buffalo in full control of their destiny prior to dropping their weekend set against Pittsburgh and Toronto. Now they not only need to win their games this week, they need a little help along the way.

I suppose what was most disappointing about the losses over the weekend is two-fold. Obviously knowing the Sabres came out and dominated a game they had to have only to see them give less than their best on the weekend is the most disheartening part. However, I have to wonder why Lindy Ruff wouldn’t give Ryan Miller one night off (against Pittsburgh)? Not only would it give Miller some much needed rest, which I would assume is desperately needed; but it would give Jhonas Enroth one more game. Beating the Penguins was going to be a near impossible task, why waste a start from the player that has carried the team to this point?

Of course, that is in the past. The injuries to Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff are in the present and could have a major effect on tonight’s game, just as they did on Saturday. Myers and Ehrhoff are two major parts of the Sabres’ attack. They’re dynamic puck movers who have good hockey IQ in the offensive zone. Sure, they’ve each had their struggles defensively, but they’re still two of Buffalo’s top four defenders. Their absence needs to be lessened as much as possible.

Not to overstate the obvious, but tonight is do or die. A win will keep their heads above water and keep them in the hunt. Buffalo still has a dicey finish at the end of the week, but those two games won’t matter unless they get two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Goaltenders. Ryan Miller finally came down off the his hot streak that helped him lead the Sabres into playoff contention. Of course, fans are only looking at the last two games when evaluating him; exactly what I’ve come to expect from a town with such hockey IQ. Miller needs to play a strong game, hopefully the two days off helped him a bit. I’ll maintain that he should have rested Friday, however. As for the Leafs. I would have to assume that Ben Scrivens will be back in net. The Sabres put three by him on Saturday, they just need to play a little better D and continue to pepper the youngster.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

TOR: Ben Scrivens

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Maple Leafs 4, 3/31/2012, Air Canada Centre