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

Double Minors: Sabres stay alive with shootout victory

Make no mistake, the Buffalo Sabres are riding on the slimmest of playoff hopes. But those hopes remain alive after tonight’s 2-1 shootout win over Boston.

Compared to the last two visits to First Niagara Center by the Bruins, this contest was quite placid. In fact, parts of the game were downright stale. The clubs combined for only 15 shots in the first period before going off for 41 over the final two frames.

Ryan Miller was superb in net once again, turning aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced. His lone goal came on a snipe by Slovakian-born Zdeno Chara in the third period. Derek Roy made a glorious pass to feed Chara on the goal. In all seriousness, it was a well placed shot that found its way past Milan Lucic and Tyler Myers at the hashmarks.

Boston’s goal shared plenty in common with that of Buffalo’s lone tally. Slovak Andrej Sekera place a wrist shot in the top corner with some traffic around the crease in the second. Tuukka Rask made 26 saves on the night.

The Sabres pretty much held on for dear life for the final 20 minutes of the game – they were outshot 15-5 in the third – and leaned on Miller to get them to overtime. Another strong overtime penalty kill gave the Sabres a chance in the shootout where the skill players came through.

This team still needs to realize that they need to score goals if the hope to even make the playoffs. Hoping for 2-1 victories is not wise. The scoring situation on this roster needs to be addressed before this playoff push can be taken seriously.

Buffalo travels to Madison Square Garden today for a matchup with the East’s best club. I understand the Sabres are in desperate need of every point, but it would be wise for Lindy Ruff to give Jhonas Enroth a game tonight while resting Miller in preparation for a lengthy road trip next week. Continue reading

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

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Bruins 4 SO

The first 20 minutes were exactly what Sabres fans were waiting for last night. The Sabres came out, played physical, fought Milan Lucic and looked like a hard nosed hockey club. It was the following 40 minutes that were less encouraging.

Another two-goal lead slipped away at home for the Sabres. While they got a point, it was a game that will be remembered for the Sabres standing up for themselves and registering a moral  victory. However, there was a lot more to that game than a few fights and a strong first period.

Give credit to Paul Gaustad. He came out and fought Lucic after he did little in Boston. Lucic manhandled him in the fight, but at least Gaustad showed he isn’t going to back down. The entire roster came out throwing body checks, Gaustad, Nathan Gerbe and Corey Tropp were especially physical. Their play led to another donnybrook after Gaustad tried to put Brad Marchand into the fifth row and Robyn Regehr stepped up for his team in another losing effort against Zdeno Chara.

Perhaps the Sabres left a little too much on the ice in the first period. Maybe their play awoke the Bruins to the kind of game they would have to play, because the Sabres were not the best team on the ice in the second and third periods. The Boston power play dominated the Buffalo penalty kill and the Sabres power play fizzled after picking up a pair of goals in the first period.

Buffalo’s chance to win came with 1:00 of power play time in overtime. They even had a pair of glorious chances but couldn’t finish. Thus is life sometimes.. But the bottom line is that the special teams didn’t do their part for the Sabres in yet another home loss.

  • Two rookies have scored their first NHL goal for the Sabres this season. T.J. Brennan made a great play to convert a rebound for his first. It was only one game, but considering he is virtually the same player as Marc-Andre Gragnani, I would take Brennan any day over MAG. Brennan played physical and showed he has strong puck skills. Brennan made me less nervous than Andrej Sekera or Gragnani over the course of the game.
  • Nathan Gerbe was Buffalo’s best player. Not to be too cliché, but you wouldn’t have known how big he was based on his play. Gerbe was physical all game and didn’t shy away from anyone. Considering his work ethic, you have to be excited to think what he will continue to bring to the table.
  • Corey Tropp is also making me a believer. If he is a sign of what is to come for the Sabres, you have to be kind of excited. Tropp is pretty much Pat Kaleta with a little more offensive upside. His three blocked shot shift that was accentuated by a couple hits in the second period was a real eye opener. You have to wonder if his continued success may make Kaleta expendable at some point.
  • Brad Marchand really exudes scumbag. I know Kaleta is right up there in the eyes of the NHL in terms of pests and dirty players. I won’t argue against that. However, the way Marchand plays makes that rat persona really. Honesty, what kind of pussy ducks body checks and chirps a bench after he scores. The guy is a complete disgrace, the fact that he is so skilled just makes it worse.
  • I didn’t love Jhonas Enroth’s game tonight. He wasn’t bad, but he looked shaky once again. Marchand’s goal was particularly weak. Give him credit, he made some big saves in the third and the shootout, giving his team a chance to win.
  • Not sure why the referees didn’t call the Stafford/Ference altercation a fight. Both dropped their gloves and Stafford landed a few shots on Ference. Props to Stafford for standing up for himself.
  • Hated Jochen Hecht with Vanek and Pominville. With Brad Boyes out the landscape will seriously change in terms of line combos. But still, Hecht is a complete waste with those two. I was glad Roy was put back with Leino and Stafford, but I hated Ruff’s decision on Hecht. He played very well in a checking role, they should have rolled him out with Matt Ellis and Tropp.
  • The early penalties and the Boyes injury basically made Ruff roll three players out at a time with little ability to keep lines together. I have an inkling that Zack Kassian may get the call for Boyes. Kassian has been scoring for Rochester and he is a right wing. Seems like a good choice. Hopefully he comes up and plays a real physical style.

Three Stars

1. Tyler Seguin

2. Benoit Pouliot

3. T.J. Brennan

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

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

Miller injury a wake up call for Sabres

The story on Ryan Miller and Milan Lucic has had a few days to simmer, both in the national media and here in Buffalo.

The big news came down yesterday when it was confirmed that Miller had indeed been concussed on the collision with Lucic. After having a hearing with the Shanahmmer, Lucic was cleared of any supplemental discipline, the right call in my book. Perhaps the hit was worthy of one or two games off, but really it was no more than a dirty play – it wasn’t even close to the things Matt Cooke has done.

The dirty hit wasn’t even the most despicable part of the play. The worst part is that he did not have to answer for his actions; the Sabres failure to respond was downright embarrassing.

Yes, Lucic runs around the ice and plays a game that toes the line between clean and dirty. Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand do the same thing; their style is to intimidate and grind out their opponents. More often than not, Lucic and Marchand are well into dirty territory regarding their play. Sometimes they get a call, sometimes not. It is just how they play the game, you need to accept it in some regard but it certainly makes hating them an easy task.

In regards to Saturday, Lucic took a cheap shot at Miller and was trying to do nothing other than put the Sabres goalie onto the main concourse of TD Garden. In no way was he thinking of avoiding the goalie and slowing down, he saw Miller in his path and made sure to clear him from the tracks.  For some reason, the Sabres chose not to respond in kind. Suspension or not, something needed to be done.

Thomas Vanek shouldn’t be required to step up in that situation, at least he attempted to return the favor, although his hit barely affected Lucic. Then the purse tossing started from the boys in blue and gold. Andrej Sekera slid in and softly pushed Lucic against the boards, meanwhile Tyler Myers came in with a similarly weak effort. Paul Gaustad was late to the party, but really didn’t do much to stand up for Miller either. After that? Nothing from the Sabres. Cody McCormick was quiet, as was Pat Kaleta. There were no big hits or fights, they didn’t run at Tim Thomas (the wrong response) nor did they attempt to reassert themselves from a general physical standpoint.

Maybe trying to fight Lucic in that moment would have been foolish. The only two players on the roster truly capable of handling Lucic in a fight – Robyn Regehr and McCormick – weren’t on the ice. Of course they didn’t challenge him later in the game. So, maybe you don’t have someone who can immediately drop the gloves and make Lucic pay. However, you have the option of taking an eye for an eye.

This is going to come across as extremely dirty, but if I wasn’t capable of holding my own in a fight with Lucic I would have taken the next step. Whether it was trying to put the butt end of my stick through his nose or giving him a lumberjack hack elsewhere, I would have made him remember the time he ran Ryan Miller. Is that overkill? Certainly. Would it be a better response that what the Sabres put forth? Yes, by default. Still, it would have been a response.

Now, those are the most extreme measures of retribution for the actions Lucic took. Maybe the best course will be to have Kaleta or someone else catch him with a big body check. McCormick or Regehr could even engage him in a fight. It doesn’t matter, so long as he pays for his actions and pays hard.

That brings this argument back to square one. Where was the rest of the team for that very play or for the remaining 40 minutes of hockey? How is it possible for a professional hockey team with their eyes set on the Stanley Cup unable to respond when their starting goaltender and top star gets scummed by the other team?

Not only did the Sabres fail to step up and answer the bell on Saturday, they put up a billboard for the rest of the NHL saying, “you can push us but we won’t push back.”

Double Minors: Sabres 2 – Bruins 6

Going over the Sabres 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the Boston Bruins would be overkill at this point. It is clear that Buffalo didn’t come ready to push back against a stronger, more physical team last night.

Last night must have left Ryan Miller wonering what he needs to do to get some support.

The Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller is a whole different monster that revolves around a scummy player and one team’s inability to sack up and answer the bell. My short opinion on that matter is Lucic went out of his way to injure Miller. He knew exactly what he was doing because that is the type of player he is. The Sabres failed to stand up for their goaltender, because that is the type of team they are.

As for the game, the Sabres again showed a complete lack of hockey sense when it came to playing defense. Miller turned in a fine performance through the two periods he played. Unfortunately Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera continue to make countless errors in zone and with the puck, the pair was on the ice for the first two Bruins goals. After that Marc-Andre Gragnani took a limp wristed attempt at stopping a two-on-one and the Bruins had deposited another goal.

There is no good reason for the Sabres to continue operating in this fashion. Their “top” defenseman (Myers) is seriously under-performing as he is sluggish all over the ice, is forcing passes and is not even close to the Calder winner or the defenseman many saw at the tail end of last season. There is obviously a major flaw in his offseason training program because he has opened the season with horrible stretches for two years in a row.

The rest of the defense isn’t immune to this either. Sekera had enjoyed a great stretch of hockey before tanking over the last week and a half. His play far eclipses Myers at times in terms of ineptitude. Sadly the two are paired together and the level of fail is almost nauseating.

Robyn Regehr is pretty much sitting on an island of misfit offensive defensemen at this point. He is the only true stay-at-home force the Sabres have – plus Mike Weber who can’t crack the lineup – and is obviously over his head in terms of staying responsible in zone. Jordan Leopold is exactly who you think he is, you can’t ask for too much more than he is giving at this point. In fact, that pairing is the only stable one that Sabres put out on a nightly basis.

As for Christian Ehrhoff and Gragnani, they may as well be playing wing. Ehrhoff is far too much of a risk to play with an offensive defenseman who lacks the toughness to lay a simple body check. Ehrhoff’s gaffe on the third Boston goal was bad last night, the feeble attempt Gragnani took at defending it was far worse.

It is time for a serious overhaul on the Sabres blueline.

  • As I stated above, Ryan Miller was having a strong outing for the Sabres. I suspect his upper-body injury was affecting his play and the team’s general lack of energy motivated the goalie change. Not much more can be asked of Miller last night when his defensemen are basically giving him a two-on-none to defend. From his perspective that game had to be a complete embarrassment to be a part of.
  • Jhonas Enroth didn’t get much more help from his teammates once he was in net. He also was not the superman has has been in the past few outings. Still, you can’t ask too much from a goalie in the situation he was inserted into.
  • Sekera and Gragnani get two major goat awards for their lack of effort on those two-on-ones. Sekera literally did nothing and Gragnani was so far back that Miller was still responsible for both the shot and pass.
  • Thomas Vanek scored, which is nice. Keeping the TV Party rolling is key.
  • Gragnani’s goal came on the power play, that is also a bonus. If that unit can stay effective it will certainly go a long way for Buffalo’s prolonged success. Hopefully that goal isn’t justification for keeping Gragnani in the lineup.
  • Gragnani is probably the first defenseman that should come out of the lineup. Sure, Ehrhoff, Myers and Sekera are all worthy of being benched too, but Gragnani is heads and shoulders worse that those other three. Is a trade in order? Perhaps. Is that a realistic solution? Probably not.
  • Better hope Miller’s injury is minor, anything that will keep him out longer could be devastating. Especailly considering the stretch of games the Sabres have this week.

Three Stars

1. Tyler Seguin

2. Rich Peverly

3. Brad Marchand

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary