The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Panthers

The Buffalo Sabres may still be searching for their first “60-minute” effort at home, but they are no longer searching for their first home win.

Lindy Ruff may have said it best when he said they needed to get a win for the new room and get that out of the way. It is always fun when Ruff shares those candid thoughts. The Sabres will be looking for home win number two this evening against the Florida Panthers.

The Sabres will have played half of their contests against the NHL’s two Florida teams after tonight. After dropping their home-and-home against Tampa Bay, getting two points tonight would give Buffalo an even split in the four games.

Buffalo has started to find a bit of scoring support outside of The Subway Line. Brad Boyes has goals in two-straight and the grind line of Gerbe, Gaustad and Kaleta have become productive in their own right. While Buffalo’s second scoring line of Leino, Roy and Stafford remain in a funk but will prove to be a dangerous compliment to Buffalo’s top line of Vanek, Adam and Pominville.

A lot is being made of the lack of production coming from Leino and his line mates. However, it still seems early to be labeling Leino as a bust and overpaid. He and his line mates likely need a game in which they get a goal or two to get things rolling.

The only evident change in the Panthers’ lineup will likely come between the pipes. Jose Theodore suffered a minor injury and Jacob Markstrom has filled in admirably. Markstrom is a blue-chip prospect who takes up a lot of net. Where Theodore is a smaller, athletic goaltender; Markstrom is a big body who will play a technical game similar to Henrik Lundqvist.

Some fans in Buffalo seem to think there is a goalie controversy brewing, if anything Jhonas Enroth is developing into a 1B goaltender to compliment Ryan Miller. While Enroth’s performance on Thursday was outstanding, it probably doesn’t merit a second-straight start. Suffice it to say, he will certainly see time next week.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo penalty kill vs. Florida power play. Florida’s power play has had a solid run to start the season. This is due, in large part, to the numerous new acquisitions they made in the offseason. The Sabres have done a great job killing penalties this season, it is likely the greatest strength of the team at this point. When the Panthers power play has clicked they have succeeded, the Sabres will be tasked with shutting the unit down.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 7GP, 4-3-0, 2.01 GAA, .933% SV%

FAL: Jacob Markstrom 4GP, 2-2-0, 2.11 GAA, .945 SV%

Last Game BUF leads series 1-0-0

10/20/2011, BankAtlantic Center, Sabres 3 – Panthers 0

 

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Blue Jackets

Despite what the current standings say, Buffalo’s match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets this evening will be anything but a sure thing.

Columbus found some offense as they finally won their first game of the season, 4-1 over Detroit. After opening the season 0-7-1, the Blue Jackets rode two special teams goals (one shorthanded, one power play) to the victory.

On top of facing a seriously desperate team, Buffalo will have some significant history against them as well. Prior to their two-game sweep of the Blue Jackets last season, Buffalo had not beaten Columbus since the 2004 season. The Sabres are 4-7-1 all-time against Columbus and lost four of the previous seven games against the Blue Jackets. What is most important is that the Sabres had been winless against Columbus since the lockout.

Aside from cracking the Blue Jackets’ code last season, Buffalo will be facing a team that has had a topsy-turvy start to the season. Columbus beat Detroit, thanks in part to facing a backup goaltender, but have otherwise been very subpar this year. The Sabres not only need to jump to an early lead, tey need to step on the throat when they have their opponent down.

The Sabres are still struggling to find depth scoring behind the line of Thomas Vanek, Luke Adam and Jason Pominville. Brad Boyes and Nathan Gerbe got in on the act on Tuesday, which is a promising development. Both have been generating more chances of late, they were due to get a goal.

Every other line for Buffalo has not been able to provide help in the goal scoring department. Partly because all but one line (26-72-29) has been shuffled and flipped through nearly every game. With a bit more time to develop chemistry there should be some progress seen in terms of offensive output.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo power play vs. Columbus penalty kill. In their search for secondary scoring, Lindy Ruff shuffled his power play units prior to Tuesday’s game. While the Sabres remain in the top-20 in terms of conversions, they have only four power play goals this season – three of which were scored in Europe. In practice it seemed as if Christian Ehrhoff was being moved up towards the top of the point, rather than down on the circle. This was something I had touched on previously and I’m glad they are going to try and fix the problem. With the league’s worst penalty kill in town it will be imperative for the Sabres to capitalize on the potential mismatch. If the power play fails them again they could have bigger problems than finding the best spot for Ville Leino.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 1GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .935 SV%

CBJ: Steve Mason 9GP, 1-7-1, 3.25 GA, .889 SV%

2010-2011 Season Series BUF 2-0-0

12/3/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 5 – Blue Jackets 0

4/9/2011, Nationwide Area, Sabres 5 – Blue Jackets 4

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Lightning

It is round two of the Sabres home-and-home set with the Lightning. Tampa Bay stifled the Buffalo attack on Saturday on their way to a 3-0 victory.

Ryan Miller had a strong game in net, turning aside 23 of 25 shots on goal. However, he was bested by Mathieu Garon who stopped all 21 shots he faced on the evening.

The game may have been best illustrated by Tampa Bay’s first goal and a goal that wasn’t meant to be for Buffalo. Pavel Kubina’s seeing-eye slapshot found its way through a forest of legs for Tampa’s first goal in the second period. Just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a wrist shot go that found the shaft of Garon’s stick. An inch or two in either direction for either shot and the score is drastically different.

Of course, whining about bounces solves little in hockey. The fact of the matter is that the Lightning lulled the Sabres to sleep with a steady diet of the trap. Buffalo had found waves of dominance in nearly every game prior to this one. On only rare occasions did the Sabres mange time in the offensive zone.

The key to a Buffalo victory will be to establish a transition game early and break Tampa Bay’s trap. Secondly, they need to get to Garon and make him uncomfortable. There is a reason he had one career victory against Buffalo entering Saturday, the Sabres need to exploit that again.

Highlighted Matchup

Vanek-Adam-Pominville vs. Guy Boucher and the trap. Buffalo’s top offensive line has manged to create multiple points in each Buffalo victory. In both losses they have accounted for only one goal. Boucher was successful in shutting down all four Buffalo lines on Saturday. While this trio had moments of brilliance, they weren’t the dominant force they have been in previous games. A strong effort from these three should result in Buffalo’s first home win.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 1GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .935 SV%

TB: Mathieu Garon 5GP, 2-1-1, 1.51 GAA, .948 SV%

Last Game (Tampa leads season series 1-0-0)

10/22/2011, St. Pete Times Forum, Sabres 0 – Lightning 3