The Instigator Podcast 8.13 – Death by Special Teams

Disturbing and unusual news broke today regarding Bill Peters and his treatment of his players, most notably Akim Aliu. Accusations of Peters using racist remarks have rocked the hockey world and we spend some time discussing the fallout from the report along with the firing of Mike Babcock in Toronto. We also touch on Buffalo’s penalty kill and the massive issues the Sabres have had when down a man. Steve Smith’s impact on Buffalo’s continued struggles is at the center of our conversation on the penalty kill and Buffalo’s recent cold streak on special teams.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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Crease Crash Course: Weak Goals Tarnish Strong Game

The final score really doesn’t properly reflect the way Robin Lehner played against Calgary on Tuesday. In fact, his 3.30 GAA and .890 SV% don’t properly reflect the way Lehner has played through Buffalo’s first three games. It’s also far to early to determine whether or not Lehner is any good as there has only been three games.

Make no mistake, plenty of responsibility from the loss in Calgary sits with Lehner. After staking a lead in the third, Lehner was beaten on an otherwise nondescript shot by Matthew Tkachuk. It’s a shot that should be stopped 10 out of 10 times. Tkachuk is outside the dot with no threat of a backdoor pass. While Lehner gets out of the blue paint to challenge, he doesn’t make the final necessary adjustment as Tkachuk changes the angle for his shot. The subtle extension of his stick (pictured below) drastically changes what the puck is seeing, making for the short side tally that ties the game. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres 2 – Flames 1

Jhonas Enroth played big and the Sabres turned in their first 60-minute effort at First Niagara Center this season. Yet, they only escaped with a 2-1 victory over a clearly fatigued Calgary Flames team.

We made it tough on ourselves. It was one of those nights where you hit an arm or a foot, but skating-wise I thought it was one of our best games of the year.

Ruff had more than a couple of thoughts from his press conference that noted his pleasure with his team’s effort while leaving room for improvement. He noted a short handed 2-on-1 late in the first period, which amounted to little more than a routine save for Enroth, as one of the few gaffes on the evening.

The Sabres imposed their will on the Flames for much of the game. Buffalo put 18 shots on goal in the first period, followed by 19 more in the second. Had it not been for Henrik Karlsson in the first period, Buffalo would have found the back of the net four or five times. Ruff mentioned the power play created five or six chances on their own in the first. Unfortunately the extra man unit wasn’t rewarded for their effort.

Buffalo’s penalty kill was three-for-three and raised their season total to 93%, they have killed off 40 of 43 opportunities thus far.

Enroth was a big part of the victory and was somehow robbed of one of the three stars on the night. He had an easy go early on, facing only 17 shots through two periods, but turned aside 12 of 13 in the third period and finished with 29 saves. He certainly made Ruff’s decision tough going into tomorrow’s game in Ottawa after stringing together a shutout streak of 107:39 over his past three appearances.

The Sabres head to Ottawa tomorrow to face one of the four teams they are tied with for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa dropped a 2-1 game, at home, to Montreal this evening.

  • Corey Tropp made his NHL debut tonight, logging 6:19 on eight shifts. He had one great opportunity in the first period when he chased down a loose puck, unfortunately he couldn’t settle the puck to get a chance on net. “I thought his energy was good,” Ruff said. “For his first NHL game, with his ice time – the fact that we had the six minutes in power plays in the first period limited the first line’s minutes – but they had some great shifts at the right times for us.”
  • Brad Boyes was another player who benefited from a new role in the wake of Pat Kaleta’s suspension. Boyes skated on the wing with Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe, a line that had seen some minutes late last season as well. They were very effective together and Gerbe put them on the board with an emphatic one-timer in the third.
  • With Tropp skating with the “fourth line” and Boyes up with the “third” the Sabres appeared to have great balance through all four lines. Boyes, who has been fantastic since his promotion to the power play, looked right at home with Gaustad and Gerbe, giving those two some additional scoring seems like the right decision to make for the foreseeable future. While this is only one game, perhaps Ruff will put Kaleta down with Ellis and McCormick once he returns from his suspension. When asked in his presser, Ruff didn’t tip his hat as to any changes upon Kaleta’s return next week.
  • For the first time all season, all six defensemen looked as if they belong in an NHL game. Not one pairing appeared to be the weak link. Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera are very comfortable together and the remaining pairs looked to work well too.
  • Ville Leino, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford comprised Buffalo’s best line this evening. The trio created Buffalo’s first goal – with a big assist to Sekera – and were dangerous for the whole night. Leino seems to have found a comfort zone with these two and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to split them up.
  • For my money, you start Ryan Miller tomorrow in Ottawa. Something tells me Ruff will stick with the hot hand and ride Enroth once more. However, Miller is the franchise for a reason and is more than capable of bouncing back with a strong effort. He is due for a good game at the very least.
  • Enroth had a stellar third period and made more than a few big saves throughout the night. Credit the team for limiting Calgary’s chances for most of the contest and keeping things simple for the young Swede. More games like that is exactly what Buffalo needs from their backup. It is a crime he didn’t get one of the three stars tonight.

Three Stars

1. Drew Stafford

2. Henrik Karlsson

3. Brad Boyes

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Backup battle between Sabres & Flames

It will be a showdown between countrymen as Henrik Karlsson and Jhonas Enroth will each get the nod for their respective team’s this evening at First Niagara Center.

The Flames are coming off a 4-1 over Detroit last night and are crawling to stay relevant in the West. Buffalo, one for their last five, is searching for some stability. Whether that is in net, on home ice or in the standings. The Sabres were two points back of the Maple Leafs and fourth in the Eastern Conference just over a week ago. They are now one point behind the Rangers and Hurricanes for eighth place.

A dismal start doomed the Sabres on Wednesday in a game that should not have brought about that type of effort. Ryan Miller wasn’t particularly sharp and the rest of the team could not have been worse. It seems as if Mike Weber will be back in the press box after a ho-hum outing against Philadelphia. I expect this is because Derek Roy was not very good on the power play point, not because Weber played poorly.

The bottom line for the Sabres is they need to find a 60-minute effort. They have yet to do so in quite some time and it is a major reason they have won only once in their last five attempts.

Highlighted Matchup

Chris Bulter vs. Robyn Regehr. This isn’t very fair to compare, considering Butler is a young, error-prone defenseman and Regehr has been a rock for the Sabres for much of the season. However, these two were essentially traded straight up for one another. Plus they are both skating on a premier pairing. Butler has been rolling with Jay Bouwmeester while Regehr has skated with Tyler Myers for all but one game this season. Also keep an eye out for Corey Tropp, he has that rare size/skill bundle that makes power forwards such a commodity. He would make things very difficult if he has a good showing in these four games.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 3GP, 2-0-0, 1.39, .955 SV%

CGY: Henrik Karlsson 3GP, 0-1-1, 3.31 GAA, .881 SV%

Last Meeting

12/27/2010, Scotiabank Saddledome, Sabres 2 – Flames 5

2ITB NHL preview: The West

Since it is a yearly occurrence for the West to have 13 teams in the playoff race and two team at least 20 points out of eighth, I struggled to find a good balance of picks this season. I made a bold choice with the Kings last year. While I don’t have them coming out of the West, I have made a similarly bold statement

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Sabres-Flames rumors swirl again

As training camp fast approaches the Sabres timetable to get under the cap continues to shrink.

Despite the obvious solution (sticking players in the minors), Darcy Regier continues to stand by his strategy of utilizing trades to clear the necessary cap space. Due to that apparent strategy, the rumor mill is back up and running.

Everyone’s favorite rumor monger, Eklund, floated the idea of a second trade between the Sabres and Flames. While it is an intriguing notion I doubt that either team could find a workable option.

Jarome Iginla is on every Sabres fan's wish list. I say keep wishing.

Buffalo currently sits $3.6 million over the salary cap. The Flames are just about $1.5 million under the cap at this time. Given those numbers, I can’t find a may either team could work the payroll. The Sabres top trade prospects are Brad Boyes, Ales Kotalik, Shaone Morrisonn, Jason Pominville and Andrej Sekera. Sekera is the most attractive option based on his cap hit (2.75) and his skill level. Pominville is a close second based on his scoring touch, but his $5.3 million cap hit would require a lot of tweaking in a potential trade. Brad Boyes has a moderate cap hit and a moderate offense return, I wonder how attractive he would be for teams around the league.

As for the Flames, there are only a few truly attractive options based on the Sabres’ needs and salary constraints. Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, Nik Hagman and Brendan Morrison. Certainly Sabres fans are hoping that the white whale, Jarome Iginla, is a target, but there is no way they could swig the trade based on their current cap situation.

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Farewell Captain Clutch

In case you hadn’t heard, Chris Drury played in, and won, the Little League World Series. No fooling.

In a related note, Captain Clutch is calling it a career. After an underwhelming and injury plagued tenure with the New York Rangers, Drury was bought out earlier in the summer and has decided to retire from professional hockey all together.

What this tells me is his degenerative knee condition is more severe than originally expected in July. There were many who figured he would find his was onto a contender’s roster at discounted rate for the 2011-12 campaign. After all his face off skills, penalty killing and other intangibles would be very attractive to a team making a Cup push.

Alas, his injuries likely played a large role in this decision.

Drury was, and will be, one of my favorite players of all time. Ever since his first seasons with Colorado I was a fan of his style and skill. When he was acquired by Buffalo I was ready to do back flips.

Drury was part of some of the best Sabres hockey in the history of the franchise. He, Daniel Briere and the rest of the core players carried the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back years in what was one of the most memorable runs I can think of with this team. Then, of course there was the goal. Who else?

And here is an even cooler angle

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