Double Minors: Special teams powers overtime victory

Buffalo’s power play hasn’t been pretty as of late. But it got the job done last night against Carolina. A late 5-on-3 penalty kill kept the Sabres floating long enough to seal the game in overtime.

Realistically, it should have never gotten to that point. Cam Ward made a number of big saves in the second period to keep the Hurricanes alive. Buffalo exploded for a pair in the opening 1:02 of the period and almost had a third, but Ward was up to the task. He made 15 of his 39 saves in the second period alone, keeping the Buffalo onslaught at bay until Chad LaRose could tie the score.

Ryan Miller was stout, turning away 22 of 24 and rebounding nicely after yielding two goals on his first 17 shots. He has certainly earned a rest and should most definitely take that reprieve tomorrow night in Boston.

While it took seven attempts for the Sabres power play to tally twice, there was some good and bad to take away from the unit. Both units continued to looks disjointed with the puck and committed a number of turnovers as a result. However, if they were able to settle the possession, there was some strong puck movement high on the umbrella. Both goals came from high puck movement and point shots.

The penalty kill stayed strong and will need to remain stout as this playoff run continues. Tomorrow’s game in Boston along with Saturday and Monday carry a lot of weight for the Sabres if they hope to gain more ground.

  • For all the hooting and holler that has been done (me included) about the top line, they answered the bell last night. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville each had a goal and an assist in the victory. This just add fuel to my argument that Roy brings them down. Their success came as Roy went pointless, obviously they cannot coexist. Obviously I’m not serious, this line needs to extend that success in the next five days.
  • Still waiting on Cody Hodgson’s first point. No matter, I haven’t hated his game and I’m still happy with the dynamic he brings to the roster.
  • I bemoaned the thought of giving $5.5m to a player who essentially plays a strong two-way, defensive game and chips in offensively. Then I realized that is precisely what Ville Leino is currently being paid to do. Yes, he lost that faceoff clean. But his puck possession is the best on the roster and he drew a pair of late penalties due to it. His play has turned a corner these last few months, I think it is time to stop hating on him and his contract.
  • Alex Sulzer is making me a believer. He has slightly better puck skills than Mike Weber – though he seems due one bad fumble per night – and plays a fairly similar style. Depending on defensive depth next season, I could see him getting a contract over the summer. I’ve liked his game thus far.
  • As I said above, it is time to give Ryan Miller a rest. His play over the past few games has been showing some signs of fatigue. That isn’t to say I haven’t been pleased with the last three games, it is just time to give him a little more time to recuperate.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Three in four begins with visit from Hurricanes

The Sabres arrive home after an impressive four-game road swing along the west coast to an important game against a team they have struggled with for most of the season.

Carolina rolls into town with a 2-1-0 record against Buffalo this season and can play the role of spoiler tonight if they take two points from the Sabres. Buffalo could only enjoy one off day from their grueling western swing as they’re back with three games in four nights, beginning today.

Lindy Ruff is faced with a couple tough decisions for tonight’s game. The first is which goaltender to start. The second is what to do with his stagnant top line.

The goaltending question is rooted in two schools of thought. Do you roll your starter against the weaker opponent and the backup on the second night of the back-to-back set? Or you can roll out Jhonas Enroth against a team he owns while giving Miller the additional day off.

My money is on choice number one. Based on the way Lindy Ruff operates, he will want to put his team in the best position to earn points. In my opinion, that is why he will roll out Miller against the Canes. That also keeps him away from a hostile atmosphere in Boston the next night. Is that the right choice? I say no.

Enroth’s career numbers against Carolina are phenomenal, let him build on that history and shutdown the Canes. They’re a bottom feeder; don’t waste one of Miller’s starts on them. Not to mention, getting Miller an extra day of rest will do more for the long-term success of this unlikely playoff run. Plus, I don’t take too much stock in trying to keep Miller from a tough environment like the TD Garden will be on Thursday. He is mentally tough (most goalies are) enough not to be bothered with what the fans will be doing that day, it shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

As for Ruff’s other tough task, he needs to find a solution to the scoring woes of his top line. It is a pretty simple concept. If they’re not playing well together, split them up. Buffalo needs a solid effort tonight. A quick start and sustained pressure should get the job done against Carolina.

Highlighted Matchup

Vanek/Roy/Pominville. If these guys aren’t broken up prior to the morning skate, they will be the trip to watch. It is my opinion that Roy would be better served in a checking role with Nathan Gerbe and Pat Kaleta. Whether Ville Leino or Cody Hodgson is the best fit for the center role on this line is debatable. Regardless, I feel that Roy’s presence often brings down Vanek’s game and the virus seems to have spread to Pominville as well.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

CAR: Brian Boucher

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 4, RBC Center, 1/6/2012

The Morning Skate: Back-to-back wins back on the table

November was quite a long time ago. Sadly that was the last month in which the Sabres won two games in a row. Tonight’s contest gives them the opportunity to win two-straight since before Ryan Miller’s concussion. Yes, it has been that long.

The Sabres are getting healthy, which is a nice piece of news considering the last month and a half. Tyler Myers may return tonight and it seems as if Ville Leino will be back tomorrow, if not next week. The Sabres do still have the issue of missing two of their top performing defensemen.

Expect a tight game from Buffalo tonight. They escaped Carolina with a 1-0 win earlier in the year and the previous game (last spring) was decided in overtime. Buffalo’s secondary scoring has been so hit or miss that there is no telling what kind of numbers they will put up. If they register three goals, there should be no excuse for not winning.

Ryan Miller will start in net, he will likely start tomorrow too. His numbers have been pretty dismal, but he has been winning games. So he has that going for him, which is nice.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Myers. If he does manage to dress and play this evening, keep a close eye on him. Don’t expect Norris Trophy-level hockey. But be sure to watch what he brings to the table. There is a good chance he sees some limited minutes, but his contributions on special teams have been missed. Getting Myers back will do wonders for the power play and penalty kill.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 23GP 10-10-2, 3.05 GAA, .900 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 35 GP 13-15-6,  3.22 GAA, .897 SV%

Last Game

11/18/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 1 – Hurricanes 0

Double Minors: Sabres 1 – Hurricanes 0

It is always nice to see the Hurricanes lose. It’s also nice knowing they’re wallowing near the Eastern Conference basement.

Jhonas Enroth put together a gem only days removed from a rough outing in which he was pulled early. The Sabres performed admirably as they limited Carolina’s prime chances and cleared most of the second opportunities. Still, the kid had to be sharp in the second period while the Sabres let the Canes roll up an 8-0 shot advantage.

Still, Buffalo pieced together a sound 60-minute effort, something they have struggled do to all season. Their goaltender was solid, they won the special teams battle and played complete team defense. So many games have featured a disjointed defensive effort from the Sabres, each defenseman was effective tonight and the forwards were equally strong in contributing.

The Sabres have to bounce back to First Niagara Center tonight for a game against BizNasty and the Coyotes. Considering Phoenix’s surprising start, the Sabres will certainly have their hands full.

  • Tyler Myers has officially played two good games in a row. He was involved offensively and managed to maintain his physical game at both ends. That benching really served as a wake up call.
  • Christian Ehrhoff may have had his most effective game thus far. While he didn’t find the scoresheet, he actually played defense and started getting pucks to the net on the power play. Perhaps his adjustment period is coming to an end as well, just like Ville Leino’s did.
  • Speaking of Leino. He, Drew Stafford and Brad Boyes were a pretty solid trio Sure, it is a line made up of three wingers, but they were very sound all night. It seems fairly obvious that Boyes is a better player when he is in the top-six. Shocker. Leino continued to come along in terms of comfort. I’ve been really obsessing over his progress this year simply because of his contract and the potential he brings to the table. I’m glad his creativity is coming back to him.
  • It is unfortunate that T.J. Brennan probably won’t see any time this weekend. You can’t really blame Ruff for sticking with his six best, but considering the type of response you get from a guy making his NHL debut, you may have gotten an equal or better return from Brennan that you get from, say, Marc-Andre Gragnani.
  • The special teams won the battle last night. After looking foolish in the home opener, the Sabres special teams have really progressed. The penalty kill remains stellar and the power play creates chances. Last night was a perfect combination.
  • It is going to be interesting to see what happens with Luke Adam. He was demoted to the fourth line, and won’t be seeing many minutes for the foreseeable future. He was effective with Vanek and Pominville and if he faltered Ruff would put a more responsible player in that slot. I fear that his removal from the top-six will hurt the team more than it will help.

Three Stars

1. Jhonas Enroth

2. Jason Pominville

3. Brian Boucher

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Injuries piling up as Sabres head to Carolina

Buffalo’s second matchup against Carolina comes with a different set of circumstances than the first meeting did on October 14 at First Niagara Center.

The home opener for the Sabres came on the heels of an excellent European debut, but was only game number three of the young season. The Hurricanes had already played four games and had yet to hit the skid they’re currently mired in.

Now the Canes are searching for answers as they attempt to climb away from the Eastern Conference basement. The Sabres, on the other hand, are trying to maintain their grip on the top spot in the Northeast Division. However, the team’s toughness and entire makeup has fallen under heavy scrutiny as of late despite their spot in the standings.

Buffalo will be without Mike Weber due to an injury suffered against New Jersey but will still have the services of Tyler Myers as he did not receive any supplemental discipline for his hit on Danius Zubrus. T.J. Brennan was recalled from Rochester, although it is likely he will serve as the seventh defenseman while Marc-Andre Gragnani comes back from the press box. It wouldn’t be a bad move to toss Brennan into the fire. After all, why call the kid up to plop him in the press box?

The one thing working against the Sabres this evening is the team they’re playing. Sure, the Hurricanes have been sinking in the Eastern Conference standings. But this is a team fresh off a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Canadiens. Prior to that, the Flyers hung five on them and chased Cam Ward in unceremonious fashion. It appears that some may think this team is destined for a low finish, those sentiments may just shake them out of their funk. For a team that has had some seriously slow starts and terribly inconsistent efforts, the Sabres do not want to stare down a desperate team looking to tighten up defensively and battle for a victory.

Highlighted Matchup

Special teams. The home opener saw the Hurricanes deposit a pair of shorthanded goals and create at least five total opportunities while a man down. They added an additional power play marker, and their first goal was scored just after a penalty expired. While the Sabres have had a marvelous turnaround since then, they will need a better showing than they had against New Jersey. When Buffalo’s special teams are clicking they are a difficult team to beat.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 9GP, 6-1-0, 2.19 GAA, .926 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 16Gp, 6-8-2, 3.27 GAA, .904 SV%

Last Game

10/14/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 4

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 4

Simply put, the Buffalo Sabres gave the game away in their 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

On numerous occasions, particularly on the power play, the Sabres were careless with the puck and gave the Hurricanes numerous chances on the counter attack. Lindy Ruff said he counted five shorthanded opportunities against. There were at least that many in a game where the Sabres gave up two shorthanded breakaways due to careless play at the offensive blue line.

” We were trying things we didn’t need to try,” Ruff said. ” We pushed too hard in situations where we didn’t have to push.”

Ruff went so far as to say his team played stupid at times. It is hard to disagree with his assessment. The Sabres were only credited with five giveaways, but that is an extremely generous number based upon the counterattack the Hurricanes were generating.Ruff cited back passes and forced plays as the contributor for his team’s struggles.

“Those types of plays, you hope. They are [10% plays] and we burned ourselves.”

The Sabres fed off the raucous crowd at the First Niagara Center and scored an early goal, just 6:28 into the first period. However, another nasty trend that plagued the Sabres bit them as Carolina answered just one minute and twenty two seconds later. The Canes scored the winning goal one minute and three seconds after Drew Stafford had tied the game in the third period.

Buffalo was the better team for much of the contest. They dominated much of the play early on, generating 13 shots in the first period alone. The Hurricanes also put 13 shots on goal in the period thanks to a pair of power plays.

Vanek and Derek Roy tallied the two Sabres’ goals and it seemed as though Buffalo would cruise to an early victory. The Sabres had all the momentum and had continued to create quality chances on a late power play before Brandon Sutter capitalized on the first of Carolina’s shorthanded goals. Sutter jumped on a puck that Vanek fumbled at the blue line and beat Miller with a great shot to the glove side.

The shorthanded party continued all night for Carolina. The Canes were quick to jump into passing lanes against Buffalo’s umbrella set up. Perhaps what killed the Sabres was the depth their defensemen were playing on the power play. Often the backside defender would be well below the dots when the Canes would start a counter attack. This led to the breakaways and 2-on-1s and a pair of Hurricanes’ goals.

Buffalo will face another strong penalty killing team tomorrow night in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are an aggressive killing team that is not afraid to push out on point men and wingers playing the side boards. Ruff and company will need to make some adjustments to avoid giving up a plethora of shorthanded opportunities again.

  • Cam Ward was the better of the two goaltenders tonight. Aside from his 39 saves, Ward came up with at least five sparkling stops that should have been sure goals for Buffalo. Ryan Miller was strong, turning aside 30 shots, but he didn’t come up with the big saves Ward made on the evening. Namely, a split save on 2-on-1 between Luke Adam and Vanek. The play came after Bryan Allen shook up Jason Pominville. The Hurricanes scored their first shorthanded goal on the ensuing kill.
  • The Sabres utilized quite a few of their offensively gifted forwards on the penalty kill tonight. Vanek and Drew Stafford saw regular time on the kill along with Derek Roy. While Roy has seen time killing penalties throughout his career, Vanek and Stafford are bit green. It showed at times tonight. The rotation on the kill was out of sync for much of the evening and it seemed as if the Sabres couldn’t settle in when killing penalties. Jochen Hecht’s return will do wonders for that unit.
  • Christian Ehrhoff got trapped low in the zone more than any other defenseman on the power play tonight. He eliminated his shooting angle far too often as Marc-Andre Graganani became the trigger man for the top unit. Beside the fact that Gragnani struggled for most of the game, the reason Ehrhoff is here is to shoot the puck. If he gets to the top of the umbrella the power play will continue to benefit.
  • Tyler Myers had a quietly efficient game. He made the play that led to Stafford’s tying goal and was relatively strong on the puck most of the night. No complaints regarding his play.
  • The Ennis-Leino-Stafford line is going to produce points. They were nearly impossible to contain in a low cycle, if they pull the trigger more often they will put up big numbers.
  • I would start Jhonas Enroth tomorrow in Pittsburgh. He has had a long layoff and Miller wasn’t stellar this evening. There is no “hot hand” to turn to. Get Enroth a game now and keep his mind, and game, sharp.
  • There is no reason to think the Sabres will not put forth a better defensive effort against the Penguins tomorrow. While Pittsburgh has owned the Sabres in recent years – mainly due to Marc-Andre Fleury – the Sabres have a good benchmark for what they need to change after tonight.

Three Stars

1. Jeff Skinner

2. Drew Stafford

3. Cam Ward

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Hurricanes

There will be plenty of fanfare at the First Niagara Center as the Buffalo Sabres open their home schedule against the Hurricanes after a five-day layoff tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo, currently 2-0-0 and tied with Toronto for the Northeast Division lead, have enjoyed a five-day layoff as they recuperate from their trip to the NHL Premiere. Carolina is fresh off their first victory of the season, a 3-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

A pre-game plaza party will take place outside the First Niagara Center as there will certainly be some fireworks in store for those holding a ticket for the first home opener in the Pegula Era. There is a chance the hoopla surrounding the first game may end up being distracting, but there is no reason for Buffalo to come out flat. Between the five-day break, the brand new locker facilities and the momentum they built with their two convincing victories in Europe, the Sabres should have little trouble finding energy for this game.

Carolina has struggled a bit as the season opens up. The Canes have managed three out of a possible eight points and have allowed at least four goals in all but one contest. They should build off their win over the defending Stanley Cup champs and the fact that they held the Sabres attack at bay in the 2010-11 season series.

The Hurricanes didn’t do much to upgrade their roster in the offseason, bringing in a trio of ex-Maple Leafs (Tim Brent, Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky) and promoting some youngsters. Between the pipes is where the Canes will win this game. They boast two goaltenders – Cam Ward and newcomer Brian Boucher – who have a good history against Buffalo.

Buffalo will likely ice the same lineup they had in Europe, with Matt Ellis, Jochen Hecht and Mike Weber as the scratches. The Sabres potent line up will be foreign to the Canes and could create matchup problems early in the contest.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo’s three scoring lines against the Carolina defense. The Canes have plenty of forwards that are capable of serving in a checking role. However, they have three defensemen under the age of 25 and at least 50% of the blueline would fall under the offensive defenseman classification. If the Sabres can exploit the last change to get their skill players against a non-checking line, they should have success in generating offense.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 2 GP, 2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .952 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 3 GP, 1-2-0, 3.35 GAA, .885 SV%

2010-11 Season Series: BUF 2-1-1

1/13/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 2

3/3/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 3 OT

3/15/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 0 – Hurricanes 1

4/3/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 1 OT

Team Stats

BUF 2-0-0 4pts (T-1 NE), PP 3/8 37.5% (2), PK 6/7 85.7% (T-15)

CAR 1-3-1