Double Minors: Wings set the bar for struggling Sabres

The clarion call went out last February. This is going to be “Hockey Heaven”. Terry Pegula and Ted Black came in to Buffalo with the goal of creating the gold standard for a hockey club. The team certainly isn’t there yet and the Detroit Red Wings gave them a rude reminder of how far off they really are.

Detroit jumped on the Sabres from the get-go, forcing turnovers, creating chances and playing nearly flawless hockey. The Red Wings system forced a depleted defensive unit into countless errors, some incredibly egregious, and scored at will. As good as Ryan Miller has been in his career, he looked no better than a pee-wee tonight. It was obvious that he was guessing on shots and he obviously didn’t have it in him to bail out a defense corps that left him hanging in the wind.

It’s not good hockey. It’s not good from top down. I need to be better. I can’t seem to find a night where I can get in a groove. I don’t know what the hell it is. (credit TBN)

To his credit, Miller shouldered quite a bit of the blame. He knew the loss was on him and said what everyone has been wondering. He can’t find a groove and he doesn’t seem to know why. Leaving the juvenile taunts and criticisms – his glove stinks, it is because of his wife etc. – where they belong (the garbage), there is obviously something seriously wrong with Miller. For everything he has done for this team, maybe the time has come to move him. There is no market for him right now, but perhaps he has grown stale on his teammates or vice versa. Either way, he has certainly played his way off the untouchables list.

Of course, this season goes far beyond average goaltending and injuries. The injuries, while a factor, don’t make up for 12 soft, average forwards. The goaltending isn’t bailing out a group of five (when healthy) offensive defensemen. The coach’s message looks like it may be falling on deaf ears.

This is an organization with the highest goal possible. The ownership wants to be one of the greatest franchises in the game. The drive, passion and resources are on the table. Now the table needs to be set properly. Tonight was the only example needed. The Red Wings are the team the Sabres aspire to be. Buffalo attempted to build a team that might compete in that light, they’re still a ways away.

There should be little doubt that this team will get there. It may take a new GM, coach, goaltender and about nine new players. But have no doubt they will get there. Just understand that this season won’t be the year they do so.

  • Miller had a pair of great outings last week. He had a terrible one tonight. It was the third time he was chased this year (the fourth was due to injury). Ruff was right to try and get him rolling, but it is tough to get a goalie going when the defensive play is so poor.
  • Mike Weber has all but cemented his seat in the press box once the Sabres are healthy. Whether he is forcing the play, thinking too much, or is just plain bad; the guy needs to evaluate his game. He certainly isn’t the only culprit, but he has played his way out of the lineup.
  • What may be lost in this massacre was another horrid offensive showing. The alarm bells for a talented center are ringing left and right. It was an unforgivable mistake to move Luke Adam away from Vanek and Pominville. While he probably isn’t the answer, this team played their best hockey with that trio atop the depth chart.
  • The torch and pitchfork mob chasing Ruff and Regier is probably bigger than it ever has been. At some point the management team may just need to bite the bullet. It is not a testament to Ruff’s skills as a coach, it will just be because his message is falling on deaf ears. Something drastic will certainly change in the summer, but something drastic also needs to change in the immediate future.
  • Perhaps the most discouraging thing about this play is the fact that it has come at the beginning of a road trip that will likely define the season. While the injuries and other struggles have been major setbacks, it doesn’t seem as if the Sabres are capable of returning home after a successful run in mid-January. If this roadie ends poorly, there may not be much to mop up for the rest of the season.

Three Stars

1. Pavel Datsyuk

2. Todd Bertuzzi

3. Jimmy Howard

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Double Minors: Yet to reach rock bottom

Look on the bright side, Ryan Miller held the opponent to fewer than three goals. he made 26 saves on 28 shots.

Of course, the Sabres lost. A 2-0 shutout at the hands of the Maple Leafs. It would seem as if the Sabres are still spiraling their way to the bottom. Thomas Vanek left the game early, leaving the Sabres with one capable scoring threat. The Leafs had little trouble snuffing out the Buffalo attack on their way to an easy win.

A slow start equated to a flat effort that came from a team that is slowly drifting into coach-killing mode. As to what may shake the roster from the funk? It will either be a new voice or some new faces. Frankly, having the same players with a new bench boss will only go so far. Eventually these guys will revert to passionless hockey. The real solution would be to pluck a few from “the core”. These players need to know they aren’t safe, a shake-up would prove that.

  • Buffalo’s goal scoring has become flat-out embarrassing. To hear Darcy Regier say no shake-up is imminent goes beyond embarrassment to blatant lunacy. The Sabres are in desperate need of a new identity. Terry Pegula was supposed to bring that when he came on board, he was the first drop in the bucket. Now the Sabres need to identify the issue staring them in the face. It may already be too late.
  • Ryan Miller once again played a strong enough game to get his team the win. Considering the timing of some of the questionable goals he has allowed lately, early ones trump late ones in my opinion. If there was any heart or spark on that bench, the 2-0 deficit would have been easily erased. Hell, it happens enough in the other direction. Miller can’t be blamed tonight. Yet another game no goal scoring failed the team.
  • Hopefully Thomas Vanek truly did have the flu. The Sabres are an obvious train wreck without him in the lineup. He and Jason Pominville may be the only two players keeping this team on the rails. The “slump” being experienced by the Sabres’ depth scorers has far surpassed the typical definition of a slump. These players are flat-out underperforming with the production they have been putting forth.
  • Pat Kaleta’s game is going to drive him out of the league. His penalty today was borderline, but probably the correct call. While he is effective on the penalty kill, there is little else he can add at this point. It will be a tough call to re-sign him in the summer. Particularly considering Corey Tropp is knocking on the door.
  • How awesome is Toronto’s goal song? It is a rip off from a couple other teams, but it is tailor-made for an NHL goal celebration. However, based on Twitter, the atmosphere in ACC was generally awful. Probably because 60% of ticket holders show up in suits and want to discuss profit margins. I wonder how high their hockey IQ is.
  • January will officially determine if the Sabres are buyers or sellers at the deadline. If Regier makes a deal during January he will open the door for his team to turn around. If he waits, the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes will have begun.

Three Stars

1. Jonas Gustavsson

2. Nikolai Kulemin

3. Mikhail Grabovski

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The Morning Skate: Sabres trudge back to face Jets

The current state of the Buffalo Sabres is pretty darn ugly. Outside of a pair of players, there is no scoring. Despite playing strong hockey, their franchise netminder can’t keep three goals from getting by. The head coach seems to be making baffling lineup choices while the general manager is generally stuck due to a ridiculous injury situation and tight cap number.

All of that plus the fact the Sabres are three points behind tonight’s opponent for tenth in the conference. Raise your hand if you had the Sabres in the draft lottery rather than the top five this season. Nobody? Okay.

In all seriousness, tonight’s game (along with the remaining 42) is a must win. Buffalo is five points from a playoff position and need a strong run in order to secure a berth yet again. If the Sabres are able to establish some footing, last night’s loss will be nothing more than a hiccup. While that loss fits perfectly with the disheartening trend the team has picked up, it certainly be discarded with some strong play.

The Sabres victimized the Jets in their first meeting and probably would have blown their doors off if it hadn’t been for some terrible defensive zone coverage. Ryan Miller earned a victory in that game despite being piled on by the fans and hung out to dry by his team.

While a 60-minute effort still evades this team, simply finishing chances may be all that is necessary to win a few games. Last night was a perfect example, they can’t afford to provide yet another.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres centers. Jochen Hecht is nothing more than a warm body between Vanek and Pominville. They really don’t need anything else at this point. Luke Adam will surely fill a larger role this evening and Ville Leino’s return may be pushed based on Derek Roy’s injury. The Sabres didn’t properly address their biggest need this offseason and now it is staring them square in the face – if it hadn’t been already this season.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 24 GP 10-11-2, 3.05 GAA, .901 SV%

WPG: Ondrej Pavelec 33 GP 14-13-5, 2.94 GAA, .907 SV%

Last Game

11/8/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 6 – Jets 5 OT

Double Minors: Yet another poor performance, yet another loss

Simply put, the Sabres aren’t very good. Despite piling on scoring chances last night, they couldn’t provide the necessary goal support to get a win.

Ryan Miller played a fine game, but again allowed three goals. He has allowed three or more goals in nine of his last ten outings.

To be fair, Miller probably isn’t to blame for this loss. In fact, he has been playing some strong hockey lately, he just isn’t getting the results to show for his effort. The numbers certainly work against him. Between the win-loss record, his goals against and his save percentage; Miller is not earning the money the Sabres are paying him.

What is important to realize is that Miller is not the crux of the issue at hand. The Sabres continually fail to provide secondary scoring, continually lapse in the defensive zone and rarely muster the moxie to perform in big moments.

The issues with this team go beyond an identity crisis, beyond a stagnant coach and beyond a franchise goaltender struggling to find his game. There seems to be a top-to-bottom systematic failure on this team and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

To say the time to fix the squad is now would be foolish. The time to act would have been weeks ago, when the slide was apparent and there was still time to bail out the boat. It certainly appears as if this ship has taken on too much water.

  • Both goalies playing tonight have been struggling this season. Neither outplayed the other and each were victimized by similar plays in the third period. In fact, Buffalo’s first goal and Carolina’s third were results of defensive breakdowns.
  • Last thought on Miller’ he needs to make the big save on LaRose in the third. That wasn’t a particularly fantastic goal and is one you expect him to stop. While the first two are forgivable, the third one is a shot he needs to have. I’d say the fluky second goal too, but since Ward was beaten on a nearly identical play, it is a wash.
  • Drew Stafford was signed to score goals. Goal scorers usually cash in on open shots from the slot. Not only does his contract look like a poor investment, he lethargic play is likely starting to wear on most Sabres fans.
  • Tyler Myers was fantastic tonight. The Two Towers pairing between he and Brayen McNabb will be a cornerstone of this franchise. Myers needs to roll this performance into the games immediately preceding his injury. He was playing good hockey and it would seem the streak may have continued through his absence. Still, he needs to bottle that game and bring it every night.
  • At what point will Lindy Ruff answer for the inexplicable decision to keep Marc-Andre Gragnani in the lineup. Injuries be damned, T.J. Brennan plays a more physical, engaging defensive game. Based on the way this team is playing, that is the type of defender the Sabres need. You would have to think Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth have only this thought when Gragnani steps on the ice:

Three Stars

1. Eric Staal

2. Chad LaRose

3. Cam Ward

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Taking an honest look at the Sabres trade prospects

There is a big gap between those on HF Boards proposing the Sabres trade Ryan Miller for Jonathon Quick, rumor sites tying different stories together to form conclusions and the men who actually make the deals in the NHL. This post would likely fall somewhere in the middle.

There doesn’t seem to be too many people left who would agree the Sabres are going to fare well with their current roster. Even Bucky Gleason’s most recent column added more fuel to the fire. While he seems to have a direct line to Ted Black (which is indeed a good thing), he did little more than insinuate players who could potentially be moved. The same goes for the columnist covering the Ducks. He made mention that moving Ryan Getzlaf would be a possibility. Never once was a source mentioned regarding any of those players truly being on the block.

Why bring this up? Because these columns are just that. Columns. If they were a report, sort of like those surrounding Kyle Turris, it would be a whole different situation.

It is painfully obvious that something needs to be done to awaken the players in the Buffalo dressing room. A safe bet would be to move at least two out the door for a fresh face. Preferably a fresh face that plays with a little jam.

The players atop the burn list for most Sabres fans will be Drew Stafford and Derek Roy. They certainly have earned their spots. In fact, those who look to the core of this team as the main problem would say these two are the most cancerous in the room. Moving that pair in some way shape or form would be addition by subtraction to most. I can’t say I would disagree, either.

That, of course, raises the question of return. Even one year ago Roy and Stafford would have fetched a pretty penny on the trade market. The same could be said two seasons ago. However, it seems as if Darcy Regier may have spoiled goods on his hands now. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be welcome additions to many teams. However, there isn’t a likely scenario in which Roy and Stafford can be shipped out for a brand new, shiny toy. Continue reading