Between the Pipes: Weekend update

It was quite an eventful weekend for the Sabres with a back-to-back set punctuated with the trade of Thomas Vanek on Sunday evening. In an attempt to continue my focus on the Sabres crease, I’ll hold off on any sort of recap of the two games this weekend and simply review the goaltenders.

Jhonas Enroth – 44 saves, 3-1 win

Enroth was easily the first star of the weekend for the Sabres as he single-handedly earned them their first regulation win of the season. He made a number of dazzling saves amongst the 45 shots he faced in the one-goal effort earning him an easy nod as the game’s first star.

What he did well

When Enroth is at his best he is playing big and getting hit with the puck. He’s much more of a blocking goaltender than one who reacts to each shot and truly “makes saves”. What makes Enroth so effective in his style is that he’s able to play big despite being somewhat undersized as a goaltender in today’s NHL.

On Friday he was on. It was the type of performance that has most Sabres fans at a certain level of acceptance with Ryan Miller’s potential departure. Enroth was very active in the crease and he was turning aside a number of difficult back-door plays. He took a handful of goals off the Panthers’ sticks which is as much as you can ask of a goalie getting peppered with 45 pucks. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Sabres drop OT decision to Bolts

For my new goalie focused recap I chose a picture with two skaters.

For this season I’m going to try and mix things up a bit for game recaps. Since the blogging community continues to be well represented at each Sabres game, I know that there will be at least one or two quality recap for each game. In addition to the stories coming from the mainstream media sources in town I’d like to try to offer something of a slightly different ilk for my game recap.

So what I’m going to work out over these first few weeks is a little different take on the typical Sabres game recap. While I’ll still provide some basic elements of what occurred, my primary focus will be on the players between the pipes for both the Sabres and their opponents with some additional thoughts added at the end. So that’s the plan for now. If it happens to be garbage I’ll regroup with something that makes sense.

As for last night, it wasn’t the most painful hockey game that I’ve ever had to sit through. Buffalo’s inability to pass and cycle the puck was rather pathetic and their overwhelming lack of puck possession resulted in yet another imbalanced shot on goal tally that saw the Lightning nearly double Buffalo’s efforts at even strength (29 shots to 16 shots).

Despite that imbalance, the Sabres managed to stake themselves to a pair of one-goal leads thanks to their previously dormant power play and were a backwards whistle away from taking a two-goal lead early in the third.

That confusing play – which wound up being nothing more than a massive screw up by the officials – really wound up serving as the true turning point in the game. Somehow the officials missed Ott playing the puck on the sideboards – how I’m not quite sure – and waited until McBain shot to call the play. All of this combined to be massively confusing not only because of the goal, but because the Bolts had managed to get a whistle on a delayed penalty of their own after the puck struck one of their skates earlier in the period. So there was already a precedent of questionably ending plays on delayed penalties prior to this play. Add in that the high stick was a pretty weak call – as Vanek and Carle had gotten tied up behind the net – and it was a very ugly turn of events.

Oh yeah, and Tampa scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game.

The loss fell on Jhonas Enroth’s shoulders and his record is now 0-1-1 on the young season as the 31 saves matched his output against the Penguins on Saturday. Enroth’s play was strong despite fighting the puck early in the contest. His stiffest tests came from Tampa’s five power play shots and he responded well.

His counterpart, Ben Bishop, wasn’t very busy and coasted through most of the game without needing to make many impressive stops. Bishop’s finest save came when he flashed his glove on Mark Pysyk in the first and he was quite busy in the third as the Sabres fired 13 of their 23 shots during that stanza. Continue reading

Enroth deal, market, setting stage for Miller

The writing appears to be on the wall. Jhonas Enroth’s two-year, $1.25M extension signifies an investment in the young Swede and with Matt Hackett expected to sign an extension of his own soon enough it would appear that the Sabres are prepared to move on without Ryan Miller.

This should surprise exactly no one as the relationship between Miller and the organization (fans and media too) appeared to be slowly fraying last season as the Sabres spiraled to the bottom of the Conference. As the season came to a close most assumed that Miller’s 500th would be his final game as a Sabre.

If both Enroth and Hackett sign it would represent not only the changing of the guard in the Buffalo goal crease, but a culture shift away from a big-money, number one netminder to a 1A, 1B tandem between Hackett and Enroth.

Assuming Hackett gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $925K, Buffalo will have just over $2M invested in their goal crease. Add in the looming trade of Miller and winds up being a savings in the $4M range. For a team with a decent amount of cap space to begin with, that is a huge amount of wiggle room. Continue reading

More chances, more goals and more losses

There isn’t all that much to sum up with the Buffalo Sabres at this point. Another game, another night allowing four goals and yet another loss. This is the same broken record that’s been playing for this entire 1-6-1 stretch.

Due to injuries, Adam Pardy made his Sabres debut and Lindy Ruff also chose to get Jhonas Enroth some action although the result on the scoreboard and from those in front of the goaltender didn’t differ. A few key faceoff losses hurt the team, as did continued struggles from the special teams units.

The point will be made by many that this is only 10 games worth of hockey. Others will argue that the season is almost a quarter of the way through. Regardless of which side you stand on, the glaring shortcomings on the Buffalo roster cannot be ignored. Even if it is too early to make a rash decision or trade, there needs to be some sort of remedy found for what ails this team.

There were certainly Ryan Miller detractors all over Sabres Nation claiming that he was once again letting his team down and getting paid far too much money after his last few games. He was, in fact, quite average in his last couple of starts and that shouldn’t be ignored. However, after seeing another four-goal outing with a different goaltender in net, I’d hope that the lightbulb would go on for many of those fans who only see Miller as an overpaid, overrated goaltender.

The Sabres simply cannot defend. Even when the defense corps plays a sound game – which you could technically define tonight as – the forwards are invisible defensively. Not to point the finger at one player, but Cody Hodgson was not only wandering in the corner on the penalty kill that led to Erik Karlsson’s goal but he also made a crucial error on the play that led to Daniel Alfredsson’s goal in the first period. Continue reading

Sabres crease grows crowded with Lieuwen contract

The Buffalo Sabres are slowly growing an impressive stable of talented goaltenders at the NHL and minor league level. Their most recent addition was signing Nathan Lieuwen to an entry level contract, one year after he was drafted.

Lieuwen was an overage junior last year and there was even a chance that he could have been signed to a pro deal over last summer. However, he was sent back to the WHL to play big minutes and continue to develop. Now the 6’5” 20 year old will battle for playing time in Rochester with David Leggio and Connor Knapp.

The addition of Lieuwen gives the Sabres five goaltenders under contract and even more talented keepers who sit in limbo entering the offseason. Brad Eidsness was once a promising prospect through two seasons with North Dakota, but he was unseated by Aaron Dell and will likely not receive a contract from the Sabres. Buffalo also signed Jeff Jakaitis to a minor league deal in order to provide Gwinnett with some additional talent. Jakaitis seemed to show some real promise before getting shelved with a season ending injury. There is also the looming status of Drew MacIntyre, who will be a UFA this summer after a very underwhelming season in Rochester.

There is no reason for the Sabres to re-sign MacIntrye this season, but that doesn’t mean the goaltending pipeline won’t be clogged heading into 2012-13. With Ryan Miller the obvious leader of the pack and backed up by Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres also have impending UFA David Leggio along with Knapp and Lieuwen as AHL goaltenders. Continue reading

Taking a closer look at the new masks for Miller and Enroth

Phil, from Black Blue & Gold, tossed out a Tweet linking to Ray Bishop’s Facebook post of Ryan Miller’s brand new paint job.

Miller’s masks have long featured some sort of take on the head of his team’s mascot or logo. Perhaps the coolest thing about the evolution of his helmet was the way he and Bishop had worked together to transition the design of the goathead logo into the era of blue and gold.

However, Phil’s Tweet helped to unveil Bishop’s most recent design for Miller.

I can’t say I hate the look of Miller’s new helmet. It fully embraces the white buffalo used in the Sabres’ logo while incorporating many of the traits that have come to define the iconic mask he has been wearing for years. The elimination of the old styling consistent with the goathead in favor of an all white buffalo head. There are hints of blue in the fur and the horns have a gold tint to them, tying the two to Buffalo’s color scheme.

What I love about Miller’s new mask is the inclusion of the third jersey script, crossed sabres and the charging buffaloes. Bishop did a phenomenal job tying those three pieces into the mask. The new design elements blend better than the look of Miller’s old Sabres masks. Previously, the bottom portion of Miller’s mask was a stark contrast to the stylized design of the top.

The new design, while contrasting, has much better flow with the inclusion of both logos that appear on each Sabres uniform. I’m looking forward to seeing Miller roll out the new mask. However, I would assume he will hold off due to the impressive run he has been on recently. Continue reading

Double Minors: All Swedish, no finish

Usually the Buffalo Bills serve as the muse for finding every way in which to leave their fans befuddled. After a 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg, it would seem the Sabres are exhausting any remaining avenues for evaluation.

Despite both teams tossing plenty of shots on goal, the game was rather dull. It should be mentioned the full house of fans were incredibly tame too. Based on the last two games, it would seem the biggest culprits regarding the First Niagara Library are the fans. Of course, there isn’t much to cheer for on the ice.

Buffalo received a great effort from Jhonas Enroth in goal, turning aside 39 shots in the loss. Not only was this the second straight game in which Enroth faced a barrage from the opponent, it was his second-straight overtime decision.

Between performance and the apparent fact that Enroth is the only player capable of securing at least one point each night, Lindy Ruff may need to revise his decision to ride Ryan Miller.

Last night’s loss was yet another one-goal effort from the Sabres. This time, Tyler Myers registered the tally on the power play. What seemed lost on many of the fans in the arena was the tremendous passing play that created the goal. While fans complained of too many passes, or yelled shoot, Pominville’s centering feed got behind Ondrej Pavelc. So much for high hockey IQ.

Obviously scoring is the plague killing this season. No matter how bad the goaltending has been, it truly only can be held accountable for a handful of losses. Expecting a shutout or a one-goal against performance each night is foolhardy. Until more scoring finds its way into the lineup, this team will be heading for a lottery pick.

  • The uproar over Ruff’s decision to start Enroth seemed a little shortsighted. A back-to-back weekend was a good time to start Enroth, especially considering his last outing. If Ruff re-evaluates and decides to get more games for Enroth, it wouldn’t be a bad decision. However, until that happens there is no reason to think he is sticking with his decision to ride Miller.
  • Myers lost a few battles in his end last night. It certainly wasn’t as strong of an outing as he had in Carolina. However, Ruff rewarded him with quality minutes and seems confident in leaning on the cornderstone. A quality, while not outstanding, outing was certainly tarnished by the errant pass that led to the game winning rush for Winnipeg. Myers game far exceeds the struggles he had earlier in the year, it seems safe to say he is turning a corner.
  • Ville Leino’s return was a success. He was strong on the puck, made some fantastic feeds. Two resulted in chances and a subsequent penalty. His no goal was probably a good call considering he dug the puck from Pavelec’s pads. However, given how quiet that arena was, no whistle blew. Unless the call was intent to blow (which it wasn’t), there may be an argument in allowing that one to stand.
  • The Sabres should research a headset device that fans can wear which feeds them corrections to some of the things they say during games. For example, when one fan exclaims at the stupidity of placing Vanek on the point for a power play the device can point out that two defensemen are indeed on the ice but one is playing deep in the zone. Just spitballing on that one.
  • You can officially call him Grocery Stick Gragnani. The “defenseman” saw only nine shifts for 7:02 TOI. A majority of that time came on the power play. Obviously he is seen as a complete liability to this team. There doesn’t seem to be much risk in waiving him and bringing up any one of the players in Rochester. Again, T.J. Brennan exhibited a fine two-way game while be heads and shoulders better than Gragnani in his own zone.
  • Drew Stafford is in a serious funk. His goal against Edmonton should have acted as a catalyst to spur a scoring streak. However, he looks like he may be yet another player who needs a change of scenery to break out. Tim Connolly was stale in Buffalo and giving minor contributions, he is enjoying some sound hockey in Toronto. Perhaps a similar change is necessary for Stafford.

Three Stars

1. Johnny Oduya

2. Ondrej Pavelec

3. Jhonas Enroth

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