Double Minors: Sabres Fall in Season Opener

The Sabres were 12 short minutes away from the perfect start to the Jason Botterill/Phil Housley era on Thursday night. The fast paced style of play that had been promised many times before was on full display, and there was even a hint of nostalgia as old friend Jason Pominville turned back the clock and scored both Buffalo goals in his first game as a Sabre since 2013.

However, it wasn’t enough to come away with the two points the team deserved, as the Sabres fell asleep on the man advantage and allowed Phillip Danault to jam a puck between Robin Lehner’s skate and the left post to tie the game in the third period before the shootout struggles of last season returned and condemned the team to a 3-2 shootout defeat.

Despite the setback, the mood both on the ice and in the stands was a far cry from the tepid atmosphere that so often accompanied home games last season. Fans were engaged throughout the course of the game, and there was even fewer Canadiens fans dotting the lower bowl than usual. Fans didn’t need the organ, which made its own triumphant return, to nudge them into the familiar “Let’s Go Buffalo” chant, and the noise level in general was a refreshing change from the last few seasons of relative silence. Continue reading

Sabres Deadline Live Blog

It’s been an interesting deadline season thus far. Plenty of deals have gone down in the weeks leading up to today’s deadline and the Sabres really led the way in that department, sending Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and Jhonas Enroth away in pre-deadline deals.

I’ll use this space to track the moves made by the Sabres along with offering up a few quick thoughts on each move.

Buffalo acquires a 2016 5th Round pick from Montreal for Brian FlynnFlynnFlynn is an RFA, so it’s plausible to assume that Tim Murray wasn’t planning on qualifying him this summer. He’s a very serviceable player and I saw him as a nice fourth line forward once the roster rounded out. He does a good job on the penalty kill and has begun to show some offensive upside in the right situation.

Ultimately, Flynn was signed by the previous regime as a college free agent and simply may not be a player Tim Murray saw as a long-term part of his plans. If that’s the case, then by all means try to get as much return for him as possible. It’s still a questionable decision since they’re only getting a 2016 5th, but as a depth player who will be restricted this summer, there’s not much more to ask for.

Buffalo acquires Chad Johnson and a conditional 2016 3rd round pick for Michal Neuvirth

NeuvyThe prayers of the most ardent tank fans have been answered with this deal. Tim Murray saw the goaltender he acquired at last year’s deadline enjoy a fair resurgence over the past few weeks and leveraged his play for an additional asset in the 2016 draft. The Sabres already own the Islanders first and second round picks in the 2015 draft and now own four total picks in the third round of next year’s draft. This was solid return for a goaltender who about a month ago looked as if he was unmovable thanks, in large part, to a lengthy losing streak. This was very much a move for the Sabres’ tank as the Sabres have seen the Coyotes sell off nearly every asset they had in an attempt to nosedive to the league basement.

Johnson hasn’t been great this year as Jaro Halak’s backup and now joins Anders Lindback in what is easily the most unstable goaltending duo in the league. Johnson comes in with a 3.08 GAA to complement Lindback’s 3.71. Tank on.

Buffalo acquires 2017 2nd round pick from Minnesota for Chris Stewart

StewartCertainly not the return originally expected for Stewart as there were rumors that Tim Murray was requesting as much as a top prospect in exchange for Stewart. In the long run it will probably look like Murray waited a little too long to deal Stewart but landing a second round pick, as far in the future as it may be, is better than taking less than the original asking price. Further, the Sabres already owned Minnesota’s 2016 2nd (which they used to acquire Josh Gorges), so Murray did a good job getting a more valuable pick.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Murray’s thought process on acquiring this pick is to provide himself more ammunition for next year’s deadline and future trade offers. As the Sabres sit in a position to really hit the gas on their rebuild, having additional picks to swap is a very good position to be in.

Buffalo acquires Jack Nevins and a 2016 7th round pick from Montreal for Torrey Mitchell

Mitchell

This has been a top secret deal (for some reason) since it was announced. Turns out the Sabres grabbed a prospect who has done nothing of substance at the professional and a very late pick in 2016 for Mitchell. This was simply maximizing return for an expiring deal while also pushing another veteran out the door and Murray certainly did that. If Nevins actually plays for the Sabres, I’d be shocked. But, they got an actual body for a player who would typically be pretty worthless in any other scenario.

I’ll have a full recap up on today’s happenings soon.

New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

Continue reading

Double Minors: Temporary tie with the Caps after Miller blanks Habs

Ryan Miller continues to dazzle, stopping all 34 shots he faced and picking up his sixth career shutout last night against Montreal.

Miller had to be sharp early for Buffalo before Cody Hodgson officially tossed the monkey from his back, picking up two goals in the victory. Miller stopped 15 shots in the first, including an early breakaway by David Desharnais and 12 more in the third that included a terrific right pad reaction stop. It was a key performance in a key game for Miller.

Buffalo temporarily ties Washington for eighth in the East but still trail due to games played and the ROW tiebreaker. Both teams need to face each other and the Sabres are still in need of taking every point available over the next two weeks.

Team scoring will remain the key to the rest of the playoff run. While the Ennis, Foligno, Stafford (Regulators) have fueled the last few wins, tonight’s win was keyed by Hodgson, Vanek and Tropp’s line. What this may indicate is that the Sabres’ depth scoring is beginning to round out. Getting scoring from more than one line (a season-long issue) has helped push the Sabres close to the playoffs and will get them in if it continues.

  • Travis Turnbull only played six minutes but picked up three hits and won three faceoffs. He didn’t have enough ice time to truly make an impact, but if Pat Kaleta broke his hand/thumb/wrist I would expect to see Turnbull play a bit more over the next few games.
  • Alex Sulzer is going to make reinserting Mike Weber difficult. He is playing such a steady game that there is little reason to plug Weber back in. Granted, I didn’t hate what Weber had done since his rough night against Colorado, he just hasn’t been as good as Sulzer.
  • Hey, Ville Leino had another assist. He also missed a yawning net yet again. I’m okay with that, he has been almost worth the money since January. I love that Ruff is skating him on a line with top six talent, it is exactly where he needs to play.
  • Mike Gilbert had a very interesting comment regarding the First Niagara Center. If I may paraphrase, he basically said it is a much better building than it is being described. He used the two buildings in Florida as a barometer. I still think FNC can be a lot better in terms of volume and there is still ground to gain on some of the best buildings, but it is good to know that there is progress being made.
  • The Sabres only had nine hits on the night. Not sure if that is completely inaccurate or not, but I would have to think they probably made contact with more than nine bodies for the game. Who knows, just spitballing.
  • Everyone can finally leave Cody Hodgson alone. He had a pair of assists on Monday, one fluky goal and one beautiful play last night. Hodgson played some great hockey once he arrived from Vancouver and probably faltered due to the travel, extra ice time and lack of practice. Hodgson has managed to settle in (including the latter portion of that slump) and now suddenly looks like the superstar most fans thought he was supposed to be right away.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: A chance to draw even in Montreal

Everyone has been all a-Twitter about the help the Sabres have been getting on the out-of-town scoreboard. Tonight offers the opportunity to finally recapture a playoff spot.

The Sabres have had a few separate chances to grab at least a share of a playoff position over the past month, they have yet to cash in one of those opportunities. If you practice the “what if they let Vanek go to Edmonton” train of reason, the Sabres could have crawled to eighth by beating Winnipeg and have two more points (four total) had they won their two recent shootouts.

To offer a more realistic picture, the Sabres haven’t been able to step to the plate when it has been most necessary. one way or the other they have faltered in a key area in their three losses this month. All will be forgotten if they come away from Montreal with a victory tonight. Their offense clicked into place on Monday, they will need to carry that into this evening’s game.

Expect to see Carey Price back in net, he always puts on a great performance against the Sabres. Buffalo peppered Peter Budaj last time the two teams met and you can bet Price will be tougher to beat than Budaj (33 saves) was.

The Sabres will welcome back Tyler Myers, who may need to answer for his hit on Scott Gomez, and may even witness the NHL debut of Travis Turnbull. I’d be surprised if a guy like Brad Staubitz challenges Myers, especially because everyone in Montreal was probably glad to see Gomez get plastered. I’ll also hold out on seeing Turnbull in the lineup. He was an emergency recall and will only play if the mystery injury is serious enough to keep a player out. Which player is injured? That is anyone’s guess.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Alexander Sulzer. One of these four will not be playing, that decision will come down between Sulzer and Weber. The other two (Myers and Sekera) are recent returnees to the lineup and will be counted on for big minutes. Sekera has been strong since returning from his illness and Myers has had three games to recuperate and watch from the press box. Hopefully he uses the time off similar to his healthy scratch earlier in the year.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 OT, First Niagara Center, 3/12/2012

Double Minors: Sabres take two after OT gut check

Just 3.5 seconds away from winning a 2-1 game against the Canadiens, the Sabres couldn’t buckle down and David Desharnais scored to tie the game.

It mattered not as Tyler Myers made a great read in overtime to join the rush and pick up the winning goal. Myers would state in his postgame interview that the tying goal may have condemned the Sabres a month or two ago. He followed that by saying the team has come together with more confidence as of late.

Ryan Miller had 26 saves, a number of them key stops (11 in the 3rd) and had some choice words for his teammates as overtime began. Miller toned it down during postgame, but he said the message was to ignore the late goal and get the job done. Miller has often displayed captain tendencies throughout his career and those are the type on intangibles he brings, especially when he is on his game like he has been since January 1.

Myers has been playing good hockey for a while now. His defensive game is still rounding out and he makes some odd decisions, but he is turning into a dominant force as each game goes by. I still think there needs to be a serious guiding force (whether a coach or partner) for him to grow with. Two hits, three shots, a goal and +1 isn’t a terrible stat line, I liked him tonight.

The other Tyler, the smaller one, was once again dazzling. For those who clamored that he was being wasted and could possibly be a bust, I give you Healthy Tyler Ennis vs. Injured Tyler Ennis. He had a few struggles early on and then suffered that ankle injury. It would appear that he wasn’t right until late January. Now Ennis is playing his natural position and is dazzling with his puck skills. Good on Lindy Ruff for getting him back to that position and allowing him to create.

Ennis’ strong play has coupled with Miller’s run and a few other brief renaissances on the roster, has been the catalyst for this unlikely playoff run. Getting continued scoring is the only way this team will make the playoffs, would appear they’re starting to create the necessary chances, now they need to finish.

  • Everyone off the “Cody Hodgson is Awesome” train and jump aboard the “Cody Hodgson is a Bust” bandwagon. But seriously, Hodgson has been struggling a bit and has gotten his Raffi Torres treatment in shipping down to the fourth line. I would say his travel from Vancouver and to arrive with the Sabres probably wore on him. Add the west coast trip to that. Hopefully he can shake the fatigue, get some practice time and work his way back into more ice time.
  • Staying with the deadline acquisitions, Alex Sulzer has been strong filling in for various injured Sabres. However, Sulzer has not been 23:59 (!) good. He has never been that type of player and never will be. He was on for the tying goal, not that it was his fault alone, but that just shouldn’t happen. The final minutes are for your shutdown players.
  • Tyler Ennis has two goal-of-the-year candidates for the Sabres. His stick flip goal against Pittsburgh and his dangle tonight were both terrific. He has great hands and is going to deserve a great payday pretty soon.
  • Ryan Miller was strong again. Not sure he had a look at Erik Cole’s goal nor did he have much of a chance on the tying tally. He made a few strong saves, particularly in the third, and got the Sabres yet another win.
  • I really liked the lines in which Hodgson and Ennis filled as centers for the top six and Derek Roy was playing as the checking center. Of course, Hodgson wasn’t getting the job done and Ruff was forced to shuffle. I still think there is a line combination that can keep Buffalo’s best offensive weapons among the top six.
  • Allow me to play hypocrite for a moment. Ville Leino has proven to be a pretty solid checking center. I still think he will make his money best playing a top-six role, but he is filling in nicely for Paul Gaustad for the time being.
  • Every game is huge for the Sabres, that pretty much goes without saying. This weekend’s games are going to be pivotal. Well, Saturday (Florida) and next Monday (Tampa Bay). Still, both are against playoff competitors and those head-to-head wins are absolutely necessary.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Injury bug returns for the Sabres

Make no mistake, this is a banged up group of hockey players. The Sabres, already without Thomas Vanek, lost Matt Ellis and Pat Kaleta during the 4-3 shootout win over the Senators.

Today’s game will likely feature one or two fresh faces from the farm. I would assume that Colin Stuart, Derek Whitmore and Paul Szezchura are on the shortlist for a recall. If Cody McCormick and Vanek are able to go, that will obviously change the dynamic a bit.

The Sabres are still in the hunt for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. However, the Washington Capitals sudden surge is making things far more difficult for Buffalo. The Sabres are four points out of eighth place before tonight’s game. That makes every game that much more interesting for tonight.

With or without players like Vanek, Kaleta and Ellis, the task is daunting. The Sabres need to continue winning games, regardless of what their opponents are doing. Since teams like Florida and Washington continue to win, there is even less room for error.

Expect to see one of my favorite goaltending matchups. Carey Price and Ryan Miller always play well against each other and Miller will need to have another dazzling outing if the Sabres hope to stay alive.

Highlighted Matchup

The farmhands. Even if Marcus Foligno is the only call-up playing, I want to watch him closely. The Sabres have some interesting players down on the farm, but no superstars. Foligno has just about every trait that Zack Kassian possessed, aside from excellent offensive skills. There are no top-end prospects on the farm as of today, but that will change in the coming years. Let’s see who will be sticking around next year and beyond.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 4 SO, First Niagara Center, 2/17/2012