Double Minors: Sabres finally hit a streak

The last time the Sabres won at least two games in a row they were sniffing the top of the Eastern Conference standings and looking like a contender. Then Milan Lucic happened, the team hit the skids and spiraled to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Get over it, Montreal.

Alas, the Sabres won two-straight. Ryan Miller made 27 saves, Paul Gaustad had three(!) points and Ville Leino even scored a goal in the 3-1 victory over Montreal.

The Sabres did indeed score three goals, but the real story was hanging tough while trailing and eventually leading by just one. Despite giving up an early goal, Leino tied the game and Gaustad notched the game winning goal in the third.

The pair of victories have been sandwiched by the All-Star break. But what began as a truly ugly road trip, has closed with a little bit of hope. The Sabres now play three of their next thirteen at home, this stretch will truly determine where this season will be when the chips are down.

  • Luke Adam watched from the press box this evening. It was a questionable choice considering the youngster had just returned from a weekend surrounded by the best players in the game. However, given his recent play, he certainly warranted some time watching in street clothes. If a healthy scratch in Montreal does for Adam what it did for Tyler Myers, then sit the kid down.
  • The big story comes via Paul Gaustad. Gaustad chirped Max Pacioretty late in the game, asking “Where’s Chara?” Montreal is pretty angry about the whole situation, but it is probably getting overblown a tad. First of all, a chirp is a chirp. They are jabs meant to irritate or infuriate and you leave them on the ice. Montreal basically asked the same thing of Gaustad regarding the Lucic/Miller incident; so Gaustad responded in kind. On a side note, I’m fairly certain P.K. Subban has tossed out some real off-color nonsense himself. So Habs fans may need to temper their fury on that one. Lastly, for a city/fanbase up in arms over their coach being unilingual, they get awfully upset over a cheap chirp. The fact that the best man for the job may be chased out of town for not speaking French is embarassing for that franchise, city and fanbase. But it’s cool, get mad at a guy for tossing out a chirp during the game.
  • Ryan Miller turned in another terrific performance. His last three outings have been pretty sharp, in my opinion. His team quit on him in Winnipeg, but he played a strong game. You have to like Miller’s attitude and work ethic recently. He will be the key to any sort of run the Sabres put together.
  • Tyler Myers showed a strong physical side tonight. He also got caught up ice on the Montreal goal. I’m okay with him playing an active game, so long as his partner can support him. Pairing him with Christian Ehrhoff may not be the best choice because Ehrhoff is also an active threat offensively.
  • Hey! Ville Leino scored a beauty tonight. His puck possession may be the best on the roster, quite a shocker to see him play a productive game skating with the team’s better players, no?
  • Lastly, It’s cool if the Canadiens players are quick to jump on Gaustad for being a marginal talent. But when Carey Price says he is irrelevant during the game, he should check the gamesheet. Goal and two apples for Goose tonight, also 60% at the dot with two blocked shots.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres getting healthy after All-Star break

Only during the NHL Premiere games did the Sabres roster look as it did yesterday in practice. Aside from Jochen Hecht, it appears as if the Sabres are as healthy as they have been all season.

Tyler Ennis and Paul Gaustad appear ready to play tonight in Montreal. The same reports note that Brayden McNabb has passed his baseline test and should be ready to return by the end of the week. It is a major step forward for a team that has been searching for answers with multiple players injured at a given time.

The question remains, is the roster good enough to win games? Considering the make-up of the lines, it is safe to assume that the line-up will be a near carbon copy to the one that started the year 10-5. That, of course, was before their confidence was all but destroyed by Milan Lucic and a string of injuries.

Tonight’s game in Montreal presents the Sabres the opportunity to win two games in a row for the first time since November. It will be a tough task in a hostile building against a team that plays Buffalo well – particularly in net. But a healthy roster means fewer excuses for everyone involved.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam and Ville Leino. The three players, particularly the latter two, have had interesting seasons. Adam was red-hot to start the year but has filtered to fourth line minutes as of late. His creativity seems choked off as Lindy Ruff continues to demand more from the young pivot. However, he has just returned from the All-Star game, it would be foolish to keep him stashed between two grinders. Ennis skated at center yesterday in practice and could potentially make the shift if Ruff is truly looking for different answers. Keep an eye on Ennis simply because he hasn’t been the impact player he was last year. If he shifts to pivot and Leino bumps to wing, pay even more attention. Ennis and Leino need to start producing, there is no more time to wait for them to warm up.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 SO, Bell Centre, 11/14/2011

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 SO

Jhonas Enroth worked his magic again. If only his name rhymed with magic the way Ryan Fitzpatrick’s does.

It was Buffalo’s second visit to Montreal and the second time they had to rely on their goaltender to keep them in the game for the first 40 minutes. Enroth, despite looking a little sloppy on the two Montreal goals, was the only reason the Sabres had an opportunity to tie the game in the third period.

Lindy Ruff made a great coaching decision entering the third period. He changed 50% of his line up, and it worked. All three defensive pairings were shuffled and Derek Roy was moved between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville – Luke Adam moved between Drew Stafford and Ville Leino. The change-up created Subway Line 2.0, we will see if Ruff sitcks with those top two lines for long, Adam’s style of play doesn’t seem to suit Stafford and Leino on his wings.

Regardless, the new Subway Line created quick. Jason Pominville wired a clapper in from the high slot on a beauty of a feed from Roy (Vanek picked up a phantom second helper) and Roy tied it with a neat snipe to the same corner Pominville hit earlier. Vanek recorded the primary assist on the Roy goal to finish with two points on the evening.

Vanek’s shootout goal was silky smooth, like many of his shootout tallies in the past. Brad Boyes’ shooutout goal, which would be the winner, was a thing of beauty. Lindy Ruff must love having those types of weapons at his disposal for the skills competition.

The one downer from the night came in the first 40 minutes. Buffalo was sluggish, sloppy in their end and didn’t seem to be in the game. Basically they were giving Enroth the treatment that is typically reserved for Ryan Miller. Still, their goalie kept them alive and they manged to strike in the third to steal their third and fourth points in Montreal. The Sabres have taken four of six on this gruesome run of games, just about the best case scenario for points percentage through the first three.

  • Jhonas Enroth is certainly making me a believer. By no means am I ready to kick Ryan Miller to the curb. He showed his chops were still there on Saturday, considering the circumstances under which he attempted to play, Miller showed that he may have consulted Ilya Bryzgalov’s iPhone compass to get out of the woods.
  • The Sabres special teams have been impressive lately. Granted, the power play was o’fer on two four-on-three chances, those are the ones that you must score on. Still, the power play has been generating chances and the penalty kill continues to be impressive. Regardless of the goal they gave up tonight (result of a few bad clearing attempts) they buckled down in the third and overtime, exactly what you need from the penalty kill.
  • Mike Weber will not be going back to the press box any time soon. He had a very strong outing this evening. Outside of the muck-up he and Regehr made of Montreal’s second goal, he was sound. Compared to the Philly game he looked like a Norris candidate. Tyler Myers will be coming back to the lineup in no time, but I doubt Weber is the one removed for the 6’8″ rearguard.
  • It is tough to see Brad Boyes relegated to the fourth line. I feel he brought the right offensive spark to the Gaustad/Gerbe line. While Kaleta gels nicely with those two to create a strong checking line, Boyes is being wasted on the fourth line. No offense to the great Matt Ellis. Still, Tyler Ennis will be back soon and either Ennis or Ville Leino will probably be pushed down with Boyes and either McCormick or Ellis. It isn’t a great situation with the hodgepodge they are dealing with there.
  • It is my opinion that Tyler Myers remains in the press box for Wednesday’s game against New Jersey. Give Weber one more outing to really get his feet, identify the true weak link on the blueline (MAG, Sekera etc.) and remove them to reinsert Myers.

Three Stars

1. Brad Boyes

2. Max Pacioretty

3. Erik Cole

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Miller out with concussion, Enroth to see extended time

Ryan Miller stoned the Canadiens the last time the two teams met, it will be up to Jhonas Enroth to do the same tonight.

The Buffalo Sabres will play without the services of Ryan Miller this evening against the Montreal Canadiens.

Miller is out with a concussion sustained on the hit he took from Milan Lucic on Saturday night. Whether Lindy Ruff’s goaltending schedule called for Miller to play again this evening is a mystery, but the goaltender was strong until he was taken out due to the injury on Saturday.

The Sabres recalled Drew MacIntyre from the AHL for the time being. It doesn’t appear that there is any sort of timetable for Miller to come back. Based on last season, it should be about a two week process.

Buffalo enters this game in a bit of a flux. They were pushed around Saturday and have been hammered by the media and fans for their inaction following the hit on Miller. Certainly the team will come out with the goal of establishing themselves physically this evening. So long as they don’t go out of their way to run people through the boards, they should be in good shape.

Montreal is currently tied with Boston in the Northeast Division basement. However, both teams have started to click after suffering slow starts. In addition, Carey Price’s career dominance of the Sabres is never something to scoff at.

One thing that is lost in every Sabres loss is the big picture. Buffalo is still 10-6-0 and remain one point behind Toronto for the division lead and three behind Pittsburgh for the best record in the East. This week will be very telling for Buffalo in the standings. Tonight marks game three of a six games in eight night stretch. A strong points percentage on this swing will be key moving forward.

UPDATE: Multiple tweets and news stories indicate that Tyler Myers will be a healthy scratch for the Sabres tonight. Can’t say that is a bad decision, I’m sure Sekera and Gragnani will get their turn up there soon enough.

Highlighted Matchup

Jhonas Enroth. Since goaltending is such an independent position I am not going to include Carey Price here. The Buffalo defense is also an easy target, but the onus is now on Enroth. He faced a similar situation last spring when Miller went down and he answered the bell. This stretch of games – in which he will likely play each night – will do a lot for the fans who have been really pumping his tires and for those who still question if he is really a better option compared to Miller. He will need the support of his team, if the Sabres play as they have in front of Miller the last few outings Enroth is in for a long night.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

MTL: Carey Price

Last Game

10/18/2011, Bell Centre, Sabres 3 – Canadiens 1

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Canadiens 1

It was the Ryan Miller show in Montreal this evening. While the rest of the Sabres waited until the game was 30 minutes old to start playing.

Miller was outstanding through the first two periods and even better in the third period, stopping at least 10 shots in each stanza. Most of the Sabres deserve a bag skate after this one, but Thomas Vanek wired a slap shot, top corner, just before the second period ended and Jordan Leopold scored his first of the year earlier in the second. In fact, the Leopold-Ehrhoff paring was easily Buffalo’s best.

Buffalo’s special teams had a solid outing, the penalty kill went five-for-five and are now 18 for 20 on the season (90%). The power play was 0-for-1 but is showing that it can create chances. Saturday in Pittsburgh is a better testament to this point but obviously the man-up unit is a work in progress and will continue to come together.

Miller was Buffalo’s best penalty killer on the evening making numerous big saves while the Sabres were short a man. His sliding glove save against Raphael Diaz is the best save a Sabres goaltender has made this season. Obviously the day of rest helped his mental and physical game, have Jhonas Enroth is going to pay dividends for the Sabres all season long.

  • Cody McCormick wasn’t voted a star this evening but he certainly deserves one. Before Lindy Ruff shuffled his lines (more on that later), the McCormick-Gaustad-Kaleta line were the only Buffalo forwards giving any effort. McCormick’s fight was a turning point for Buffalo.
  • It has only been five games and Lindy Ruff has moved some pieces around. The top line of Vanek-Adam-Pominville was kept together, for good reason, while the other nine forwards were shuffled. The lines looked like this: Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta, Ennis-Roy-Stafford, McCormick-Leino-Boyes. The final line concerns me for a few reasons. Cody McCormick is wasted with those two players and it also seems like Ruff is throwing his hands up in regards to Boyes and Leino. Boyes in particular. It would be a shame for Leino’s psyche to be shaken early in the season and for the Sabres to lose a potential 60-point player. I’m hoping Ruff finds a way to work him back with some scorers.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani had a better game than his previous two outings. His partner, Andrej Sekera, continues to be quietly effective in his role. I would go so far as to say Sekera has been the most consistent defenseman on the ice this season. Gragnani’s play may not warrant a benching, but the overall in-zone play by the Sabres may necessitate a change of some sort.
  • The wing play in zone this evening was horrendous. Not until the third period was there any sort of structure to Buffalo’s breakout. It trickled down to defensive coverage as well. As stated above, inserting a greater defensive presence in the lineup (Mike Weber) may help in shoring up some of the shortcomings the Sabres have been having in the defensive zone.
  • Thomas Vanek had a very good game. Ignore the penalties. The first was just a horrible call while the second was somewhat necessary in clearing the front of the net. He was probably the most active member of his line past the 10-minute mark of the second period. He also continued to play pretty good defensive hockey. There may be a two-way player in there somewhere.
  • Tyler Myers had a very rough game. He looked very sluggish and made some questionable plays with the puck. However, he remained strong in the corners and in front of his net. It seems like he is pressing a bit – much like he did early in the season last year. I trust that he will settle in and find that dominant game he had much of the second half in 2010-11.
  • Yet again the NHL officiating in Montreal was horrible. The first penalty on Thomas Vanek should had been ignored and the phantom slash called on Tyler Ennis was easily the worst of the evening. Ville Leino also received a healthy slash that created the turnover that helped lead to the Montreal goal. I’m guessing most officials are afraid of being burned alive by rioting Habs fans after the games. It is the only explanation for some of the things I saw.

Three Stars

1. Ryan Miller

2. Max Pacioretty

3. Raphael Diaz

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Canadiens

The first of six meetings between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens takes place this evening at the Bell Centre.

While Buffalo’s record in Montreal isn’t horrendous – 5-4-1 in their last ten games – the Bell Centre has always been  building I haven’t been fond of when the Sabres have to go and visit. Montreal took the season series on points (3-1-2) but the teams split the victories evenly in 2010-11, with the home team winning only twice in six attempts.

Buffalo has had a couple of days off prior to heading up north and managed to rebound nicely with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Jhonas Enroth isn’t likely to start this evening, but has been promised time on this current four-game road trip. I would expect to see him no later than Saturday’s contest in Tampa.

I also suspect that Marc-Andre Gragnani will have one last chance to redeem himself after two poor outings last weekend. Despite what he offers to the power play, Gragnani has been a train wreck in his own zone and it may mean the defensive-minded Mike Weber gets a look in Grgagnani’s stead.

Montreal will be desperate for a win after suffering a pair of tough losses in which they allowed nine goals in the two contests. Montreal’s only victories this season came via 5-1 drubbings of both the Lightning and Jets, two teams that have combined for two victories.

Carey Price has played in every game but has not shown the prowess that put him among the Vezina candidates last year in Vegas. Tomas Plekanec (a perennial Sabre killer) leads the Habs, along with Max Pacioretty, with four points (2+2) on the year. Montreal has suffered from an early injury bug along with some under performing players.

If there is such thing as a trap game for the Sabres, this would certainly be it.

Highlighted Matchup

Carey Price vs. Ryan Miller. Price has yet to see the bench for the Habs and isn’t likely to get a reprieve any time soon as Peter Budaj may just be the worst back up in the NHL. While he is in somewhat of a funk right now, Price always gets up for games against Miller and the Sabres. I don’t doubt that today will be any different. The same goes for Miller. He is 19-8-5 for his career against Montreal. He only holds a better record over Boston and Toronto.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 3GP, 2-1-0, 2.35 GAA, .928 SV%

MTL: Carey Price 4 GP, 1-2-1, 2.96 GAA, .880 SV%

2010-11 Season Series BUF 3-3-0

10/15/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 1 – Canadiens 2

11/5/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Canadiens 3

11/27/2010, Bell Centre, Sabres 1 – Canadiens 3

1/18/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Canadiens 1 OT

2/15/2011, Bell Centre, Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 SO

3/22/2011, Bell Centre, Sabres 2 – Canadiens 0

2ITB NHL preview: The East

Another NHL season is upon us after a summer that was filled with more Buffalo hockey news than you could shake a stick at. The entire Eastern Conference saw a shake up over the summer and the conference could see a similar playoff race, with seeds 7-12 all within shouting distance of each other. I think the same playoff cast will return this season, but with a few minor changes: Continue reading

Double Minors – Sabres 3 – Canadiens 1

It may have been against most of the Hamilton Bulldogs’ roster, but Christian Ehrhoff had his coming-out party for the Buffalo Sabres.

Ehrhoff made a pretty pass to Jason Pominville to open the Buffalo scoring in the second period and scored the game winning goal on a twisted wrister early in the third period. To go along with his +2 and two-point night, Ehrhoff skated for 22 minutes for the Sabres.

Clearly Ehrhoff is a multi-talented defenseman and will be utilized in every situation by Lindy Ruff this season. While Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr skated together tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ehrhoff and Myers paired up as the regular season draws closer.

– Ryan Miller was, well, Ryan Miller. He was calm and collected and had a number of sparkling saves among the 11 shots he turned away. Jhonas Enroth allowed a power play goal to P.K. Subban, but made 11 saves on 12 shots. Another confident performance off the bench for the new backup. This is an encouraging sign since I have had some doubts about how Enroth will rebound from his strong debut in 2010-11. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Canadiens

The Buffalo Sabres will take the ice in Montreal for their second preseason contest of the year, tonight.

Fresh off a 3-1 victory over Carolina on Monday, the Sabres will go with a line up heavy with veterans and only a few tweeners against Montreal. The lines are as follows:

Vanek – Roy – Pominville

Ennis – Leino – Stafford

Gerbe – Adam – Boyes

Foligno – Ellis – Kassian

The defensemen were listed by the Sabres’ Twitter as Ehrhoff, Regher, Myers, Gragnani, Schiestel and Persson. Whether or not those are in order of pairs, I can’t be sure (s/t to Kevin at sabres.com). UPDATE: It appears that Regher will skate with Myers. This probably meansEhrhoff will skate with Gragnani. Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth will split time in net. I would guess Miller gets the start with Enroth coming off the bench again. Continue reading

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round one recap

To say the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs were highly entertaining would be a massive understatement.

Half of the series went to a game seven and three of the four deciding games were spectacular. The one exception was the 5-2 drubbing the Flyers put on the Sabres. The other four series were equally entertaining. I would say the Caps 4-1 triumph and Detroit’s sweep of the Desert Dogs were the only ho-hum parts of the first round.

Eastern Conference

#1 Washington Capitals defeat #8 New York Rangers 4-1

I had the Caps winning in five, which really is no great stretch of a prediction. This could have shaped up to be a much different series had Marian Gaborik not gift-wrapped the game four overtime goal for Jason Chimera. The Capitals improved defense was strong as was Michael Neuvirth. Washington scored timely goals and Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t enough to counter the superior match up. Turning point: Marian Gaborik’s gaffe leads to OT winning goal to give Washington a 3-1 series lead. MVP: Michael Neuvirth – 4-1, 1.38 GAA, .946 SV% Continue reading