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

Double Minors: Special teams letdown in loss to Habs

For all intents and purposes, last night was a road game. Montreal fans surely outnumbered Sabres fans at First Niagara Center for last night’s shootout loss.

In what is becoming a disturbing trend, Canadian road fans are coming out in droves to support teams other than the Sabres. Obviously Buffalo’s struggles this season have a lot to do with the current supply and demand of tickets, but even this is embarrassing.

It is one thing to have a large portion of your market hail from southern Ontario, it is an entirely different situation to have roughly 9,000 fans wearing Maple Leafs or Canaidens jerseys.

The shootout loss made things worse, of course. The Sabres special teams play has gotten progressively uglier in recent weeks. The power play has become rather stagnant and the penalty kill can’t keep pucks from going in. The two power play goals Buffalo allowed came at the tail end of the respective penalties and the Sabres’ inability to clear their zone was the main culprit in the two goals.

Buffalo’s power play was equally ineffective. Granted, they were facing one of the league’s best penalty kill units. Still, to end the overtime period with an extended four-on-three opportunity is where the good teams and bad teams are separated. Tyler Myers had a great game and earned his spot for that final power play, but why leave the team’s hardest shot (Ehrhoff) on the bench?

Sabres fans can start scouting Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Filip Forsberg. The Sabres currently sit last in the Eastern Conference and hold the third pick in the 2012 draft.

  • Ryan Miller wasn’t the goalie the Sabres needed him to be last night. He was visibly upset with his performance in the shootout and admitted to it in his post game interview. Miller made a few big saves in the third as the Sabres pushed to get the game to overtime, he just wasn’t up to task in the shootout. I’d sit him down for tomorrow’s game against Pittsburgh. Give him a proper day off while allowing Jhonas Enroth to get a full start under his belt. Besides the playoff push is over, no reason to ride Miller into the ground.
  • Ville Leino wasn’t too bad last night. He picked up a pair of assists – one on a great effort behind the net – and looks as if he has rounded into form. It took a little longer than expected, but ensuring he sees top-six minutes is obviously the key to getting regular production from him. Shocking that a skill forward would need big minutes to be prodcutive, no?
  • I understand that Thomas Vanek was sat down due to another offensive zone penalty. However, your best players need to play big minutes. If Vanek is seeing less time than players like Mathieu Darche, there is a problem.
  • Zack Kassian was all but invisible last night. He needs to play with that physical edge on a nightly basis. I still contend that a veteran presence sitting next to him in the locker room every day would help bring out the most in the rookie. For example, what Mike Grier did for Thomas Vanek in terms of accountability and drive.
  • Robyn Regehr was born in Brazil, this much is true. However, he is a Canadian through and through. I wasn’t sure which the Sabres would choose to post, his citizenship/international hockey affiliation or his birthplace. It was cool to see the Brazilian flag on the videoboard for Regehr’s first goal as a Sabre.
  • The Sabres were credited with only nine hits last night. Regehr and Ville Leino were the only players in double digits. I want to know if it is coaching or some sort of culture in the locker room that keeps this team from finishing their checks. Boston and Philly are prime examples of teams that never miss a chance to put their man into the boards. I just wonder if the onus lies with the players or the coaches. Maybe it is a little of both.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Reeling Sabres and Canadiens finally meet in Buffalo

With only 25 games remaining on the schedule the Sabres welcome the Montreal Canadiens for their first visit to First Niagara Center, this season.

After a demoralizing 7-2 loss to Philadelphia last night, the Sabres dim hopes at a playoff berth appear dead. They’re now closer to winning the first pick in the 2012 Draft then they are to playing in the post-season for the third year in a row.

The Sabres are currently 27th in the league and would have a legitimate shot at winning the draft lottery. Depending on your opinion on highly drafted Russians will form your opinion on what the Sabres path should be the rest of the season.

If there is one thing to take away from this game, it is the fact that Ryan Miller and Carey Price always manage to provide a great head-to-head matchup. For whatever reason the two netminders usually have a good outing when facing each other. So if there is nothing else for you to enjoy, try to enjoy that.

Montreal comes in with their own skeletons in the closet. Just as the season has spiraled out of control on the Sabres, the same can be said for the Canadiens. Montreal’s $7m albatross finally scored a goal last week, their coach is being chased out of town for not speaking French and the team can’t seem to piece together many wins.

Tonight’s game – and the final two of the season series – will be played for little more than pride between these two teams. It is certainly a tough pill to swallow, but the next few games will be auditions for trades and come with the potential that the roster may be revamped.

Highlighted Matchup

Paul Gaustad, Brad Boyes, Drew Stafford and Derek Roy. Basically rope just about every available forward into the matchup for tonight. The Sabres are edging very close to sell mode and could potentially clean out a major portion of the roster. The four players listed above have had their names mentioned in different rumors through the year. At this point anyone not named Vanek or Pominville are likely on the chopping block.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 1, Bell Centre, 1/31/2012

*No stats for today’s game*

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