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

2ITB first-round predictions

After going just about o’fer on my regular season predictions, here is a look at who I think will advance in the first round of the NHL Playoffs.

East

1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers

This is an interesting series. If Ryan Callahan was healthy and the Rangers had better scoring depth they could really give the Caps a run. However, they don’t have those two things. The Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist and block a lot of shots. It ends there. The Caps play good defense and can score in bunches. Their goaltending is quite suspect but Alex Ovechkin has been heating up over the last half of the season. Plus, Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan were two fantastic acquisitions by George McPhee. Caps in five.

Continue reading

Looking back at my conference predictions

A prognosticator I am not. My mock NFL Draft senior year was about 15% correct. When I went about predicting the NHL’s playoff picture back in October, I didn’t have high hopes. Let us see how 2ITB did:

East

Prediction – 1. WAS, 2. PIT, 3. BOS, 4. NJD, 5. BUF, 6. OTT, 7. MTL, 8. PHI, 9. NYR, 10. CAR, 11. TOR, 12. TBL, 13. NYI, 14. ATL, 15. FLA

Actual – 1. WAS, 2. PHI, 3. BOS, 4. PIT, 5. TBL, 6. MTL, 7. BUF, 8. NYR, 9. CAR, 10. TOR, 11. NJD, 12. ATL, 13. OTT, 14. NYI, 15. FLA

So I was a bit off in the middle. Not too many people would have bet on that epic collapse by New Jersey and I, admittedly put far too much stock in Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire. Philadelphia overachieved (according to my original calculation) and I vastly underestimated Tampa Bay.

Washington was a pretty easy choice to make, as was keeping Atlanta, Florida and the Islanders at the bottom. Otherwise it was a hodgepodge of close calls and near misses.

West

Prediction – 1. LA, 2. VAN, 3. CHI, 4. SJ, 5. DET, 6. NSH, 7. ANA, 8. CGY, 9. COL, 10. PHX, 11. STL, 12. DAL, 13. MIN, 14. CBJ, 15. EDM

Actual – 1. VAN, 2. SJ, 3. DET, 4. ANA, 5. NSH, 6. PHX, 7. LA, 8. CHI, 9. DAL, 10. CGY, 11. STL, 12. MIN, 13. CBJ, 14. COL, 15. EDM

Since the West is such a crap shoot it would have been pretty hard to predict either way. I gave LA too much credit and it turns out the Hawks didn’t have close to enough depth to compete at the level they did last year.

My biggest oversight was with Colorado at nine, turns out they really stink. The Western playoff picture is extremely interesting this season, with the amount of parity out there it isn’t a stretch to say that any team can advance and any team could have finished two to four places higher.

Habs on the right side of the dial this time

After completely missing on their choice to dump Jaroslav Halak and sign Tomas Plekanec, the Montreal Canadiens have made a smart move.

Dan Ellis, who was forced out of the Nashville crease, is on his way to Montreal.

The dumped problem child, Sergei Kostitsyn to Nashville in exchange for Dustin Boyd and Dan Ellis. Boyd will help Montreal, especially compared to what Kostitsyn brought to the table. In the event the Habs can sign Ellis, they will have absolutely fleeced the Preds – a team that is making moves quicker than Deep Blue.

The Predators have made three moves this offseason, none of which have improved the team. They have inherited a fringe defenseman, a prima donna  winger and a part-time NHLer. They sent out three players who started most nights for them in 2009-10 in Ellis, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott. The only silver lining in it all is that the Predators got something in return for Ellis and Hamhuis, instead of letting them walk for free – even if the return was questionable.

As for the Habs, it seems like Ellis is interested in signing with Montreal.  If that is the case, the Habs have found their 1B to Carey Price. If Price can get his game back in order the bleu, blanc et rouge have found themselves a strong goaltending combo. Continue reading

Jaroslav Halak dealt out of Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens have decided who their number one goaltender will be. However, it isn’t who many would have guessed. Montreal shipped Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.

Jaroslav Halak is now a member of the St. Louis Blues. Weeks after leading the Canadiens past the Capitals and Penguins in the playoffs.

So, the Habs picked up a pair of prospects in exchange for the goaltender that carried them to the conference finals. Eller spent the 2009-10 season in the minors, while Schultz has been inked to his first NHL deal but stayed in juniors last season.

The quick winner here is definitely the Blues. Chris Mason is an Unrestricted Free Agent and will obviously not be signed. They dealt two players who haven’t shown a real push to crack the lineup for a proven goaltender who is entering his prime. The Canadiens still have a year or two to see if these two prospects will pan out. But they have given Carey Price a vote of confidence and hopefully that will light the necessary fire under him.

So, now the Habs really need a good season out of Carey Price, something that has yet to be seen since his fabulous rookie campaign.