Double Minors: Offense falls short as playoff hopes dwindle

The Sabres are inching perilously close to entering sell mode as they mustered only one goal for the second-straight game. It was the 34th game the Sabres failed to score three goals, Buffalo has won only six times when scoring fewer than three goals.

Ryan Miller had another fine effort that was squandered by Buffalo’s offensive output. Say what you will about Buffalo’s goaltending this season, but the one constant has been the lack of offense produced by this team. Ryan Miller had a substantial slump this year, but has been dazzling since the All-Star break – and even in a few games prior. Beginning with Buffalo’s 2-1 shootout win against New Jersey immediately prior to the break, Miller has allowed 12 goals in eight games. Buffalo has scored 17 goals over that same span. Keep in mind that number is augmented by the 6-0 win over Boston.

If the dire need for scoring isn’t giving Darcy Regier a perpetual headache, I’d be shocked. The obvious conundrum of trying to swap out current players for new ones capable of changing the Sabres’ offensive output is going to be challenging. But there needs to be something done about the inability to score goals at FNC.

The Sabres had their fair share of struggles tonight. Their penalty box parade handcuffed them and the lopsided penalty numbers (Seven minors to two) were incredibly skewed. Regardless, not capitalizing on chances is a worthy excuse for a few games, but this team has been all Swedish and no Finnish this year.

  • It is convenient the Marty Brodeur brings his A-game against the Sabres every game, even in an off-year. He robbed the Sabres on multiple occasions and has been sterling for the entire season series.
  • Based on the video, the Myers/Sekera pairing had a rough night. Obviously Sekera’s deflection and his gaffe at the blue line are glaring errors. But the pair as a whole struggled. I’d assume you see Myers and Ehrhoff back together once Ehrhoff is healthy.
  • Regardless if Thomas Vanek scored that goal or not, he and Jason Pominville remain the only two viable offensive threats the Sabres have. As I said, something will need to be done soon and I’m hopeful the trade deadline is where the retooling begins.
  • Zack Kassian still has a lot to learn. I’m not quite sure if he can learn it by getting nine minutes a night. He is showing flashes that he has the skill this team is looking for. I maintain that he needs a guiding force that can get him to play that gritty game on a nightly basis.
  • Second thought on Kassian. Is it possible that his recall was motivated by potential trade suitors? There is a chance that he is being showcased or that he will be stepping up to a bigger role if certain players are moved.
  • The penalty situation the Sabres have found them in recently has not been helpful. It seems as if they have been on the wrong side of the coin for each of their last few games. Tonight in particular was tough to swallow. Granted, Buffalo did it to themselves with lazy, offensive zone penalties.
  • I don’t see the Sabres remaining in a position to make a playoff push any longer. The few losses they have to give are evaporating quickly and they don’t appear to have the offense necessary to make a proper push. The deadline is looming, lets see what moves are made.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: No room for error against Devils

Happy Valentines Day, we are two weeks away from the trade deadline and the Sabres are in must-win mode for the rest of the season.

The Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they are in a position where they need every point available to play in the second season.

There is a chance that Lindy Ruff will be back behind the bench, but that has yet to be confirmed. Zack Kassian appears as if he will remain on the wing with Brad Boyes and Matt Ellis for the near future. Buffalo is still without Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick, but are otherwise healthy – particularly with regards to their skill players.

Buffalo’s lack of scoring and slow starts have been just about an epidemic this season. The Sabres need to shake that habit immediately if they expect to be playing well into April. That starts with finishing chances. Buffalo has missed on a number of glorious opportunities this season and it has reflected in the standings. Ryan Miller has been providing excellent goaltending as of late but hasn’t gotten the necessary goal support.

If Buffalo can score more than three goals for more than just two games in a row, they will have a punchers chance at reaching the postseason.

Highlighted Matchup

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek vs. New Jersey’s defense. There is no mistaking the two most valuable players on Buffalo’s roster this season. Vanek has been back for two games and has a goal and an assist. Pominville has the same stat line in those two games. It just so happens each assisted on the other’s goal. New Jersey’s defense has gotten pretty thin as of late and Buffalo could really take advantage of a weak set of defensemen tonight. Of course they also have to deal with Marty Brodeur.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NJD: Martin Brodeur

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Devils 1 SO, Prudential Center, 1/24/2012

Double Minors sprinkled with stats

Last night’s loss was yet another performance in which Ryan Miller surrendered at least three goals. In fact, Miller has allowed at least three goals in seven of the ten games he has started since returning from injury.

However, last night also marked the ninth game in the last fifteen which the Sabres failed to score more than twice. The Sabres scored only once in six of those nine contests. Only twice in the past 15 games have Buffalo scored at least three goals only to lose a game. Clearly Buffalo’s issues go far beyond the goal crease.

Buffalo managed only a handful of scoring chances last night, most coming with the man advantage. At even strength the Sabres were rather stagnant. Yet again, secondary offense was absent for most of the game. While Thomas Vanek added yet another point to a fantastic year, he received no help from the likes of Brad Boyes, Drew Stafford or anyone else who would be considered outside the top-six.

There is no debating that Ryan Miller is not playing at an all-world level. A basic eye test would show strong efforts on most nights, however his is still allowing three goals and hovering around a .900 save percentage on most nights. Obviously his game needs to be elevated.

What is unfortunate is that the team in front of Miller doesn’t appear to have the ability to provide the scoring support their goaltending needs. It is becoming obvious that Miller (or Jhonas Enroth) will need to steal any win the Sabres get.

It is clear that a shake up is in order. Whether that is in the locker room or on the coaching staff, something needs to change and it needs to change now. This team will have trouble staying between ninth and eleventh in the East, let alone scratching into the playoffs.

  • Vanek and Pominville have truly reacted to their responsibilities as leaders. They have stepped up and become leaders on the ice. The same can’t be said to the other three wearing letters this season (9, 21, 28).
  • Losing Andrej Sekera certainly isn’t a good thing. First, it means that Marc-Andre Gragnani will see a few games. Second, Sekera had been one of the most consistent defenders for the Sabres this season. His play as of late has tailed off, but he was certainly bringing some stability to the blue line.
  • The Sabres won the special teams battle last night, they didn’t win much else. The shots were even, the Sabres only sustained zone time came with the man advantage and Buffalo didn’t create very much offensively.
  • Miller made a few sparkling saves to keep the game respectable last night. You probably want him to stop the first goal, but there wasn’t much he could do on the second or third markers. Still, Miller will need to steal a game or two if the Sabres are hoping to go on a run.
  • Enough is enough regarding Luke Adam. Sure, he has a good bond with Zack Kassian. But the Sabres had the most success with him centering Vanek and Pominville. It is astounding that Lindy Ruff won’t reunite that line.

The Morning Skate: Sabres searching for a streak

It has been a long while since the Sabres won two in a row. They have a chance to do that tonight at the Prudential Center, a building this team has had some success in.

Perhaps the only obstacle Buffalo will face occupies the six inches between their ears. The Sabres have gotten healthy in the past week and suddenly have a lineup that is worthy of skating at the NHL level. Brad Boyes brought quite a bit of skill to the lines that don’t include Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville and Jochent Hecht offered Lindy Ruff a real NHL center. Now, Hecht still isn’t the answer for Buffalo’s top line, but he is certainly a better option than Paul Szczechura.

The key for Buffalo this evening will be to get an early lead on this Devils team. Marty Broduer is not himself this season. He has very pedestrian numbers which need to be exploited. The Sabres allowed Brodeur to settle in last time the teams played and the future Hall of Famer made them pay. An early goal and controlling the play would go a long way to earning two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo power play vs. New Jersey penalty kill. The Devils have a group of six defensemen that many teams would envy. Anton Volchenkov is a shot blocking machine, Bryce Salvador is good all over, Adam Larsson is a budding superstar and the rest of the unit follows suit. The Devils penalty kill is lethal (thanks TBN) and the Sabres power play has managed to heat up over the past few games. The newly active power play has put up good numbers and could be the difference tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 20 GP 9-8-2, 3.05 GAA, .904 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 20 GP 9-9-0, 3.06 GAA, .884 SV%

Last Game

11/16/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 3 – Devils 5

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Devils 5

Depending how you spin it, the Sabres either had a hiccup along the line of a solid run; or the Sabres have dropped two of their last three.

The latter may be more appropriate considering Buffalo has allowed five or more goals in three of their last five games – one of those was a victory over Winnipeg. Clearly the team’s streaky defense is becoming an issue while Lindy Ruff’s line shuffling continues to be an extreme success or failure.

New Jersey rode two early goals to a 3-1 first period lead and never led by less than two the entire game. Another slow start at home as to be concerning to the staff, it certainly has the fans questioning the team’s talent. Frankly, the fact that this team so often stumbles at home is starting to become a serious issue. The task now is to identify what is causing these slow starts. Is it the coaching staff, the players, a combination? No matter where the onus lies, this is something that needs to be hammered out. Ryan Miller has been hung out to dry in the opening minutes of a home game twice and Jhonas Enroth was the victim last night.

  • The only bright spot for the Sabres was Tyler Myers. His trip to the press box brought him back in full force. He played an aggressive game and was rewarded with two goals. The official stats credit him with only one hit, but I doubt that is actually an accurate number. Based on Myers’ response to being benched, perhaps Lindy Ruff should shelf more of his stars in the coming weeks.
  • Christian Ehrhoff takes the cake as the biggest disappointment for me early in the season. He is playing with zero passion and often looks as if he is loafing about the ice while he counts all of the zeros on the game check he will be collecting. It is about time that Ehrhoff find his game, he was an effective peice of the puzzle in Vancouver but hasn’t found a way to contribute in Buffalo. Just goes to show what happens when you overpay European players.
  • Jhonas Enroth is, in fact, human. While he didn’t get much help last night, the youngster had a very average outing on his way to being yanked after allowing five goals. He definitely got the Ryan Miller treatment from his teammates yesterday.
  • Don’t assume that Enroth being pulled was only because he played an average game. Ruff was likely trying to get him a few minutes to truly rest entering the weekend. The ten-minute respite may be an indication that Enroth will get the start on Friday and Saturday.
  • Slow start aside, it was the Sabres special teams which cost them yesterday. On the whole, the special teams units have been a big reason for Buffalo’s success. But a power play and short handed goal in the first five minutes is a recipie for disaster.
  • Fun times: Ville Leino picked up another apple. Dude just needs to keep finding his legs down the left wing. I have faith he will come around.
  • Still hate Derek Roy at center with Vanek and Pominville. The change-up pushed Luke Adam all the way to the fourth line while promoting Brad Boyes to center with Stafford and Leino. I contend that Stafford and Leino need a finisher at center, maybe Boyes meets that quota, but Adam is not at the point in his development where he can adapt to numerous lines. He fit perfectly with Vanek and Pominville, it would seem that moving him elsewhere is not going to work out.

Three Stars

1. Patrick Elias

2. Tyler Myers

3. Martin Brodeur

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres look to extend Northeast Division lead at home

The Sabres return to First Niagara Center today to face the New Jersey Devils, a team fresh off a trip to Boston last night.

Buffalo remains without Ryan Miller and it appears that Cody McCormick may miss the game due to an injury sustained in Montreal. While no word has come down at this time the Sabres have two options, call up a forward from Rochester or dress seven defensemen. Obviously option two is far more attractive, especially considering the play of Corey Tropp in his four-game debut. Many fans are clamoring to see Zack Kassian, but it may be too soon for that. Marc-Andre Gragnani could end up on the wing, but that just seems like a monumental waste. However, he is probably better served in that position than any other.

The Devils fell to the Bruins thanks to a three-goal third period from the B’s. New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference ‘s top eight. Their position is due, in large part, to a shoddy start and an injury to Marty Brodeur. Of course, Brodeur wasn’t stellar in his time before or after the injury either, so it could be a case of an aging core playing in front of an aged star.

Considering Johan Hedberg played in Boston, it should be expected that Brodeur will be in net for the Devils this evening. The Sabres will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he is expected to see the lion’s share of work until Ryan Miller returns.

Highlighted Matchup

Zack Parise vs. Thomas Vanek. Both were NCAA superstars, both the Devils and Sabres offense run through them, respectively. Vanek has been on fire all season, Parise has decent numbers through 16 games. It will be interesting to see which player comes out on top tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 8GP, 6-0-0, 1.76 GAA, .942 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 6GP, 2-3-0, 3.02 GAA, .880 SV%

Last Game

3/26/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Devils 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

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.

Telling weekend for Sabres

This is one of those weekends that you could bill as the biggest of the season, until the next set of back-to-back games rolls along. So I will refrain from dubbing tonight’s game against Florida and tomorrow’s against New Jersey as the two most important games of the year.

Buffalo's poor play against Florida this year needs to be put in the past entering this weekend.

However, the Sabres are in a position of power and can tighten their grip on a playoff spot if they take at least three of four this weekend. In actuality they could split the weekend and maintain the same lead they have on Carolina going in to tonight. There are so many different ways this can play out you can nail down one option and say “this is how it has to be.” Continue reading

NHL trying to cover their tracks

The NHL has overturned the obnoxiously enormous contract that the New Jersey Devils awarded to Ilya Kovalchuk.

Now the league is looking into every ludicrous deal that was agreed upon over the past couple seasons. Among the players whose deals are being reviewed are; Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, Boston’s Marc Savard and Chicago’s Marian Hossa. Here is the TSN story with all the details.

Marian Hossa’s contract with the Chicago Blackhawks is one of many under review by the NHL.

Continue reading