The Instigator Podcast 6.22 – Ankles Out for Eichel and a Suitor Emerges for Lehner

On this week’s episode we cover the fallout of the Jack Eichel and CJ Smith injuries, touch on Alex Nylander’s stalling development and offer up a brief Olympic prediction. We also focus on the rumored links between the Sabres and Flyers and exactly how a deal between the two might come to fruition.

The Instigator Podcast 5.17 – Gudas, NHL Discipline and Projecting the Sabres Roster

We’re back to provide our thoughts on what the initial Sabres roster will look like for the season as Derek Grant, Hudson Fasching and Casey Nelson among those impressing in the preseason. Along the way we touch on some of the seemingly inaccurate statistical models projecting the Sabres season and the stunning lack of discipline applied to Radko Gudas’ latest indiscretion. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode.

Sabres on their way after two wins

Well that was a fun couple of days, no? A 5-2 beat down of the Flyers followed by a near textbook road win against the Leafs and the Sabres have gotten off on the right foot for this shortened 2013 season.

Sunday’s opener was about as sloppy as expected, as the Sabres and Flyers plodded through forty minutes of fairly average hockey before the Sabres third period explosion put the game away. The one takeaway from that opener was seeing the rust on both teams. Even with a game under their belt from the day before, the Flyers still looked sluggish in many ways along with their hosts who were playing their first game of the season.

The Sabres did do plenty of things right, however. They engaged physically from the opening faceoff, scored the game’s first goal and maintained composure after falling behind in the second period. Drew Stafford’s unexpected fight was pointed to as the spark that drove the Sabres into the third period and their scoring surge in the final frame got the job done.

Defensively there was plenty to improve upon in front of a strong outing from Ryan Miller – who benefitted from two disallowed goals. Special teams was a bright spot as the powerplay was clicking and the penalty kill did great work outside of allowing Claude Giroux to wire a one-time home for Philly’s second goal of the game. Continue reading

Flyers gain flexibility with Predators decision

The Predators took a necessary and expected step today by matching the massive 14-year offer sheet that Shea Weber signed with the Flyers.

This guarantees that Weber will be in Nashville for the foreseeable future. Nashville cannot trade Weber for this year, but it is plausible to think that they could work out a deal with Philly next season if they absolutely need to be out from under that contract. But with most chatter centering around a NTC/NMC for Weber, that seems quite unlikely. Matching the offer sheet also guarantees that the Flyers do not end up with Weber. From the perspective of those who hate the Flyers, this could be both a blessing and a curse.

While Philly will no longer have the services of Weber for the next decade-and-a-half but now have well over $7.8M in cap space to play with. That means they can go whole hog after Shane Doan and Bobby Ryan. Now that the Weber situation has been resolved, Rick Nash has found a new home and with the Parise and Suter sweepstakes long resolved, everyone’s attention will be turned to Doan and Ryan.

Since the Flyers have the financial freedom to explore every option available, they’ll surely big a major player for each of the right wingers. Ask yourself this. Would it be worse to see Shea Weber in Philly for 14 years or see them acquire Doan or Ryan as a result of missing out on Weber?

For me, the answer is Weber. All day, every day. Facing Weber on a regular basis would be far more nightmare inducing than the thought of Doan for three or four years or even Ryan. Weber is plain old nasty to play against – just ask Henrik Zetterberg – and seeing him on a regular basis in the East would be nightmarish. Obviously Doan and Ryan make the Flyers that much better, but not on the level that Weber would have. Plus, the Flyers are simply a potential destination at this point. There isn’t the near certainty that the Weber offer sheet entailed. Continue reading

Double Minors: And that’s all she wrote

It was all too similar to so many Sabres letdowns in the past. 20 minutes from a victory and a bend but don’t break mentality leads to a breakdown and a loss. Unfortunately, last night’s breakdown ended up being the final domino to fall on the Buffalo Sabres’ season.

Ville Leino opened the scoring and Ryan Miller was great in net, but it wasn’t enough. Buffalo tried to shell up in the third, allowed 16 shots and a pair of goals on their way to a 2-1 loss. The loss, coupled with Washington’s regulation victory sealed Buffalo’s playoff fate, and that was all she wrote.

Not to be a complete downer on the loss, but it played out just as you might expect it to. Buffalo was rather tentative for most of the game, but managed to capitalize on one of their better chances on the Leino goal. However, the Sabres came out for the third just hoping to hang on to the one-goal lead and escape with two points. I understand their losses on the backend, but that third period effort was in-ex-cus-able (go to 30 seconds).

The Sabres had already been outshot 19-16 entering the third period only to be outshot 16-10 in what would turn out to be their most important period of the year. Whether this falls on poor coaching decisions, mental weakness or just the wrong mix of players, the third period was basically a microcosm of the entire year.

With the loss, Saturday’s matinee in Boston becomes next to meaningless. The Bruins will likely continue resting a number of their regulars and the Sabres will likely send some (or most) of their AHL call ups back to Rochester while re-inserting some of their ailing veterans. Also it will mean that Jhonas Enroth will get the honor of the next Sabres backup to play the final game of the season, finally giving Ryan Miller a night off.

As the offseason begins for the Sabres, there will be plenty of necessary questions that will need to be addressed. How the Sabres management chooses to address them is anyone’s guess.

  • Ryan Miller took a bold step by responding to the (now fulfilled) guarantee made by Brooks Laich. His game responded as well. Miller turned aside 33 shots and was a big reason the Sabres weren’t simply run out of the building. For those who say Miller doesn’t show up when his team needs him, take this game into consideration.
  • Robyn Regehr, despite his plus/minus, has been a sound performer for the Sabres this season. However, he looked mighty bad as Matt Read steamed past him to score the game winner. Surely many fans will assume he was awful all year because of this one play and his stat line.
  • Regehr’s partner, Andrej Sekera chose a bad time to regress in his play. That pair had been phenomenal for long stretches recently, Sekera’s handful of ugly nights came during a run of games that ultimately cost Buffalo the season. Sekera was improved this year, but his detractors certainly won’t forget this run of hockey.
  • Jody Shelly. Yes, Jody Shelly had three shots on goal and two scoring chances. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville combined for four shots. Vanek’s only appearance on the stat sheet was a missed attempt and one hit. Remember when he was the first half’s MVP?
  • T.J. Brennan played some solid hockey earlier in the year. In fact, his play was a prime example of how expendable Grocery Stick Gragnani was. But Brennan was quite average for this most recent recall. I wonder where he fits in the long-term plans with players like Matt MacKenzie, Mark Pysyk and even Brayden McNabb in the pipeline?
  • Not counting the addition of Regehr, I think the Sabres missed the boat on adding a true veteran presence – think Marc Recchi with the Bruins last year. I will remain adamant that the Sabres mental toughness is sorely lacking and a true veteran leader up front would probably do wonders for the locker room.
  • I’m not very interested in looking at the silver lining of the tremendous run the team just went on. Yes, there were some bright spots. Namely, Miller’s resurgence, Folgino and Ennis coming together and the revelation that Christian Ehrhoff was truly money well spent. But I’m not going to hang my hat on the “well, it was a great run” bandwagon.
  • For what it’s worth, Ville Leino’s production when playing on a line with talented forwards wasn’t too horrible. The fact that he was bounced around for much of the year could say a lot about why his numbers were poor. He has talent worth keeping around, he just needs the proper situation to succeed.
  • There has to be some correlation with how the Sabres are coached and the ridiculous things that continue to happen. Third periods like last night, the continued use of that useless neutral zone drop pass, yet another too many men penalty, the general lack of that killer instinct to each game. Is it the coaching? Is it the players? I’m not entirely sure, but if this team is truly going to be a winner, that needs to change.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Another biggest game of the year

Yet again Sabres fans will be touting tonight’s game as the biggest of the season. In a way, they’re correct. However, they’re also putting too much weight on the singular aspect of tonight’s game against the Flyers.

Yes, if the Sabres do not win this evening they can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. However, if they win, they will be playing in another biggest game of the year on Saturday. See how silly this is?

What made me realize this is the accusation that many Sabres players seem to receive regarding their status as big game players. Don’t confuse this with mental toughness. I’m just talking about those who are criticized for not showing up when their team needs it the most. Whether you’re talking about Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller or anyone else you wish to pick on. Saying these guys don’t show up when it counts is a load of crap. Every game is relative to the ones that come before and after it. There isn’t necessarily one biggest game, so to speak.

Look at it this way. Had Ryan Miller not gone on his torrid streak, the Sabres would be talking draft picks right now. The same goes for last week against the Caps. That was the biggest game of the season, to that point. Miller performed and the Sabres rolled. Derek Roy was the hero on Tuesday but was chastised much of the year for not stepping up when his team needed him most. I’m not saying that criticism of Roy isn’t warranted at points, the same goes for Miller and other players. Had the Sabres shown up last weekend, these final two games wouldn’t matter as much. So which game matters the most?

What you need to realize is that bitching about a player’s big game-ness is a futile task. Hockey is a team sport and is played in a marathon setting, not a sprint. The collectiveness of the whole effort is what matters most, not necessarily one player’s actions in one game.

Now, allow me to contradict myself. Tonight’s game is massive, there is no getting around that. The Sabres remain in do-or-die mode as they try to sneak into the playoffs.  They face a tough task playing a Flyers team that has owned them for the whole season and are still battling for home ice in the first round. The only thing to Buffalo’s advantage is that the Penguins have distanced themselves from the fifth-place Flyers by a bit and Ilya Bryzgalov is just returning from injury.

The Sabres have been a defensive train wreck these last three games and they desperately need to remedy this if they hope to skate with Philly. The Flyers have a potent attack that will dice the Sabres if they don’t play a responsible game.

Buffalo has been scoring goals lately, getting to Bryzgalov early will be important. He was yanked against the Rangers and will still have some rust to shake off tonight. If he is unsettled, the Sabres will have a glorious chance at getting two points.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres’ defense vs. Flyers’ big guns. Philly boasts a number of potent scorers; Buffalo’s blueline has been depleted and has given up some glorious chances the past three nights. The Sabres need to be physical and engage the Flyers early to prevent scoring chances. Too often the Sabres have played soft on entries and offensive cycles which has allowed time and space for their opponents. Unless that is remedied it will be a long night for Ryan Miller.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Flyers 7, Wells Fargo Center, 2/16/2012

Doube Minors: Waiting for answers

You can all but chalk this one up for the lottery. With few losses to give the Sabres have dropped three-straight and made a complete mess of one last night in Philadelphia.

The 7-2 loss pretty much locks away any hope that was left for the playoffs. What a way to end those hopes, too. A 2-0 lead after the first, a shaken opposing goalie and a generally angered fan base. The Sabres returned for the second and allowed three tallies inside seven minutes, ultimately yielding the final seven goals of the game.

Jhonas Enroth was chased after giving up three and Ryan Miller didn’t fare much better, giving up four during his time in net. Each goalie had one that they should have stopped – Simmond’s first for Enroth and Voracek’s for Miller – but each were hung out to dry for the whole night. Even on the two that should have been saved, the defense were either out to lunch (Simmonds) or the entire five-man unit were coasting back on defense (Voracek).

People bag on Miller for shrugging his shoulders after being beaten, can you blame him? Tonight was a unique circumstance of plain old ugly hockey; but when you have no support from your teammates, what else would you expect?

The mental toughness of this group – of the “core” – has long been questioned. Continually blowing leads when they can stomp their foot on their enemy’s throat have been a perpetual nuisance. If there is one thing the deadline and offseason needs to yield, it is veteran talent who will teach the young players how to play with heart.

  • A likely conversation between either Ryan Miller or Jhonas Enroth (maybe both) with their agent last night
  • Tyler Myers made a great feed on Jason Pominville’s goal in the first. He then proceeded to play below average defense the rest of the night. A nice pass, but his defensive play could use some improvement.
  • Speaking of the team MVPs. Thomas Vanek and Pominville continue to amaze. Another pair of goals from the team leaders while the rest of the forwards sit back and watch. If I was a player wearing a different number than 26 or 29, I’d be fearful of finding a new apartment in the next two weeks.
  • Moving Vanek to the right wing with Tyler Ennis was a wise move. Keep Ville Leino in a top-six role and let him feed off the talent on his line. That is the only way you’re going to see results from him. His play has been markedly iimproved since his promotion.
  • All six defensemen were in rough shape last night. The penalty kill coverage was poor and at even strength they were lost. It was a team failure defensively and the goaltenders had to pay. It is truly difficult watching a team sleepwalk through a game the way Buffalo did tonight.
  • Give some ups to Zack Kassian. He threw with one of Philly’s goons and came out a winner. Tom Sestito threw plenty of punches but missed on most. Kassian threw a few and landed a pair of bombs. Kassian needs to keep the grit in his game, especially if he is to see big minutes beyond the deadline.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres nearing brink as road test in Philly looms

The Buffalo Sabres season is nearing critical mass as they travel to Philadelphia tonight. With only a few losses to give, the Sabres have dropped two-straight and are getting closer to “Fail for Nail” than the playoffs.

While there is still a chance that the Sabres could climb out of the hole they sit in, it is far more likely that they end up with a lottery pick for this year’s draft. That isn’t to say that fans should lose hope, but don’t expect the moon based on the team’s current situation.

Sadly, the season has been lost. Whether it was truly the injuries, poor chemistry or a stale message; the 2011-12 campaign will likely go down as one of waste. There have been some bright spots and room for improvement remains.

What is important to remember for the remainder of the year is to not give up in the team, but to hope for achievable goals. If Darcy Regier makes a few trades at the deadline and the roster begins to trend in the right direction, all will not be lost.

The same goes for every game from here on out. There is no reason not to hope for a victory every night, that is why you’re a fan. Tonight’s game is a winnable one, believe it or not. If this collection of players can finally find the net on a consistent basis, they will win some games. Hope for goals and hope for wins, that may be all that is left at this point.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo’s second line. I’m not sure exactly who will comprise this trio against Philly. I’m hopeful that Tyler Ennis will be centering Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. But that’s just me. Regardless, there needs to be another scoring threat beyond Jason Pominville and Vanek. If moving Vanek alongside Ennis and another winger is what it takes, so be it. The Sabres need scoring and it needs to come from someone other than the players wearing #29 and #26.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

PHI: Sergei Bobrovsky

Last Meeting

Sabres 4 – Flyers 5, First Niagara Center, 12/7/2011

Double Minors: Sabres squander lead on the road to another home loss

It was all too similar of a script. The Sabres opened a 3-0 lead, suffered a defensive breakdown late in the first to make the score 3-1 and it was all downhill from there. It ended with a Philadelphia overtime victory in a game Buffalo should have had well in hand.

The Sabres came out with the vigor they needed to show against a team with significantly more talent and grit than the Sabres lineup for the evening. Buffalo engaged physically and potted three goals before the period was up. Yet, the lead didn’t last and Buffalo was trailing by the end of two periods.

It was yet another defensive embarrassment for the Sabres, from the brutal turnovers on the Talbot and Hartnell goals to the bantam-level pass attempted by Marc-Andre Gragnani in the third period. That particular turnover led to the winning goal. Nathan Gerbe started the turnover party and Tyler Ennis continued it later. Simple plays in zone usually yield the best results. The level of ineptitude shown by this team defensively goes far beyond the five goals scored. It is a top-to-bottom failure that resulted in a 10-3 edge in shots through 15 minutes turn into a 25-18 drubbing. For those playing at home that is a 22-8 turnaround in one period of play.

The Sabres were victimized by some rough bounces. The second Philly goal looked like a pinball and Hartnell’s goal would have been an easy pad stop had it not ramped off Ehrhoff’s stick. Yet, the fourth and fifth goals were rather cut and dry, you need Miller to make a stop there.

Buffalo built a lead with impressive hockey, they sat back on their work thinking one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL wouldn’t manage a response. They paid mightily, they were lucky to steal a point after Drew Stafford played Johnny on the Spot with the goaltender pulled.

At least some of these problems have to be traced back to the core of this team. Many comments on Twitter were in agreement at the lack of mental toughness on the Sabres roster, particularly from the core players. A coaching change might illicit some change, but by and large it will be the same players making the same mistakes.

  • Ryan Miller had all the makings of a sterling performance going until he took that puck to the melon. You wonder if that had something to do with the floodgates opening up. Miller was facing a firing range for most of the night and was keeping his team around. Yet, allowing five goals is exactly what it sounds like. Five goals. You can’t have that from your franchise goalie at home. He needed one, maybe two more saves – especially on those final two goals.
  • You could almost see Christian Ehrhoff’s reaction of “did he really just do that?” on Gragnani’s egregious giveaway in overtime. Ehrhoff was slow to respond, not that he would have caught Giroux. Still, for a guy who has been seeing big minutes as of late, tonight was a definite regression from the high level from which he had been performing.
  • Gragnani belongs in the AHL, there is no getting around it. Were he not concussed, T.J. Brennan would serve in a far better role than Gragnani. Of course, Gragnani won’t be going anywhere, but he certainly deserves a promotion. He has been average to bad all season and has show no signs of improving.
  • Zack Kassian is showing signs that he may need to stick around for good. Two points and an absolute snipe for his third goal in six games. He is putting on quite a show.
  • Corey Tropp threw some absolute bombs on Zac Rinaldo. Suffice it to say Rinaldo may have bitten off more than he could chew.
  • Ville Leino scored, that makes four points in his last three and five-in-five. He has started to bloom skating with Adam and Kassian. He will also likely sit for a few after that blatant elbow in the third.
  • Between the two games Leino will likely get and Gerbe’s apparent concussion, the Sabres may need to call up one forward from Rochester. Twitter indicates Stuart or Whitmore.
  • Thomas Vanek got back in the goal column. A big step as he had cooled. Shocking that his goal totals dropped when Lindy Ruff put Hecht at center on that line. Coincidence?

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux

2. Zack Kassain

3. Drew Stafford

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Flyers present stiff test as homestand begins

The Sabres’ current run of games – in which they play 12 of 15 at home – has not been too kind to them. Saturday’s victory in Nashville was just their second in their last five games.

Buffalo closes this stretch with a five-game homestand, it will be crucial for the Sabres to finish this run with a high points percentage. They certainly won’t get many breaks, beginning tonight. The Flyers are in town for their second, and final, visit to the First Niagara Crypt Center just over a month removed from when they came and exerted their will on the Sabres early in November.

All accounts say James vanRiemsdyk will be back in the lineup for Philly. However, they will be missing their captain as Chris Pronger sits with a bum knee. No matter, on paper the Flyers have the make up of a team that can push the Sabres around. If Buffalo is to start slow again, it will be a very long night. If they expect to get by on less than 20 shots on goal, they have another thing coming.

This very well may serve as a statement game for the Sabres. If they can give the same effort they did against Boston in the “atonement game” – well at least their first period effort – they will skate right with the Flyers. If they come out flat, like they have so many times this season, they will get booed out of the building.

Highlighted Matchup

The Sabres youth vs. the Flyers youth. Both teams have an abundance of young talent. JVR and Matt Read are talented and Claude Giroux is scary good. The Sabres youth, unfortunately is of a different brand. The rash of injuries to this lineup have forced numerous call ups and there is a serious lack of experience throughout the Buffalo line up. The Sabres will need their rookies to play above themselves in order to stay competitive tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 12GP 6-6-0, 2.78 GAA, .912 SV%

PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov 18GP 10-5-2, 2.83 GAA, .900 SV%

Last Game

11/2/11, First Niagara Center, Sabres 2 – Flyers 3