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

Double Minors: Sabres 2 – Flyers 3

Don’t let the stats fool you, there were two different hockey teams on the ice at First Niagara Center yesterday.

A dismal start by the Sabres opened up a 3-0 lead for the Flyers only 6:30 into the game, chased Ryan Miller and had every fair weather fan (especially those in section 305) shouting for a trade. Now, the entire team was horrendous for those six minutes. Buffalo was outshot 11-2, outchanced 6-0 and outplayed in every aspect of the game.

Lindy Ruff made his goalie change after Miller was torched high glove for the second time and it was obvious that the team wasn’t responding to much else. From that point the game was fairly even, although the Sabres failed to muster any scoring chances for the remaining 54 minutes. In all, it was a really poorly played game by the team in navy blue.

Thomas Vanek was one of the lone bright spots for the Sabres, he continued to be an offensive force and had a role in both Buffalo goals. Outside of Vanek’s performance not much else was good. Andrej Sekera and Luke Adam tallied for the Sabres on two shots that went in from behind the net. One can only wonder how Ilya Bryzgalov would have fared with the chances Miller faced in this one, he didn’t look particularly sharp at any point. In fact, his only difficult save kept the game from going to overtime when he kicked his pad out on Vanek in the dying seconds.

The Sabres home record fell to 1-4 on the season and they continue to show an inability to play a simple game in front of their home fans. It is hard to blame them for not having an edge at home, the place is practically a crypt, but I’ll offer more on that tomorrow.

  • Mike Weber didn’t do himself any favors with his play, neither did Robyn Regehr for that matter. Both were out of position multiple times throughout the first period. After the first they were better, but still not polished. Weber had the look of a guy who has been in the press box for a month. He will need more time to get his game back.
  • Something that has been lost in the Miller flap is the abysmal play of the Sabres through the first six minutes. Just about every player stunk, along with Miller for that period. To be outshot 11-2 in 1/4 of a period is quite a feat. The silver lining is that the Sabres managed to outshoot the Flyers 29-15 for the remainder of the contest.
  • Drew Stafford was fairly average for most of the game. However, his line as a whole, had a strong game. Ville Leino had his most effective game while Derek Roy was visible at times. They didn’t get on the scoresheet, but their play signified that is inevitable.
  • Brad Boyes is stuck. He has been great on the power play skating alongside scorers. However, on a line with Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick, he is registered largely ineffective. Boyes was moved up to skate with Roy and Leino for a short time, but the experiment didn’t last long.
  • The line shuffle that occurred on Monday lasted all of five minutes. Not to say the new lines weren’t going to be successful but the team needed a jolt, pulling Miller and moving back to comfortable lines was the only logical decision.
  • Tyler Myers is somewhat of an enigma. He either makes great choices with the puck and in the defensive zone, then he passes the puck directly to Jaromir Jagr. It seems like he needs to settle down and make simple decisions. Last night wasn’t his worst game of the year, so there is certainly some progress being made.
  • The power play won’t succeed if Derek Roy continues to play on the point. He is a brilliant playmaker and puck handler, but his is not a competent point man. Roy needs to play from the boards or low on the circles. Jason Pominville is a far more competent point man for the power play, even if he breaks five sticks a game.

Three Stars

1. James Van Riemsdyk

2. Luke Adam

3. Jaromir Jagr

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

 

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Flyers

The Buffalo Sabres have their first chance to exact revenge on the Philadelphia Flyers after their first-round playoff loss last season.

Both teams have significantly different rosters but still have a familiar core that will remember the seven-game epic that dispatched the Sabres and left the Flyers gasping for air before their second-round series. Ville Leino will play against his former team for the first time and Ilya Bryzgalov will give the new Flyers media rules a test after his 5-1 win against Carolina.

The Sabres have had a rough week and a half after busting out of the gates with a 5-1 record. Buffalo is 1-3 over their last four games and it appears that their struggles on home ice have carried over from last season.

Still, they are currently in the Eastern Conference’s top eight and are in a three-way tie with the Flyers and Panthers with 13 points. Of course, it is very early to be discussing the playoff picture.

Both the Sabres and Flyers will be searching to gain some stability with this game. Ryan Miller had a sizzling start that matched his team’s success. After a couple so-so outings, Miller is in need of a bounce back game. The same can be said for Philadelphia’s big money goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. After signing a monster deal in the offseason, Bryzgalov’s numbers aren’t matching those going into his bank account. However, he had a fine showing against the Hurricanes and has had plenty of rest entering this game.

Lindy Ruff made some interesting line changes prior to a grueling work out on Monday. He followed with a special teams specific practice yesterday. The additional preparation time should put Buffalo in good shape for a strong showing tonight. If nothing else they should come out trying to prove a point after getting bagged by their coach.

Highlighted Matchup

Ryan Miller vs. Ilya Bryzgalov. There are going to be plenty of things to watch for tonight, but the showdown between the big money goalies will be intriguing. Despite the fact that a goaltender’s performance is 100% independent from that of his counterpart, the many critics of both will be watching with a keen eye. If one plays with a better edge expect his team to win.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 8GP, 4-4-0, 2.14 GAA, .930 SV%

PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov 9GP, 4-4-1, 3.16 GAA, .880 SV%

What To Watch For

1. Ville Leino has not only inherited Tim Connolly’s responsibilities, he also inherited his critics. The prized free agent hasn’t found his groove through ten games and multiple line changes. His newest role is centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. This will be an all-or-nothing venture for the playmaking Finn. I would expect him to succeed with the team’s two best scoring weapons. Keep an eye on Subway Line 2.0.

2. The sixth defenseman. It would appear that Mike Weber is poised to make his season debut. Who better to play him against than a muck and grind team like Philly? Weber will take the place of Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was replaced by Derek Roy on the top power play unit yesterday. It would be shocking if Weber doesn’t play after than move by Ruff. Gragnani wasn’t contributing as a power play specialist and was awful in his zone, seems like an easy decision.

3. Luke Adam, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford may quickly click or the latter two may continue to struggle. Adam is coming off the Sabres’ top line in hopes of sparking the two veterans. If this shuffle doesn’t prove effective – plus the Leino experiment – the Sabres could be in serious trouble offensively.

2010-11 Season Series BUF 2-2-0

10/26/2010, Wachovia Center, Sabres 3 – Flyers 6

1/11/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Flyers 5

3/5/2011, Wachovia Center, Sabres 5 – Flyers 3

4/8/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 4 – 3 OT

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

Running tally of the current free agent signings

Roughly two hours into free agency and there haven’t been any monumental signings. The Jaromir Jagr deal to Philadelphia was strange, to say the least. Otherwise there hasn’t been much action from any of the big-name players.

TSN.ca has a killer UFA tracker that updates with all of the current signings from the day.

I touched, quite briefly, on the Jagr contract. The Flyers gave him $3.3 million for this season in hopes that he still has enough magic to help fuel a cup run. I really don’t understand their point of view on this one. By committing just over $3 million to Jagr, the Flyers are further handcuffing themselves in regards to signing a guy like Ville Leino.

Add to that the fact that Max Talbot was just given a five-year deal worth $9 million from the Flyers. If Philly is happy moving forward without Leino, so be it. I was under the impression that he was a guy they wanted to keep around to be part of their up-and-coming core.

I say oh well. If the Flyers falter due to these signings, I won’t be mad. In fact, I will be very happy. As for the Sabres, the only major player the fans are watching is Brad Richards. From everything I have read and heard, the white whale will make his decision tomorrow, at the earliest. I think the Sabres do have a very real shot at getting him. Of course the Rangers may have the best shot based on the most recent word to come down. New York will have the ability to match any contract that is offered to Richards. Personally, I think that is pretty lame. Does that mean that the Rangers won’t make him the offer he wants? Or does it mean that Richards wants to hear offers but would ultimately like to play for the Rangers? I understand his train of thought. His old coach is in New York, it is a big city with plenty to do. However, there is a lot of media coverage and Richards did want to shy away from that if possible.

Unwinding a crazy weekend

Suffice it to say this was the wrong draft weekend to head out to Boston to catch the Dispatch reunion show. I’m not mad at my decision, Boston is a great city and the show was absolutely killer. However, there were some major stirrings in the hockey world – both in and outside of Buffalo.

As the Robyn Regehr trade gets pounded into oblivion by the sports media, I want to offer my take on the other major transactions from draft weekend. My opinion, and many others have been cast regarding the Sabres trade. No need to rehash it.

One set of moves that outweighed anything else were the ones made by Philadelphia. By shipping Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, the Flyers really put a stamp on their goal for 2011-12. They needed cap space to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a major deal (that they did) and they found it with two major cogs. Continue reading

Flyers acquire rights for Bryz

The Philadelphia Flyers made a bold move in attempting to shore up their goaltending woes yesterday. They traded a 2012 third-round pick, prospect Matt Clackson and future considerations to the Phoenix Coyotes for the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov.

I like the decision by the Flyers to be proactive, rather that wait until July 1. They barley gave up anything to get the exclusive negotiating rights leading up to UFA Day and there is a good chance they lock him up with a long-term deal.

What I don’t understand is the stance Phoenix is taking. Obviously they couldn’t afford to resign Bryzgalov, so they went out and got something for him. However, they were terribly thin at goaltender before he left. Now they are even worse. For a team asking to be saved they are doing much more than setting up for failure. Continue reading

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round two recap

I was 50% with my second round picks, that leaves me at 8/12 for the playoffs thus far. The second round wasn’t nearly the epic that came with the first eight series. However, the Western Conference managed to provide a few decent moments before the conference semi-finals wrapped up. Otherwise, two sweeps left most wanting more out East.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#5 Tampa Bay Lightning defeat #1 Washington Capitals 4-0


I was fairly certain that Dwayne Roloson and the Lightning weren’t capable of continuing their magic from the first round. However, Washington reverted back to form from early in the season. Alex Ovechkin was a ghost and Michael Neuvirth was average. Tampa Bay has found scoring from their big guns in addition to their role players, namely Sean Bergenheim. They face a steep climb against the Bruins, probably the most physical team in the 2011 Playoffs. Turning point: Tampa’s 3-2 overtime win in game two. Took first two games in Washington. MVP: Sean Bergenheim – 4 goals, has 7+1 through 11 playoff games thus far. Continue reading