Revisiting my US Olympic Hockey roster projections

Earlier in the summer I took the time to project who I felt would be donning the red, white and blue for the United States in the 2014 Olympic Games. With a quarter of the NHL season in the books there is a potential for a number of players to have cemented their spots or even opened the eyes of the USA Hockey executive team.

Considering the US doesn’t have the mountain of talent that is touted by the Canadians to pull from, there are more than a few assumed locks for the team. Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are both enjoying strong starts to the season and will certainly be counted upon to continue their elite scoring ways in Sochi. The story remains the same for many of the forwards I assumed would be making the squad.

What it will likely come down to is who has the strongest resume as the games near. While the orientation camp and preseason rosters were based on career resumes and the assumed growth of players, others have shot out of the gates and bear watching as the season progresses. Due to that, there is likely to be some shuffling amongst the names who already were considered favorites.

Max Pacioretty has only played 15 games and has accounted for nine points (7+2) in that span. His absence from the lineup and the slower start could bump him off the roster as could be the case for James Van Riemsdyk. He has 16 points (9+7) in 22 games and has a natural chemistry with Kessel, but he could also be supplanted by a new face should the executive staff go with who is playing best.

JVR is probably more of a longshot to be left off the roster than to make it at this point and Ryan Callahan’s injury issues to start the year and Dustin Brown’s unimpressive offensive output won’t win them many favorites. However, Brown and Callahan both serve incredibly well in a checking and leadership role, which will likely cement their spot on the roster.

My original roster only accounted for 13 forwards and seven defensemen as I didn’t account for the two extra roster spots made available for this year’s games. Given that my original roster now has two gift openings, there isn’t nearly as much trouble trying to narrow down who should and shouldn’t be packing up for Russia.

The players who have motivated me to revisit my picks include; Jason Pominville (13 goals already), TJ Oshie (21 points) along with a few others who I originally considered little more than darkhorse candidates (Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Fowler).

I truly believe that most of the American roster was decided early on as players like David Backes, Kane, Kessel, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were all but decided the minute the orientation camp roster came out. Others would certainly be favorites but would need a solid first half of the year to cement their spot, this is where I see some opportunity for turnover. Here’s my new roster with new names highlighted in blue: Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Sabres throw away another quick start

Yet another clunker befell the Sabres on their first trip to Philadelphia during the Suck For Sam campaign. For the second-straight game the Sabres drew first blood only to see their opponent run away with a regulation victory.

It should be noted that if you’re a fan who, at any point, clamored for the team to tear it down and get the first pick, regulation losses are a primary part of the blueprint.

Thursday’s loss was highlighted more by undisciplined play than plain and simple bad play. Buffalo’s steady stream to the penalty box allowed the Flyers to rack up 31 shots through 40 minutes and 46 shots for the entire game.

Both goaltenders played quite well and the possession and shot totals ultimately favored the victors in a 4-1 victory. Continue reading

Weekend yields roster moves for Sabres

It would appear that two games behind the bench is all that Ted Nolan needed to make some concrete decisions on the Sabres roster. A number of changes in the forward lines accompanied Nolan tipping his hand regarding the goaltenders after last weekend’s home-and-home with Toronto.

After Ryan Miller turned aside 33 shots in a 3-1 victory, Jhonas Enroth was victimized by screens and deflections in a 4-2 loss that saw the young Swede only make 22 saves. The decision to run with Miller was likely made not only due to his strong performance on Friday, but the play he has exhibited over his last five starts. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Weekend update

It was quite an eventful weekend for the Sabres with a back-to-back set punctuated with the trade of Thomas Vanek on Sunday evening. In an attempt to continue my focus on the Sabres crease, I’ll hold off on any sort of recap of the two games this weekend and simply review the goaltenders.

Jhonas Enroth – 44 saves, 3-1 win

Enroth was easily the first star of the weekend for the Sabres as he single-handedly earned them their first regulation win of the season. He made a number of dazzling saves amongst the 45 shots he faced in the one-goal effort earning him an easy nod as the game’s first star.

What he did well

When Enroth is at his best he is playing big and getting hit with the puck. He’s much more of a blocking goaltender than one who reacts to each shot and truly “makes saves”. What makes Enroth so effective in his style is that he’s able to play big despite being somewhat undersized as a goaltender in today’s NHL.

On Friday he was on. It was the type of performance that has most Sabres fans at a certain level of acceptance with Ryan Miller’s potential departure. Enroth was very active in the crease and he was turning aside a number of difficult back-door plays. He took a handful of goals off the Panthers’ sticks which is as much as you can ask of a goalie getting peppered with 45 pucks. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Canucks blank Sabres

The Sabres mailed in yet another listless effort on home ice, allowing 28 shots through two periods and watching the Canucks skate away with a 3-0 win.

A pair of storylines have dominated the Sabres season thus far and they have been the stellar play of both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth to go along with flat efforts from the ranks of the Sabres skaters. Thursday was yet another prime example of both. While Miller weathered the storm, the Sabres struggled to generate zone time.

Chris Higgins’ one-timer off Cody McCormick’s feed – yes you read that properly – was all that was going to be needed by Vancouver. Brad Richardson scored on a shorthanded deflection and Ryan Stanton scored his first career goal in the third.

That was the long and the short of it as the Canucks were operating on serious cruise control in the third and that’s likely the only reason they didn’t break 40 shots. A 28-14 edge in shots through two periods was a continuation of what has occurred in each and every game so far in this young season.

Miller chose not to speak to the media after the game and I can’t blame him. He’s been hung out each game, has been phenomenal in each performance and has a 1-5-0 record to show for it. Even if he was playing at an average level, no goaltender deserves that type of treatment. There are few players in the league, let alone the Sabres roster, who are more passionate and outspoken than Miller. I can only imagine his comments would have created some sort of firestorm with the media and fans alike. Besides, he stood tall all game, it was about time he was granted a reprieve.

Ryan Miller

What he did well

This will read quite similar to Tuesday’s round up as Miller was phenomenal for the entire game. He saw a game’s worth of pucks in the first 40 minutes and held his team within striking distance all night. You hear a lot about his inability to steal games for his team, if he was playing behind goal support I’m fully confident he would have stolen a whole lot more than he’s given credit for.

Where he struggled

Miller was deep in the net on Vancouver’s first goal. He was forced to make a quick adjustment on the original turnover and likely wasn’t expecting the one timer to come once the puck reached Cody McCormick. Still, he was on the goal line and didn’t have much of a shot at a save.

Save of the game

Miller had a number of dandies but the breakaway stop in the second period was indeed the best. It was a strong move on top of the paint and a well timed poke. He got some help from Ristolainen on the way through, but it was a nice stop.

Roberto Luongo

What he did well

Lu tweets with the best of them, I can tell you that much. As for the game, Luongo was able to kick back and relax for three periods as the Sabres barely tested him for most of the contest. Still, he controlled his space and earned his shutout.

Where he struggled

He looked out to lunch on his turnover behind the net in the third, but when you get a shutout you typically don’t have many shortcomings.

Save of the game

There were a few net-front battles that I really was impressed with throughout the night. Luongo covers the bottom of the net well, especially when he gets his butterfly wide.

Notes:

  • Once again Mikhail Grigorenko played a miniscule role for the Sabres. While it’s obvious that he still needs to mature in many facets of his game, the roles he’s been given are far from what you’d expect for a highly touted prospect the organization hopes to develop as a cornerstone of the franchise. Or at least that’s what you’d expect.
  • Support in the defensive zone from their forwards may be the biggest issue for the Sabres currently. While there has been some inconsistencies from the blueliners but support from the forwards has been abysmal at times. The Stanton goal is a great example as Brian Flynn was sucked all the way down to the crease along with Johan Larsson and the defensemen. That needs to be improved.
  • Some of the biggest issues that seem to be coming up – power play, defensive coverage etc. – certainly seems like it may be tied to coaching, not just talent, no? Something to think about.
  • The Miller and Vanek trade rumors are going to keep rolling along. They’re going to command plenty of attention up until the deadline, I hope you’re ready.

 

Between the Pipes: Miller, Sabres outlast Isles for first victory

This probably doesn’t seem too familiar to some out there in Sabres nation. Winning has been something relatively absent from the psyche of Sabres fans for a while and was amplified by the team’s o’fer start to the year.

However an offensive – can I say explosion? – explosion from the Sabres pulled their contest with the Islanders to overtime where Ryan Miller eventually shut the door on two of the three New York shooters on the way to his first victory of the year. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres in the skills competition.

The shootout victory came after yet another shooting gallery effort from the Sabres skaters as they were outshot by the Isles 44-34 on the night and giving Miller another 40-save effort. Miller, who has seen over 40 biscuits in three of his five games, ranks first in shots against and saves in the entire league. As unbelievable as that may be, he has indeed seen the most shots in this young season.

Luckily for the Sabres he has been up to the challenge. I opined earlier this year that if there’s ever a time to want Ryan Miller on a roster it is during an Olympic year. He was a man possessed after his snub in 2006 and saw his name etched on the Vezina after standing on his head in 2009-10. I’m not ready to guarantee an Olympic roster spot or a Vezina season, but I’m fully confident that he will be maintaining this top form for most of the season.

Where there is going to be a disconnect is in the win and loss column. Only 1-4-0, Miller’s record is far from sterling despite his sublime stat line and plenty of shortsighted fans will point to negative decisions as evidence to how overrated, average, overpaid, soft, etc. Miller is. Despite the exact opposite to be true. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Missing 40 minutes leads to loss in Chicago

Saturday marked what may have been one of Buffalo’s most complete efforts in this young season. In skating to a 2-1 loss to Chicago, the Sabres manage to keep their opponent within reach, due in large part to Ryan Miller, before mounting the counter attack to attempt to tie the contest.

Drew Stafford tallied midway through a third period dominated by the Sabres, but Buffalo couldn’t crack the code on Corey Crawford beyond Stafford’s tally. Miller shut the door on Chicago for the entire contest, recording 38 saves on the night but came away with his third loss of the year thanks to goals from Ben Smith and Patrick Kane.

The Sabres dug themselves an early hole due to a three separate infractions in the first period and five on the night. After Smith’s deflection gave the Blackhawks a lead in the first period, Kane and the potent ‘Hawks power play made the Sabres pay for their repeated penalties. Continue reading