Sabres After 41: Looking back

Few expected the Sabres to be in this sort of hole at the halfway point of the 2011-12 season. Perhaps some pessimistic fans expected the team to struggle, but the vast majority of fans expected some sort of improvement over last season’s seventh-place finish.

The injury bug has certainly bitten this team hard. The results of the injury plague that has swept through the roster can’t be ignored. But there are still plenty of other factors at play which are far more telling signs as to why the Sabres currently reside in 11th place in the East.

Poor goaltending, spotty defensive play and barely any goal scoring have truly condemned this team. As the second half of the 2012 season begins, there are plenty of questions surrounding the future of the core, the coach and even the general manager. First, a few reflections: Continue reading

Sabres report card: Grading the first 15

Depending on which cross-section of Sabres fans you poll there could be varying levels of satisfaction regarding Buffalo’s first 15 games.

Well, first 14 games. Number 15 will be played tomorrow against Ottawa at First Niagara Center. Based on this weekend’s schedule there is little room to include a 15-game report card.

After a tremendous 5-1 run to open the season, the Sabres slid back to the pack with a 1-4 run which brought back many demons the team struggled with at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza last season. It seems as if Buffalo has righted the ship recently. The Sabres have three straight wins – two coming at home – and have pulled back into the top-five in the Eastern Conference.

Hockey is a game of ebbs and flows. In games and throughout the season, teams will have things go well while fighting struggles just a couple nights later. It would seem that the Sabres have experienced both situations through their first 15 contests. They had some worry-free outings in Europe followed by a disappointing home loss to Carolina, a game they probably should have won. The process continued after completing their road trip, the Sabres dropped three of five games on their first extended home stand, but have since found their way back to the win column.

A great many factors can be attributed to Buffalo’s struggles and success; goaltending has been a direct result of both. The same could be said about special teams. There hasn’t been too much flash from the big offseason acquisitions, but familiar faces have been providing quite a spark for the Sabres so far.

Now for the grades: Continue reading

Miller says the F word, shows where he stands moving forward

Last Wednesday’s debacle against Philadelphia was a multilevel failure that started with the goaltender and went right down to the last forward. It also served as a catalyst for many unhappy, goaltending illiterate – likely hockey illiterate too – to voice their displeasure with the play of Ryan Miller.

I’m here to win. If I’m discouraged, if I’m pissed off, that’s just how it is. I want to win. I don’t want to be out there getting scored on. I don’t want to be pulled out of a game. I want to, you know, I want to [expletive] win the game.”

It is true, Miller had gone on a tough run since his season opening blitz. After racing to the top of the NHL goaltending statistics through his first five outings, Miller has come back to the pack with an 0-4 run that has seen him post a goal against above three and a save percentage below .900 on the run. His season numbers are still quite respectable (2.48 and .922) and he showcased elite talent in each of his four wins to open the season.

It might be due to Buffalo’s lack of familiarity with a true super star, it also has a lot to do with familiarity by contempt. Sabres fans see Miller anywhere from 65-75 nights a season and are treated to some truly remarkable goaltending. They also see him at his worst, so there is a wide body of work to reference. I have said it before, if the same fans were to watch Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Jonathon Quick or any other top netminder, they would get the same headaches. Continue reading

Miller vs. Enroth needs to be evaluated with an open mind

Don’t call it a controversy. Ryan Miller is still the starting goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres, much to the chagrin of many fans throughout Buffalo. However, too many people are looking at this situation with a closed mind, whereas they need to see the entire situation before passing full judgement.

Don’t expect a changing of the guard just yet.

Jhonas Enroth has given the Buffalo Sabres a weapon they have not had since Marty Biron’s departure in 2007. He is a high draft pick who is more than capable of filling the role of backup goaltender in the NHL. His stats back that up, he is 2-0-0 in two stars (one relief effort too) with a 1.39 GAA and .955 SV%.

Ryan Miller’s stat line is currently 4-5-0, 2.48 GAA, .922 SV%. Obviously the loss column sticks out there. Special thanks to Mike Harrington who tweeted the stats I was hammering out minutes ago. Miller was hovering near the top of the league through his first five games with a 4-1 record, 1.61 GAA and .950 SV%. He his 0-4, 3.91 and .874 in his last four, not as good. Again, thanks to Mike at TBN, he churned out the numbers before I could.

What really stands out in the whole “Miller vs. Enroth” flap is where the fans stand on the matter. Mind you, the media really hasn’t fueled the fire until this recent outing. Until then it had only been goaltending-illiterate fans on message boards and in the stand who know all there is to know about the position. Continue reading

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

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Sabres Stat Pack: Shots against a sign of struggles at home

Ryan Miller has been doing this far too many times this season.

Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth both boast a save percentage well above .900 (.930 and .946 respectively), as well they should. The Buffalo Sabres have managed to surrender a boatload of shots in their first ten games.

The Sabres are currently ninth-worst in the NHL with an average of 31.9 shots per game (319 total). By comparison, Buffalo is averaging only 29.4 shots per contest (294 total). While shots allowed and taken don’t paint a full picture of a dominant or struggling team, it can offer some insight to the Sabres current 6-4 record.

Most Sabres fans have found some cause for concern though numerous outlets thus far, despite the team sitting in a playoff spot and only trailing the division leading Maple Leafs (seriously?) by three points. Whether it is “inconsistent” goaltending, Ville Leino’s inability to spark early or the all-in or bust nature of the power play; there is some unrest throughout Hockey Heaven.

The only true disturbing trends that have developed early in the season has been Buffalo’s play at home and the appalling rate in which they give up shots. Winning at home was a problem in 2010-11 and it seems to be a recurring theme this year. Regardless of the tomb-like state of the seating bowl, the Sabres can’t seem to find their footing at First Niagara Center. Continue reading