The Morning Skate: Sabres getting healthy after All-Star break

Only during the NHL Premiere games did the Sabres roster look as it did yesterday in practice. Aside from Jochen Hecht, it appears as if the Sabres are as healthy as they have been all season.

Tyler Ennis and Paul Gaustad appear ready to play tonight in Montreal. The same reports note that Brayden McNabb has passed his baseline test and should be ready to return by the end of the week. It is a major step forward for a team that has been searching for answers with multiple players injured at a given time.

The question remains, is the roster good enough to win games? Considering the make-up of the lines, it is safe to assume that the line-up will be a near carbon copy to the one that started the year 10-5. That, of course, was before their confidence was all but destroyed by Milan Lucic and a string of injuries.

Tonight’s game in Montreal presents the Sabres the opportunity to win two games in a row for the first time since November. It will be a tough task in a hostile building against a team that plays Buffalo well – particularly in net. But a healthy roster means fewer excuses for everyone involved.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam and Ville Leino. The three players, particularly the latter two, have had interesting seasons. Adam was red-hot to start the year but has filtered to fourth line minutes as of late. His creativity seems choked off as Lindy Ruff continues to demand more from the young pivot. However, he has just returned from the All-Star game, it would be foolish to keep him stashed between two grinders. Ennis skated at center yesterday in practice and could potentially make the shift if Ruff is truly looking for different answers. Keep an eye on Ennis simply because he hasn’t been the impact player he was last year. If he shifts to pivot and Leino bumps to wing, pay even more attention. Ennis and Leino need to start producing, there is no more time to wait for them to warm up.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 SO, Bell Centre, 11/14/2011

The Morning Skate: Sabres limp to holiday break

The Sabres Christmas List likely reads: Healthy players and a win. Not necessarily in that order.

Buffalo scrapped their way through 40 minutes before mistakes and a terrible penalty doomed them in Ottawa. They will face off at Air Canada Centre with the Maple Leafs this evening. Buffalo will be off for two days before hosting the Capitals on Monday.

Patrick Kaleta is expected to return to the lineup this evening. Hopefully it is a longer return than his last one – in which he re-aggravated his groin ailment. Kaleta’s return should bring some stability to the penalty kill and some grit to five-on-five play.

Expect to see Ryan Miller back in net this evening, it would seem that Lindy Ruff has lost some faith in his backup, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jhonas Enroth play on Monday against the Capitals. After all, Enroth has been sturdy at home while Miller has been strong on the road.

The Sabres lines had a very interesting mix to them at yesterday’s practice. Brad Boyes was back skating, although he still needs a few more days to recuperate. Thomas Vanek and Paul Szczechura both took days to heal up as well. Of note, I credited Vanek with a far better performance than he put forth in Ottawa. I swear he scored the Buffalo goal, but it makes little difference at this point.

A win would certainly be a nice gift for a team that has had some serious struggles as of late.

Highlighted Matchup

Toronto’s big guns. Lupul, Kessel and Grabovski all had an impact on last Friday’s game. Grabovski, who was at one time an underachieving speedster, has turned into a nice complimentary weapon for the Leafs. Kessel and Lupul speak for themselves while Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly are also threats to blow up. Buffalo will need to control Toronto’s speed as they did for parts of last Friday’s victory.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 18GP 8-7-2, 3.12 GAA, .904 SV%

TOR: James Reimer 12GP 5-3-3, 2.86 GAA, .900 SV%

Last Game

12/16/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 5 – Maple Leafs 4

Double Minors: Sabres/Amerks unravel late in Ottawa

Maybe, just maybe, the injuries caught up to the Sabres. After scrapping to a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes, the Sabres simply couldn’t hang with Ottawa on the way to a 4-1 loss.

Buffalo, playing with five players who began the season in Rochester, looked over their heads many times in the game. Particularly in the third period. In particular, the second Senators goal came after prolonged play in the Buffalo zone and a turnover at the blue line by Paul Szczechura.

Lindy Ruff’s system isn’t all that complicated. He preaches puck possession and responsible play in zone. The basic idea is that if your team has the puck, the other team can’t score. It would appear that the depleted Sabres roster is thin on players capable of truly executing this system. Look no further than the shots Bufallo has been giving up lately. A puck possession team shouldn’t surrender 35 or more shots on a regular basis.

Ruff did show great faith in Ryan Miller, sending him back to the crease after his five-goal embarrassment on Saturday. He made some big saves as looked in control of his space this evening. His stat line will again show three goals against, not doing much for that astronomical 3.02 he entered with. However, he turned aside 35 shots and can’t hold much responsibility on any of the three goals he allowed. Earning third star honors and giving that type of performance shouldn’t be too disheartening to Sabres fans.

In fact, if you were to ignore Saturday, it would appear that Ryan Miller may be slowly finding his way out of the woods. He probably doesn’t have as nice of an iPhone compass as Ilya.

  • One last note on Miller, Ottawa’s second goal came on a rebound that struck him in the mask. The ice-level replay clearly showed that at least one strap had become unhooked. Now, this had no effect on his ability to stop the cross-crease feed that led to the goal, but it would have been nice if a referee had stopped play early on that one.
  • Derek Whitmore certainly showed he has some NHL skill in him. As a late college free agent, Whitmore’s career trajectory probably was going to end in the AHL. He has carved out a nice niche as a reliable scorer in the AHL and has now shown he can skate at the NHL level. He still looks similar to Szczechura, however – a depth NHL forward who would likely be 13 or 14 on the depth chart.
  • Marcus Foligno was -1 with two hits. He looked as if he needs a bit more time to develop his skating. He certainly has the ability to translate into a third or fourth line banger with some scoring touch. Not sure if his potential goes much higher than that. Still, a good showing in his first NHL game.
  • Thomas Vanek scored yet again, if the Hart was voted on regarding how valuable the player’s contributions to his team are – not incorporating league-wide stats etc. – Vanek might just be the runaway leader. Without him the Sabres would be looking at a lottery pick.
  • Jordan Leopold and Mike Weber had a rough night. They combined for two sloppy plays on the first two Ottawa goals. These things happen from game to game, but the mistakes are magnified lately with the number of missing regulars.
  • Daniel Alfredsson has been kept fairly quiet in this season’s series against Ottawa. It is awfully nice considering that mustache is the worst thing I have ever seen.

Three Stars

1. Eric Condra

2. Craig Anderson

3. Ryan Miller

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Brotherly battle in Ottawa

More reinforcements have arrived from Rochester. Derek Whitmore and Marcus Foligno will make their NHL debut tonight in Kanata as Buffalo faces the Senators.

The two most recent recalls are in to replace Tyler Ennis and Colin Stuart as they join the other half of the Sabres roster on the injured list. The injury situation is beyond laughable at this point and the Sabres are entering a situation where they just need to maintain some semblance of consistency.

Buffalo went into Ottawa earlier this year and turned in a strong enough effort to get a shootout victory. Their most recent showdown with the Sens was a disappointing overtime loss in which the Sabres entered the first intermission on the heels of very good hockey. Unfortunately, they didn’t put their foot on the collective throat of the Senators, instead they chose to play not to lose.

Based on the potential line up for tonight, it would seem as if the Sabres will be lucky to stay in the same league as their opponent. Ryan Miller is likely to be very busy based on the sloppy play the team usually puts forth and the fact he will have an even further depleted roster.

Highlighted Matchup

Foligno vs. Foligno. Marcus is lucky enough to make his NHL debut against his brother Nick. It is probably a stretch to think the two will drop the gloves, but everyone is hoping to see Marcus’ take on his father’s trademark goal celebration. The two brothers are certain to run into each other over the course of the game, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 17GP 8-6-2, 3.12 GAA, .902 SV%

OTT: Craig Anderson 28GP 13-11-2 3.42 GAA, .894 SV%

Last Game

12/13/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 2 – Senators 3 OT

Injuries beginning to take toll on Sabres’ record

Despite the laundry list of injuries the Sabres have suffered this season, few losses can be explained because of missing players. At what point does the injury plague begin to reflect on Buffalo’s record? Maybe the win-loss record is already showing symptoms.

Last year certain injuries actually spurred the team to succeed. After a hot run of his own, Ryan Miller was concussed against New Jersey and was out of action for a couple of weeks. Luckily Jhonas Enroth went on a run to keep Buffalo in the playoff race. Despite having Derek Roy’s point-per-game pace on top of their stat sheet, the Sabres were better when Roy was put on the shelf.

The 2011-12 Sabres seem to be suffering a different fate. Pat Kaleta is nearing the oft-injured classification while injuries to Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino, Miller and Tyler Myers has sucked quite a bit of talent away from the roster. Even players recalled from Rochester have become victims. TJ Brennan, Colin Stuart and Cory Tropp were all hurt in Buffalo – Tropp and Stuart remain out of commission.

Again, many of Buffalo’s losses have come because of mental errors or terrible, awful hockey (see, Saturday night). But at what point do the band-aids on the roster start to peel off? It may already be happening. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Injury riddled Sabres and Pens face off in Pittsburgh

Depending how you slice it, saying the Rochester Americans and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are facing off this evening wouldn’t be that big of a stretch. Fact is WBS will host Norfolk while the Amerks are on a road trip in Texas. Their parent clubs have just poached a majority of their roster.

Both the Sabres and Penguins are without numerous key players – a certain Pittsburgh center being the most prominent absence – for this evening’s game. Both teams had to travel to Pittsburgh for the game. Buffalo hosted Toronto while the Penguins were in Ottawa last night.

This is the final trip Buffalo will make to the Consol Energy Center this season; their first trip came back in October. That game was also played without number 87. Buffalo had a far healthier roster the last time they rolled into Pittsburgh. On that night, Jhonas Enroth was dazzling and Buffalo received some depth scoring on their way to a win.

The Sabres power play was shaken from its slumber last night, scoring three goals in the second period alone. Pittsburgh suffered a loss in a high-scoring affair in Ottawa. Looking at the scores from last night’s games, the fact that both teams travelled and that this is the tail-end of a back-to-back set; it may be safe to assume Lindy Ruff and Dan Bylsma will keep things close to the vest.

Highlighted Matchup

The Baby Pens vs. the Amerks. The roster Buffalo will roll out is nothing near the near 50/50 split they iced against Washington in November. The same could be said for the Penguins. However, both teams are missing star players and their depth is being tested. Whichever team gets more support from those depth players is likely to get the win.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 17GP 8-6-1, 2.43 GAA, .922 SV%

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury 25GP, 15-7-2, 2.28 GAA, .916 SV%

Last Game

10/15/2011, Consol Energy Center, Sabres 3 – Penguins 2

*no stats for the third-straight Saturday, sorry*

The Morning Skate: Slumping Sabres and Sens meet at FNC

Two teams struggling to keep their head above water will meet this evening at First Niagara Center. The Sabres, who have struggle mightily at home, desperately need a win against their Northeast Division rival. The Senators haven’t been able to keep the puck out of the net lately as they’re in the middle of a similar slide as Buffalo.

While Ottawa’s defense and goaltending have been spotty, they may get a reprieve against Buffalo. The Sabres have struggled to score more than once lately, let alone three or four goals. Ottawa has managed to find the back of the net despite their struggles. Considering Buffalo’s recent efforts at home, this game has the ability to turn into a snooze fest similar to Friday night.

The Sabres have been struggling with nearly every aspect of the game since the roster has been ravaged with injury. It seems Buffalo’s somewhat impressive depth has been worn thin with injury after injury. Some reports point to the Sabres receiving some reinforcements for tonight’s game. With Paul Gaustad and Pat Kaleta expected back, Buffalo’s penalty kill unit and generally grit should improve.

Buffalo’s first two games against Ottawa were wins. However, both came with far stronger rosters than the one Buffalo will ice tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo special teams. The Sabres are still short on both special teams units. However, the power play still sports significant talent and has become terribly stagnant lately. Lindy Ruff noted more movement is necessary to create chances. It would seem a good night from the special teams units may equal two points for the Sabres.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 14GP 7-6-1, 2.80 GAA, .910 SV%

OTT: Criag Anderson 26GP 12-10-2, 3.42 GAA, .895 SV%

Last Game

11/11/11, First Niagara Center, Sabres 5 – Senators 1

Weber out, Brennan recalled, other injured Sabres close to a return

After watching from the press box for 15 games, Mike Weber looked as if he had finally worked his way back to a regular spot in the lineup.

Weber played key minutes against Montreal and was one of Buffalo’s most effective defensemen in that game. However, Weber experienced somewhat of a backslide yesterday against New Jersey; it appears as if an injury may be responsible for that. According to The Buffalo News, Weber is going to miss some time with an injury. Lindy Ruff said the injury “will take some time”. Weber joins Ryan Miller and Cody McCormick on the shelf with extended injuries.

It seems as if the Sabres will call up T.J. Brennan to fill the void left by Weber. Now, this could be a simple insurance policy to provide a seventh defenseman while Marc-Andre Gragnani is reinserted into the line up. However, it would seem silly not to give Brennan at least one game on the weekend to see how he responds in his first NHL call-up.

Brennan is, at best a two-way defenseman. However, he seems like much more of a puck mover than anything else. Just what Buffalo needed, to put another puck mover on the ice.

Still, Brennan was a high selection (picked with the 2nd round selection received from Philly in the Biron trade) and has shown that he is on the cusp of breaking into the show. Corey Tropp got his first NHL action this season and has responded well. There is no reason to think that Brennan won’t play to his absolute best in his NHL debut. Continue reading