The Morning Skate: Eighth place on the line in NYC

The Philadelphia Flyers did just about all the Sabres could have asked them to do last night. Granted, it took a shooutout to topple Washington, but the Capitals were denied two points. The Sabres can now take a full share of eighth with two points this evening.

Of course, they are playing the East’s best team on their home ice. Buffalo has yet to win a game against the Rangers this season, but have taken the Blueshirts to overtime twice. Tonight will once again be described as the biggest game of the year for the Sabres. Just as Wednesday’s game was and tomorrow’s game against Minnesota. Considering every game is the next biggest one, just know the Sabres need two points every evening.

Buffalo has been able to get offensive contributions on a regular basis from their top three lines. Against a strong defensive team, it will be time for those scorers to kick into high gear. The Sabres cannot afford to hope for another 2-1 win.

The Sabres’ biggest issue against New York this year has been containing the big guns. Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan have had their way with the Sabres, tonight needs to be the game in which Buffalo locks these guys down. The Rangers aren’t a team that has three dangerous lines like you see in Philly or Vancouver. The Rangers are a steady team that plays such a steady game that they don’t necessarily need nine effective scoring forwards. It makes them a very difficult team to match up against.

Buffalo will need a great night from their back end. Lindy Ruff will be able to match his lines to a certain extent, but there isn’t a single shutdown line on the Buffalo roster at this moment. So it will be up to the six defensemen to shut off the Rangers guns.

Highlighted Matchup

Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan vs. Regehr and Sekera. The Sabres won’t be able to match lines due to the last change, but Buffalo’s shutdown pair will see plenty of ice against the Rangers top players. As stated above, if the Sabres can keep these guns quiet, they will have a good look at two points.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Rangers 3 OT, Madison Square Garden, 2/25/2012

 

Double Minors: Temporary tie with the Caps after Miller blanks Habs

Ryan Miller continues to dazzle, stopping all 34 shots he faced and picking up his sixth career shutout last night against Montreal.

Miller had to be sharp early for Buffalo before Cody Hodgson officially tossed the monkey from his back, picking up two goals in the victory. Miller stopped 15 shots in the first, including an early breakaway by David Desharnais and 12 more in the third that included a terrific right pad reaction stop. It was a key performance in a key game for Miller.

Buffalo temporarily ties Washington for eighth in the East but still trail due to games played and the ROW tiebreaker. Both teams need to face each other and the Sabres are still in need of taking every point available over the next two weeks.

Team scoring will remain the key to the rest of the playoff run. While the Ennis, Foligno, Stafford (Regulators) have fueled the last few wins, tonight’s win was keyed by Hodgson, Vanek and Tropp’s line. What this may indicate is that the Sabres’ depth scoring is beginning to round out. Getting scoring from more than one line (a season-long issue) has helped push the Sabres close to the playoffs and will get them in if it continues.

  • Travis Turnbull only played six minutes but picked up three hits and won three faceoffs. He didn’t have enough ice time to truly make an impact, but if Pat Kaleta broke his hand/thumb/wrist I would expect to see Turnbull play a bit more over the next few games.
  • Alex Sulzer is going to make reinserting Mike Weber difficult. He is playing such a steady game that there is little reason to plug Weber back in. Granted, I didn’t hate what Weber had done since his rough night against Colorado, he just hasn’t been as good as Sulzer.
  • Hey, Ville Leino had another assist. He also missed a yawning net yet again. I’m okay with that, he has been almost worth the money since January. I love that Ruff is skating him on a line with top six talent, it is exactly where he needs to play.
  • Mike Gilbert had a very interesting comment regarding the First Niagara Center. If I may paraphrase, he basically said it is a much better building than it is being described. He used the two buildings in Florida as a barometer. I still think FNC can be a lot better in terms of volume and there is still ground to gain on some of the best buildings, but it is good to know that there is progress being made.
  • The Sabres only had nine hits on the night. Not sure if that is completely inaccurate or not, but I would have to think they probably made contact with more than nine bodies for the game. Who knows, just spitballing.
  • Everyone can finally leave Cody Hodgson alone. He had a pair of assists on Monday, one fluky goal and one beautiful play last night. Hodgson played some great hockey once he arrived from Vancouver and probably faltered due to the travel, extra ice time and lack of practice. Hodgson has managed to settle in (including the latter portion of that slump) and now suddenly looks like the superstar most fans thought he was supposed to be right away.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: A chance to draw even in Montreal

Everyone has been all a-Twitter about the help the Sabres have been getting on the out-of-town scoreboard. Tonight offers the opportunity to finally recapture a playoff spot.

The Sabres have had a few separate chances to grab at least a share of a playoff position over the past month, they have yet to cash in one of those opportunities. If you practice the “what if they let Vanek go to Edmonton” train of reason, the Sabres could have crawled to eighth by beating Winnipeg and have two more points (four total) had they won their two recent shootouts.

To offer a more realistic picture, the Sabres haven’t been able to step to the plate when it has been most necessary. one way or the other they have faltered in a key area in their three losses this month. All will be forgotten if they come away from Montreal with a victory tonight. Their offense clicked into place on Monday, they will need to carry that into this evening’s game.

Expect to see Carey Price back in net, he always puts on a great performance against the Sabres. Buffalo peppered Peter Budaj last time the two teams met and you can bet Price will be tougher to beat than Budaj (33 saves) was.

The Sabres will welcome back Tyler Myers, who may need to answer for his hit on Scott Gomez, and may even witness the NHL debut of Travis Turnbull. I’d be surprised if a guy like Brad Staubitz challenges Myers, especially because everyone in Montreal was probably glad to see Gomez get plastered. I’ll also hold out on seeing Turnbull in the lineup. He was an emergency recall and will only play if the mystery injury is serious enough to keep a player out. Which player is injured? That is anyone’s guess.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Alexander Sulzer. One of these four will not be playing, that decision will come down between Sulzer and Weber. The other two (Myers and Sekera) are recent returnees to the lineup and will be counted on for big minutes. Sekera has been strong since returning from his illness and Myers has had three games to recuperate and watch from the press box. Hopefully he uses the time off similar to his healthy scratch earlier in the year.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 2 OT, First Niagara Center, 3/12/2012

Double Minors: Sabres keep pace with blowout against Tampa Bay

Sabres writer Bill Hoppe has taken to Twitter over the past few weeks to identify a specific player who was regulating each particular night. My fandom of just about all Emilio Estevez flicks and the general awesomeness of Young Guns makes this particular Twitter meme that much more interesting to me.

Last night’s offensive explosion led Hockey Heaven Buffalo to seek nicknames for the Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Marcus Foligno line. Given their relative age and consistent regulation, why not the Young Guns or Regulators line? There will be a photoshop to follow.

All kidding aside, Buffalo’s blowout of Tampa was important for their place in the standings and their confidence to produce offensively.

The Regulators combined for seven points (3+4,) including a pair of goals in the first period. Jason Pominville also had a pair goals that went top cheese, Thomas Vanek had two apples and Cody Hodgson finally recorded his first two points (assists) as a Sabre. Ryan Miller made some timely saves while the game was still in question and finished with 24 saves on 27 shots.

The hot story surrounding the Sabres has been the play of Foligno. He has five goals in his brief time with the big club, has shown a physical side and has vastly improved his skating since his debut in Ottawa earlier in the year. Foligno looks massive on the ice and is the type of space creating winger the Sabres have long been searching for. While Ennis has been a revelation at center, I think Foligno’s style is the reason that Stafford has flourished lately. Foligno can play the banging style that Stafford seems to refuse to play, this leaves the North Dakota product to create with Ennis in open ice. The makeup of the line is as prototypical as you get, but it has been working wonders.

While the Sabres didn’t gain ground in the standings, they kept pace with two points. They certainly need the Caps to cool off for this stretch run. I still think that winning games will get the job done for the Sabres. There isn’t too much need for scoreboard watching at this point. If the Caps were to hit the skids prior to their meeting with the Sabres, it would be quite helpful for the big picture.

As the final two sets of back-to-back games loom in the coming weeks, the Sabres’ offense will take center stage. I’d expect to see Jhonas Enroth one last time for one of these back-to-back sets, but the need to score goals remains paramount in my opinion. The Sabres showed another flash last night, they need to maintain this run for the final nine games.

  • Cody Hodgson probably won’t be left alone until he scores a goal, but his assist on Jason Pominville’s power play goal was a beauty. He did a great job drawing the forward and defenseman before dishing outside the box for Pominville’s one timer. That is the type of play he has been making since his arrival, he finally had someone finish for him.
  • Andrej Sekera has a fairly manageable contract for a player making the impact he has this year. He has been terrific since the New Year and has been above 21 minutes in the two games since returning from his illness. I still wish they would give him a bigger role on the power play.
  • Getting Tyler Myers back will put Lindy Ruff in quite a predicament. Brayden McNabb will need to go back to Rochester but there isn’t a clear-cut player to scratch in order to insert Myers back into the lineup. Mike Weber has had a few gaffes, but is still a serviceable number six defenseman who can kill penalties. Alexander Sulzer has been strong in his few games and possesses better puck skills than Weber. He is physical, just not as bruising as Weber is on a nightly basis. It will be a tough call either way.
  • I laughed out loud at the first caller to the postgame. I’m also concerned that Ryan Miller’s GAA is going back up, especially when the third goal he allows is in garbage time on a tipped point shot. I’m very concerned about his play too. Especially because he has continued to make timely saves in these recent victories. Just because he isn’t playing at a Hasekian level (like in February) doesn’t mean he isn’t playing good hockey.
  • Where does Nathan Gerbe fit in this lineup? You can’t remove Foligno or Tropp from their respective spots. The easy answer is to drop Cody McCormick from the fourth line. I’m interested to see the decision Lindy Ruff makes once Gerbe is healthy.
  • For those staring at the standings, the Sabres need 12 points to hit 90 and 13 to hit 91 for the year. Anything between 90 and 93 should be the magic number for the playoffs.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres in must-win mode with 10 remaining

Just about every game from here on out can be qualified as the biggest game of the year for the Sabres. Buffalo remains two points back entering tonight’s game against Tampa, but will give both Winnipeg and Washington a game in hand over Buffalo.

The Sabres continued to get help on the scoreboard as the hard-charging Hurricanes took down Winnipeg and the Blackhawks rolled the Capitals. Buffalo will need to finally take ownership of a game and get the job done against the Lightning. This will be Buffalo’s third opportunity to gain at least a share of eighth place, they cannot waste another opportunity.

I’m guessing that old friend, Dwayne Roloson will be in goal this evening. The Bolts signed Sebastian Caron (seriously) from overseas and I’m guessing he won’t be ready to go this soon. Roloson hasn’t had a great year, nor is his history against the Sabres very good, but this game stinks of a big effort from the Simcoe native.

The bottom line for tonight will be how the Sabres do offensively. They have controlled play lately but continue to be stymied on the scoreboard. There is plenty of offensive talent on this roster, the top scorers are long overdue to mesh and start producing.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres vs. the 1-3-1. Tampa’s forecheck has gotten plenty of fanfare this year. The Sabres haven’t fared well against Tampa this season and they need a serious turnaround tonight. If the Sabres can get the first goal and break the forecheck, they will be in a great situation. If they play a passive style, they will almost certainly lose.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

TB: Dwayne Roloson

Last Meeting

Sabres 1 – Lightning 2, First Niagara Center, 2/11/2012

 

Double Minors: Another point escapes against Panthers

Regardless of how this season ends for the Sabres, the inability to score goals will be the keystone of this season’s issues.

Say what you will about the goaltending – yesterday’s wasn’t phenomenal – but continuing to miss on chances has been the biggest issue for the Sabres all season. Yesterday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Florida was just another perfect example.

Ryan Miller didn’t have a first period to remember, allowing goals on the first two shots of the game, but he locked things down from there. In fact, he was very strong in the shootout, despite getting the loss. Miller stole a whole bunch of games in February, it is time his steam responds in kind. He yielded two goals against Florida, that should still be enough to win.

Place the blame for this wasted point on the forwards. Seven shooters and only two dekes. Brad Boyes did beat Theodore on his attempt, but hit the post. The rest had very average attempts against a small goalie who would struggle with nearly any deke attempt.

It would appear that closing games out has suddenly become an issue for a team who desperately needs regulation or overtime wins over their last ten games. Add in the questionable mental toughness of the roster and the home stretch could end up being a long journey. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Points at a preimum in East race

The Sabres last second screw up on Wednesday could end up being the game the team points to if they miss the playoffs by a point or two. Of course, the same was said about their third period meltdown against Nashville last season and the team managed to battle back from that massive letdown.

The fact is, Buffalo is in a tight predicament as the Washington Capitals continue to win games. Last night was an exception, as Winnipeg managed to pull out a 3-2 regulation victory. The win thrust the Jets a point ahead of Buffalo for the time being, but the sole focus of the season is now on the team occupying eighth.

As of now the Sabres need a win this evening in Florida. It would give them 77 points and temporarily place them one point out of eighth. Buffalo will be playing game number two without Tyler Myers and Nathan Gerbe. Missing their defensive skill was tough on the team against Colorado. On the bright side, The Buffalo News reports that Andrej Sekera will return this evening. Hopefully he can play effective minutes as the defensive corps looked thin without him in the lineup.

Highlighted Matchup

Vanek/Hodgson/Leino. Three players in the spotlight for similar but different reasons. Ville Leino has been roasted for not putting up major numbers this season, although he has been playing very good hockey lately. It is rumored that Thomas Vanek has been battling a shoulder injury and his offense has suffered because of it. Cody Hodgson showed some great offensive skills in his first few games, but no goals or assists has moved him from savior to bust with some of the more rational fans in Buffalo. I like the idea of this line, hopefully they instantly click.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

FLA: Jose Theodore

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Panthers 1 OT, First Niagara Center, 12/9/2011