Double Minors: Sabres play with fire one too many times

After conceding a head scratching tying goal in the dying moments on Monday, there was no way the Sabres would allow the same thing to happen again.

Of course, we’re talking about the Sabres. Yielding leads throughout games all season, Buffalo’s killer instinct has been something that has come and gone on numerous occasions. A defensive breakdown on Monday led to the tying goal, virtually the same play cost the Sabres last night.

Jamie McGinn’s second goal of the night tied the game at four, sending the game to OT. The Avalanche went on to win the game 5-4 in a shootout as shootout extraordinaire Peter Mueller picked up the deciding goal. Of course, McGinn’s goal should have never happened.

While being stuck with the same personnel due to an icing, Lindy Ruff had Cody Hodgson, Jason Pominville, Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Weber on the ice. Not exactly the best defensive set Buffalo could roll out. However, they are a little short on lock down forwards without Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe for various reasons.

My real beef was the defensive pair that Ruff chose. Mike Weber has been thrust from the sixth defensive spot to the fourth due to Tyler Myers’ suspension and Andrej Sekera’s illness. Weber played Gabriel Landeskog soft on his entry, his shot, the rebound and the following play behind the net. Weber is serviceable in a limited role, but not as a shutdown defenseman in the final moments of a close game. I have to question the thought process that Ruff had regarding who he was putting on the ice.

The unfortunate finish tarnished a great game by Marcus Foligno, who had a pair of goals and three hits. Foligno has meshed well, just like Corey Tropp, and is making a serious case to stick around beyond the re-call. Tropp has all but cemented his spot.

Foligno’s pair were part of a +3 evening that saw the rookie lay three body checks. Of course, Landeskog stole the show. He had a goal and an assist, five shots and eight hits (really?). His game was solid and he keyed the rush to tie the game. Regardless, Buffalo’s neutral zone forecheck was close to nonexistent and Weber’s soft play gave Landeskog and easy lane to shoot and pursue the rebound. Passive net-side play allowed Ryan O’Rielly to get the puck through and in front to McGinn.

  • Ryan Miller actually played a pretty strong game. He made 38 saves and was able to keep his team alive for a good part of the game. At some point, you need him to make a save on one of the goals, especially if you give him four to work with. But I honestly had little issue with his contributions this evening. Two wide-open tap-in goals are really to blame here.
  • Funny to see Miller’s adjustment to O’Rielly’s chance last night and the read he made on Monday against Montreal. Expecting a stuff attempt by Erik Cole, Miller held his post and was beaten on the cross-crease one timer. It seemed as if he had a better grasp of the time on the clock yesterday, making himself big and hoping to block as much net. For those just blaming Miller, the chance hit the side of the net, Mike Weber’s shin pad, the post and then rolled across the goal line. Had Weber stayed on his side of the ice, the puck stays below the goal line and there is someone available to tie up Jamie McGinn. Miller made the right read, he was done in by a bad bounce.
  • I have liked Alex Sulzer. He even beat Cody Hodgson to his first goal as a Sabre. I wonder if his play will be a factor when the Sabres evaluate their defensive depth this summer.
  • Brayden McNabb is a fine defensive prospect, he is even a solid guy to insert permanently. However, when you have to bump Sulzer and Weber to increased roles to fill in for regulars like Sekera and Myers, there is a serious problem.
  • Between the defensive depth issues and the lapses in-zone, trading Paul Gaustad is finally biting the Sabres. His absence has not been a major issue, you can just see certain areas weakening due to his trade. Considering the give and take, I’d still make the trade.
  • I’ve long questioned Buffalo’s attitude when holding a lead. I truthfully cannot say whether it is a personnel or coaching issue. But to see the Sabres sag back and attempt to shell-up for the umpteenth time, makes me question “the system”. To give up 16 third period shots in the middle of a playoff race with just a one-goal lead is criminal. Lacking that killer instinct is something that needs to be addressed. Whether that is accomplished with a new coach or players with certain intangibles, the change needs to be made.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Sabres host Avs, minus Myers

Tyler Myers was hit with a three-game Shanaban after giving Scott Gomez a face full of glass on Monday night. Tonight’s visit from the Avalanche will be the first game Myers misses.

The suspension to Myers was warranted and is the appropriate length. What is completely asinine is the fact that the NHL continues their completely inconsistent manner of evaluating supplemental discipline. Evgeni Malkin lowered virtually the same hit on Johnny Boychuk over the weekend and escaped with a minor. Maybe if Tyler Myers was one of the league’s most electrifying players in the middle of the Hart Trophy race he wouldn’t have been suspended either. Is that really a difficult conclusion to come to?

Buffalo will play their first without Myers – 11 points (4+7), +9 since the All-Star break – against a Western Conference foe pushing for a playoff spot of their own. I’d expect to see Brayden McNabb in the lineup for the next three games. He has been playing solid hockey for the Amerks and has the physical edge the Sabres will need for the remaining games this season. Andrej Sekera could be in the lineup, although it seems like a serious longshot. I would count on McNabb stepping in for at least the next three nights.

The Sabres offense has still been struggling to find the back of the net, but they are creating chances. Peter Budaj made 33 saves on Monday and Buffalo has put at least 30 shots on goal in three of their last four. It is time for the Sabres to start capitalizing on their chances, scoring three or four a night will give this team a very real shot at achieving the impossible.

Highlighted Matchup

Cody Hodgson. The newest forward on the team is still finding his way. I’m not sure if it is a conditioning issue, fatigue from playing on a nightly basis, his arrival and subsequent puddle jump across the country and further participation on Buffalo’s west coast trip or just a systematic problem. What I do know is that a number of fans are getting anxious about his potential. It would be nice if he got a few points over the next few games. Despite what the box score says, he hasn’t been all bad.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

COL: Semyon Varlamov

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Avalanche 4 OT, Pepsi Center, 1/4/2011

Double Minors: Sabres take two after OT gut check

Just 3.5 seconds away from winning a 2-1 game against the Canadiens, the Sabres couldn’t buckle down and David Desharnais scored to tie the game.

It mattered not as Tyler Myers made a great read in overtime to join the rush and pick up the winning goal. Myers would state in his postgame interview that the tying goal may have condemned the Sabres a month or two ago. He followed that by saying the team has come together with more confidence as of late.

Ryan Miller had 26 saves, a number of them key stops (11 in the 3rd) and had some choice words for his teammates as overtime began. Miller toned it down during postgame, but he said the message was to ignore the late goal and get the job done. Miller has often displayed captain tendencies throughout his career and those are the type on intangibles he brings, especially when he is on his game like he has been since January 1.

Myers has been playing good hockey for a while now. His defensive game is still rounding out and he makes some odd decisions, but he is turning into a dominant force as each game goes by. I still think there needs to be a serious guiding force (whether a coach or partner) for him to grow with. Two hits, three shots, a goal and +1 isn’t a terrible stat line, I liked him tonight.

The other Tyler, the smaller one, was once again dazzling. For those who clamored that he was being wasted and could possibly be a bust, I give you Healthy Tyler Ennis vs. Injured Tyler Ennis. He had a few struggles early on and then suffered that ankle injury. It would appear that he wasn’t right until late January. Now Ennis is playing his natural position and is dazzling with his puck skills. Good on Lindy Ruff for getting him back to that position and allowing him to create.

Ennis’ strong play has coupled with Miller’s run and a few other brief renaissances on the roster, has been the catalyst for this unlikely playoff run. Getting continued scoring is the only way this team will make the playoffs, would appear they’re starting to create the necessary chances, now they need to finish.

  • Everyone off the “Cody Hodgson is Awesome” train and jump aboard the “Cody Hodgson is a Bust” bandwagon. But seriously, Hodgson has been struggling a bit and has gotten his Raffi Torres treatment in shipping down to the fourth line. I would say his travel from Vancouver and to arrive with the Sabres probably wore on him. Add the west coast trip to that. Hopefully he can shake the fatigue, get some practice time and work his way back into more ice time.
  • Staying with the deadline acquisitions, Alex Sulzer has been strong filling in for various injured Sabres. However, Sulzer has not been 23:59 (!) good. He has never been that type of player and never will be. He was on for the tying goal, not that it was his fault alone, but that just shouldn’t happen. The final minutes are for your shutdown players.
  • Tyler Ennis has two goal-of-the-year candidates for the Sabres. His stick flip goal against Pittsburgh and his dangle tonight were both terrific. He has great hands and is going to deserve a great payday pretty soon.
  • Ryan Miller was strong again. Not sure he had a look at Erik Cole’s goal nor did he have much of a chance on the tying tally. He made a few strong saves, particularly in the third, and got the Sabres yet another win.
  • I really liked the lines in which Hodgson and Ennis filled as centers for the top six and Derek Roy was playing as the checking center. Of course, Hodgson wasn’t getting the job done and Ruff was forced to shuffle. I still think there is a line combination that can keep Buffalo’s best offensive weapons among the top six.
  • Allow me to play hypocrite for a moment. Ville Leino has proven to be a pretty solid checking center. I still think he will make his money best playing a top-six role, but he is filling in nicely for Paul Gaustad for the time being.
  • Every game is huge for the Sabres, that pretty much goes without saying. This weekend’s games are going to be pivotal. Well, Saturday (Florida) and next Monday (Tampa Bay). Still, both are against playoff competitors and those head-to-head wins are absolutely necessary.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Injury bug returns for the Sabres

Make no mistake, this is a banged up group of hockey players. The Sabres, already without Thomas Vanek, lost Matt Ellis and Pat Kaleta during the 4-3 shootout win over the Senators.

Today’s game will likely feature one or two fresh faces from the farm. I would assume that Colin Stuart, Derek Whitmore and Paul Szezchura are on the shortlist for a recall. If Cody McCormick and Vanek are able to go, that will obviously change the dynamic a bit.

The Sabres are still in the hunt for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. However, the Washington Capitals sudden surge is making things far more difficult for Buffalo. The Sabres are four points out of eighth place before tonight’s game. That makes every game that much more interesting for tonight.

With or without players like Vanek, Kaleta and Ellis, the task is daunting. The Sabres need to continue winning games, regardless of what their opponents are doing. Since teams like Florida and Washington continue to win, there is even less room for error.

Expect to see one of my favorite goaltending matchups. Carey Price and Ryan Miller always play well against each other and Miller will need to have another dazzling outing if the Sabres hope to stay alive.

Highlighted Matchup

The farmhands. Even if Marcus Foligno is the only call-up playing, I want to watch him closely. The Sabres have some interesting players down on the farm, but no superstars. Foligno has just about every trait that Zack Kassian possessed, aside from excellent offensive skills. There are no top-end prospects on the farm as of today, but that will change in the coming years. Let’s see who will be sticking around next year and beyond.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MTL: Carey Price

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Canadiens 4 SO, First Niagara Center, 2/17/2012

Double Minors: Offense sputters in loss to Bruins

Once again the Buffalo Sabres couldn’t muster the offense to maintain the early lead they built in Boston. Once again a one-goal lead was established and sat on. Once again the Sabres will wait to climb the final rungs of the playoff ladder.

For what it’s worth, Sami Pahlsson scored a late goal to put Vancouver over Winnipeg late last night. Of all the teams Sabres fans are keeping their eyes on, Winnipeg is the one that matters most.

Last night’s loss was another in which the Sabres scored only one goal. It was also a game in which they held a lead but failed to build upon it. The past 14 days have been grueling for the Sabres. They have gone from Anaheim, up the coast to Vancouver (via San Jose), to Winnipeg and now to Boston. They will stop off in Ottawa tomorrow night. In that whole span the Sabres returned home for Wednesday’s overtime win against Carolina.

This rough road schedule is a likely culprit for additional fatigue and bumps and bruises. But the Sabres have failed to adapt to many of their shortcomings this year, particularly in the scoring department. Whether this is a coaching issue or player issue is unknown. All I know is that any hope of actually catching eighth place will come on the coattails of more than just one or two goals per game.

Jhonas Enroth’s unfortunate losing streak continued despite a fine showing. He turned away 13 shots in the first period alone, finishing with 25 saves on the night. Enroth’s losing streak has been subject to a number of game in which the Sabres failed to provide proper goal support. Last night was another good example. Enroth did prove that he’s capable of earning another start before the end of the season.

  • Funny how Cody Hodgson went from being the toast of the town to an alleged bust in just a week and a half. Apparently the Sabres acquired Wayne Gretzky and no one told me. Give him time to settle into the system, offensive players often take a little longer to acclimate to a new system. Especially a system that runs on only one goal per game.
  • Alexander Sulzer continues to acquit himself nicely. Three games in, he is a major improvement over Marc-Andre Gragnani.
  • I still wonder about the mental toughness of the Sabres at times. Surrendering a one goal lead isn’t a rare occurrence. However, both losses this week came after being tied entering the third period. Again, both games came after rough travel days, but that type of game is what the Sabres will see in the playoffs.
  • There is no reason to start scoreboard watching just yet. The Sabres still control their own destiny and simply need to win their games. They have been getting some help lately, but there is no reason to fret over every other team’s win or losses when the standings will change in 24 or 48 hours.
  • Buffalo’s physical game hasn’t seemed to suffer much since losing Paul Gaustad. However, their faceoff numbers are down significantly and I wonder if it is something that will really start to prove to be a factor. Even on Wednesday, Ville Leino’s faceoff loss led to Carolina’s first goal. Just something to keep an eye on.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Torrid schedule continues in Boston

Buffalo came forth with a strong bounce back effort against Carolina last night after dropping a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Monday.

The Sabres are now heading to Boston on a night that a pair of their playoff race competitors are in action. Toronto’s loss last night gave the Sabres more help in the playoff race. Getting a win tonight and regulation losses in Vancouver (Winnipeg) and Washington (vs. Tampa Bay) will keep the Sabres collective heads above water.

Boston has been up and down in recent weeks, playing strong hockey while laying eggs shortly thereafter. The Bruins and Sabres have played an interesting series this season, I have to wonder how Buffalo will fare against a supremely physical team with the general lack of physicality on the Sabres roster.

I fully expect to see Jhonas Enroth in net tonight. Ryan Miller has started 21-straight games and has played at least 30 minutes in the last 22 games. He has seen a ton of action in every game since last week – save for last night – and needs some time prior to this next run of games he will be sent on.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres toughness vs. Bruins toughness. The absence of Paul Gaustad has yet to show much effect on the Sabres. Boston plays a hard game and I wonder if the Sabres have the muscle to run with a team that plays such a style. Obviously players like Chara, Lucic and Thornton will be too much to handle. But like the 6-0 win last month, Buffalo simply needs to push back and show they’re capable of not backing down.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

BOS: Tim Thomas

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Bruins 1 SO, First Niagara Center, 2/24/2012

Double Minors: Special teams powers overtime victory

Buffalo’s power play hasn’t been pretty as of late. But it got the job done last night against Carolina. A late 5-on-3 penalty kill kept the Sabres floating long enough to seal the game in overtime.

Realistically, it should have never gotten to that point. Cam Ward made a number of big saves in the second period to keep the Hurricanes alive. Buffalo exploded for a pair in the opening 1:02 of the period and almost had a third, but Ward was up to the task. He made 15 of his 39 saves in the second period alone, keeping the Buffalo onslaught at bay until Chad LaRose could tie the score.

Ryan Miller was stout, turning away 22 of 24 and rebounding nicely after yielding two goals on his first 17 shots. He has certainly earned a rest and should most definitely take that reprieve tomorrow night in Boston.

While it took seven attempts for the Sabres power play to tally twice, there was some good and bad to take away from the unit. Both units continued to looks disjointed with the puck and committed a number of turnovers as a result. However, if they were able to settle the possession, there was some strong puck movement high on the umbrella. Both goals came from high puck movement and point shots.

The penalty kill stayed strong and will need to remain stout as this playoff run continues. Tomorrow’s game in Boston along with Saturday and Monday carry a lot of weight for the Sabres if they hope to gain more ground.

  • For all the hooting and holler that has been done (me included) about the top line, they answered the bell last night. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville each had a goal and an assist in the victory. This just add fuel to my argument that Roy brings them down. Their success came as Roy went pointless, obviously they cannot coexist. Obviously I’m not serious, this line needs to extend that success in the next five days.
  • Still waiting on Cody Hodgson’s first point. No matter, I haven’t hated his game and I’m still happy with the dynamic he brings to the roster.
  • I bemoaned the thought of giving $5.5m to a player who essentially plays a strong two-way, defensive game and chips in offensively. Then I realized that is precisely what Ville Leino is currently being paid to do. Yes, he lost that faceoff clean. But his puck possession is the best on the roster and he drew a pair of late penalties due to it. His play has turned a corner these last few months, I think it is time to stop hating on him and his contract.
  • Alex Sulzer is making me a believer. He has slightly better puck skills than Mike Weber – though he seems due one bad fumble per night – and plays a fairly similar style. Depending on defensive depth next season, I could see him getting a contract over the summer. I’ve liked his game thus far.
  • As I said above, it is time to give Ryan Miller a rest. His play over the past few games has been showing some signs of fatigue. That isn’t to say I haven’t been pleased with the last three games, it is just time to give him a little more time to recuperate.

Game Summary/Event Summary