The Morning Skate: Another biggest game of the year

Yet again Sabres fans will be touting tonight’s game as the biggest of the season. In a way, they’re correct. However, they’re also putting too much weight on the singular aspect of tonight’s game against the Flyers.

Yes, if the Sabres do not win this evening they can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. However, if they win, they will be playing in another biggest game of the year on Saturday. See how silly this is?

What made me realize this is the accusation that many Sabres players seem to receive regarding their status as big game players. Don’t confuse this with mental toughness. I’m just talking about those who are criticized for not showing up when their team needs it the most. Whether you’re talking about Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller or anyone else you wish to pick on. Saying these guys don’t show up when it counts is a load of crap. Every game is relative to the ones that come before and after it. There isn’t necessarily one biggest game, so to speak.

Look at it this way. Had Ryan Miller not gone on his torrid streak, the Sabres would be talking draft picks right now. The same goes for last week against the Caps. That was the biggest game of the season, to that point. Miller performed and the Sabres rolled. Derek Roy was the hero on Tuesday but was chastised much of the year for not stepping up when his team needed him most. I’m not saying that criticism of Roy isn’t warranted at points, the same goes for Miller and other players. Had the Sabres shown up last weekend, these final two games wouldn’t matter as much. So which game matters the most?

What you need to realize is that bitching about a player’s big game-ness is a futile task. Hockey is a team sport and is played in a marathon setting, not a sprint. The collectiveness of the whole effort is what matters most, not necessarily one player’s actions in one game.

Now, allow me to contradict myself. Tonight’s game is massive, there is no getting around that. The Sabres remain in do-or-die mode as they try to sneak into the playoffs.  They face a tough task playing a Flyers team that has owned them for the whole season and are still battling for home ice in the first round. The only thing to Buffalo’s advantage is that the Penguins have distanced themselves from the fifth-place Flyers by a bit and Ilya Bryzgalov is just returning from injury.

The Sabres have been a defensive train wreck these last three games and they desperately need to remedy this if they hope to skate with Philly. The Flyers have a potent attack that will dice the Sabres if they don’t play a responsible game.

Buffalo has been scoring goals lately, getting to Bryzgalov early will be important. He was yanked against the Rangers and will still have some rust to shake off tonight. If he is unsettled, the Sabres will have a glorious chance at getting two points.

Highlighted Matchup

Sabres’ defense vs. Flyers’ big guns. Philly boasts a number of potent scorers; Buffalo’s blueline has been depleted and has given up some glorious chances the past three nights. The Sabres need to be physical and engage the Flyers early to prevent scoring chances. Too often the Sabres have played soft on entries and offensive cycles which has allowed time and space for their opponents. Unless that is remedied it will be a long night for Ryan Miller.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Flyers 7, Wells Fargo Center, 2/16/2012

Double Minors: Saving the drama for the finish

To quote a loyal 2ITB reader regarding yesterday’s game, “simply stunning”.

After 20 minutes of listless hockey, it would have appeared the Sabres were cooked. Not only for the game but their season as well. However, the slow crawl back began on a second period power play and ended with Derek Roy’s game winner on the man advantage.

It certainly wasn’t an ideal victory, with the early deficit and stale first period effort after a strong opening 10 minutes. But they don’t ask how, they ask how many. Buffalo’s victory keeps them at pace with the Capitals and the Panthers, who only managed a point against Winnipeg last night.

The Sabres seem to be missing the presence of Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff for no other reason than because their big minutes have been distributed among players like Alex Sulzer, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Brayden McNabb. Even Jordan Leopold has seen an uptick in his time. None of these players have reacted particularly well to their increase in ice time and it has certainly shown in the defensive zone. Although, the Sabres did buckle down in the final 40 minutes, allowing 12 shots in the second and third period versus 13 in the first.

The past three games haven’t been too kind to the Sabres in a defensive sense. Ryan Miller wasn’t particularly sharp, but made a number of impressive saves along the way this evening. I would have to say the Sabres won the game in spite of Miller’s play. However, there were a number of huge saves that he did make which took goals away from the Leafs.

Thursday and Saturday will be a pair of tough tests for this team, especially if they continue yielding the type of easy chances they gave up to Jake Gardiner’s, Clarke MacArthur’s and Tyler Bozak’s second goal. Of course, there is still some hope left that the Sabres will be able to pull off the improbable.

  • Despite their recent success, the Sabres still appear to be a one-line team. The current hot line is obviously the Regulator line of Foligno, Ennis and Stafford. The other two lines are having some success but could seriously use a bump in success to keep the Sabres rolling.
  • Along that line, the Sabres got three goals from defensemen which is a huge bonus for any team. However, it would be really nice if the other lines can produce for these final two games.
  • Alex Sulzer had an up and down game, but his three points make things easier to stomach. Even after a rough outing, he is still heads and shoulders better than Marc-Andre Gragnani.
  • Andrej Sekera’s game has slipped as of late. After a great run of play that came during Buffalo’s surge, he has seemed to regressed some these past few games. Given the need the Sabres have for steady play on the blueline, Sekera will need to turn things around.
  • Marcus Foligno made Mike Komisarek look like a complete fool on that tying goal. You wonder why Komisarek has fallen off so drastically, it is because he makes idiotic plays as he did last night.
  • With a pair of fights, the Sabres are up to 39 on the season. That is a significant increase from last year. For all the questions that were raised about toughness, it would seem as if the Sabres have improved in that department.
  • That being said, Brayden McNabb may have bit off more than he could chew with Jay Rosehill, but he and Marcus Foligno showed fans more of what they’ve been hoping to see from their rugged prospects.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Just win, baby

With my one-week layoff complete, the Sabres are in no better shape than they were in when I departed. However, the road to their current state was an interesting one.

A huge 5-1 spanking of the Capitals put Buffalo in full control of their destiny prior to dropping their weekend set against Pittsburgh and Toronto. Now they not only need to win their games this week, they need a little help along the way.

I suppose what was most disappointing about the losses over the weekend is two-fold. Obviously knowing the Sabres came out and dominated a game they had to have only to see them give less than their best on the weekend is the most disheartening part. However, I have to wonder why Lindy Ruff wouldn’t give Ryan Miller one night off (against Pittsburgh)? Not only would it give Miller some much needed rest, which I would assume is desperately needed; but it would give Jhonas Enroth one more game. Beating the Penguins was going to be a near impossible task, why waste a start from the player that has carried the team to this point?

Of course, that is in the past. The injuries to Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff are in the present and could have a major effect on tonight’s game, just as they did on Saturday. Myers and Ehrhoff are two major parts of the Sabres’ attack. They’re dynamic puck movers who have good hockey IQ in the offensive zone. Sure, they’ve each had their struggles defensively, but they’re still two of Buffalo’s top four defenders. Their absence needs to be lessened as much as possible.

Not to overstate the obvious, but tonight is do or die. A win will keep their heads above water and keep them in the hunt. Buffalo still has a dicey finish at the end of the week, but those two games won’t matter unless they get two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Goaltenders. Ryan Miller finally came down off the his hot streak that helped him lead the Sabres into playoff contention. Of course, fans are only looking at the last two games when evaluating him; exactly what I’ve come to expect from a town with such hockey IQ. Miller needs to play a strong game, hopefully the two days off helped him a bit. I’ll maintain that he should have rested Friday, however. As for the Leafs. I would have to assume that Ben Scrivens will be back in net. The Sabres put three by him on Saturday, they just need to play a little better D and continue to pepper the youngster.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

TOR: Ben Scrivens

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Maple Leafs 4, 3/31/2012, Air Canada Centre


Double Minors: Scrappy win sets up Tuesday’s showdown

Things are falling into place in a very similar fashion in which they did last season. The Sabres have charged hard to the brink of a playoff spot and will face a Southeast Division foe, on the road, to basically determine who will steal the final playoff spot in the East.

Buffalo’s showdown in DC on Tuesday may just seal up the playoff bid for the two teams competing. The Sabres are in this boat after another hard-fought win. Last night’s 3-1 win over Minnesota was particularly impressive considering the Sabres had to travel (only from NYC) after playing the night before to face a team with a day of rest.

The road weary Sabres ended up throwing 37 shots on goal and played 40 minutes of hockey that looked pretty impressive. Perhaps the second and third periods looked good because the Sabres didn’t allow 16 shots like they did in the first.

Ryan Miller finished with 24 saves and was excellent when his team needed him in the first. He also made a pretty huge stop on a funky play by Christian Ehrhoff in the second. I’m not sure when Ryan Miller will get another game off. You have to think Friday’s game against Pittsburgh or Saturday vs. Toronto would give Jhonas Enroth a look, but points have become so valuable that he may not get another game.

Last night’s victory was a strong showing from a team that could have easily suffered a letdown. The Sabres again got great contributions from the Vanek, Hodgson, Tropp and Foligno, Ennis, Stafford lines on their way to three goals (really just two). Now they just need to outscore Washington on Tuesday.

  • Travis Turnbull has really acquitted himself quite well in his brief NHL debut. I’m not sure when he will be sent back to Rochester, I suppose it all hinges on the health of Pat Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe.
  • Considering the injured players on the Buffalo roster, I wonder where Lindy Ruff has Kaleta and Gerbe penciled in? Moving one of Buffalo’s fourth line players to the press box seems like a pretty easy decision to make. Cody McCormick or even Brad Boyes could find themselves sitting once Gerbe and Kaleta are back in the lineup. If Jochen Hecht was able to fully recover it would make things even more interesting.
  • Cody Hodgson has settled in nicely. I said this the other day, but I’ll say it again. He looks as if some practice time and additional rest to adjust to all the travel he had to deal with has gotten him back to form. I love seeing him skate with Vanek, it is a damn good line.
  • Let’s give Marcus Foligno number 71 next season, okay? I understand that Derek Whitmore is the current owner of that number, but obviously Foligno isn’t going anywhere. Time to let him pick his permanent number.
  • I’m beginning to think the off-ice officials in Buffalo don’t give out hits very often. Only 11 for the Sabres last night.
  • Two more powerplay goals for the Sabres, even though one was actually an ENG. That unit has been better lately, maybe not good, but better. If the powerplay was a little more potent the Sabres could be a very dangerous team to deal with.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Visit from Wild is another chance to advance

Tonight’s game is one of those that really makes me wish the NHL would switch back to white jerseys at home. The Sabres whites and the Minnesota Red uniforms are two of the best looking jerseys in the league, if only we got to see them this evening. A good consolation is that the Wild have a nice set of white unis as well.

The Sabres will need two points once again in order to keep pace with the Capitals in eighth place. The Capitals are idle until they meet this Minnesota team tomorrow. The Senators face Pittsburgh which is an interesting predicament because the Sens have been regressing but the Pens are not a team you would want to see in the first round.

This weekend schedule is tough for the Sabres playoff hopes. The Wild needed to travel but had a day off yesterday. They will play tonight against Buffalo with a day of rest against a Sabres team that played and traveled last night. They face Washington the very next day. Ideally you would want that schedule to be reversed.

Buffalo will need to play a responsible game against this Wild team. They are a methodical squad that can be dangerous. Dany Heatley has had a pretty solid year and always plays well against the Sabres. Also, Niklas Backstrom is one of those goalies that can absolutely lock a game down. He is also prone to rough outings if you get to him early. A hot start for the Sabres will be important.

The one edge I will give the Sabres is the fact that their three-pronged attack. If Lindy Ruff can leverage a mismatch, there will be a good chance to capitalize. I also think this could be a game to re-insert Mike Weber just for a set of fresh legs. Probably not the course of action I would take – Alex Sulzer has been too good – but I would understand the logic.

Highlighted Matchup

Lindy Ruff vs. Mike Yeo. Ruff needs to find the right matchups, shut down the few big guns at Yeo’s disposal and find the right lines to roll his scorers out against. His decision on goaltenders and his choice regarding the scratches could be important as well. Yeo’s choice in goalie will likely mean the man sitting tonight will play in Washington. Keep your fingers crossed that the Wild use Backstrom tomorrow.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

MIN: Niklas Backstrom

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Wild 2 OT, Xcel Energy Center, 3/6/2011

Double Minors: Just what they needed

The Buffalo Sabres are facing a daunting task, needing to win nearly every game down the stretch to sneak into the playoffs. It is going to be that much harder with games against Pittburgh and last night’s victory over the Rangers.

However, the Sabres kept scoring goals and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the East’s best team and the odds-on favorite for the Vezina. Even though Buffalo didn’t get the help they needed in Washington, they remained tied with the Caps.

The Foligno, Ennis, Stafford line was on fire yet again, scoring three of the four Buffalo goals. The Regulators combined for three goals and eight points. However, the Vanek, Hodgson, Tropp line was effective yet again, despite not finding the scoreboard. I really like the makeup of both of those lines. Combining the scoring skill of players like Ennis, Stafford, Hodgson and Vanek with muckers like Foligno and Tropp has been paying dividends. It would seem like Darcy Regier’s commitment to size in recent drafts has begun to pay dividends.

Ryan Miller had a very strong showing yet again, he stopped 26 shots and made a number of big saves to keep the Rangers attack quiet. The Sabres had a strong game all around, there wasn’t much to frown about across the board. Maybe I don’t like the fact that they gave up 13 shots in the third period, but they managed to turn the Rangers aggressive push into a pair of odd-man goals to seal the game.

  • Great to see Travis Turnbull score his first NHL goal last night. It was greasy, but all that matters is that it counts. He was a great depth signing back in 2009, not sure if he is a guy who can be an NHL regular, however.
  • No minuses on the sheet for Buffalo, the only goal against was a lost coverage in front and was a very preventable tally.
  • One game after registering eight hits, Buffalo threw 22. Not sure if that was a scorekeeper issue, but good to know the Sabres are willing to toss the body around when necessary.
  • Not sure if Lindy Ruff will want to continue riding Ryan Miller against Minnesota, they have entered “get every point” mode and that probably means you won’t see much of Jhonas Enroth.
  • Sixth defenseman watch: Alex Sulzer played just under 20 minutes, was even and had two blocks. I’m curious to know when Ruff decides to rotate Weber back into the lineup. That will be a tough call considering the way this particular roster is playing.
  • For those watching the scoreboard, be equally concerned with the Capitals, Senators and Jets as you are with the Penguins and Rangers. It would be a bad thing to see the Penguins in the first round. If the Sabres are to make the playoffs, hope that they face the Rangers.

Game Summary/Event Summary


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