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

Double Minors: Rochester roadtrip

Saturday afforded me the chance to check out a pair of games and sample some of the best BBQ in Western New York.

Rather than just stay at home for Saturday’s Sabres – Senators game, a few friends and I took a quick trip to Rochester for a Bandits game, Dinosaur BBQ and the Amerks – Senators game.

The purpose of the trip was to see the Amerks and see some of the talent the Sabres have in the pipeline. It ended up being a great day trip featuring a sports double header. The Bandits game was a loss. They are a team in complete disarray who don’t seem to have a clue which way is up. Buffalo was held to three goals fro most of the game until they finally went on a late run. The final score was 13-10, but that was hardly indicative of the domination the Bandits endured.

The Amerks game was far better. Joe Finley dropped the gloves just three seconds in and Rochester put on a clinic against the AHL’s cellar dwellers. Mark Voakes (0+3) and Travis Turnbull (1+2) paced the Amerks as six different players scored for Rochester.

David Leggio didn’t see his tenth shot until the third period and was largely untested for most of the night. He did allow one goal, but did mange to make a few impressive stops along the way. Leggio finished with 17 saves.

While Marcus Foligno was busy scoring his first NHL goal, there were a few bright spots from some of the players biding their time in Rochester this season. Paul Szezchura, Brayden McNabb and even Finley had some strong moments in the blowout victory.

The highlight of the day may have been grabbing a massive plate of BBQ between the games. Dinosaur BBQ is located about 100 yards from Blue Cross Arena. Would it be that difficult to put a location in downtown Buffalo? Seriously, are the people making decisions on the waterfront that obtuse? Continue reading

Double Minors: Miller stands tall, Sabres take two from Anaheim

Even after losing two of their larger, tougher players, the Buffalo Sabres had plenty of grit left in the tank for last night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.

AHL call-up, Corey Tropp, had yet another respectable scrap and brought plenty of jam along with him from Rochester. Tropp has been mighty impressive in each re-call he has had this season, I’d expect him to be a mainstay on the roster from this point forward. Mike Weber and Robyn Regehr each dropped the gloves while Pat Kaleta and Tyler Myers were right in the middle of a liney at the horn. Who says this team will miss Paul Gaustad?

In all seriousness, Buffalo showed some serious heart in the toughness department. They didn’t have the one player who typically brought the most sandpaper to the lineup. It is something that will need to be found in the near future. I don’t think the league’s smallest team will succeed well in the playoffs. That being said, Tropp and Kaleta certainly showed that they have enough jam to insert on the front end, while guys like Weber and Regehr play with plenty of edge defensively. So long as that aspect isn’t ignored by those players, the loss of Guastad and Kassian won’t be as noticeable.

Ryan Miller certainly proved his play elevates when he is motivated. Whether it was because he was heading home to this or because he is still pissed about losing his buddy and best defensive forward, Miller’s game was on yet again. He turned aside 43 shots for the shutout victory. According to Ian Ott of the Sabres, that is a franchise record for saves in a shutout.

Buffalo heads up the coast to San Jose for today’s game. It will be another late start in Buffalo but the game represents two more pivotal points. While the massive road losing skid in December and January is one defining moment of this season, this road trip could be what turns the year around.

  • Cody Hodgson had an impressive debut for the Sabres. He created a few chances and had a couple of his own. The goals will certainly come for the young pivot. I enjoy seeing him play with Tyler Ennis, I assume the two have some sort of relationship from their time on the Canadian WJC roster. I hoe that Hodgson is able to continue creating offensively as he did tonight. I was certainly impressed with what I saw. I also liked that he got time in every situation. It was pretty clear that he didn’t understand Buffalo’s penalty kill rotation just yet, but that will come. Keep getting him big minutes, that is key.
  • One night overreaction regarding Hodgson: the Sabres are a better team with him in the lineup vs. Zack Kassian. Realistic interpretation: Hodgson’s skillset benefits the needs of the Sabres better than the skillset Kassian brings to the table.
  • Once again, Ryan Miller was phenomenal. He has been strong since January 1 and simply stellar since January 24. He is finally healthy and has raised his game to a new level.
  • Mike Weber and Tyler Myers can go take some boxing lessons this summer. They’re two big-bodied defensemen, it would be nice if they had the ability to fight and not get totally rag dolled.
  • On the Myers fight, I truly hope that is a turning point for his physical game. Lindy Ruff’s postgame press conference referenced the fact that the Sabres need him to find that physical aspect and truly utilize it. He is still quite young, so he is likely still feeling his way out and finding the right way to use his size and reach. I’m just saying it would be nice for that mean streak to come out in a big way.
  • Derek Roy has played some pretty good hockey as of late. In fact, he almost looks like the type of center the Sabres need on their top line. I don’t feel that he is the long-term answer for where they want to go, but if he can keep this play up, the team is better for it.
  • Lastly, the Sabres have a combined four shots in the two third periods they played against Anaheim this season. That is not a good number. Buffalo were outshot a combined 31-4 in the third period of their two games against Anaheim this season. The bend don’t break mentality of Lindy Ruff’s “system” is infuriating to me. As was proven in the loss to the Rangers, hoping to ride out a one or two-goal lead is no way to succeed in the NHL.

Game Summary/Event Summary

Double Minors: Point slips away as Sabres prepare for the deadline

Two different one-goal leads escaped the Sabres last night as did a precious point for their playoff run. Ryan Callahan scored the deciding goal against the Sabres for the third time this season, this time in OT.

Pat Kaleta had a pretty rough night, getting beaten on Marian Gaborik’s game tying tally and then being undressed by Callahan on the winner. For the first time in a number of games, the Sabres allowed their opponents dangerous scorers in alone on their goalie. For the first time in  number of games they paid dearly.

Ryan Miller certainly wasn’t the goalie who has ran up sparkling numbers since January 1, he also received less support than he has recently. Without Miller’s dazzling play in the first period, the game had great potential to be a blowout. Miller made 14 of his 25 saves in the opening stanza.

Another ugly trait reared its head last night. While the Sabres got a pair of goals from a forward, they only managed a handful of shots on goal. Drew Stafford potted two goals, but the Sabres only managed to direct 17 more shots towards Henrik Lundqvist. The last time Buffalo had a shooting effort that was so poor, Miller bailed them out with a shootout win against New Jersey. For the record, the Sabres only manged 14 shots that night.

With the deadline coming tomorrow afternoon, Darcy Regier still needs to address the fact that his forwards are incapable of performing on a consistent basis. It would seem that Miller has truly settled into a groove and the top-six defensemen are performing admirably. However, the forwards have been out to lunch for a good portion of the season. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are the only two who have been consistently effective all season. Tyler Ennis has turned the corner in his new role at center, but still isn’t going to have fantastic numbers. Ville Leino has shown flashes of brilliance, but still hasn’t come around and the other scorers – Derek Roy, Stafford and even Nathan Gerbe – have been largely invisible this season.

If changes are made to the top six, there could still be a legitimate chance at creating enough offense to turn this season around. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres stay alive with shootout victory

Make no mistake, the Buffalo Sabres are riding on the slimmest of playoff hopes. But those hopes remain alive after tonight’s 2-1 shootout win over Boston.

Compared to the last two visits to First Niagara Center by the Bruins, this contest was quite placid. In fact, parts of the game were downright stale. The clubs combined for only 15 shots in the first period before going off for 41 over the final two frames.

Ryan Miller was superb in net once again, turning aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced. His lone goal came on a snipe by Slovakian-born Zdeno Chara in the third period. Derek Roy made a glorious pass to feed Chara on the goal. In all seriousness, it was a well placed shot that found its way past Milan Lucic and Tyler Myers at the hashmarks.

Boston’s goal shared plenty in common with that of Buffalo’s lone tally. Slovak Andrej Sekera place a wrist shot in the top corner with some traffic around the crease in the second. Tuukka Rask made 26 saves on the night.

The Sabres pretty much held on for dear life for the final 20 minutes of the game – they were outshot 15-5 in the third – and leaned on Miller to get them to overtime. Another strong overtime penalty kill gave the Sabres a chance in the shootout where the skill players came through.

This team still needs to realize that they need to score goals if the hope to even make the playoffs. Hoping for 2-1 victories is not wise. The scoring situation on this roster needs to be addressed before this playoff push can be taken seriously.

Buffalo travels to Madison Square Garden today for a matchup with the East’s best club. I understand the Sabres are in desperate need of every point, but it would be wise for Lindy Ruff to give Jhonas Enroth a game tonight while resting Miller in preparation for a lengthy road trip next week. Continue reading

Double Minors: Close win puts Sabres six back

Two points go in the win column tonight but the Sabres only enjoyed a one-point improvement in the standings. Buffalo played two dominant periods of hockey before hanging on for a 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

The trade deadline is fast approaching and teams that sit on the playoff bubble are nearing the point where they need to decide if they’re contenders or pretenders. The Sabres will need help for a while longer if they are to climb into the eighth or ninth spot in the conference.

However, more performances like tonight will certainly help matters. Ryan Miller was brilliant yet again in goal, turning aside 30 of 31 shots and the Sabres received another smart performance from Tyler Myers along the way.

The obvious problem of not having the “right” players still exists. It appears that teams who remain in the hunt but realize their shortcomings are beginning to sell off pieces. The Sabres certainly fall into that boat, but have plenty of skill on the roster that may just need the right amount of glue to get them on a playoff run.

Frankly I see too many issues that need to be addressed before the Sabres are capable of making a true run in the playoffs. They could certainly get the ball rolling at the deadline and carry that momentum into the off-season. In the meantime, their push towards eighth will be an uphill battle and they will need those above them to stumble along the way. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres come out for national audience

After another brief run of losses, the Buffalo Sabres responded. In front of a (sort of) national audience, the Sabres hung six goals on the Pittsburgh Penguins on their way to a 6-2 victory.

Buffalo had dropped four-straight after piecing together a solid run that had some thinking they were capable of salvaging some portion of this season. A few dismal efforts and one blowout all but squashed that type of thinking. Yesterday’s win was one of those, “where has this been?” type of games.

Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Christian Ehrhoff each picked up three points and Ryan Miller stood tall for his team all afternoon, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

For once there was goal support for the goaltender and goals came from both the top line and role players. The Gaustad/Kaleta/Gerbe line was brilliant and they were rewarded with the game winning goal. Ville Leino and Zack Kassian were fairly unnoticeable but each nabbed an assist. Of course Pominville continued to prove Lindy Ruff right regarding the captaincy with another MVP effort.

While this game may only prove to be evidence for trading certain pieces – Paul Gaustad won 16 of 23 draws and scored the winner – it was a refreshing reminder that the Sabres aren’t necessarily the worst team ever assembled. Sure, there are some flaws on this roster that need to be addressed. But there was promise in this season before everything hit the skids. While 2011-12 may be lost, know that with a few moves the 2012-13 team will be solid.

  • It is interesting to hear how different fans interpret the performances of different players. For example, Ryan Miller can’t seem to catch a break with some and Christian Ehrhoff only has a few good games here and there. Fact of the matter is, each of those players had a fantastic outing yesterday afternoon.
  • Miller may not have been given a star, but he had a few dazzling saves (Malkin, Martin etc.) yesterday. You may argue that both goals were stoppable, but Miller made big saves when his team needed them. I was against starting him but he had a fantastic outing. His play since January 1 has been sound, he is looking like the goalie from October once again.
  • Christian Ehrhoff has a cap hit of $4m. That is a bargain. I could care less what his actual salary is. His play at both ends of the ice has been sound. Regardless if he hasn’t scored 15 goals (seriously, get real), Ehrhoff has been a steady force this season and has proved to be a wise acquisition.
  • Derek Roy looked like an elite hockey player yesterday. I’m not sure what put him in such a funk this season, but he looked like a player that is going to be a commodity next Monday.
  • Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller both play for Team USA. They both had great games on Hockey Day in America. Great showing from a couple players who may just be wearing the red, white and blue at the World Championships.
  • Hockey Day in America is still young, but I see a pretty awesome future in store for the event. I don’t expect Knicks fans in Brooklyn to sit down to watch the Rangers in five years, but this is the type of day to bring attention to the nation’s true hockey cities. Not for their pro teams so much as the hockey culture that exists. I’m pumped for the day NBC broadcasts with kids playing on the frozen canals at Canalside as a backdrop.
  • Paul Gaustad’s trade value has to be astronomical. He kick started his season with the “Where’s Chara?” game against the Habs. He has been worth just about every penny they’re spending on him since then – maybe only a $1.75m cap hit. He saw a steady diet of Evgeni Malkin all afternoon and won a ton of draws. Oh yes, he also scored the game winning goal. There have to be a half-dozen suitors willing to spend far too much on his services until the Cup Finals.
  • Speaking of Goose. Gord Miller shared the fact that he met with Darcy Regier in private yesterday. I’m assuming that conversation discussed the fact he will be traded by Monday. The conversation likely touched on the idea that the Sabres will re-sign Gaustad on July 1.

Game Summary/Event Summary