Double Minors: At long last, a win

It came in about as ugly a wrapper as you could find. But the Sabres finally got a win on the road.

Ryan Miller stood on his head, making 27 saves, and Nathan Gerbe sealed the victory in the shootout. The Sabres only mustered 14 shots, but they played responsible game and finally got a victory.

The good news was that Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff made their return to the lineup. Regehr only saw 18:10 of ice as he may not be back to 100% just yet. Ehrhoff picked up where he left off prior to December 30. He played a team-high 24:27 on the night. The bad news is that Jochen Hecht is out with another concussion and it seems extremely serious. Hopefully he recovers soon, it has been a nightmare season for the veteran center.

Ryan Miller’s first star effort shouldn’t go unnoticed. Everyone and their three brothers had been waiting for Miller to put toegther a sound outing, he did just that last night. Not only did he face twice the amount of shots that Brodeur faced, he made a handful of dazzling saves needed to keep the game tied. Miller has been making some timely saves over the last couple weeks, but he hasn’t received the defensive or offensive support for them to matter. The goals weren’t there tonight, but the defensive game was much better and it finally showed on the scoreboard. Continue reading

Double Minors: Effort comes up short in 12th-straight road loss

If yesterday’s 4-2 loss in St. Louis came during any other season, if would have been just a road loss. Buffalo had scored the first goal, yielded three to their opponent before cutting the lead to one before having the game iced with an empty net goal. However, because this came as the Sabres’ 12th-straight road loss, it has much more meaning.

Considering the Sabres were playing one of the league’s hottest teams and facing the hottest goaltender of the past few weeks, the outcome could have been much worse. Compared to the dismal effort shown in the previous three games, this was an improvement. Yet, there were still plenty of shortcomings.

The Sabres received goals from two defensemen. However, the forwards were shutout and only two (Ville Leino and Jason Pominville) registered points. Buffalo only had 21 shots on goal (three in the third) and seven were taken by defensemen. No player on the Buffalo roster had more than two shots.

Ryan Miller had a strong game, stopping 23 of 26 on the night. He made numerous big saves while the game was still in doubt. Two St. Louis goals, including the game winner, came with two players right on Miller a top the paint. Yet again, it was a night that Miller didn’t get much support from the players in front of him. Continue reading

Double Minors: Offense dooms result yet again

It is becoming rather commonplace for Ryan Miller to give up three goals in most of his starts. However, few of his recent outings (save for Detroit) have looked like games where the goaltender has been lost in the crease.

Look to last night’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg as an example. Miller was dazzling in the first period, stopping 18 of 19 shots, allowing only a tipped shot on the crease in the opening 20 minutes. He was far less busy in the closing periods, facing only 14 shots and yielding three goals. One frightening number concerning Miller is that he was credited with only one save in the third period, the only other shots were Winnipeg goals.

To think a franchise netminder would only turn aside one shot in the closing frame is astounding. Considering the two goals and the pace of the period, it isn’t that hard to fathom. Miller was first beat on a power play tap in by Tim Stapleton as Andrej Sekera was caught floating between two players early on. Antropov scored the final goal after stripping Marc-Andre Gragnani in the corner and beating the defenseman and Jochen Hecht to the crease to deposit a rebound off Miller’s original poke check. I found it difficult to find fault with any of the four goals scored. Only the fourth was a bad goal to give up, but considering the effort given by the players in front of him, Miller didn’t stand much of a chance. Continue reading

Double Minors: Hot start keys win over Washington

The last hot start the Sabres got off to at home was a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia. Buffalo allowed a late first period goal and eventually lost the game in overtime.

Buffalo didn’t let that same story play out last night. They opened with two quick goals and put their foot down to end the first period with a 4-0 lead. The Sabres shifted into cruise control after that, ringing a few posts on their way to a 4-2 victory.

They received a good effort from Ryan Miller, who made 20 saves and all the ones he needed to make. Washington’s two goals both came through massive screens, one which could have been argued as goaltender interference. Still, Miller rolled up another strong game and received the goal support needed to get a victory.

With three more games this week, two being played on the road, the Sabres have an opportunity to right the ship after a terrible run as they came to the Christmas break.

  • The return of Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht made a world of difference to the Sabres’ game. Boyes looked great as he picked up an assist and should have potted Derek Roy’s rebound in the third period. No matter, Boyes game was exactly what the Sabres need. Those chances will go in as the games continue.
  • Speaking of missed scoring chances, Boyes’ miss and the three posts the Sabres hit in the second and third period could have really created a massive gap between these two teams. The score indicates a closer game than was played. This was perhaps one of the most complete efforts Buffalo has played lately.
  • Hecht’s return was unassuming. He certainly offers more to the first line than Paul Szczechura did. Getting these regulars back is huge for the Sabres’ chances at reclaiming a playoff spot. It is fairly obvious these guys will bring quite a bit of stability to the roster.
  • Brayden McNabb scored his first NHL goal. He is seeing power play time and is making a great argument to stay in the NHL for the foreseeable future. If his power play contributions are just consistent (no need to be outstanding) he will officially bring more to the table than Marc-Andre Gragnani. The truth will be told when Tyler Myers returns to the line up.
  • Jordan Leopold and Christian Ehrhoff have been quite consistent for this team. Ehrhoff’s numbers likely draw ire from many fans, but he is certainly earning his keep – well, at least his cap hit – as of late. That snipe last night certainly helps matters.
  • Zack Kassian was credited with zero hits. Not sure how that collision with Alex Ovechkin was scored, but it looked like a hit to me. That being said, his physical game offers more than just bodychecks. He is next to impossible to knock off the puck along the wall. He will return to Rochester eventually, but his development certainly looks promising.

Three Stars

1. Brayden McNabb

2. Jordan Leopold

3. Drew Stafford

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Double Minors: Christmas arrives with nothing but coal

The Buffalo Sabres played their final pre-Christmas game with the look of a team ready to break from a major slump. Apparently they weren’t on the good list this year.

After taking a 1-0 lead, the Sabres saw their lead evaporate in 62 seconds. David Steckel found a loose puck that was blocked through a screen and then Phil Kessel chipped home a two-on-one after Robyn Regehr fell at the blue line. Nazem Kadri scored the winning goal on a third period three-on-two.

The Sabres got goals from the players who need to score. Jason Pominville opened the scoring and Derek Roy scored on a great shot on a mini breakaway in the third. They got another sterling performance from Ryan Miller (28 saves on 31 shots) but didn’t have enough to bring home a win.

Miller turned aside 22 of the first 24 shots he faced in two periods of play. The Sabres buckled down in the third, allowing only seven shots on goal. But Kadri’s wrister found the top corner. It appeared as if Miller was screened on the shot as Christian Ehrhoff (who was occupied by a driving forward) and Paul Gaustad (who attempted to block the shot) both were in the shooting lane. Still, it is the only shot Miller probably should have stopped on the night.

The Sabres will enjoy a couple days off before coming right back to work on Monday against Washington.

  • The Sabres need to start scoring some goals. It is a pretty simple request considering they have scored more than three goals in four of their last ten games. Won’t win too many games like that, even if your goalie is named Hasek.
  • Miller’s first-period play kept this game well within reach for the Sabres. It looks as if Miller (or Enroth) may need to steal a game or two as Buffalo finds their way out of the woods, and he was certainly on track to do so in the first period. There was certainly no tail off in the second and third, regardless of the Kardi goal. It seems as if Miller is finding his way back to form.
  • Drew Stafford continues to be snake bit. He was credited with four shots on the night. If he can start finding the net the Sabres might be back on the right track.
  • Lindy Ruff’s measured, puck possession, transition system is wasted with all of the talent he is missing on this roster.
  • It is hard to go by the NHL scoring regarding the play of Zack Kassian. They only credit him with one hit, but he was engaged for a good portion of the game. Short of hoping that he run every player through the boards, I would like to see him improve the physical aspect of his game. He was doing so upon his recall, it seems that has tailed off a bit.
  • 2ITB will take the next two days off. The Morning Skate will return on Monday.

Three Stars

1. Phil Kessel

2. James Reimer

3. Jason Pominville

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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

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Double Minors: Power play, Vanek spur victory against Leafs

It was the home game Sabres fans were waiting to see. The Sabres put forth the closest thing to a 60-minute effort than they had all year long at home and it resulted in a 5-4 victory over the Leafs.

In terms of entertainment value, last night was easily tops for the home schedule this season. Buffalo rode a four-goal second period to the victory. The Sabres’ three power play goals were the difference, one of the few times this season the extra man unit has been the reason for a win.

Credit to the Leafs – who are massively improved – for creating chances and carrying a good portion of the play with their speed and creativity. That is a difficult to team to corral simply because of the speed they possess on each line.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this game was that Buffalo pressed down when their foot was upon the collective throat of the Leafs. Lindy Ruff was running his usual defensive shell in the third period, an easy decision with a two-goal lead, but the team didn’t sit around and wait. While a majority of the third consisted of chip-and-chase, the Sabres stayed aggressive on the rush and had a few good chances.

Vanek’s game-winner came as a result of the Sabres not falling into a prevent defense, although they did yield the Kulemin breakaway and the Grabovski tally as well. While it wasn’t a clean third period, it was far better than the effort put forth against Ottawa on Wednesday.

Buffalo capped their five-game home stand with a 2-1-2 record, that is six of a possible ten points. Considering the way in which they lost their overtime games, the record could have been 4-1-0. While home games have been a chore this season, a .600 point percentage and that record could possibly be considered an improvement.

  • Thomas Vanek, aside from that dreadful turnover, was a complete monster. He had two great goals and made up for his brief cold spell with a four-point night. A fantastic outing from Buffalo’s best player was just what the doctor ordered.
  • Zack Kassian had a couple good hits and used his body well. He is a beast on the wall and in the corners. He also had that tremendous takeaway that led to Vanek’s first goal. In terms of momentum swings, Kassian’s effort on the back check and eventual apple may have been the biggest for the Sabres.
  • Most Leaf fans were bemoaning the officiating last night. Not sure where they were coming from, however. The Phaneuf hit was clearly a boarding infraction, there is no debating that. Was it worthy of a major? Probably not, but the official had to make a choice then and there and he went with his gut. Considering that is the type of hit the NHL is attempting to eradicate, might help to explain why it ended up being a major. As for missed calls, that goes both ways. The other infractions in the Leafs’ parade to the box were quite obvious. Just a tough night for the boys in white.
  • Ryan Miller allowed four goals and his save percentage for last night was .878. However, he was not only the best goalie on the ice, he was great between the pipes. He made some big power play stops, he had a great pad save on Kulemin prior to his PS and he robbed Joffery Lupul on the doorstep. Miller has looked like the goalie who started the season for the Sabres. By no means is that a bad thing.
  • Brayden McNabb didn’t see too much ice last night. He was great in the time he was out there, but the limited time likely means a trip back to Rochester is nearing. That is unfortunate considering he has shown far more in-zone savvy than Marc-Andre Gragnani, who seems to have the uncanny ability to be horrible while still getting ice time.
  • Gragnani was much better last night than he has been in recent games. His power play contributions were noticeable and he didn’t make any glaring defensive zone errors. That being said, his arrogance about his recent play is troubling and his lack of physical play is maddening.

Three Stars

1. Thomas Vanek

2. Drew Stafford

3. Tyler Ennis

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Double Minors: Special teams fall flat against Rangers

Horrendous special teams doomed the Sabres last night against the Rangers. A pair of shorthanded goals put the Sabres behind and a late power play goal nailed the coffin shut.

All around the Sabres were average last night. They didn’t get the goaltending they needed, their shot selection was average and they missed the net on nearly every scoring chance they generated. Considering the way they played on Friday, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Sabres will a little extra gas in their tank. Unfortunately they had none.

Obviously the injury bug has bitten this team hard. While many will say that is no excuse, at some point there starts to be a significant drop off. With Mike Weber and Tyler Myers on the shelf, Marc-Andre Gragnani is forced into big minutes. Without a chunk of their forwards, nearly a third of the Rochester Americans are skating with the big club. Sure, Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb and Corey Tropp have shown some ability to play on a regular basis at the NHL level. Yet, when Paul Szczechura is centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, obviously something is off.

Perhaps the most disappointing portion of the loss – aside from the soft goals – was Buffalo’s inability to finish. This is a team that has struggled to put pucks in the net as of late and they showed exactly why. Twice Vanek put a chance high and wide, Tyler Ennis did a fine job marking up the crest of Marty Biron’s jersey and numerous other chances weren’t cashed. You can’t win games when you don’t score goals, it is a simple concept.

Buffalo has two games left on a homestand that is looking uglier by the day.

  • Jhonas Enroth needed to be better than he was last night, he said as much. Enroth’s numbers have regressed in a hurry since he took over when Ryan Miller was injured. He needs to reassert his confidence as it is fairly clear he is falling victim to the home woes too.
  • The Sabres special teams are horrendous. The numbers will tell a different story, but watching both units it is obvious. The penalty kill unit is missing a handful or regulars, so it makes sense that the unit has struggled recently. However, the power play couldn’t be more impotent. If a team applies any sort of pressure the passes become errant and sloppy, usually resulting in shorthanded chances against.
  • The only intact line at this point is the trio of Ennis-Roy-Stafford. Three players who appear disjointed on the ice. All three have struggled this season – save for Roy’s point streak in November – and haven’t produced the necessary secondary punch the team needs.
  • It is amazing that Marty Biron can continue to own the Sabres. Aside from his first trip with the Islanders, Biron has been stellar against his old team. Buffalo didn’t give him too much work last night, but Biron made the saves he needed to make. That is all you can really ask for from your goalie.
  • This team certainly looks tentative at times, almost as if they’re waiting for someone else to step in to make a play. It is safe to assume if they ever get healthy, the Sabres will easily right the ship. However, they need to take a few more points in the interim.

Three Stars

1. Carl Hagelin

2. Martin Biron

3. Ryan Callahan

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Double Minors: Sabres squander lead on the road to another home loss

It was all too similar of a script. The Sabres opened a 3-0 lead, suffered a defensive breakdown late in the first to make the score 3-1 and it was all downhill from there. It ended with a Philadelphia overtime victory in a game Buffalo should have had well in hand.

The Sabres came out with the vigor they needed to show against a team with significantly more talent and grit than the Sabres lineup for the evening. Buffalo engaged physically and potted three goals before the period was up. Yet, the lead didn’t last and Buffalo was trailing by the end of two periods.

It was yet another defensive embarrassment for the Sabres, from the brutal turnovers on the Talbot and Hartnell goals to the bantam-level pass attempted by Marc-Andre Gragnani in the third period. That particular turnover led to the winning goal. Nathan Gerbe started the turnover party and Tyler Ennis continued it later. Simple plays in zone usually yield the best results. The level of ineptitude shown by this team defensively goes far beyond the five goals scored. It is a top-to-bottom failure that resulted in a 10-3 edge in shots through 15 minutes turn into a 25-18 drubbing. For those playing at home that is a 22-8 turnaround in one period of play.

The Sabres were victimized by some rough bounces. The second Philly goal looked like a pinball and Hartnell’s goal would have been an easy pad stop had it not ramped off Ehrhoff’s stick. Yet, the fourth and fifth goals were rather cut and dry, you need Miller to make a stop there.

Buffalo built a lead with impressive hockey, they sat back on their work thinking one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL wouldn’t manage a response. They paid mightily, they were lucky to steal a point after Drew Stafford played Johnny on the Spot with the goaltender pulled.

At least some of these problems have to be traced back to the core of this team. Many comments on Twitter were in agreement at the lack of mental toughness on the Sabres roster, particularly from the core players. A coaching change might illicit some change, but by and large it will be the same players making the same mistakes.

  • Ryan Miller had all the makings of a sterling performance going until he took that puck to the melon. You wonder if that had something to do with the floodgates opening up. Miller was facing a firing range for most of the night and was keeping his team around. Yet, allowing five goals is exactly what it sounds like. Five goals. You can’t have that from your franchise goalie at home. He needed one, maybe two more saves – especially on those final two goals.
  • You could almost see Christian Ehrhoff’s reaction of “did he really just do that?” on Gragnani’s egregious giveaway in overtime. Ehrhoff was slow to respond, not that he would have caught Giroux. Still, for a guy who has been seeing big minutes as of late, tonight was a definite regression from the high level from which he had been performing.
  • Gragnani belongs in the AHL, there is no getting around it. Were he not concussed, T.J. Brennan would serve in a far better role than Gragnani. Of course, Gragnani won’t be going anywhere, but he certainly deserves a promotion. He has been average to bad all season and has show no signs of improving.
  • Zack Kassian is showing signs that he may need to stick around for good. Two points and an absolute snipe for his third goal in six games. He is putting on quite a show.
  • Corey Tropp threw some absolute bombs on Zac Rinaldo. Suffice it to say Rinaldo may have bitten off more than he could chew.
  • Ville Leino scored, that makes four points in his last three and five-in-five. He has started to bloom skating with Adam and Kassian. He will also likely sit for a few after that blatant elbow in the third.
  • Between the two games Leino will likely get and Gerbe’s apparent concussion, the Sabres may need to call up one forward from Rochester. Twitter indicates Stuart or Whitmore.
  • Thomas Vanek got back in the goal column. A big step as he had cooled. Shocking that his goal totals dropped when Lindy Ruff put Hecht at center on that line. Coincidence?

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux

2. Zack Kassain

3. Drew Stafford

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Double Minors: Sabres grind one out in Nashville

The story from last night is focused on the Jordin Tootoo hit on Ryan Miller. What may be lost is the fact that Buffalo managed to get back into the win column on the legs of a great goaltending performance and a three goal night, despite being badly outshot.

The Tootoo incident is tough to diagnose. The original camera angle looks like a hockey play, it is the reverse angle that shows there may have been a little more intent on Tootoo’s part to collide with Miller. Obviously the argument over his reputation will be a big topic regarding the play, but there seems to be two key ingredients that will likely result in a suspension. It is tough to say if Tootoo could have found his way behind the net, but that will certainly be an issue. Tootoo jumped into the hit and made some effort to avoid Miller but his effort also helped carry him further into the goaltender. Based on the precedent set from the Lucic hit, Tootoo will get a pair of games. If this was a solitary incident, he may escape justice.

Regardless of that play, the Sabres played a neat game that was worthy of two points. Miller was certainly the difference for the Sabres – they were outshot 34-14 – but the line of Luke Adam, Ville Leino and Zack Kassian came to play too.

Based on the recent track record of this team, two points is a step in the right direction. The next step will be to carry the play on their way to a sound victory.

  • Zack Kassian will need to go back to the AHL at some point. He clearly has the chops to play at the NHL level, he just needs to refine a few portions of his game (defensive zone, skating). Kassian’s goal is one that Sabres fans will see a lot more of. At one time Kassian was a pretty prime piece for a major trade, now he might be an “untouchable prospect.”
  • Joe Finley was only so-so in his NHL debut. Considering he is finally turning a corner in his development, he may still have a few more steps to take. He wasn’t horrible in these two games, which was certainly a possibility.
  • Ville Leino notched his first multi-point game in Buffalo. That is a good step for a guy who looks to be struggling to adopt “the system”. He is working well with Kassian and Adam – he has worked well with a few lines this season, but they haven’t been kept together. Depending on the length of Boyes’ injury, this line could stay together for quite a while. That is promising for all three players, not just Leino.
  • Miller had a good game. His highway robbery in the third period was great to see. That is one of those saves that make people put him in the top ten among the NHL’s goaltenders each season. His big test will come Wednesday against Philly. He had a rough outing last time and will certainly need to right the ship on home ice.
  • Christian Ehrhoff is in straight up beast mode. He is playing major minutes in major situations and is playing well. He also just about ripped off Patric Horqvist’s head after he hit  Miller twice in the third. Major props.
  • Only other thought regarding Miller and Tootoo is that the cards fell in an awfully coincidental manner. Tootoo, Miller in his first game back, first game since gettin bowled over by Lucic. Tootoo may have tried to avoid Miller, but given the circumstances it seems fishy.

Three Stars

1. Luke Adam

2. Ryan Miller

3. David Legwand

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