Double Minors: Jackets topple Sabres in season opener

The Sabres finally played a game that counted and it has left many fans counting the days (259 as of October 10) until a Connor McDavid jersey isn’t a faux pas.

Buffalo was thoroughly outplayed by a shorthanded Blue Jackets team last night, losing 3-1 and being dominated in terms of puck possession. Even with Ryan Johansen seeing his first ice with NHL players since the playoffs and with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Nathan Horton on the shelf, the Blue Jackets were the better team for nearly the entire evening.

However, the Sabres were in the game right up until the final minutes. Jhonas Enroth was steady as he turned aside 37 shots and Zemgus Girgensons turned in an impressive individual effort to tie the game at one in the second.

In the end, it was about as textbook of a result that many Sabres fans may be hoping for this season. There is a fair segment of those who simply want the team to win now at all costs. There is another segment who are actively hoping for losses as the prize at the end of the rainbow surpasses any short-term success in their eye. Then there is a third segment. One which seems content watching the Sabres night-in and night-out, hoping to see a win but taking solace that a loss isn’t something to worry over.

Last night showed a Sabres team with some improved pieces, guys who will try hard and be more entertaining to watch but a group which will likely fall behind the pace of most other NHL clubs. Only Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons had positive Corsi ratings at even strength (each was plus-one) while the entire roster was well into the negatives in all situations. I’d expect this to be the case through many games this season.

Of course, it is only one game. Enroth shouldn’t be expected to dazzle every night and he’ll certainly have his cold streaks. Buffalo will find their footing and put up a better fight in many games. The Sabres are going to be easier to consume than last year’s roster. However, this is still not a team that is built for puck possession and the very early returns didn’t show much improvement on special teams.

I’d imagine the biggest challenge for fans this season will be to not over analyze each and every game and how they affect Buffalo’s chances to pick first. It’s a long year and there are far too many positive story lines to follow instead of pulling out your hair hoping that the Sabres earn a stranglehold on 30th place. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Kassian set to make his debut

It is the debut every Sabres fan has been waiting for. Some have been saying to call Zack Kassian up since he signed his entry level contract and appeared in a handful of games for Portland last year.

Zack Kassian will make his much anticipated NHL debut in Columbus this evening. John Vogl reports the big winger will skate with Luke Adam and Matt Ellis. A wise choice by Ruff to put Kassian with the center he skated with for nearly the entire summer. That will give him some familiarity for this contest.

Kassian will need to play a physical game this evening. His draft position was determined by his physical play and scoring touch. He hasn’t shown much physical edge since breaking into the professional ranks and he needs to find that side of his game if he has any hope of becoming an NHL regular.

Buffalo’s biggest challenge tonight will be to find continuity as they enter yet another game with some sort of change to their lineup. While Kassian is the newest face; Jochen Hecht, Corey Tropp and Matt Ellis will all be shifted from their roles on Wednesday.

Columbus is entering the game with Curtis Sanford and Allen York as their goaltenders for the contest. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering Steve Mason has had seriously terrible season (3.63 GAA & .875 SV%) while Sanford is sporting a 1.33 GAA and a .946 SV%, granted that is in only five games of action.

Buffalo’s previous victory over Columbus came on the shoulders of a brilliant performance by Jhonas Enroth as the Blue Jackets out shot the Sabres 43-26. Buffalo’s special teams were deadly in the last meeting and both units have been impressive throughout the year and will continue to key wins and losses for this team. Especially if they continue to struggle with injuries.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo penalty kill. The Sabres power play gave them a 2-0 lead on Wednesday night, T.J. Brennan made it 3-1. However, the penalty kill failed them, allowing a pair of goals (including the tying tally) as the Sabres found a way to lose to the Bruins. The penalty kill is missing plenty of pieces (Kaltea, Myers, Weber) and will need to shore up for this evening.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 12GP 7-2-1, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV%

CBJ: Curtis Sanford 5GP 2-0-2, 1.33 GAA, .946 SV%

Last Game

10/27/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 4 – Blue Jackets 2


The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Blue Jackets

Despite what the current standings say, Buffalo’s match up with the Columbus Blue Jackets this evening will be anything but a sure thing.

Columbus found some offense as they finally won their first game of the season, 4-1 over Detroit. After opening the season 0-7-1, the Blue Jackets rode two special teams goals (one shorthanded, one power play) to the victory.

On top of facing a seriously desperate team, Buffalo will have some significant history against them as well. Prior to their two-game sweep of the Blue Jackets last season, Buffalo had not beaten Columbus since the 2004 season. The Sabres are 4-7-1 all-time against Columbus and lost four of the previous seven games against the Blue Jackets. What is most important is that the Sabres had been winless against Columbus since the lockout.

Aside from cracking the Blue Jackets’ code last season, Buffalo will be facing a team that has had a topsy-turvy start to the season. Columbus beat Detroit, thanks in part to facing a backup goaltender, but have otherwise been very subpar this year. The Sabres not only need to jump to an early lead, tey need to step on the throat when they have their opponent down.

The Sabres are still struggling to find depth scoring behind the line of Thomas Vanek, Luke Adam and Jason Pominville. Brad Boyes and Nathan Gerbe got in on the act on Tuesday, which is a promising development. Both have been generating more chances of late, they were due to get a goal.

Every other line for Buffalo has not been able to provide help in the goal scoring department. Partly because all but one line (26-72-29) has been shuffled and flipped through nearly every game. With a bit more time to develop chemistry there should be some progress seen in terms of offensive output.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo power play vs. Columbus penalty kill. In their search for secondary scoring, Lindy Ruff shuffled his power play units prior to Tuesday’s game. While the Sabres remain in the top-20 in terms of conversions, they have only four power play goals this season – three of which were scored in Europe. In practice it seemed as if Christian Ehrhoff was being moved up towards the top of the point, rather than down on the circle. This was something I had touched on previously and I’m glad they are going to try and fix the problem. With the league’s worst penalty kill in town it will be imperative for the Sabres to capitalize on the potential mismatch. If the power play fails them again they could have bigger problems than finding the best spot for Ville Leino.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 1GP, 1-0-0, 2.00 GAA, .935 SV%

CBJ: Steve Mason 9GP, 1-7-1, 3.25 GA, .889 SV%

2010-2011 Season Series BUF 2-0-0

12/3/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 5 – Blue Jackets 0

4/9/2011, Nationwide Area, Sabres 5 – Blue Jackets 4

The Morning Skate – Weekend series

Ryan Miller will play the full game against Toronto on Friday.

The Buffalo Sabres enter this weekend’s trio of games with 19 skaters who have yet to see action this preseason. As Rochester is set to open their camp on Monday, there is a chance some of these players may remain in the press box before heading up the 90.

Notable names among the group are Ales Kotalik, Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold. Brayden McNabb has also been held out thus far, but I would expect him to see action at some point this weekend. In fact, the three veterans listed above are all certain to see time before the team heads to Europe.

The complete list is as follows: Forwards; Riley Boychuk, Jochen Hecht (injured), Kotalik, Jacob Lagace, Maxime Legault, Jonathon Parker, Mike Ryan, Colin Stuart, Paul Szczechura, Shawn Sydlowski, Travis Turnbull and Phil Varone, defensemen; Nick Crawford, Corey Fienhage, Joe Finley, Leopold, Matt Mackenzie, McNabb and Morrisonn, goaltenders; Jeff Jakaitis and David Leggio. Continue reading