The Morning Skate: No room for error against Devils

Happy Valentines Day, we are two weeks away from the trade deadline and the Sabres are in must-win mode for the rest of the season.

The Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they are in a position where they need every point available to play in the second season.

There is a chance that Lindy Ruff will be back behind the bench, but that has yet to be confirmed. Zack Kassian appears as if he will remain on the wing with Brad Boyes and Matt Ellis for the near future. Buffalo is still without Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick, but are otherwise healthy – particularly with regards to their skill players.

Buffalo’s lack of scoring and slow starts have been just about an epidemic this season. The Sabres need to shake that habit immediately if they expect to be playing well into April. That starts with finishing chances. Buffalo has missed on a number of glorious opportunities this season and it has reflected in the standings. Ryan Miller has been providing excellent goaltending as of late but hasn’t gotten the necessary goal support.

If Buffalo can score more than three goals for more than just two games in a row, they will have a punchers chance at reaching the postseason.

Highlighted Matchup

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek vs. New Jersey’s defense. There is no mistaking the two most valuable players on Buffalo’s roster this season. Vanek has been back for two games and has a goal and an assist. Pominville has the same stat line in those two games. It just so happens each assisted on the other’s goal. New Jersey’s defense has gotten pretty thin as of late and Buffalo could really take advantage of a weak set of defensemen tonight. Of course they also have to deal with Marty Brodeur.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NJD: Martin Brodeur

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Devils 1 SO, Prudential Center, 1/24/2012

The Morning Skate: The All-Star break is almost upon us

It has been a long January. A very long January. After tonight’s match up there will be a brief reprieve for Sabres fans during the NHL All-Star break. Perhaps the best part of the time off will be the opportunity the team’s walking wounded has to heal.

Here’s hoping.

The Sabres skate into New Jersey with nothing to hold their heads up about. Their leading scorer has begun to slump, their most steady defenseman has been out injured, their replacement defensemen have been quite average and their goaltending continues to perplex. Oh, and they have lost 12-straight road games and still can’t score goals. Like I said, a long January.

Somehow, there is still some hope floating about. Truly. Christian Ehrhoff returns from a rib injury that has held him out for some time, Tyler Ennis and Robyn Regehr are skating in full and trade talk around the league is heating up. For those hoping for a Marlins-esque deconstruction, keep holding your breath. But don’t be surprised to see some moves made.

The Sabres are playing a very beatable team this evening. Unfortunately Marty Brodeur seems to do his best “Marty Brodeur” every time these teams meet. So goals will certainly be at a premium. Ryan Miller played the last game at The Rock, and played pretty well. He still yielded three goals, but you couldn’t hang the loss on him. This smells like a great opportunity for Lindy Ruff to use his backup. Let Miller take a full week off and decompress. Of course, Lindy Ruff will probably play Miller. It just seems like a good opportunity to let him collect his thoughts. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres searching for a streak

It has been a long while since the Sabres won two in a row. They have a chance to do that tonight at the Prudential Center, a building this team has had some success in.

Perhaps the only obstacle Buffalo will face occupies the six inches between their ears. The Sabres have gotten healthy in the past week and suddenly have a lineup that is worthy of skating at the NHL level. Brad Boyes brought quite a bit of skill to the lines that don’t include Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville and Jochent Hecht offered Lindy Ruff a real NHL center. Now, Hecht still isn’t the answer for Buffalo’s top line, but he is certainly a better option than Paul Szczechura.

The key for Buffalo this evening will be to get an early lead on this Devils team. Marty Broduer is not himself this season. He has very pedestrian numbers which need to be exploited. The Sabres allowed Brodeur to settle in last time the teams played and the future Hall of Famer made them pay. An early goal and controlling the play would go a long way to earning two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo power play vs. New Jersey penalty kill. The Devils have a group of six defensemen that many teams would envy. Anton Volchenkov is a shot blocking machine, Bryce Salvador is good all over, Adam Larsson is a budding superstar and the rest of the unit follows suit. The Devils penalty kill is lethal (thanks TBN) and the Sabres power play has managed to heat up over the past few games. The newly active power play has put up good numbers and could be the difference tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 20 GP 9-8-2, 3.05 GAA, .904 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 20 GP 9-9-0, 3.06 GAA, .884 SV%

Last Game

11/16/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 3 – Devils 5

The Morning Skate: Sabres look to extend Northeast Division lead at home

The Sabres return to First Niagara Center today to face the New Jersey Devils, a team fresh off a trip to Boston last night.

Buffalo remains without Ryan Miller and it appears that Cody McCormick may miss the game due to an injury sustained in Montreal. While no word has come down at this time the Sabres have two options, call up a forward from Rochester or dress seven defensemen. Obviously option two is far more attractive, especially considering the play of Corey Tropp in his four-game debut. Many fans are clamoring to see Zack Kassian, but it may be too soon for that. Marc-Andre Gragnani could end up on the wing, but that just seems like a monumental waste. However, he is probably better served in that position than any other.

The Devils fell to the Bruins thanks to a three-goal third period from the B’s. New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference ‘s top eight. Their position is due, in large part, to a shoddy start and an injury to Marty Brodeur. Of course, Brodeur wasn’t stellar in his time before or after the injury either, so it could be a case of an aging core playing in front of an aged star.

Considering Johan Hedberg played in Boston, it should be expected that Brodeur will be in net for the Devils this evening. The Sabres will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he is expected to see the lion’s share of work until Ryan Miller returns.

Highlighted Matchup

Zack Parise vs. Thomas Vanek. Both were NCAA superstars, both the Devils and Sabres offense run through them, respectively. Vanek has been on fire all season, Parise has decent numbers through 16 games. It will be interesting to see which player comes out on top tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 8GP, 6-0-0, 1.76 GAA, .942 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 6GP, 2-3-0, 3.02 GAA, .880 SV%

Last Game

3/26/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Devils 0