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

The Morning Skate: Hodgson in spotlight for debut

It sounds as if Lindy Ruff plans on using Cody Hodgson on a line with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. Keep in mind that is the plan. Lindy Ruff isn’t afraid to shuffle his lines and he certainly isn’t afraid to shuffle them after a few minutes.

For the record, I would have placed Hodgson on a line with Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek while bumping Derek Roy to more of a checking role. There is still a chance to see those type of lines as early as the second period tonight.

I have high hopes for what Hodgson will bring to the table. He is a skilled center who should pay dividends to a team desperate for offense. I don’t expect to see Alexander Sulzer in the lineup any time soon. Perhaps he will see time here and there, but the Sabres’ top six have been playing strong hockey as of late. On the bright side, if he goes in the lineup, he would probably mesh well with fellow German Olympic teammate Christian Ehrhoff.

Getting Hodgson and Sulzer out to the west coast last night certainly isn’t ideal. It would have been nice to have him skate with his new teammates yesterday, but I doubt that Hodgson will have too much trouble adjusting to the new locker room.

Don’t forget, this is a game between two teams scrapping to find their way to the playoffs. Each team is in desperate need of points and should show quite a high level of compete to get a pair this evening. The Sabres need to come out flying, the Ducks are a big squad who should be able to push the Sabres around.

Highlighted Matchup

Cody Hodgson. Obviously everyone wants to see how the new face will fare with the Sabres. Last year’s deadline acquisition, Brad Boyes, paid immediate dividends. If Hodgson has a similar impact right off the bat, he would be an excellent addition for the Sabres.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

ANA: Jonas Hiller

Last Meeting

Sabres 4 – Ducks 1, Helsinki, 10/7/2011

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Ducks

The Buffalo Sabres finally drop the puck on the 2011-12 NHL season this afternoon when as they take on the Anaheim Ducks as part of the 2011 NHL Premiere. The Morning Skate will go full format for the regular season, the scaled-back TMS used for the preseason is due to the swollen rosters and lack of stats.

Buffalo has a tough draw for the Premiere compared to some past match ups. They will play two of the favorites to emerge from the West between Anaheim today and Los Angeles tomorrow. A slow start won’t be accepted well in Buffalo and these two games will offer a barometer to see what you should expect from the Sabres this season.

The powerplay came along well towards the end of the preseason and the lines appear to have gelled quite well. How they will fare in a regular season game is the unknown factor, but the look of three solid scoring lines should instill confidence in Sabres fans.

Highlighted match up

The toughest match up for the Sabres will be how to neutralize the Ducks top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. All three are tough, nasty players who can score goals at ease. Expect to see Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr see quite a bit of time against this line with Paul Gaustad’s line also checking the big guns. If the Sabres can shut down these three they will likely have success in today’s game.

Projected goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 2010-11: 66 GP, 34-22-8, 2.59 GAA, .916 SV%

ANA: Jonas Hiller 2010-11: 49 GP, 26-16-3, 2.56 GAA, .924 SV%

Last meeting 12/21/2010, HSBC Arena, Sabres 5 – Ducks 2

Expect both teams to play with a lot of energy, they have had plenty of time to adjust to the time change and will be amped to get the season started. Anaheim will have the crowd on their side as Teemu Selanne returns home alongside Saku Koivu. Ville Leino is Buffalo’s lone Finn and he doesn’t have the star power of the other two, so expect a pro-Ducks crowd. The Sabres will need a quick start to build confidence with the new roster and potentially win some fans to their cause. Expect special teams to play a huge role in this game as both teams try to establish some footing on a new season.