Sabres delay tank celebration for at least one more day with win over Canes

The merciful end to the nosedive to 30th will have to wait at least one more day as the Sabres edged the Hurricanes 4-3 in the season’s penultimate game at First Niagara Center.

Those who may be tied a little too much into the tank likely lost some hair as the Sabres jumped to a two-goal advantage after the first period and extended their lead to four after the second. Patrick Dwyer woke up the Hurricanes with a tally with just under 2:00 remaining in the middle frame and Carolina would carry that momentum into the third.

Alex Semin scored a beautiful goal just 2:31 into the third and Eric Staal made it mighty interesting with just over five to play. Buffalo managed to buckle down and preserved the one-goal win despite allowing 52 shots and 85 attempts.

Buffalo heads to Columbus on Friday with the magic number for 30th place locked in at two. The Coyotes could do us all a solid and win one more, but I hardly think that’s a realistic possibility. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcasts 3.5 – Sabres vs. Hurricanes pregame

The Sabres and Hurricanes play a game with tank implications as Buffalo slips away from their chance at the best lottery odds at the end of the year and the hope to draft Connor McDavid.

Between the Pipes: Sabres shutout Canes in preseason home debut

It seems safe to assume that Sam Reinhart will be seeing significant minutes in each of the Sabres’ preseason contests. The second overall selection saw action in a second-straight game and had the opportunity to skate in a second line role for the third period.

After opening the game on the “third” line with Chris Stewart and Nicolas Deslauriers, Reinhart was moved between Zac Dalpe and Brian Gionta for the final stanza. He didn’t produce any points but was adept with the puck and played a sound game. While he may not necessarily be ready for the NHL, Reinhart has been displaying the skills that set him apart in the eyes of Tim Murray and the Sabres scouts.

His most impressive play came in the third period when he warded off a forechecker and exhibited enough patience to create time and space and make an outlet pass to Andrej Meszaros behind the Sabres goal. It was a small play that may have gone unnoticed but it was an impressive one. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 3.3 – Preseason Intermission Live

Eric and I load up for an intermission edition of The Instigator during Buffalo’s preseason contest with the Hurricanes.

Third loss sets Sabres back below .500

A few familiar flaws cropped up in the last three losses for the Sabres as they dropped to 2-3-0 on the season after opening the year with a pair of victories.

Today’s loss to the Capitals came despite opening the scoring and controlling much of the play in the first period. Yet, the Capitals battled back and the Sabres were unable to discover the necessary depth scoring to get over the hump.

It is likely that many fans are panicking over the fact that many of the same issues have yet again hampered the Sabres in a string of losses. Naturally these losses are that much more prevalent with the fact that the shortened season has many focused on getting a quick start and finding security for the playoffs. Depending on how you break things down, this is just five games out of 48. Or you may see this as 10% of the season already behind a team that is looking to return to the playoffs.

Coupling today’s loss with the back-to-back losses at the hands of the Hurricanes paints a picture of a team who not only has struggled to find goal scorers beyond their first line and some up-and-down play from the blue line. Continue reading

Sabres first five will come quickly

With five games over the next seven games, the Sabres will know exactly what they can come to expect from the condensed 2013 NHL schedule. Rather than scrambling to provide specific previews for each and every game this season, it is more likely that you will see a look at each week of the season as it begins.

The Sabres open at home today against the Flyers and follow with games against the Leafs, Hurricanes (twice) and Capitals. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as the Sabres and NHL hockey returns. Continue reading

Double Minors: Special teams powers overtime victory

Buffalo’s power play hasn’t been pretty as of late. But it got the job done last night against Carolina. A late 5-on-3 penalty kill kept the Sabres floating long enough to seal the game in overtime.

Realistically, it should have never gotten to that point. Cam Ward made a number of big saves in the second period to keep the Hurricanes alive. Buffalo exploded for a pair in the opening 1:02 of the period and almost had a third, but Ward was up to the task. He made 15 of his 39 saves in the second period alone, keeping the Buffalo onslaught at bay until Chad LaRose could tie the score.

Ryan Miller was stout, turning away 22 of 24 and rebounding nicely after yielding two goals on his first 17 shots. He has certainly earned a rest and should most definitely take that reprieve tomorrow night in Boston.

While it took seven attempts for the Sabres power play to tally twice, there was some good and bad to take away from the unit. Both units continued to looks disjointed with the puck and committed a number of turnovers as a result. However, if they were able to settle the possession, there was some strong puck movement high on the umbrella. Both goals came from high puck movement and point shots.

The penalty kill stayed strong and will need to remain stout as this playoff run continues. Tomorrow’s game in Boston along with Saturday and Monday carry a lot of weight for the Sabres if they hope to gain more ground.

  • For all the hooting and holler that has been done (me included) about the top line, they answered the bell last night. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville each had a goal and an assist in the victory. This just add fuel to my argument that Roy brings them down. Their success came as Roy went pointless, obviously they cannot coexist. Obviously I’m not serious, this line needs to extend that success in the next five days.
  • Still waiting on Cody Hodgson’s first point. No matter, I haven’t hated his game and I’m still happy with the dynamic he brings to the roster.
  • I bemoaned the thought of giving $5.5m to a player who essentially plays a strong two-way, defensive game and chips in offensively. Then I realized that is precisely what Ville Leino is currently being paid to do. Yes, he lost that faceoff clean. But his puck possession is the best on the roster and he drew a pair of late penalties due to it. His play has turned a corner these last few months, I think it is time to stop hating on him and his contract.
  • Alex Sulzer is making me a believer. He has slightly better puck skills than Mike Weber – though he seems due one bad fumble per night – and plays a fairly similar style. Depending on defensive depth next season, I could see him getting a contract over the summer. I’ve liked his game thus far.
  • As I said above, it is time to give Ryan Miller a rest. His play over the past few games has been showing some signs of fatigue. That isn’t to say I haven’t been pleased with the last three games, it is just time to give him a little more time to recuperate.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Three in four begins with visit from Hurricanes

The Sabres arrive home after an impressive four-game road swing along the west coast to an important game against a team they have struggled with for most of the season.

Carolina rolls into town with a 2-1-0 record against Buffalo this season and can play the role of spoiler tonight if they take two points from the Sabres. Buffalo could only enjoy one off day from their grueling western swing as they’re back with three games in four nights, beginning today.

Lindy Ruff is faced with a couple tough decisions for tonight’s game. The first is which goaltender to start. The second is what to do with his stagnant top line.

The goaltending question is rooted in two schools of thought. Do you roll your starter against the weaker opponent and the backup on the second night of the back-to-back set? Or you can roll out Jhonas Enroth against a team he owns while giving Miller the additional day off.

My money is on choice number one. Based on the way Lindy Ruff operates, he will want to put his team in the best position to earn points. In my opinion, that is why he will roll out Miller against the Canes. That also keeps him away from a hostile atmosphere in Boston the next night. Is that the right choice? I say no.

Enroth’s career numbers against Carolina are phenomenal, let him build on that history and shutdown the Canes. They’re a bottom feeder; don’t waste one of Miller’s starts on them. Not to mention, getting Miller an extra day of rest will do more for the long-term success of this unlikely playoff run. Plus, I don’t take too much stock in trying to keep Miller from a tough environment like the TD Garden will be on Thursday. He is mentally tough (most goalies are) enough not to be bothered with what the fans will be doing that day, it shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

As for Ruff’s other tough task, he needs to find a solution to the scoring woes of his top line. It is a pretty simple concept. If they’re not playing well together, split them up. Buffalo needs a solid effort tonight. A quick start and sustained pressure should get the job done against Carolina.

Highlighted Matchup

Vanek/Roy/Pominville. If these guys aren’t broken up prior to the morning skate, they will be the trip to watch. It is my opinion that Roy would be better served in a checking role with Nathan Gerbe and Pat Kaleta. Whether Ville Leino or Cody Hodgson is the best fit for the center role on this line is debatable. Regardless, I feel that Roy’s presence often brings down Vanek’s game and the virus seems to have spread to Pominville as well.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

CAR: Brian Boucher

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 4, RBC Center, 1/6/2012

The Morning Skate: Back-to-back wins back on the table

November was quite a long time ago. Sadly that was the last month in which the Sabres won two games in a row. Tonight’s contest gives them the opportunity to win two-straight since before Ryan Miller’s concussion. Yes, it has been that long.

The Sabres are getting healthy, which is a nice piece of news considering the last month and a half. Tyler Myers may return tonight and it seems as if Ville Leino will be back tomorrow, if not next week. The Sabres do still have the issue of missing two of their top performing defensemen.

Expect a tight game from Buffalo tonight. They escaped Carolina with a 1-0 win earlier in the year and the previous game (last spring) was decided in overtime. Buffalo’s secondary scoring has been so hit or miss that there is no telling what kind of numbers they will put up. If they register three goals, there should be no excuse for not winning.

Ryan Miller will start in net, he will likely start tomorrow too. His numbers have been pretty dismal, but he has been winning games. So he has that going for him, which is nice.

Highlighted Matchup

Tyler Myers. If he does manage to dress and play this evening, keep a close eye on him. Don’t expect Norris Trophy-level hockey. But be sure to watch what he brings to the table. There is a good chance he sees some limited minutes, but his contributions on special teams have been missed. Getting Myers back will do wonders for the power play and penalty kill.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 23GP 10-10-2, 3.05 GAA, .900 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 35 GP 13-15-6,  3.22 GAA, .897 SV%

Last Game

11/18/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 1 – Hurricanes 0

The Morning Skate: Injuries piling up as Sabres head to Carolina

Buffalo’s second matchup against Carolina comes with a different set of circumstances than the first meeting did on October 14 at First Niagara Center.

The home opener for the Sabres came on the heels of an excellent European debut, but was only game number three of the young season. The Hurricanes had already played four games and had yet to hit the skid they’re currently mired in.

Now the Canes are searching for answers as they attempt to climb away from the Eastern Conference basement. The Sabres, on the other hand, are trying to maintain their grip on the top spot in the Northeast Division. However, the team’s toughness and entire makeup has fallen under heavy scrutiny as of late despite their spot in the standings.

Buffalo will be without Mike Weber due to an injury suffered against New Jersey but will still have the services of Tyler Myers as he did not receive any supplemental discipline for his hit on Danius Zubrus. T.J. Brennan was recalled from Rochester, although it is likely he will serve as the seventh defenseman while Marc-Andre Gragnani comes back from the press box. It wouldn’t be a bad move to toss Brennan into the fire. After all, why call the kid up to plop him in the press box?

The one thing working against the Sabres this evening is the team they’re playing. Sure, the Hurricanes have been sinking in the Eastern Conference standings. But this is a team fresh off a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Canadiens. Prior to that, the Flyers hung five on them and chased Cam Ward in unceremonious fashion. It appears that some may think this team is destined for a low finish, those sentiments may just shake them out of their funk. For a team that has had some seriously slow starts and terribly inconsistent efforts, the Sabres do not want to stare down a desperate team looking to tighten up defensively and battle for a victory.

Highlighted Matchup

Special teams. The home opener saw the Hurricanes deposit a pair of shorthanded goals and create at least five total opportunities while a man down. They added an additional power play marker, and their first goal was scored just after a penalty expired. While the Sabres have had a marvelous turnaround since then, they will need a better showing than they had against New Jersey. When Buffalo’s special teams are clicking they are a difficult team to beat.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 9GP, 6-1-0, 2.19 GAA, .926 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 16Gp, 6-8-2, 3.27 GAA, .904 SV%

Last Game

10/14/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 4