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

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Hurricanes

There will be plenty of fanfare at the First Niagara Center as the Buffalo Sabres open their home schedule against the Hurricanes after a five-day layoff tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo, currently 2-0-0 and tied with Toronto for the Northeast Division lead, have enjoyed a five-day layoff as they recuperate from their trip to the NHL Premiere. Carolina is fresh off their first victory of the season, a 3-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

A pre-game plaza party will take place outside the First Niagara Center as there will certainly be some fireworks in store for those holding a ticket for the first home opener in the Pegula Era. There is a chance the hoopla surrounding the first game may end up being distracting, but there is no reason for Buffalo to come out flat. Between the five-day break, the brand new locker facilities and the momentum they built with their two convincing victories in Europe, the Sabres should have little trouble finding energy for this game.

Carolina has struggled a bit as the season opens up. The Canes have managed three out of a possible eight points and have allowed at least four goals in all but one contest. They should build off their win over the defending Stanley Cup champs and the fact that they held the Sabres attack at bay in the 2010-11 season series.

The Hurricanes didn’t do much to upgrade their roster in the offseason, bringing in a trio of ex-Maple Leafs (Tim Brent, Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky) and promoting some youngsters. Between the pipes is where the Canes will win this game. They boast two goaltenders – Cam Ward and newcomer Brian Boucher – who have a good history against Buffalo.

Buffalo will likely ice the same lineup they had in Europe, with Matt Ellis, Jochen Hecht and Mike Weber as the scratches. The Sabres potent line up will be foreign to the Canes and could create matchup problems early in the contest.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo’s three scoring lines against the Carolina defense. The Canes have plenty of forwards that are capable of serving in a checking role. However, they have three defensemen under the age of 25 and at least 50% of the blueline would fall under the offensive defenseman classification. If the Sabres can exploit the last change to get their skill players against a non-checking line, they should have success in generating offense.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 2 GP, 2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .952 SV%

CAR: Cam Ward 3 GP, 1-2-0, 3.35 GAA, .885 SV%

2010-11 Season Series: BUF 2-1-1

1/13/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 2

3/3/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 3 OT

3/15/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 0 – Hurricanes 1

4/3/2011, RBC Center, Sabres 2 – Hurricanes 1 OT

Team Stats

BUF 2-0-0 4pts (T-1 NE), PP 3/8 37.5% (2), PK 6/7 85.7% (T-15)

CAR 1-3-1

Double Minors: Sabres 3 – Hurricanes 1

Nathan Gerbe nets the game winner as the Sabres beat Carolina 3-1.

It was Slug Appreciation Day, every one and their third cousin came to the First Niagara Center to upgrade their logos. Tonight also marked the first time all the arena upgrades would be on display for the fans to see as the first hockey game was played under the First Niagara Center banner. Oh yeah, the Sabres came back to win 3-1 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

While there wasn’t any pomp or circumstance to the new arena name, or the snazzy new upgrades, the Sabres played to a sell out crowd for a preseason hockey game. It was pretty clear that the hockey community was beyond ready for this game to happen as the Pegula Effect has been in full swing all summer.

The Sabres iced a pretty strong roster with about a 50/50 split of players expected to play with the big club and those destined for Rochester. Ville Leino and Drew MacIntrye were the only new faces to play this evening. For what it’s worth, Paul Gaustad wore the ‘C’ while Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford both served as alternate captains. Of course, the ‘C’ and ‘A’s will rotate as the preseason carries on, but Gaustad and Myers are certainly on the leadership track for this hockey club.

As for the game: Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Hurricanes

Hockey is officially back in Buffalo. Last week offered a tease as the Sabres’ prospects took a 5-2 victory in the Traverse City championship. However, today the big club takes the ice for the first time in preparation for the 2011-12 season.

The Sabres are currently split into practice groups and the first group will be taking the ice this evening. It will be a fun roster to watch as there are plenty of familiar faces along with some young players who should offer fans an  interesting vantage point.Villie Leino will play his first game as a Sabre and Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian will remain together after dominating in Traverse City. Here is the remainder of the roster: Continue reading