Double Minors: Close win puts Sabres six back

Two points go in the win column tonight but the Sabres only enjoyed a one-point improvement in the standings. Buffalo played two dominant periods of hockey before hanging on for a 2-1 victory over the Islanders.

The trade deadline is fast approaching and teams that sit on the playoff bubble are nearing the point where they need to decide if they’re contenders or pretenders. The Sabres will need help for a while longer if they are to climb into the eighth or ninth spot in the conference.

However, more performances like tonight will certainly help matters. Ryan Miller was brilliant yet again in goal, turning aside 30 of 31 shots and the Sabres received another smart performance from Tyler Myers along the way.

The obvious problem of not having the “right” players still exists. It appears that teams who remain in the hunt but realize their shortcomings are beginning to sell off pieces. The Sabres certainly fall into that boat, but have plenty of skill on the roster that may just need the right amount of glue to get them on a playoff run.

Frankly I see too many issues that need to be addressed before the Sabres are capable of making a true run in the playoffs. They could certainly get the ball rolling at the deadline and carry that momentum into the off-season. In the meantime, their push towards eighth will be an uphill battle and they will need those above them to stumble along the way. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres stuck in the middle as deadline nears

The bottom of the Eastern Conference is little more than a cluster of teams trying not to make playoffs.  Seven points separate eighth place from fifteenth and even the Southeast Division leading Panthers are a point better than eighth at this point.

Buffalo are still well within striking distance of a playoff spot, as are the Islanders. New York sits six points behind Toronto and Buffalo is seven back of the Leafs. There is still plenty of hockey to be played, but with the deadline looming you have to wonder how some teams in the East will move forward based on their current roster.

The Sabres are stuck in the middle. They’re only seven points out of a playoff spot and could conceivably push that gap to one point if they were to sweep this week’s games and get some help. While that isn’t the most realistic scenario, the ability for the Sabres to snag six points is well within reach. This team did cobble together a short streak of points recently. A strong week would likely set the team up to try and make one final push for the playoffs. Dropping three or more points could potentially set the table for a trade deadline of selling.

Personally, I just want to see this team play some strong, consistent hockey. Their last six-goal performance on national television was followed with two average efforts. If this team is serious about making a run, they need to prove their capable of being dominant for a number of games.

Highlighted Matchup

The Gaustad line vs. the Tavares line. Buffalo made Frans Nielsen look like Gretzky last time these two teams met. His success was mostly thanks to some poor defensive efforts. Buffalo has three points in their last two games, a big part of that has been the success the team has had in shutting down their opponent’s top line. Paul Gaustad is quickly making himself a commodity many teams will want at the deadline and Pat Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe have been effective in their roles. If this line is capable of another shut-down effort there is a good chance of grabbing two points.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NYI: Al Montoya

Last meeting

Sabres 4 – Islanders 3 SO, Nassau Veterans Coliseum, 2/4/2012

*no stats today*

The Morning Skate: Healthy Sabres still searching for goals

The Buffalo Sabres head off to Long Island after two days of rest and a roster that is nearly identical to the one that began the season 10-5.

They’re missing one major piece – Thomas Vanek – which makes matters a bit complicated when considering the Sabres haven’t scored three goals (without the help of an ENG) since January 13. Besides Vanek, the Sabres are finally healthy. If this season has taught Sabres fans one thing, it’s healthy changes everything.

The Sabres lost their first two contests against the Islanders this season, scoring three goals in the pair of games. It is just a microcosm of a season that has spiraled out of control in too many ways. The current lack of offense isn’t without effort. Buffalo threw everything they had at Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. All they came up with were a few posts and two goals in two games.

Buffalo’s offensive struggles are now front and center. A rejuvenated defensive corps have been playing solid hockey and Ryan Miller appears that he has gotten himself back on track. Only the lack of offense remains the glaring shortfall with the team. I have to say that trading out some of the stale offensive pieces may be the only way to find offense on this roster. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Injured Sabres return against Isles

The Sabres are expected to have three of their nine injured regulars back in the lineup when they face the New York Islanders tonight.

Patrick Kaleta, Robyn Regehr and Drew Stafford are all expected to return from injury this evening. Regehr is a definite, he was paired with Brayden McNabb at the morning skate and those two will form a physical pair on the blue line. According to the News, Ruff didn’t confirm if Kaleta and Stafford would be back. However, considering T.J. Brennan, Corey Tropp and Paul Szczechura were all returned to Rochester, it would seem as if those three will be back.

So it will be a slightly more familiar lineup tonight compared to the roster from Saturday. The Islanders have hit a rough patch which has forced them to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Their three headed goaltender situation has muddied the water a bit but it seems Al Montoya has come out for the better, his numbers are the most impressive compared to Nabokov and DiPietro.

It is good to see Zack Kassian and McNabb stay with the big club until the rest of the Sabres’ injuries are resolved. Kassian has shown a physical side to his game and McNabb is just mean on the ice. With that pair continuing that type of play, fans have to be excited for what is in store a year or two down the road.

Highlighted Matchup

Brayden McNabb/Robyn Regehr pairing. These two have the potential to be a prototypical shutdown pairing. McNabb showed significant puck skills in junior and with the Amerks. That skill set, plus his willingness to hit anyone around him, makes him a very attractive prospect. Obviously Regehr comes as advertised. I’m interested to see them together this evening.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 14GP 8-3-1, 2.29 GAA, .9225 SV%

NYI: Al Montoya 8GP 3-3-1, 2.20 GAA, .929 SV%

Last Game

2/13/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 6 – Islanders 7 OT