The Morning Skate: Just win, baby

With my one-week layoff complete, the Sabres are in no better shape than they were in when I departed. However, the road to their current state was an interesting one.

A huge 5-1 spanking of the Capitals put Buffalo in full control of their destiny prior to dropping their weekend set against Pittsburgh and Toronto. Now they not only need to win their games this week, they need a little help along the way.

I suppose what was most disappointing about the losses over the weekend is two-fold. Obviously knowing the Sabres came out and dominated a game they had to have only to see them give less than their best on the weekend is the most disheartening part. However, I have to wonder why Lindy Ruff wouldn’t give Ryan Miller one night off (against Pittsburgh)? Not only would it give Miller some much needed rest, which I would assume is desperately needed; but it would give Jhonas Enroth one more game. Beating the Penguins was going to be a near impossible task, why waste a start from the player that has carried the team to this point?

Of course, that is in the past. The injuries to Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff are in the present and could have a major effect on tonight’s game, just as they did on Saturday. Myers and Ehrhoff are two major parts of the Sabres’ attack. They’re dynamic puck movers who have good hockey IQ in the offensive zone. Sure, they’ve each had their struggles defensively, but they’re still two of Buffalo’s top four defenders. Their absence needs to be lessened as much as possible.

Not to overstate the obvious, but tonight is do or die. A win will keep their heads above water and keep them in the hunt. Buffalo still has a dicey finish at the end of the week, but those two games won’t matter unless they get two points tonight.

Highlighted Matchup

Goaltenders. Ryan Miller finally came down off the his hot streak that helped him lead the Sabres into playoff contention. Of course, fans are only looking at the last two games when evaluating him; exactly what I’ve come to expect from a town with such hockey IQ. Miller needs to play a strong game, hopefully the two days off helped him a bit. I’ll maintain that he should have rested Friday, however. As for the Leafs. I would have to assume that Ben Scrivens will be back in net. The Sabres put three by him on Saturday, they just need to play a little better D and continue to pepper the youngster.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

TOR: Ben Scrivens

Last Meeting

Sabres 3 – Maple Leafs 4, 3/31/2012, Air Canada Centre


The Morning Skate: Losing streak slides to Toronto

There doesn’t seem to be an antidote for the goal scoring woes or the porous goaltending or the injury bug. No answers can be found in the locker room as it seems the roster is growing rather stagnant.

The Sabres haven’t won two games in a row since November. Since then they have spiraled from the top of the Conference to 11th place. Now they are handcuffed by their own salary cap issues and are left searching for answers from within. The problem is there are no answers to be found.

Buffalo lost a 3-2 game the last time they were in Toronto. Ryan Miller had a solid outing, but still yielded three goals to the opposition. Despite his play passing the eye test, his chance to show up in a big moment passed by and the Sabres left with a loss.

Miller has had a pair of strong games against the Leafs this season, even though he has allowed seven goals in the two games. While his game is fairly sound, it would seem that his psyche is a bit wounded. He has allowed some rough goals at rough times in this stretch of foul play. Something that he desperately needs to resolve.

It would be of some help if the Sabres could score more than one or two goals for either of their goaltenders as well. The Sabres will face The Monster tonight, a goalie who hasn’t seen a whole lot of time against this club. It is an interesting choice considering James Reimer’s success against the Sabres this early in his career.

Highlighted Matchup

Goal scoring. There is no other issue surrounding this hockey team besides goal scoring. When they can start hitting three goals on a regular basis and keep losing then turn to the defensive zone and goaltending. Until then it is quite unrealistic to expect to run off nine or ten 2-1 victories.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 24 GP 10-11-2, 3.05 GAA, .901 SV%

TOR: Jonas Gustavsson 20 GP 12-7-0, 3.07 GAA, .903 SV%

Last Game

12/22/2011, Air Canada Centre, Sabres 2 – Maple Leafs 3

The Morning Skate: Sabres limp to holiday break

The Sabres Christmas List likely reads: Healthy players and a win. Not necessarily in that order.

Buffalo scrapped their way through 40 minutes before mistakes and a terrible penalty doomed them in Ottawa. They will face off at Air Canada Centre with the Maple Leafs this evening. Buffalo will be off for two days before hosting the Capitals on Monday.

Patrick Kaleta is expected to return to the lineup this evening. Hopefully it is a longer return than his last one – in which he re-aggravated his groin ailment. Kaleta’s return should bring some stability to the penalty kill and some grit to five-on-five play.

Expect to see Ryan Miller back in net this evening, it would seem that Lindy Ruff has lost some faith in his backup, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jhonas Enroth play on Monday against the Capitals. After all, Enroth has been sturdy at home while Miller has been strong on the road.

The Sabres lines had a very interesting mix to them at yesterday’s practice. Brad Boyes was back skating, although he still needs a few more days to recuperate. Thomas Vanek and Paul Szczechura both took days to heal up as well. Of note, I credited Vanek with a far better performance than he put forth in Ottawa. I swear he scored the Buffalo goal, but it makes little difference at this point.

A win would certainly be a nice gift for a team that has had some serious struggles as of late.

Highlighted Matchup

Toronto’s big guns. Lupul, Kessel and Grabovski all had an impact on last Friday’s game. Grabovski, who was at one time an underachieving speedster, has turned into a nice complimentary weapon for the Leafs. Kessel and Lupul speak for themselves while Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly are also threats to blow up. Buffalo will need to control Toronto’s speed as they did for parts of last Friday’s victory.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller 18GP 8-7-2, 3.12 GAA, .904 SV%

TOR: James Reimer 12GP 5-3-3, 2.86 GAA, .900 SV%

Last Game

12/16/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 5 – Maple Leafs 4

The Morning Skate – Weekend series

Ryan Miller will play the full game against Toronto on Friday.

The Buffalo Sabres enter this weekend’s trio of games with 19 skaters who have yet to see action this preseason. As Rochester is set to open their camp on Monday, there is a chance some of these players may remain in the press box before heading up the 90.

Notable names among the group are Ales Kotalik, Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold. Brayden McNabb has also been held out thus far, but I would expect him to see action at some point this weekend. In fact, the three veterans listed above are all certain to see time before the team heads to Europe.

The complete list is as follows: Forwards; Riley Boychuk, Jochen Hecht (injured), Kotalik, Jacob Lagace, Maxime Legault, Jonathon Parker, Mike Ryan, Colin Stuart, Paul Szczechura, Shawn Sydlowski, Travis Turnbull and Phil Varone, defensemen; Nick Crawford, Corey Fienhage, Joe Finley, Leopold, Matt Mackenzie, McNabb and Morrisonn, goaltenders; Jeff Jakaitis and David Leggio. Continue reading