The Stanley Cup Final is rolling and we are here to offer up a series preview and prediction as the Lightning and Canadiens. We discuss who has the edge in net and whether or not Montreal can contain the impressive depth of Tampa Bay. We also touch on the Sabres coaching search and the NHL’s officiating issues.
The startling reality that faces the Sabres after yet another season without the playoffs is the club needs yet another round of big roster changes after their maneuvering over the past two summers has gone for naught.
Jason Botterill and Phil Housley’s first year saw ten new faces brought to Buffalo. They were just shy of repeating that figure again this season. While it’s not out of the question that the team they inherited was already heading to the basement before the pair stepped in. The franchise was already suffering in the wake of below average drafting and owned a handful of bad contracts while lacking depth. That they wound up finishing worse than Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma’s final year is perhaps more of an inevitability than a surprise. Regardless, Housley and Botterill will own the results of the last two seasons. It will all rest on Botterill’s feet and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be around to see the team climb back to respectability.
That leaves him will the difficult task of overhauling his roster for the third-straight summer. Last year’s overhaul brought only a minute improvement in the standings, buoyed by the 10-game win streak but destroyed by the January-to-April collapse. Does he have another trick up his sleeve, or will Botterill be resigned to a more conventional path to improvement?
Botterill’s best opportunity for unearthing talent at discount prices may come from targeting the teams run out of the first round of the playoffs. Teams like Pittsburgh who were frustrated at their early exit, or the Jets and Lightning whose cap situations will likely require trades to be made. Between tight cap situations and disappointing exits, there could be room for the Sabres to pounce. Continue reading
With news breaking this week that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed on the structure for a future expansion draft, the maneuvering and preparations across the league can begin in earnest.
Reaching an agreement on no movement and no trade clauses was among the most important unanswered questions surrounding the way teams will form their protected lists. With the potential for an expansion draft taking place as early as next summer, the need for that determination was obviously important.
One position that will get plenty of focus will be between the pipes. As there is only one option for protecting goaltenders, there is a near guarantee that a pair of solid goaltenders are headed to Vegas should a draft take place next summer.
The requirement that no movement clauses must be protected could put pressure on a number of general managers to make a move this summer – or prior to next year’s deadline – to ensure they aren’t losing a goaltending asset for nothing. Continue reading
For this season I’m going to try and mix things up a bit for game recaps. Since the blogging community continues to be well represented at each Sabres game, I know that there will be at least one or two quality recap for each game. In addition to the stories coming from the mainstream media sources in town I’d like to try to offer something of a slightly different ilk for my game recap.
So what I’m going to work out over these first few weeks is a little different take on the typical Sabres game recap. While I’ll still provide some basic elements of what occurred, my primary focus will be on the players between the pipes for both the Sabres and their opponents with some additional thoughts added at the end. So that’s the plan for now. If it happens to be garbage I’ll regroup with something that makes sense.
As for last night, it wasn’t the most painful hockey game that I’ve ever had to sit through. Buffalo’s inability to pass and cycle the puck was rather pathetic and their overwhelming lack of puck possession resulted in yet another imbalanced shot on goal tally that saw the Lightning nearly double Buffalo’s efforts at even strength (29 shots to 16 shots).
Despite that imbalance, the Sabres managed to stake themselves to a pair of one-goal leads thanks to their previously dormant power play and were a backwards whistle away from taking a two-goal lead early in the third.
That confusing play – which wound up being nothing more than a massive screw up by the officials – really wound up serving as the true turning point in the game. Somehow the officials missed Ott playing the puck on the sideboards – how I’m not quite sure – and waited until McBain shot to call the play. All of this combined to be massively confusing not only because of the goal, but because the Bolts had managed to get a whistle on a delayed penalty of their own after the puck struck one of their skates earlier in the period. So there was already a precedent of questionably ending plays on delayed penalties prior to this play. Add in that the high stick was a pretty weak call – as Vanek and Carle had gotten tied up behind the net – and it was a very ugly turn of events.
Oh yeah, and Tampa scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game.
The loss fell on Jhonas Enroth’s shoulders and his record is now 0-1-1 on the young season as the 31 saves matched his output against the Penguins on Saturday. Enroth’s play was strong despite fighting the puck early in the contest. His stiffest tests came from Tampa’s five power play shots and he responded well.
His counterpart, Ben Bishop, wasn’t very busy and coasted through most of the game without needing to make many impressive stops. Bishop’s finest save came when he flashed his glove on Mark Pysyk in the first and he was quite busy in the third as the Sabres fired 13 of their 23 shots during that stanza. Continue reading
Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.
When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.
There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.
The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.
The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.
Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.
While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.
Sabres writer Bill Hoppe has taken to Twitter over the past few weeks to identify a specific player who was regulating each particular night. My fandom of just about all Emilio Estevez flicks and the general awesomeness of Young Guns makes this particular Twitter meme that much more interesting to me.
Last night’s offensive explosion led Hockey Heaven Buffalo to seek nicknames for the Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Marcus Foligno line. Given their relative age and consistent regulation, why not the Young Guns or Regulators line? There will be a photoshop to follow.
All kidding aside, Buffalo’s blowout of Tampa was important for their place in the standings and their confidence to produce offensively.
The Regulators combined for seven points (3+4,) including a pair of goals in the first period. Jason Pominville also had a pair goals that went top cheese, Thomas Vanek had two apples and Cody Hodgson finally recorded his first two points (assists) as a Sabre. Ryan Miller made some timely saves while the game was still in question and finished with 24 saves on 27 shots.
The hot story surrounding the Sabres has been the play of Foligno. He has five goals in his brief time with the big club, has shown a physical side and has vastly improved his skating since his debut in Ottawa earlier in the year. Foligno looks massive on the ice and is the type of space creating winger the Sabres have long been searching for. While Ennis has been a revelation at center, I think Foligno’s style is the reason that Stafford has flourished lately. Foligno can play the banging style that Stafford seems to refuse to play, this leaves the North Dakota product to create with Ennis in open ice. The makeup of the line is as prototypical as you get, but it has been working wonders.
While the Sabres didn’t gain ground in the standings, they kept pace with two points. They certainly need the Caps to cool off for this stretch run. I still think that winning games will get the job done for the Sabres. There isn’t too much need for scoreboard watching at this point. If the Caps were to hit the skids prior to their meeting with the Sabres, it would be quite helpful for the big picture.
As the final two sets of back-to-back games loom in the coming weeks, the Sabres’ offense will take center stage. I’d expect to see Jhonas Enroth one last time for one of these back-to-back sets, but the need to score goals remains paramount in my opinion. The Sabres showed another flash last night, they need to maintain this run for the final nine games.
- Cody Hodgson probably won’t be left alone until he scores a goal, but his assist on Jason Pominville’s power play goal was a beauty. He did a great job drawing the forward and defenseman before dishing outside the box for Pominville’s one timer. That is the type of play he has been making since his arrival, he finally had someone finish for him.
- Andrej Sekera has a fairly manageable contract for a player making the impact he has this year. He has been terrific since the New Year and has been above 21 minutes in the two games since returning from his illness. I still wish they would give him a bigger role on the power play.
- Getting Tyler Myers back will put Lindy Ruff in quite a predicament. Brayden McNabb will need to go back to Rochester but there isn’t a clear-cut player to scratch in order to insert Myers back into the lineup. Mike Weber has had a few gaffes, but is still a serviceable number six defenseman who can kill penalties. Alexander Sulzer has been strong in his few games and possesses better puck skills than Weber. He is physical, just not as bruising as Weber is on a nightly basis. It will be a tough call either way.
- I laughed out loud at the first caller to the postgame. I’m also concerned that Ryan Miller’s GAA is going back up, especially when the third goal he allows is in garbage time on a tipped point shot. I’m very concerned about his play too. Especially because he has continued to make timely saves in these recent victories. Just because he isn’t playing at a Hasekian level (like in February) doesn’t mean he isn’t playing good hockey.
- Where does Nathan Gerbe fit in this lineup? You can’t remove Foligno or Tropp from their respective spots. The easy answer is to drop Cody McCormick from the fourth line. I’m interested to see the decision Lindy Ruff makes once Gerbe is healthy.
- For those staring at the standings, the Sabres need 12 points to hit 90 and 13 to hit 91 for the year. Anything between 90 and 93 should be the magic number for the playoffs.
Just about every game from here on out can be qualified as the biggest game of the year for the Sabres. Buffalo remains two points back entering tonight’s game against Tampa, but will give both Winnipeg and Washington a game in hand over Buffalo.
The Sabres continued to get help on the scoreboard as the hard-charging Hurricanes took down Winnipeg and the Blackhawks rolled the Capitals. Buffalo will need to finally take ownership of a game and get the job done against the Lightning. This will be Buffalo’s third opportunity to gain at least a share of eighth place, they cannot waste another opportunity.
I’m guessing that old friend, Dwayne Roloson will be in goal this evening. The Bolts signed Sebastian Caron (seriously) from overseas and I’m guessing he won’t be ready to go this soon. Roloson hasn’t had a great year, nor is his history against the Sabres very good, but this game stinks of a big effort from the Simcoe native.
The bottom line for tonight will be how the Sabres do offensively. They have controlled play lately but continue to be stymied on the scoreboard. There is plenty of offensive talent on this roster, the top scorers are long overdue to mesh and start producing.
Sabres vs. the 1-3-1. Tampa’s forecheck has gotten plenty of fanfare this year. The Sabres haven’t fared well against Tampa this season and they need a serious turnaround tonight. If the Sabres can get the first goal and break the forecheck, they will be in a great situation. If they play a passive style, they will almost certainly lose.
BUF: Ryan Miller
TB: Dwayne Roloson
On Friday night the Buffalo Sabres managed to claw their way to overtime after trailing the Dallas Stars by a pair. The same script didn’t play out on Saturday as Buffalo fell to Tampa Bay, 2-1.
We didn’t play well enough. I thought the second period, we were terrible. We didn’t play the game quick enough and didn’t make enough plays. ~ Lindy Ruff
The loss, coupled with Montreal’s thrashing of the Leafs will temporarily drop Buffalo to 14th in the East. That alone illustrates the need to get points on a nightly basis for the Sabres. Two points obviously being ideal (and somewhat necessary) but at least getting to overtime is almost a necessity.
Buffalo was hurt by a criminally slow start for the second-straight evening. The Sabres played 40 minutes of flat hockey and paid with a 2-0 deficit entering the third period. Another carry-over from Friday was Buffalo’s spark in the third period. The Sabres fired 14 of their 27 shots in the final frame and threatened to beat Mathieu Garon numerous times. Christian Ehrhoff, Zack Kassian and Jason Pominville had the best looks at a beating the career backup.
Pominville found the net for the 20th time this season, receiving a nice setup from Thomas Vanek. What else is new? Vanek was put back on the left wing with Pominville and Derek Roy after reprising his role with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford to begin the game.
The success that Pominville and Vanek have enjoyed this season has been compounded on all year, there is no denying the pair’s stellar play. In fact, Pominville nearly provided all the scoring Buffalo needed for a tie but he was robbed by Mathieu Garon. Without help from other forwards, this team will still struggle to win games. That is another statement which has gotten plenty of circulation this year.
Ryan Miller continued his stellar play tonight, stopping 26 of the 28 shots he faced. I’ll eat some crow for thinking Jhonas Enroth should have gotten the start, but I’m not mad that Miller has continued to play at an all-world level.
The Sabres are back in action on Valentines Day as they host the Devils. Tuesday’s game becomes a must win after a point was squandered tonight.
- As Lindy Ruff said, the second period killed Buffalo. Sloppy play was evident through the first period, but the second period was particularly ugly. Steve Downie cashed in after his line with Teddy Purcell and Steven Stamkos sustained possession for some time. Downie had all day to stop Victor Hedman’s feed from the point and beat Miller. Tyler Myers was caught on the wrong side of his goalie after his partner floated well above the faceoff dot on the play.
- Giving Steven Stamkos multiple looks from the top of the circles is a bad thing. It is particularly bad when he is given a one-timer on a two-on-one. Not too many goalies are coming up with that save.
- Christian Ehrhoff was two different players tonight. He had a rough go for the first two periods but was easily Buffalo’s best defenseman in the third. He was still vicitmized more than his partner on the two goals. He was too high on the first and was way up ice on the game-winner.
- Reuniting Pominville, Roy and Vanek was the right choice. I’m interested to see the choice Ruff makes with Leino. He has been good playing in a definitive role. Placing him on the wing with Ennis and Stafford seems to make the most sense here.
- I liked Zack Kassian tonight. He just missed a beautiful feed from Andrej Sekera in the third. In his defense it was a hard sauce that was going to be real tough to handle. He was credited with three hits (I had him for four or five) and three takeaways. He was dominant below the goal line – yet again – and showed a solid jump. It was the type of game you want to see from him.
- I’ve loved Ryan Miller’s game of late. He is playing stellar hockey. He was the main reason this game was 2-1. Had Buffalo earned a win, he would have been a star. However, he is going to be due a rest soon and this is a tricky week for scheduling goalies. Mid-week back-to-back games (Thursday and Friday) along with a Sunday matinee makes things tricky. I hate playing Miller against the Penguins and I think Lindy Ruff would be wise to avoid making that decision. Start Miller all three games this week if you must, but I would keep him on the bench on Sunday.
The only thing the Buffalo Sabres need to be worried about at this moment is winning hockey games. They started too far out of the playoff hunt to discuss games in hand or how far behind they are from the team’s they’re chasing. Just winning games and getting points is all that should matter.
Tonight’s game against Tampa Bay presents the chance for a clean weekend sweep of four points and to continue the run of good hockey the team has played since the All-Star break.
The Lightning are a rested bunch. They played Thursday in New York, stayed in Buffalo all day yesterday and will have had plenty of time to rest as they prepare for this evening’s tilt. Tampa lost Thursday’s game in overtime 4-3.
While Buffalo did go a full 65 minutes last night, they didn’t do too much work in the opening 40 minutes of play. Hopefully there is some gas in the tank for tonight. Add in the fact that Luke Adam will be inserted in the place of Cody McCormick, which provides a fresh set of legs.
Buffalo has not played Tampa well this season. They were shutout in Florida before dropping a 4-3 loss on the return trip in Buffalo. Tonight’s game has a lot more weight behind it than the previous two meetings. Then the Sabres were still riding the cushion of their strong start. Now they are a desperate bunch in need of a long win streak.
Buffalo’s forwards vs. Tampa’s trap. The Sabres had trouble engaging offensively last night as Dallas choked out the neutral zone. Tampa will do that, and more tonight. The Sabres were able to dump and chase yesterday but will not have the same luxury tonight with more fatigue weighing them down. The Sabres still need to effectively break the trap to win tonight.
BUF: Jhonas Enroth
TBL: Mathieu Garon
The Buffalo Sabres’ second-straight loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning consisted of numerous similarities to their first home loss of the season.
Buffalo jumped the Lightning early. Thomas Vanek continued to exert his will upon the goaltenders of the NHL with a beautiful takeaway and finish on a short breakaway. Brad Boyes followed up 35 seconds later with a neat finish that involved just about everything Lindy Ruff has been looking for out of the enigmatic winger; put the puck on net after driving the crease hard for a loose puck.
There was little to complain about after the first 10 minutes of the hockey game for the Sabres. Then the wheels fell off. In nearly identical fashion in which the Sabres allowed Carolina back in on the October 14, Buffalo allowed the Lightning back into this game. Short of gift wrapping countless shorthanded opportunities, the Sabres played sloppy hockey and failed to clamp down on the collective throats of a downtrodden Lightning team.
Rather, they watch as Tampa Bay’s two veteran superstars connected for a rebound goal to draw within one and then fell victim to a terrible bounce with under one minute to play on the tying goal. Buffalo was unable to regroup in the second period, allowing the go ahead tally on what appeared to be another unfortunate bounce.
Ryan Malone’s late breakaway goal may as well have been Jeff Skinner’s game-winner as it was not only a goal you wish Ryan Miller would have saved, but it was a goal that probably wouldn’t have transpired. After making a deft move in the offensive zone, Tyler Myers had his shot blocked and ricochet to Malone who went in and beat Miller. Miller didn’t play the breakaway particularly well and was beaten on a fairly simple move, one he typically turns away.
Having both home losses play out in such similar fashion is less than encouraging for a team that had to wait until November for their first home victory. Neither loss could fall under the “trying too hard to entertain the home fans” banner. These were two poorly played games that saw the effects trickle down from the forwards to the goaltender.
- The record should show that Ryan Miller probably needs to stop one of the four goals. Whether it is playing Nate Thompson conservatively and staying on his post, or staying aggressive on a shoot-first player like Malone; Miller needs to keep one out of the net. Otherwise the loss shouldn’t be saddled on his shoulders, by any means. He didn’t face a lot of shots and didn’t keep the score to one goal, so the Miller Bashers will be out in full force, but this was not a game in which you can look to the goaltender as a reason for losing.
- To slightly contradict the above statement, this was a game ideal for Jhonas Enroth. He has been shelved up since his outing in Pittsburgh on October 15 waiting to get back in net. Miller has been far too good to remove, but the loss on Saturday pretty much wiped the slate in terms of Miller’s hot streak. Enroth should have gotten the nod with Miller returning for Thursday and beyond. Hopefully Lindy isn’t already fumbling the goaltenders, it is far too early for that.
- Thomas Vanek is seriously good. He is on a hot streak like no other and is fully embracing the Atlas moniker so gracefully bestowed by The Goose’s Roost gang. As of now, the Vanek-Adam-Pominville line is keeping the Sabres’ head above water.
- Brad Boyes is indeed capable of scoring goals. He made a great play to get his first of the season. He stuck his nose in the play and the puck ended up in the net. He had a sound game and should parlay his first tally into a few more in the next few contests.
- Something needs to be done about the power play. This isn’t a drunken 300-level “SHOOOOT” proclamation. The man-advantage unit could barely set up and establish zone time, let alone find the proper rotation to establish a scoring chance. The Lightning were good enough to clog the center of the ice. But the Sabres have plenty of players with cannons for shots. Get pucks to the net front and let Vanek, Gaustad and Stafford poke away until the puck is behind the goaltender. Leave the fancy passing plays on the whiteboard until the penalty kill units are stretched thin.
- Tyler Myers had a rough night, not much more can be said than that. He was victimized by some bad bounces and made a few poor choices. This is back-to-back seasons where he has had a slow start. Perhaps there is something missing in his off-season regiment. His partner, Robyn Regehr continues to play like his hair is on fire. So keep that end of it up.
1. Mathieu Garon
2. Thomas Vanek
3. Steven Stamkos