Double Minors: Vanek powers Sabres

Tuesday night didn’t end well. Ryan Miller allowed a pair of questionable goals and there were some struggles from various players on the roster. However, Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Leafs was followed by a 7-4 win over the Bruins.

Thomas Vanek continued his Hart-worthy play with a five-point effort that was complimented by his first hat trick since 2011. Buffalo’s defensive struggles remained evident in the win, but Ryan Miller made a number of massive saves throughout the course of the evening, aiding in the Buffalo win.

Vanek was straight-up dominant on Thursday. He’s been strong all year and quickly jumped into the Hart Trophy race with a five-point game right off the bat and an incredibly impressive point streak. Vanek has registered at least one point in every game that he has played.

This is exactly the type of hockey that you need to see from Vanek. He has developed terrific chemistry with his linemates and providing him with a steady, talented center in Cody Hodgson has been playing dividends. Vanek’s line has combined for 33 points (15+18) thus far. Lindy Ruff has found lightning in a bottle with this line and I’d argue that no matter what type of slide the Sabres may hit that this line should remain untouched.

The one constant between Tuesday and Thursday’s games are the continued struggles on the defensive side for the Sabres. Tyler Myers has had an up-and-down season and Thursday was certainly a down game. His partner, Jordan Leopold, wasn’t much better in a contest where the Bruins skated freely in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Buffalo’s defensive zone lapses aren’t focused on one area either. In fact the defensemen, centers and wingers have all been culpable at times this season. Even the goaltenders have laid eggs of their own – Enroth in Carolina and Miller on Tuesday. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast 2.5 featuring WGR’s Pat Malacaro

Eric and I were joined by Pat Malacaro of WGR for this edition of The Instigator Podcast where we discussed Mikhail Grigorenko, Tyler Myers and many other Sabres-related items. As always we mixed in plus/minus.

Thanks again to Pat for joining us and be sure to check out Eric and I on Twitter if you haven’t already.

Could defensive depth provide trade leverage?

This originally appeared on Buffalo Wins

With 10 blueliners who played NHL minutes last season, the Sabres have basically become the Costco for NHL defensemen this offseason.

When Adam Pardy came over from Dallas via trade, he gave the Sabres eight NHL defensemen with two more prospects prepared to jump to the NHL this season. Based on the ridiculous level of depth the Sabres have, it isn’t out the realm of possibility to think one or two may be leveraged in a trade that would help the Sabres fill their need at center.

Potential trade partners, the asking price for whoever the Sabres are looking to acquire and the market for the players Buffalo has to offer will have a major effect on what kind of action Darcy Regier can take in shopping these players. In addition, the value of Buffalo’s defensemen varies widely.

Players like Adam Pardy, Alex Sulzer and Mike Weber have such limited upside that they would offer little to a trade than just an extra piece. Given that his cap hit is over $2M and that the Sabres just acquired him, makes Pardy that much more unlikely to be moved.

Robyn Regehr falls into a similar position as Pardy, Sulzer and Weber, but his age and cap hit are two main factors that his departure would be extremely unlikely. Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff are as close to untouchable as you could get. Although, they would each be capable of returning a significant amount of talent. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Defensemen part one

My report card for the Sabres defensemen will be split into two five-man groups. Alexander Sulzer and Mike Weber will be in the second group with a trio of prospects. The first group will be the top five, if you will.

Tyler Myers – B

Overall, it was a decent season for the big man. There were times that he still looked lost defensively, but it was fairly obvious that he is a big part of Buffalo’s transition game. His absence often crippled Buffalo’s ability to move the puck and enter the zone.

I actually think there were some stretches that Myers was especially effective in his own zone, showing that two-way game that so many people are waiting to see develop. A healthy Tyler Myers is important for the Sabres. However, based on the last two years, a proper offseason program is what is important for Myers.

Christian Ehrhoff – A

When the Sabres signed Ehrhoff, I was ecstatic. Even though he didn’t go out and score goals like Bobby Orr, Ehrhoff was a very effective member of the Sabres blueline. In fact, he was their most consistent defenseman for the entire year.

While his goal scoring was down, he led all Buffalo defensemen in points, which is what he was brought here to do. What was unexpected was how great he was defensively. If the coaching staff would build their powerplay to better suit Ehrhoff, I think you would see his numbers increase. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres take two after OT gut check

Just 3.5 seconds away from winning a 2-1 game against the Canadiens, the Sabres couldn’t buckle down and David Desharnais scored to tie the game.

It mattered not as Tyler Myers made a great read in overtime to join the rush and pick up the winning goal. Myers would state in his postgame interview that the tying goal may have condemned the Sabres a month or two ago. He followed that by saying the team has come together with more confidence as of late.

Ryan Miller had 26 saves, a number of them key stops (11 in the 3rd) and had some choice words for his teammates as overtime began. Miller toned it down during postgame, but he said the message was to ignore the late goal and get the job done. Miller has often displayed captain tendencies throughout his career and those are the type on intangibles he brings, especially when he is on his game like he has been since January 1.

Myers has been playing good hockey for a while now. His defensive game is still rounding out and he makes some odd decisions, but he is turning into a dominant force as each game goes by. I still think there needs to be a serious guiding force (whether a coach or partner) for him to grow with. Two hits, three shots, a goal and +1 isn’t a terrible stat line, I liked him tonight.

The other Tyler, the smaller one, was once again dazzling. For those who clamored that he was being wasted and could possibly be a bust, I give you Healthy Tyler Ennis vs. Injured Tyler Ennis. He had a few struggles early on and then suffered that ankle injury. It would appear that he wasn’t right until late January. Now Ennis is playing his natural position and is dazzling with his puck skills. Good on Lindy Ruff for getting him back to that position and allowing him to create.

Ennis’ strong play has coupled with Miller’s run and a few other brief renaissances on the roster, has been the catalyst for this unlikely playoff run. Getting continued scoring is the only way this team will make the playoffs, would appear they’re starting to create the necessary chances, now they need to finish.

  • Everyone off the “Cody Hodgson is Awesome” train and jump aboard the “Cody Hodgson is a Bust” bandwagon. But seriously, Hodgson has been struggling a bit and has gotten his Raffi Torres treatment in shipping down to the fourth line. I would say his travel from Vancouver and to arrive with the Sabres probably wore on him. Add the west coast trip to that. Hopefully he can shake the fatigue, get some practice time and work his way back into more ice time.
  • Staying with the deadline acquisitions, Alex Sulzer has been strong filling in for various injured Sabres. However, Sulzer has not been 23:59 (!) good. He has never been that type of player and never will be. He was on for the tying goal, not that it was his fault alone, but that just shouldn’t happen. The final minutes are for your shutdown players.
  • Tyler Ennis has two goal-of-the-year candidates for the Sabres. His stick flip goal against Pittsburgh and his dangle tonight were both terrific. He has great hands and is going to deserve a great payday pretty soon.
  • Ryan Miller was strong again. Not sure he had a look at Erik Cole’s goal nor did he have much of a chance on the tying tally. He made a few strong saves, particularly in the third, and got the Sabres yet another win.
  • I really liked the lines in which Hodgson and Ennis filled as centers for the top six and Derek Roy was playing as the checking center. Of course, Hodgson wasn’t getting the job done and Ruff was forced to shuffle. I still think there is a line combination that can keep Buffalo’s best offensive weapons among the top six.
  • Allow me to play hypocrite for a moment. Ville Leino has proven to be a pretty solid checking center. I still think he will make his money best playing a top-six role, but he is filling in nicely for Paul Gaustad for the time being.
  • Every game is huge for the Sabres, that pretty much goes without saying. This weekend’s games are going to be pivotal. Well, Saturday (Florida) and next Monday (Tampa Bay). Still, both are against playoff competitors and those head-to-head wins are absolutely necessary.

Game Summary/Event Summary

Double Minors: All Swedish, no finish

Usually the Buffalo Bills serve as the muse for finding every way in which to leave their fans befuddled. After a 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg, it would seem the Sabres are exhausting any remaining avenues for evaluation.

Despite both teams tossing plenty of shots on goal, the game was rather dull. It should be mentioned the full house of fans were incredibly tame too. Based on the last two games, it would seem the biggest culprits regarding the First Niagara Library are the fans. Of course, there isn’t much to cheer for on the ice.

Buffalo received a great effort from Jhonas Enroth in goal, turning aside 39 shots in the loss. Not only was this the second straight game in which Enroth faced a barrage from the opponent, it was his second-straight overtime decision.

Between performance and the apparent fact that Enroth is the only player capable of securing at least one point each night, Lindy Ruff may need to revise his decision to ride Ryan Miller.

Last night’s loss was yet another one-goal effort from the Sabres. This time, Tyler Myers registered the tally on the power play. What seemed lost on many of the fans in the arena was the tremendous passing play that created the goal. While fans complained of too many passes, or yelled shoot, Pominville’s centering feed got behind Ondrej Pavelc. So much for high hockey IQ.

Obviously scoring is the plague killing this season. No matter how bad the goaltending has been, it truly only can be held accountable for a handful of losses. Expecting a shutout or a one-goal against performance each night is foolhardy. Until more scoring finds its way into the lineup, this team will be heading for a lottery pick.

  • The uproar over Ruff’s decision to start Enroth seemed a little shortsighted. A back-to-back weekend was a good time to start Enroth, especially considering his last outing. If Ruff re-evaluates and decides to get more games for Enroth, it wouldn’t be a bad decision. However, until that happens there is no reason to think he is sticking with his decision to ride Miller.
  • Myers lost a few battles in his end last night. It certainly wasn’t as strong of an outing as he had in Carolina. However, Ruff rewarded him with quality minutes and seems confident in leaning on the cornderstone. A quality, while not outstanding, outing was certainly tarnished by the errant pass that led to the game winning rush for Winnipeg. Myers game far exceeds the struggles he had earlier in the year, it seems safe to say he is turning a corner.
  • Ville Leino’s return was a success. He was strong on the puck, made some fantastic feeds. Two resulted in chances and a subsequent penalty. His no goal was probably a good call considering he dug the puck from Pavelec’s pads. However, given how quiet that arena was, no whistle blew. Unless the call was intent to blow (which it wasn’t), there may be an argument in allowing that one to stand.
  • The Sabres should research a headset device that fans can wear which feeds them corrections to some of the things they say during games. For example, when one fan exclaims at the stupidity of placing Vanek on the point for a power play the device can point out that two defensemen are indeed on the ice but one is playing deep in the zone. Just spitballing on that one.
  • You can officially call him Grocery Stick Gragnani. The “defenseman” saw only nine shifts for 7:02 TOI. A majority of that time came on the power play. Obviously he is seen as a complete liability to this team. There doesn’t seem to be much risk in waiving him and bringing up any one of the players in Rochester. Again, T.J. Brennan exhibited a fine two-way game while be heads and shoulders better than Gragnani in his own zone.
  • Drew Stafford is in a serious funk. His goal against Edmonton should have acted as a catalyst to spur a scoring streak. However, he looks like he may be yet another player who needs a change of scenery to break out. Tim Connolly was stale in Buffalo and giving minor contributions, he is enjoying some sound hockey in Toronto. Perhaps a similar change is necessary for Stafford.

Three Stars

1. Johnny Oduya

2. Ondrej Pavelec

3. Jhonas Enroth

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

Myers on the shelf for 4-6 weeks; Brennan recalled

News broke this morning that Tyler Myers will miss up to six weeks due to surgery on his injured wrist. T.J. Brennan was recalled from Rochester to fill the void left by the injury.

Brennan was with the team in Carolina last Friday as a safety valve in the event that an injury or illness struck down a defensive corps that was already short Mike Weber. While there was no intent to play Brennan upon his last call-up, he will most certainly see time this week as the Myers injury left Buffalo with only five healthy defensemen.

While Myers hasn’t been a tower of power early this year, he had been trending back to an effective member of the blueline with three good outings after being a scratch against Montreal last Monday. While he hasn’t made major contributions to the team, Myers’ injury leaves a hole in the top half of a shaky set of defensemen. Inserting Brennan simply bumps the lower three up a peg. Marc-Andre Gragnani becomes number five, Christian Ehrhoff number four and so on.

Brennan will see limited minutes skating beside Gragnani and will just need to operate on the K.I.S.S. methodology. Having the chance to make his NHL debut will be a big deal for the former second-round pick. This is certainly an opportunity to showcase his talents to the organization and prove that he is worthy of a permanent promotion in the near future.

However, Brennan may not be staring at the biggest opportunity. Ehrhoff may just be the defenseman with the most to gain from the injury to Myers. Ehrhoff’s lack of responsibility in the defensive zone through the first 20 games has been lackluster, to say the least. He has loafed through many games and certainly isn’t living up to the big contract he signed in the offseason. He has put forth a much better effort in recent games and is hopefully finding his comfort zone in Buffalo. Regardless, the increased ice time he is likely to see in Myers’ absence will give him the chance to show he is worth the giant contract he signed in the offseason. A big effort from Ehrhoff would certainly lessen the blow dealt by the loss of Myers.