Double Minors: Hot start keeps streak rolling

After leaning on Ryan Miller for over a week, Buffalo’s offense woke up and provided the necessary scoring support that has been absent for a number of games this season. Of course, the Sabres did play on their heels for most of the final two periods.

Darcy Regier was likely smiling big after Ville Leino put in a pair of goals and Brad Boyes picked a corner to chase Robert Luongo after only six minutes. Christian Ehrhoff scored the winning goal and Cody Hodgson continued to display the skills that Buffalo has been lacking down the middle all year.

Granted, Zack Kassian played like and angry junkyard dog all night and picked up a late goal to keep the game interesting. The game Kassian showed last night was the type of hockey Buffalo drafted him for. That attitude was in and out during his time with the Sabres. Whether his game was inconsistent because of his attitude, coaching or lack of veteran leadership; is unknown. In my opinion it is a combination of all three. I have to think his immaturity played a role, especially considering the assumed core of the team. Add to a system that appears to be predicated on position and puck control over physical domination, you have a perfect storm for a bust.

The Sabres win gives them a chance to tie Winnipeg tomorrow night and snag a playoff spot for the first time in what seems like the entire season. The playoff push has gotten awfully interesting just over a month removed from the Fail for Nail campaign.

  • Ryan Miller’s tremendous shutout streak was finally ended in the second period. He played good hockey last night, it just wasn’t as dazzling as the previous handful of games. He was a difference maker, particularly in the second period. He needs an equally effective game on Monday before he earns a break mid-week.
  • The Sabres need to find a way to stomp their foot on the throat of their opponents. Too many times during the season Buffalo has staked a two or three-goal lead only to let their opponent back in to tie or steal a victory. Credit the entire roster for the third period clamp and grinding out the win. Still, this is not a way to win games. The Sabres were bitten in the playoff last year and I can assure you the same will happen this year, too.
  • Alexander Sulzer was quietly effective in his Sabres debut. He and Mike Weber play a similar game. I think Sulzer has better puck skills than Weber, while Weber plays with a little more jam. It is a good position to be in compared to how poorly Marc-Andre Gragnani played this year.
  • To that point, Gragnani looked like he wanted to prove a point was is still too soft to get the job done. Kassian has the physical gifts and edge to get that job done. Gragnani is a soft, expendable player and he proved that in spades last night.
  • I’m glad to see Ville Leino playing well. He is not my ideal pick as a center, especially a checking center. However, he has embraced the role and was rewarded last night. His game finally turned a corner in January. He isn’t earning his pay yet, but he is getting there.
  • I’m waiting to see Cody Hodgson actually get on the scoresheet. He has been terrific in all three games, but hasn’t gotten the tangible results that many fans are waiting for. Understand this, he makes the Sabres a better team today and in the future.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Immediate reunion for Kassian and Hodgson

Tonight’s reunion for Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer, Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani isn’t likely to be too friendly. They will face their former teams only five day after the four players were involved in the most surprising trade of the 2012 deadline.

Hodgson has already shown his two-way skill and offensive prowess while centering Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. The needs he addressed for the Sabres were exactly what has been missing for most of the season. The same can be said for Kassian in Vancouver. His physical edge is something the Canucks have been looking to build on and he should provide a nice bit of sandpaper for the playoffs.

It is my contention that the culture of the Sabres organization wasn’t suited to bring out the best in Kassian. His bruising style is the reason they drafted him. However, I don’t think the locker room has any veterans who can help young players identify the need to play 100% every night. Additionally, I don’t think the coaching staff preaches the need to finish checks and bury opponents. Considering that, you would see why Kassian’s physical game was often missing. Losing Kassian’s toughness is ok, that is something that can be purchased via free agency.

Tonight is just another arduous matchup for the Sabres. They need every point possible and are on a western road swing against some of the Western Conference’s best teams. Vancouver is playing brilliant hockey and is a deep, talented team. This is a game that will truly test Buffalo’s hot streak.

I’d expect to see Jhonas Enroth in net, for reasons I name later. Vancouver could roll out either of their goaltenders and give the Sabres fits. Buffalo beat Vancouver in OT last season, but Vancouver’s depth is likely to give the Sabres a lot of trouble tonight. For a road trip that has been tough enough, it seems to get more difficult as it continues.

Highlighted Matchup

Jhonas Enroth. He almost has to play tonight. Ryan Miller was extremely busy on Wednesday and Thursday. Miller also suffered some sort of injury late in the third period on Thursday. Whatever was hurt (ankle, calf etc.) doesn’t seem to be serious. But I’d play it safe, especially considering the hot streak he has been on. Enroth needs to spell his partner and a day off against a dangerous Canucks team might be just what the doctor ordered for Miller. Not to mention, he would be fully rested for Monday’s pivotal game against Winnipeg. Still, don’t be surprised if Ruff trots Miller out yet again. He still doesn’t seem to have a grasp on rotating his goaltenders.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

VAN: Roberto Luongo

Last Meeting

Sabres 4 – Canucks 3, HSBC Arena, 11/15/2011

*no stats for tonight*

2ITB NHL preview: The West

Since it is a yearly occurrence for the West to have 13 teams in the playoff race and two team at least 20 points out of eighth, I struggled to find a good balance of picks this season. I made a bold choice with the Kings last year. While I don’t have them coming out of the West, I have made a similarly bold statement

Continue reading

Bruins capture Stanley Cup

The Boston Bruins went into Vancouver and skated all over the Canucks on their way to a 4-0 victory in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final.

After three dominating performances in Boston, the Bruins found a way to bottle their home game and bring it west. Aside from a few players, the Canucks came out flat and got average goaltending, yet again. The Bruins were good from top to bottom and received great goaltending from the slam-dunk Conn Smythe winner.

A lot of credit needs to be given to the Bruins for not only finding a way to steal a win on the road but roll up two stellar games in a row to flip the series in their favor. After Vancouver’s 1-0 win in game five the Canucks had all of the momentum. Unfortunately Roberto Luongo was bad in game six and bad again in game seven. The Bruins first goal was rather fluky but goals two and three needed to be saved. In fact, it looked to me like he gave up on Patrice Bergeron’s shorthanded goal. Continue reading

Game seven, who has the edge?

You have probably heard t at least twice today. “It is the game every young boy dreams of. Scoring the winning goal in overtime of game seven to win the Stanley Cup.”

If that isn’t said by Doc Emrick is some form tonight I would be happy to buy a Carolina Hurricanes championship hat. But I have faith that some facsimile of that statement will be utter by an NBC staffer on live TV this evening.

What I’m curious to see is how short of a leash is given to Roberto Luongo (LeBrongo if you wish). If the Bruins pot one or two in the first you have to think Corey Schneider will get tossed between the pipes quite quickly.

However, I don’t see t getting to that point. The Canucks rebounded for two horrible games in Boston for a big win in game five that was ripe with sound defensive hockey. The Nucks came out hitting that game and didn’t allow the Bruins to establish themselves. Expect to see that again tonight.

The Canucks will had the benefit of the last change and he ability to keep the Sedin’s away from Chara and Siedenberg while keeping Beiksa and Edler locked down on the Krejci line. They will also have their home fans behind them.

What will work against the Canucks is the ever tightening noose around their collective necks. They took hold of the series in game five but took too much rope as they headed to Boston for game six. They have just about hung themselves. Luongo is also not a safe bet, no matter how good he has been at home.

Meanwhile the Bruins have Tim Thomas and an angry attitude as they carry another blowout win into Vancouver. The one guarantee I can make you is that Thomas will win the Conn Smythe. Outside of Ryan Kesler blowing up for like 8 points, the trophy is going to belong to Thomas. The Bruins also have more healthy players and the sense that scoring the first goal will do the Canucks in.

I picked the Canucks to win this series and I felt really good about my pick after the first two games. However, I’m taking the Bruins to win tonight. They have imposed their will on the Canucks at TD Garden and, truthfully, they were two bounces away from winning games one and two. The fourth game is always the toughest to win, especially after the team on the brink is given new life. That is what has happened here. the Canucks let the Bruins back into the series and they will pay for it tonight. Just like in 1994, the Canucks fall in a seventh game.

Game six, will the ‘Nucks close it out?

If the first two games in Boston were any indication, it will be a chore for Vancouver to close out the Stanley Cup Final on the road. In fact, the first two games may make this an impossible game to win for the Canucks.

Looking at the situation there isn’t much of a difference. Vancouver recaptured the momentum in game five, their goalie found his swagger and the penalty kill regained form. Not to mention, the team stopped acting like a bunch of hormonal teenagers and just played hockey in game five. Boston returns home on their heels and in a must-win situation. Add to that their power play continues to be a bugaboo.

The only difference that lies in the weeds for game six is the mental factor. The Bruins have to play a flawless game in order to force a game seven. The Canucks also know they are one win away and 60 good minutes will grant them Lord Stanley’s Cup. All the players will say “we just have to forget about it and play our game” or “this is just another game, we just need to go out and win it.” That is all fine and dandy, but they are certainly thinking of what lies at the end of 60 minutes. How will it affect the game? I can’t say. I just know they are huffing grass if they haven’t started sweating a little about the prospect of this game. Continue reading

Bobby Lou or Corey Schnider in game five?

Roberto Luongo wasn’t very good on two of Boston’s goals last night. The other two weren’t fantastic either. That doesn’t even begin to explain game three.

When the Canucks began to melt down against the Blackhawks, the epicenter was in net. Most of the blame was shouldered on Roberto Luongo. He wasn’t good in the middle of that series, nor was his team. Now, the rest of the Canucks were very average in games three and four and Luongo was just as average. Continue reading

Rome gets four games

Aaron Rome delivered a monsters hit to Nathan Horton at the Vancouver blue line last night. The hit left Horton unconscious on the ice and Rome was ejected.

The fallout is this: Horton will miss the remainder of the Finals with a severe concussion and Rome will miss the remainder of the Finals with a four-game suspension.

I think the NHL’s punishment is appropriate. Rome left his feet and hammered a guy way too late. The result was a serious injury and Rome will now pay the price.

A lot of people seem to think the four-game ban isn’t enough and i have to disagree. I don’t think this was a hit to the head, nor was it blind side. Face it people, when the players are skating AT each other there is not a blind side. Sure Horton was vulnerable but it wasn’t a blind side hit. I do agree that the hit was far too late and that by leaving his feet Rome was putting Horton in a position to be injured.

So Rome deserved a suspension and he got one. He will not play in the rest of this series and that is fair. There is a theory that playoff games count double when dealing with suspensions, so the critics can rest with the fact that Rome is suspended for eight games, technically speaking. Personally, I think that theory is a load of garbage. Four games is four games, period.

However, this was the exact length the guy deserved. There is no previous history with the guy, in fact he has been the victim twice this season. So don’t hate on he discipline system on this one. Had they only given him one or two games thee would be a case, but missing the remainder of their run is all Rome needed to be given.

NHL’s consistency bites them again

This topic has been rehashed far too many times. But the fact of the matter is Alex Burrows should not have played in game two of the Stanly Cup Finals. However, he did and he had a very small impact on the game.

I am a Canucks fan, have been for a while now (didn’t jump on the bandwagon this year). I wanted Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler shipped to Buffalo at least three years ago. This is a team I have a vested interest in, I still think it is a sham that Burrows was able to play. We can all admit he bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger, there is no doubting that one. Most people can probably admit he should have been suspended for the infraction. I also think it is safe to assume that a vast majority of hockey fans think it is brutal that the NHL didn’t give him a single game for chomping down on Bergeron’s channel changing digit.

I will admit when I saw the incident live I conceded that he could get away with the bit because it looked like he was attempting to pull Bergeron’s hand out of his mouth rather that ingesting it. Still, there is little evidence to show he didn’t bit the guy and he should have gotten at least one game. Here lies the problem.

Even with Colin Campbell, the previously assumed culprit of the NHL’s wishy-washy discipline, out of the decision making process, the NHL still got it wrong. The same goes for Nathan Horton not getting suspended for throwing a water bottle at a Tampa fan (even if he/she deserved it). Add to that his borderline headshot on Steve Downie. Horton probably shouldn’t have played in game seven of the ECF and he scored the clinching goal. Hell, Andrew Ference went out of his way to knock Jeff Halpern in the face during the Bruins’ series with the Habs. Ference ended up having a say in the outcome of that game too.

It seems as if the NHL isn’t capable of drawing that line. They are afraid of banning their stars and they’re equally afraid to drastically affect the outcome of a game or asides with a ruling. Unfortunately they are doing exactly that be being consistently inconsistent. Perhaps Brendan Shanahan will be able to bring some stability to this process, because now it is nothing short of a train wreck.