Grading the Sabres: Adam, Chewy and those departed

This is the final group of forwards I will evaluate. This set of grades will actually include reviews of the three players who were traded at the deadline, plus a pair of centers who are still with the team.

Luke Adam – B-

Adam sort of got a raw deal this season. After a scorching hot start, he ended up in the doghouse and eventually was sent down to Rochester after the All-Star break. His demotion was permanent as he is still playing on the farm. I loved his play with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and I contend that line should probably have stayed together through the brief slump that eventually led to Adam being sent to Rochester.

Adam did struggle some along the way this year and may have needed more seasoning. However, I think he was handled poorly and I question if his confidence has been shaken by the way Lindy Ruff decided to ship him away.

All things considered, Szczechura proved he is a capable depth forward, perfect for the AHL and spot call-up duty.

Paul Szczechura – B

Just one game short of ten, I felt comfortable giving Szczechura a grade for his play. He was called up in the middle of Buffalo’s injury crunch and actually outperformed some regulars. He had a few very nice games at center and proved that he is more than worthy of an early call up in the future. Like Derek Whitmore, Szczechura doesn’t fill a fourth line role all that well but has that offensive touch that makes him intriguing to recall. Again, if the Sabres are in need of a bit more skill, Szczechura is likely to get a call. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 1.6 – Codylicious

Darcy Regier went big at the deadline this year and snagged Cody Hodgson from the Vancouver Canucks. Eric and I discuss the Hodgson swap along with other deadline dealings from the Sabres and the rest of the league in this episode of The Instigator.

Double Minors: Power play, Vanek spur victory against Leafs

It was the home game Sabres fans were waiting to see. The Sabres put forth the closest thing to a 60-minute effort than they had all year long at home and it resulted in a 5-4 victory over the Leafs.

In terms of entertainment value, last night was easily tops for the home schedule this season. Buffalo rode a four-goal second period to the victory. The Sabres’ three power play goals were the difference, one of the few times this season the extra man unit has been the reason for a win.

Credit to the Leafs – who are massively improved – for creating chances and carrying a good portion of the play with their speed and creativity. That is a difficult to team to corral simply because of the speed they possess on each line.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this game was that Buffalo pressed down when their foot was upon the collective throat of the Leafs. Lindy Ruff was running his usual defensive shell in the third period, an easy decision with a two-goal lead, but the team didn’t sit around and wait. While a majority of the third consisted of chip-and-chase, the Sabres stayed aggressive on the rush and had a few good chances.

Vanek’s game-winner came as a result of the Sabres not falling into a prevent defense, although they did yield the Kulemin breakaway and the Grabovski tally as well. While it wasn’t a clean third period, it was far better than the effort put forth against Ottawa on Wednesday.

Buffalo capped their five-game home stand with a 2-1-2 record, that is six of a possible ten points. Considering the way in which they lost their overtime games, the record could have been 4-1-0. While home games have been a chore this season, a .600 point percentage and that record could possibly be considered an improvement.

  • Thomas Vanek, aside from that dreadful turnover, was a complete monster. He had two great goals and made up for his brief cold spell with a four-point night. A fantastic outing from Buffalo’s best player was just what the doctor ordered.
  • Zack Kassian had a couple good hits and used his body well. He is a beast on the wall and in the corners. He also had that tremendous takeaway that led to Vanek’s first goal. In terms of momentum swings, Kassian’s effort on the back check and eventual apple may have been the biggest for the Sabres.
  • Most Leaf fans were bemoaning the officiating last night. Not sure where they were coming from, however. The Phaneuf hit was clearly a boarding infraction, there is no debating that. Was it worthy of a major? Probably not, but the official had to make a choice then and there and he went with his gut. Considering that is the type of hit the NHL is attempting to eradicate, might help to explain why it ended up being a major. As for missed calls, that goes both ways. The other infractions in the Leafs’ parade to the box were quite obvious. Just a tough night for the boys in white.
  • Ryan Miller allowed four goals and his save percentage for last night was .878. However, he was not only the best goalie on the ice, he was great between the pipes. He made some big power play stops, he had a great pad save on Kulemin prior to his PS and he robbed Joffery Lupul on the doorstep. Miller has looked like the goalie who started the season for the Sabres. By no means is that a bad thing.
  • Brayden McNabb didn’t see too much ice last night. He was great in the time he was out there, but the limited time likely means a trip back to Rochester is nearing. That is unfortunate considering he has shown far more in-zone savvy than Marc-Andre Gragnani, who seems to have the uncanny ability to be horrible while still getting ice time.
  • Gragnani was much better last night than he has been in recent games. His power play contributions were noticeable and he didn’t make any glaring defensive zone errors. That being said, his arrogance about his recent play is troubling and his lack of physical play is maddening.

Three Stars

1. Thomas Vanek

2. Drew Stafford

3. Tyler Ennis

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Kassian set to make his debut

It is the debut every Sabres fan has been waiting for. Some have been saying to call Zack Kassian up since he signed his entry level contract and appeared in a handful of games for Portland last year.

Zack Kassian will make his much anticipated NHL debut in Columbus this evening. John Vogl reports the big winger will skate with Luke Adam and Matt Ellis. A wise choice by Ruff to put Kassian with the center he skated with for nearly the entire summer. That will give him some familiarity for this contest.

Kassian will need to play a physical game this evening. His draft position was determined by his physical play and scoring touch. He hasn’t shown much physical edge since breaking into the professional ranks and he needs to find that side of his game if he has any hope of becoming an NHL regular.

Buffalo’s biggest challenge tonight will be to find continuity as they enter yet another game with some sort of change to their lineup. While Kassian is the newest face; Jochen Hecht, Corey Tropp and Matt Ellis will all be shifted from their roles on Wednesday.

Columbus is entering the game with Curtis Sanford and Allen York as their goaltenders for the contest. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering Steve Mason has had seriously terrible season (3.63 GAA & .875 SV%) while Sanford is sporting a 1.33 GAA and a .946 SV%, granted that is in only five games of action.

Buffalo’s previous victory over Columbus came on the shoulders of a brilliant performance by Jhonas Enroth as the Blue Jackets out shot the Sabres 43-26. Buffalo’s special teams were deadly in the last meeting and both units have been impressive throughout the year and will continue to key wins and losses for this team. Especially if they continue to struggle with injuries.

Highlighted Matchup

Buffalo penalty kill. The Sabres power play gave them a 2-0 lead on Wednesday night, T.J. Brennan made it 3-1. However, the penalty kill failed them, allowing a pair of goals (including the tying tally) as the Sabres found a way to lose to the Bruins. The penalty kill is missing plenty of pieces (Kaltea, Myers, Weber) and will need to shore up for this evening.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 12GP 7-2-1, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV%

CBJ: Curtis Sanford 5GP 2-0-2, 1.33 GAA, .946 SV%

Last Game

10/27/2011, First Niagara Center, Sabres 4 – Blue Jackets 2


The Morning Skate: Sabres look to extend Northeast Division lead at home

The Sabres return to First Niagara Center today to face the New Jersey Devils, a team fresh off a trip to Boston last night.

Buffalo remains without Ryan Miller and it appears that Cody McCormick may miss the game due to an injury sustained in Montreal. While no word has come down at this time the Sabres have two options, call up a forward from Rochester or dress seven defensemen. Obviously option two is far more attractive, especially considering the play of Corey Tropp in his four-game debut. Many fans are clamoring to see Zack Kassian, but it may be too soon for that. Marc-Andre Gragnani could end up on the wing, but that just seems like a monumental waste. However, he is probably better served in that position than any other.

The Devils fell to the Bruins thanks to a three-goal third period from the B’s. New Jersey is currently on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference ‘s top eight. Their position is due, in large part, to a shoddy start and an injury to Marty Brodeur. Of course, Brodeur wasn’t stellar in his time before or after the injury either, so it could be a case of an aging core playing in front of an aged star.

Considering Johan Hedberg played in Boston, it should be expected that Brodeur will be in net for the Devils this evening. The Sabres will counter with Jhonas Enroth as he is expected to see the lion’s share of work until Ryan Miller returns.

Highlighted Matchup

Zack Parise vs. Thomas Vanek. Both were NCAA superstars, both the Devils and Sabres offense run through them, respectively. Vanek has been on fire all season, Parise has decent numbers through 16 games. It will be interesting to see which player comes out on top tonight.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth 8GP, 6-0-0, 1.76 GAA, .942 SV%

NJD: Martin Brodeur 6GP, 2-3-0, 3.02 GAA, .880 SV%

Last Game

3/26/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Devils 0


Buffalo Sabres season preview: Black Aces

This is part five of a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. This edition will focus on the wingers and centers expected to play in Rochester. Here are links for parts one through four: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Zack Kassian is on the fence between Buffalo and Rochester at this point.

It is fairly easy to write out a rough depth chart based on the abundance of talent the Sabres have at wing. It has a trickle-down effect to the AHL level based on the players who are assumed to make the NHL roster, and those who will be riding the bus in Rochester.

The centers are being roped into this equation simple because there is very little organizational depth at the center position.

Aside from Zack Kassian and Ales Kotalik, the rest of the wingers in the Buffalo Sabres system are penciled in to begin the year playing for the Americans. Even Kotalik is likely to be sent down due to salary constraints. Since Kassian has seen little time at the AHL level, let alone against NHL talent, some seasoning in the minors will do him well. I fully expect to see him playing in every situation for Rochester as he is likely the top candidate to snag the AHL Rookie of the Year award for the Sabres organization. Continue reading

Double Minors: Sabres prospects claim Traverse City championship

Count it as the first championship in the Pegula era. The Buffalo Sabres prospects claimed the 2011 Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament championship in their first appearance in the event with a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers prospects. Be sure to check out for Kevin Snow’s coverage and video highlights.

Buffalo sent a squad with numerous veterans, including the reigning AHL Rookie of the Year, and their dominance showed. The Sabres never trailed in the contest and asserted their victory with three third period goals. Nathan Lieuwen provided another strong performance as he ran his tournament record to 2-0 with five goals against.

The gamesheets are all kinds of incorrect on the Pointstreak website, so I can’t give a full statistical analysis. For example, Zack Kassian was credited with the final Sabres goal which was clearly scored by Marcus Foligno. Still, Kassian finished with four points which ties him with Luke Adam, Nick Crawford, Jonathon Parker and Phil Varone. If my math is correct, Marcus Foligno led the Sabres with five points (3+2).

Continue reading

Buffalo Sabres season preview: Wingin’ it

Thomas Vanek is a prime candidate to be the Sabres' next captain.

This is part four in a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part four focuses on the wingers. Read the previous three entries here.

Darcy Regier has a knack for acquiring wingers. It probably has a lot to do with the league-wide overabundance at the position. Still, the Sabres have a stockpile of talented wingers entering training camp this week.

There are eight openings available and at least ten players vying for a spot on the opening night roster. Based on the salary figures – the Sabres are still $3.5 million over the cap – the projected depth chart is fairly easy to lay out. There are a handful of players who a prime trade candidates, but without anything more than vague rumors it is unfair to speculate who will be part of the organization in a few weeks.

Although the top four wingers are likely locks, the remaining four positions are up for grabs, so to speak. Due to contract structure, intangibles and production; Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek are all likely to be safe from a trade or demotion to Rochester.

Continue reading

The Pegula Puzzle: Black aces

I am onto part three of my offseason look at the Sabres and how the roster may look when the season begins. I took a look at who Darcy Regier should resign in the first part and I broke down how the current players will fall into the 2011-12 roster in part two. The third piece of the Pegula Puzzle will focus on where the Sabres prospects will land for the upcoming season.

The 2011-12 season will be the first year that the prospect cupboard begins to truly stock up. The Sabres are well removed from their last European draft pick and the ease of moving picks into the minors is starting to pay dividends. In addition, Marcus Foligno, Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk all received entry-level deals as last season wound down. Those four players represent some of the most promising talent in the Sabres’ pipeline, three of them will be playing professionally next year. Pysyk will be the only one to return to his junior team. Continue reading