Tonight’s game is the biggest game of the Sabres’ season, since the last one. And until the next one. I actually started writing this last week, but never finished it, yet it still can be considered correct. One new positive is that the Sabres can now narrow their focus down to two teams, as they are 6+ points clear of every club below them. It’s all about Washington (tonight’s opponent) and Ottawa (4 points ahead, Buffalo with a game in hand).
Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta are both cleared to play tonight, though it remains to be seen if either gets back in tonight. I think it’s pretty safe to assume Marcus Foligno is going nowhere, so some combo of Tropp, Turnbull or McCormick would be sitting or sent back to Rochester. Barring any oddities like sitting Boyes or whatever.
7pm tonight, appointment television. Recording it, kicking the wife off the big TV, the whole nine yards. I’m finally feeling some excitement. Let’s do this.
This is, frankly, amazing to me. I AGAIN wrote this team off completely, still cheering for them, but kind of hoping they’d get an awesome draft pick and clean house. They made some solid deadline moves, pulling in a great player for the future, getting another 1st round pick, and so on. How could I know that Ryan Miller would start throwing down shutouts left and right? That Ville Leino and Brad Boyes would light up the scoresheet in the one game where he didn’t? And these are not bad teams being beaten either, with Boston, Vancouver and San Jose all falling to Buffalo recently. A healthy defense, secondary scoring to pick up the team when Vanek and Pominville are scuffling…this is what we thought we had all along. You all know by now that the Sabres can get at least a share of 8th place tonight, by beating Winnipeg in regulation. It may not last, but even so – they matter in this race now. What had been simply ‘not mathematically eliminated’ is now something much more possible. It’s quite a ride, and I’m glad I get to see them in person (as a fan, not with my ‘Serious Blogger Face’ on) against Montreal next week. Buckle up.
Buffalo played Jhonas Enroth in both back to back games this weekend, and won both by one goal. It certainly won’t mute the vocal minority who are now thinking that maybe Enroth should be the one to get 50-60 games this year. I don’t think that’s what is happening here, Ruff is giving Ryan Miller some time to clear that horrible Flyers game out of his head, get the work in at practice, and come back with a vengeance.
As for the games, the one on Friday against the Flames was about as perfect a game as Buffalo could play. They peppered Calgary’s backup goalie with shots, with Stafford and Gerbe scoring in the 2-1 win. It was night and day from the difficult to watch team that couldn’t seem to buy a good scoring chance, when they weren’t too busy giving the puck away. Last night’s game against the Senators was more even and not quite as dominant, but still showed a lot of positive signs. Robyn Regehr was wrecking dudes, Boyes and Leino both played very solidly, and Nathan Gerbe was a stud on the Leopold goal. Derek Roy scored the other Buffalo goal, and also had the decider in the shootout. Vanek and Boyes both contributed in the shootout as well to keep Buffalo alive. These two games really seem like what we were expecting from the start of the season, the right guys contributing…save for the goalie. REALLY interested to see how Enroth gets used in the up coming week, with a Tuesday home game against Winnipeg, another Friday/Saturday combo with a rematch against Ottawa and a trip to Boston, then a Monday game in Montreal. Is he back to one game on the weekend? Two? I think if Miller plays well against Winnipeg, assuming he goes in for that one, we are back to the ‘schedule’ for Jhonas. But if he plays against the Jets…
First period thoughts: Passing is squirrelly at best. Miller made some solid saves. McCormick/Ellis/Boyes did some good work out there but they can’t be the best line. Sekera had some good plays, Gragnani needs to learn how to receive a pass. Myers is still having a rough go, with the penalty and some tough plays around his own net. I’m fine with the goal not counting, could’ve gone either way but when the foot moves forward, and the refs started discussing it right off. Personal note: I almost cheered in the pressbox. Bad Tick.
Second period thoughts: Vanek went Atlas on his goal, but the D is still just slinging pucks all over the pace and hoping the right guys get them. They are lucky this is the Panthers and not the Capitals. The Sabres seemed to pick up their play and operate a bit more coherently after Vanek’s goal, so hopefully that can continue on into the third. Theodore has looked beatable, but they’ve gotta get more shots – only 14 after 2 periods. Not enough. Personal note: I like the hot dogs up here better than the ones they sell at the concession stands. Which isn’t saying much.
Third period thoughts: Silent J fizzled on a breakaway. Gragnani is still a wreck. Just when you thought it was safe to plan for a win, the wheels fell off. Perhaps the retaliation penalty by Stafford was a sign of things to come. Gerbe getting the extra 2 was deadly. There were still too many passes that were sent on their way with no thought to destination. While they got a few more shots in, it was in no way enough. Miller definitely could’ve been better but you can’t lay it at his door, not totally. Seemed like no one was on the same page, except maybe McCormick/Ellis/Boyes. A tough loss to swallow. Personal note: Not sure I want my first post-game press conference to be with Angry Lindy.
Post-game presser thoughts: Lindy was ticked with their effort, using words like pathetic, disjointed and the like. Didn’t want to say too much about the calls. On a personal note, Vogl works blue and I had a difficult time not throwing down a #feces reference. It’s interesting to see the regulars operate there, there’s a hierarchy in place for questioning, though I don’t think too many wanted to gamble on getting an earful back for a dumb question tonight.
Anyway, it was a great experience. I want to thank Ian Ott, Kevin Snow and the Buffalo Sabres for the opportunity. I think I will do this again, though it’ll be easier once my wife is off work again. Philly comes to town on Wednesday, a 7:30pm start game on Versus, so plan accordingly.
Giving up 40+ shots isn’t how you want to win, but a strong performance from Jhonas Enroth allowed the Sabres to do just that last night. Vanek/Adam/Pominville continue to dominate, with Pommers scoring twice, Vanek assisting on 3, and Brad Boyes scoring again. There were penalties and giveaways, guys named Cody fighting, and a Kaleta goal celebration. It was the sort of game where you are happy you won but you still work the team twice as hard so they don’t get it in their heads that this was okay. Still, it was entertaining as hell to watch. Two of the goals came on the powerplay, which looked to have better puck and player movement. That’s one thing they don’t have to forget, at least.
The Sabres will be back at it tomorrow night against the Panthers, and I might be in the pressbox for that one.
Despite the quick start, last night’s tilt against the Lightning turned into the typical tough loss. A couple of goals against off your own defenseman’s skate, a couple of other guys have a rough outing, and the end result is a 4-3 loss. Vanek and Boyes opened the scoring early, and Gerbe made it interesting late, but ultimately Mathieu Garon got another win against the Sabres. You can bet we’ll be seeing him in the other two games against the Lightning.
You hate to lose two in a row to the same team, but I scratch my head a bit at some folks out there. They seem to forget that Tampa was a playoff team last year, taking eventual champ Boston to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. But hey, if it makes you feel better to panic a few games into the season, go ahead. I’ll just be over here, enjoying the action. Next up, the Blue Jackets come for a visit tomorrow night.
Playing with the Cap Calculator at Capgeek (too much fun), I’ve worked out this roster possibility. I’ll post new ones as the Sabres make more moves, or the real cost of an RFA contract becomes known. I gave everyone that I brought on a bit of an upgrade in salary, seems like what usually happens to most RFAs.
CAPGEEK.COM CAP CALCULATOR
Thomas Vanek ($7.142m) / Derek Roy ($4.000m) / Jason Pominville ($5.300m)
Brad Boyes ($4.000m) / Ville Leino ($4.500m) / Drew Stafford ($4.000m)
Tyler Ennis ($0.875m) / Jochen Hecht ($3.525m) / Patrick Kaleta ($0.907m)
Nathan Gerbe ($1.433m) / Paul Gaustad ($2.300m) / Cody McCormick ($1.200m)
/ Luke Adam ($0.875m)
Tyler Myers ($1.300m) / Robyn Regehr ($4.020m)
Jordan Leopold ($3.000m) / Christian Ehrhoff ($4.000m)
Andrej Sekera ($1.200m) / Mike Weber ($0.850m)
/ Marc-Andre Gragnani ($0.600m)
Ryan Miller ($6.250m) / Jhonas Enroth ($1.200m)
BUYOUTS: Tim Kennedy ($0.166m)
CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $62,645,357; BONUSES: $562,500
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $1,654,643
This is a fairly typical Lindy Ruff 22-man roster, I didn’t work too hard on lines and pairings as Lindy changes them as often as Bruce Boudreau changes his bib at lunch. This setup demotes or trades Kotalik and Morrisonn, but really it could be done by moving Hecht or Boyes (or both) instead. Basically, Buffalo has a ton of guys in that $3mil – $5.5mil price range, it makes sense that they’d get some of these guys out to make room not just for the space to sign the RFAs they have, but to also make room for some of the Amerks that are ready to make the jump. The team is remade, and will be remade again next year.
There’s a lull in the schedule, following the loss on Tuesday, so here are some random thoughts.
- Tim Connolly played…well? Has had a few games. This would be huge if it continues, so Buffalo can keep Boyes on the wing.
- Where is Jordan Leopold? Might be better on D but we could use his scoring.
- Does Kaleta have a spot in the lineup when he gets back? In the playoffs?
- Does Patrick Lalime still wear that hat in the press box?
- Love the tribute painted on the ice for Rick Martin. I never saw him play, but I can see how big he was here, on and off the ice.
The next few nights are nerve-wracking, as Toronto and New Jersey both play tonight, with NJ and Carolina in play tomorrow. The Sabres need to have a good weekend against Atlanta and Nashville (who really need points too).
A come from behind win against the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers is an event to be celebrated. Some even declared the weekend a success just by getting these 2 points. While that’s true enough from a certain point of view, I’d like to see Buffalo take the playoff spot by the throat and not let go. Win tomorrow, behind Enroth (who they have won for before), and show the league they are not an easy out. Take that 7th spot, gain points against a couple of good teams in Pittsburgh and Boston, then roll the Leafs in front of their own fans. I want waffles on the ice, guys. Too many times this team has impressed and regressed. The move needs to be made now. Make it so.
As far as the game goes, you have Pominville, Ennis, Stafford and Sekera scoring, with Nathan Gerbe getting the empty netter that many of us missed (see below). Brad Boyes and Thomas Vanek both had 2 assists, and Vanek played more than 20 minutes. Tim Connolly, by the way, 17 min, -1, ‘winning’ just over a quarter of the draws he took. So valuable. Montador, +3.
By the way, Time Warner Cable and MSG combined for a horrible series of gaffes in the broadcast today, twice causing those of us on the SD feed to lose the game, including with 2 minutes to go when MSG switched back to…halftime of a Women’s College Basketball game. You just can’t be that asleep at the switch on such an important game. I’m smart enough to have my DVR record 30 minutes past the normal end time, you’d think they could have a guy you know, watching the game to make sure the right broadcast stays on. Terrible.