An End to Suffering?

So the Sabres season is finally over.  It’s a relief, to be honest, even for someone like me who had tried to keep a lighter level of interest.  John Vogl’s column has the grim details – 2-16-2 through the last 20, 150 goals on the season, clear of the 29th place team by 14 points – but to hear the media tell it, it will never be so bad again.

Will that be true, though?  The turnover will be immense, especially if you count the moves going back to the deadline.  Captains, goaltenders, coaches, execs, nowhere has been immune to the tectonic shifts in the Sabres franchise.  That’s not a recipe for success.  Next season is going to involve a large number of new players which will need time to gel.  The main thing going for them is it would be nearly impossible to be this bad again.  You could just about accidently score more than 150 goals if you swap in a few players that actually shoot the puck.

What does that mean, though?  26th place next year?  A slight chance at a playoff spot?  It may not be suffering, but it isn’t exactly set up for a season of joy.  I’m curious to see how attendance works out next season, whether fans can get excited about seeing more of the young kids, or if there are any new surprising vets to watch.  We’ve got a non-Darcy offseason to look forward to – we don’t know much about Tim Murray and what’s going to happen, so this might just be the most interesting part of 2014 for the Sabres as a team and fans.  See you at the draft lottery.

Sorry, Ville

Seriously, can this guy catch a break?  Er, bad choice of words.  The view from the press box probably isn’t helping him any, as his team struggles to find an identity (and their man in the defensive zone) managing only 1 point in the standings in four games.  Goaltending has been a bright spot, though they worked Miller so hard his groin kept him out of a game.  Jhonas Enroth ably filled in, but eventually, your team might have to chip in a goal or three.

I wish I could say things are going to get better soon, but really, a team filled with teenagers, head cases and only one real scoring threat is not one that shakes off a slump easily.  All the line-juggling and benchings in the world won’t help.  Time, practice and teaching will.  That can’t happen if a player is in a suit.  Neither can it happen if he’s toiling on the fourth line alongside John Scott or Cody McCormick.  Mistakes suck, and they are hard to watch.  I get that.  But they need to be made if they are to be learned from.  Or, pessimistically, we need to see if a player CAN learn from them.  So give me Grigorenko and Larsson, Girgensons and Ristolainen.  Foligno, Pysyk, Hodgson – let’s see what we have.  If we’re going to suffer, let’s suffer with a purpose.

Today’s lines at practice:

  • Vanek – Hodgson – Ott
  • Foligno – Ennis – Stafford
  • Girgensons – Larsson – Flynn
  • McCormick – Porter – Kaleta

On D:

  • Ehrhoff – Pysyk
  • Weber – Myers
  • McBain – Ristolainen

This is a problem.  Yeah, Grigorenko hasn’t been great.  But he’s not some 5 year veteran who needs to be shaken up by having to sit a few games.  He’s a KID whose best chance is to work on his game NOW.

Sabres and Leafs – Weekend Warriors

I was at the Sabres/Leafs game on Saturday night with my son, saw a bunch of fights, goals, and an epic shootout.  And that was the LESS interesting game.  Sunday’s game in Toronto saw Tropp possibly concussed, John Scott and Phil Kessel sort of fight (I guess), Miller and Bernier fight, slashing, spearing, bench-leavin’ and pretty much everything else you can think of.

I’m not going to place blame or throw stones at any particular team, coach or player – there really isn’t anybody who comes out looking good in that mess.  It may have been entertaining to watch when it happened, but it doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth once there’s some distance on it.  Let’s just shake our heads and move on.

On the actual hockey side of things, I really liked what I saw from Zemgus Girgensons Saturday.  I thought he played hard and wasn’t afraid to hit.  He could be a fan-favorite here if he sticks.  Cody Hodgson was solid, too.  Jhonas Enroth was great, that shootout was crazy.  By round 15 I probably would’ve been ready just to skate off.  I’m ready to see what these young guys can do.

Aside from the game, I have a few comments on the upgrades to the First Niagara Center.

  • The new food options are nice.  Even the existing stuff, like the hot dogs and hamburgers were much improved.
  • However, if you get popcorn, and they ask if you want butter, SAY NO.  I was expecting the machine at the movie theater that drizzles a little bit on.  NOPE, IT’S A LADLE.  The solid lump in my stomach was not fun.
  • The game presentation was better.  There was genuine laughter at the Celebrity look-alikes thing with Foligno/Fabio.
  • I wonder if that changes when all the sponsored stuff is back in.  Recycle bins!

Looking forward to real hockey.  Getting excited!

Five Sabres I’m Watching

The extremely short training camp is on for your Buffalo Sabres, and as it begins, there are five players I’m going to be watching with interest:

  1. Mikhail Grigorenko – We may not see for more than a few games this season, thanks to junior eligibility, but he’s a big-time player at a position of desperate need for the Buffalo Sabres.  I mean, Hodgson, Ennis, and Hecht (newly signed) are your other Cs.  While Hodgson and Ennis have potential to be very good for a long time, I’d like to see Grigorenko push to stay.  Or at the very least  make us want it.
  2. Ville Leino – Number one with a bullet, as soon as the words “Compliance Buyout” became a think at the endgame of the lockout.  I may be a softy, but I’d love to see him show his haters up.  Maybe a short, compressed schedule will help him get on a roll.
  3. Jhonas Enroth – Should probably list this as Miller/Enroth, but I’m not cheating.  The schedule is tight, with a ton of back to backs.  Enroth HAS to play, and play well.
  4. Nathan Gerbe – The small man is a fan favorite for his willingness to take on anyone, no matter the size, but eventually he has to rack up some points.  He had 16 goals 2 seasons ago.  He needs to exceed that pace to take the heat off Vanek and Pominville.
  5. Jochen Hecht – Many of us thought he would retire, but he got healthy and has been playing well in Germany according to Pominville.  He’s a great utility player, able to slot in pretty much wherever you need him.  But he has to stay healthy.  Buffalo has been a better team with Hecht in the lineup.  Can Lindy lean on him while protecting a lead?

One more thing that’s interesting is what to do with the defense.  They’ve got too many at this point, and TJ Brennan would have to pass through waivers to go to stay with the Amerks.  Considering he’s scored 14 goals in 36 games in Rochester that ain’t all that likely.  I believe the hashtag for that is #dosomethingdarcy.

Thus Ended

The Sabres can no longer make the playoffs, and have one more meaningless game.  In the short term, I was ticked about it last night, but today, not so much.  It was a very difficult season in many ways, with injuries, underachievement, and media sniping.  The highs were really high, and the lows were rock-bottom.  We saw veterans and prospects leave (Gaustad, Gragnani, Kassian) and got a few new contributors (Hodgson, Sulzer).

How do I feel about this season?  I’m disappointed that it won’t be going on to the playoffs, for sure.  There is talent here – and I think the deadline improved that overall – but injuries and some questionable play overrode that.  Next year’s roster won’t be that different, barring trades, as there are already 20 players under contract.  Hecht, Boyes, and the surprising Sulzer are UFAs, with TJ Brennan, Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta as RFAs.  I can’t imagine either Hecht or Boyes being back.  Sulzer is interesting, though.  I’d love to keep him, as he showed some decent skills and kind of took that 6/7 D spot from Weber.  Ennis is a no-brainer, and I imagine Kaleta gets a deal.  That’s 13 forwards, including Marcus Foligno and Corey Tropp.  If Brennan and McNabb start with Rochester, that leaves Regehr, Ehrhoff, Myers, Leopold, Sekera, and Weber as the D pending something with Sulzer.  Of course, Miller/Enroth in the net.

Do I think that’s where we end up?  I do not.  The Pegula era Sabres have already shown they are willing to deal guys to get guys, and we have parts and pieces other teams would covet.  July 1 is going to be interesting.  Buffalo will be a player again, a destination for players who hopefully see the improvements and potential here.

I might post about the draft, and July 1, but expect this space to be fairly quiet in the offseason.  I’m planning on blog maintenance, such as trying different themes, stuff like that.  Might post up about the playoffs if the mood strikes, too.  I’ll still be on Twitter, and please check out my non-hockey gadget/movie/TV/book talk at Honk if you Love Justice.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Sabres at Hurricanes

We get Tyler Myers back tonight!  For a guy who had struggled as much as he did before getting hurt, I’m pretty excited to see him tonight.  Even when not scoring, he should be an upgrade in front of Miller.  In beating Edmonton last game, Buffalo FINALLY scored more than two goals, something they’d only done once in the previous seven games.

The news that Ruff plans to play Miller more here on out is not really surprising.  When Enroth started to struggle just as much as Ryan, there really is no downside to seeing if more PT helps Miller get rolling.  He can always go back to the Schedule later if it doesn’t help. *shrug*

I am 80% certain I’ll be attending the viewing party at FNC tonight, with one or two of my kids.  Should be fun, even if my son is just in it for the hot dogs and popcorn.

Gameday LIVE – Rangers at Sabres

Getting set up in the pressbox for tonight’s visit from Martin Biron and the New York Rangers.  It’s the Sabres’ first game against the Rangers, and Jhonas Enroth gets the call after Miller played in the win last night.  Leino comes back from his suspension, but Hecht (‘lower body’) and Corey Tropp (concussion) are both out, so Colin Stuart gets the recall from Rochester.  The wheel turns, does it not?  Eventually all of this focus on head hits might mean you don’t have a new player concussed every night.

Some notes from the Sabres’ gameday crew:  Vanek has only been held scoreless in consecutive games twice, gaining a point or more in 20 of 28 games.  Stafford has 1+1 in the past two games.  Ehrhoff leads the team in ice time with 24:33 per game on average.

I’ll be updating this post after each period with my thoughts.

1st Period:

Buffalo begins the game by taking a high-sticking penalty, Robyn Regehr 9 seconds in.  PK is no big deal for this team, and with some help the lineseman’s leg, they get a break.  Biron almost mishandled the puck right in front of him.  The penalty was killed.  Beautiful play from Kassian to Adam but it didn’t go in.  Enroth is absorbing shots, good sign.  Ehrhoff joins Gragnani with early giveaways.  The Sabres aren’t generating zone time or chances, though Drew Stafford is working hard.  Excellent opportunity from Chewie/Vanek/Pominville, then another partial break by Vanek afterwards.  Play picked up after the 8 minute mark, with the top three lines finally getting some chances.  Enroth had a big save on Brad Richards.  Cody took a number after getting knocked down in front of the net shortly after.  Rangers and Sabres trade interference penalties.  Vanek with a near-beauty out of the box.  Buffalo got a little scrambly at the end but managed to avoid the late goal being allowed.  Scoreless after one.

2nd Period:

Stafford/Ennis/Roy some solid work to start the period.  Seems to be more balanced early, Buffalo making some plays.  Not so many stoppages.  Good steal by Roy, and save by Biron.  Nice breakup by Ehrhoff coming back on a Rangers rush.  On the power play Vanek seems to forget how to puckhandle for a minute.  The Rangers score on a short handed rush when Hagelin picks his corner on Enroth.  Vanek answers not long after on a ‘fuck you I’m scoring’ blast from between the circles.  Brandon Prust took exception to Vanek giving old friend Marty Biron a show shower.  This is fun.  Not so fun when Callahan scores another shorty.  Ehrhoff has to knock him down there.  The crowd let’s the Sabres hear it at the end of the second for that second shorthanded goal.  2-1 Rangers.

3rd Period:

A few good chances to start the period.  Adam just missed on a great pass from behind the net.  And then Enroth lets in another softy.  Just a killer, that one.  Not even sure what really happened.  Ennis and Stafford had some great chances not long after that but to no avail.  Just don’t seem to be making good decisions when the puck.  Vanek has 2 great chances, then Kassian decks a dude along the boards and gets a penalty.  PK letting too many Rangers stand in front of the net.  Puck possession is a problem.  The Rangers ice the game on the power play, whistling a shot past Enroth’s glove hand.  It’s Gaborik.  There is a baby crying nearby, I don’t blame him or her.  4-1 Rangers.  Your three stars:  3 – Callahan, 2 – Biron, 1 – Hagelin.  Biron got a big cheer.

Postgame Thoughts:

Lindy felt the powerplay was too stationary, not making the defenders change their angle of attack.  He also felt that they had more and better chances than last night, but made more mistakes.  There were a lot of shots missed high, he noted that they had discussed shooting high on Biron, but they couldn’t make it happen.  Marc-Andre Gragnani had been coached to join the rush more, but he still made some tough plays.

I’m honestly not sure where to go with this tonight.  They weren’t terrible, though maybe Enroth was in the second and third.  Some blame can be laid on his teammates on a couple of the goals, but none of them were impossible stops.  It’ll be interesting to see if Miller starts to get more starts or if Lindy sticks with The Schedule.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Panthers at Sabres

These guys again.  I was in the pressbox for the last home game against Florida, and that didn’t go so well.  It will be hard to say what the game will look like tonight, as the Sabres’ lineup is a disjointed mess of guys getting injured (Gerbe), guys returning (Commander Cody, maybe some others this weekend) and guys suspended (Leino).  Will we see the world-beating team that seemed to cruise through period one of the last game?  Probably, but for how long?  20 minutes ain’t enough.  Dineen has the Panthers leading the Southeast division by a wide margin, they’ve won three in a row including a 2-0 shutout of the defending champs by Jose Theodore of all people last night.  I’d say at least the Sabres are rested since Florida just played but somehow I doubt it will matter.

We’ll know more about the potential lineup soon as the morning skate should be underway soon.  I’m thinking Enroth tonight as I’d rather have Miller in the marquee matchup with the Rangers, but then, I don’t have The Schedule in front of me.  It’s a 7:30pm start.  Need to start piling up those home wins.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Sabres at Hurricanes

It’s hard to know what to write about this team right now – that was a rough loss last game, but if Myers is going to score and go beast mode on guys, well, that I’m glad to see.  Carolina sucks so hopefully Jhonas Enroth can rebound against them.  Weber is hurt, TJ Brennan is recalled, Hecht practiced, Ennis is still non-contact (think I got all that right).

Wins tonight and tomorrow (Enroth gets both?) would be great for putting some distance on Toronto who is struggling through injuries and questionable goaltending also.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Devils at Sabres

It feels like a really strange night tonight.  The Devils don’t exactly excite anyone, and there’s so much other stuff happening around the Sabres it really feels like this game is an afterthought.  They players are all answering questions about their injured goalie, the injured goalie is snarking at the media, and some of the media is snarking right back (looking at you, Sully).  Add in a few other injuries (Cody McCormick is out, Corey Tropp is back), a goalie ‘controversy’ now on simmer thanks to the concussion, the return of Tyler Myers (Grags sits) and you’re one ring short of a circus.

The Devils might have Kovalchuk back tonight if he feels OK during the pregame activities.  New Jersey played in Boston last night, losing on a late goal, so for once Buffalo will be (slightly) more well rested.  Enroth is firmly entrenched in the net, though I’m curious about what happens this weekend.  It’s a 7:30pm Versus game, though Dave Strader is calling it and he’s solid.  We do get more Pierre though, so look for Rob Ray to ‘accidently’ elbow him in between the benches tonight if he starts close-talking.  Let’s go.