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.

Stafford and Leino – Time to Shine

The Buffalo Sabres roster is set, and judging from the lines at practice, there are two players in the top 6 that will have a ton of focus on them:  Drew Stafford and Ville Leino.  Stafford gets the first crack at being the other winger with Hodgson and Vanek, while Leino goes with Ott and Ennis.  There’s some possibility that changes when injured players come back (currently Armia, Zadorov, Foligno and Tropp are out) but Drew and Ville will both have a chance to make their case first.

Stafford has always been a frustrating case for most of us.  He’s a couple of seasons removed from scoring 31 goals in 62 games, and pulling down 20 in the season after.  However, last year went pretty bad for him, netting only 6 goals in the short season.  There’s reason for hope, though.  He’s got two legit threats with him, and last year saw his shooting percentage at less than half of his career level (5% versus 11.7%).  Stafford has always seemed like a ~25 goal type player, with a 30 goal plateau playing with the talent he’ll have – and on the first power play unit to boot.

Ville Leino should have a shot at improving as well.  He played only 8 games last season, scoring 2 goals and adding 4 assists.  His line has Steve Ott to bang bodies and be a nuisance, and Tyler Ennis to deal the puck.  Ennis is no Hodgson, but it’s still giving Ville a chance.  He was also seen on the second power play unit.  I thought Leino played well in his limited time last season, and there were flashes of that the year before.  He’s more of a long shot, but I’ve got a feeling a full, healthy season might be just what Leino needs to reach the potential he showed in Philly.

If anything works against these two, it’s the fact that there are so many young forwards eyeing their spots.  Girgensons and Grigorenko both sit on the third line as of now – but how much of one of Stafford’s slumps would it take for one of them to get a top-6 shot?  Armia and Larsson lurk as well.  Foligno’s return will give the team all the excuse they need to shake up lines if things don’t start well.  Me, I’m rooting for both guys.  I think Leino has been scapegoated pretty hard here, and Stafford has been a good soldier and could just need someone to believe in him.  Here’s hoping they seize the opportunity.  Go Sabres.

Training Camp – Questions Without Answers

The Buffalo Sabres are opening training camp today, with veteran players reporting for their physicals and testing.  I always imagine ‘testing’ as Patrick Kaleta slouched in a desk, face all screwed up trying to answer a multiple choice question.  Anyway, as camp opens, there seem to be more questions than answers for fans that have been tracking the team through the summer.  At least they did announce another assistant coach hiring today, Jerry Forton out of Harvard (though he had a long stint at Niagara before that as well).

But many more uncertainties remain.  Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are both still here, without new contracts.  They are saying the right things – these two usually do – but it’s still unsettled.  Cody Hodgson remains unsigned, and Matthew Coller crunches some numbers on the young center.  They are somewhat bleak, though in my mind, I’d like for a few other players to make the leap up the middle so Hodgson can take the role Thomas Vanek had in 06-07, leading a line that basically just gets told to score and isn’t pitted against superior competition.  Kadri may set the number for Cody’s contract, but will Hodgson take the ‘bridge contract’?

Looking at the roster (you can see the training camp roster up at that first link) it’s hard to get a feel for what this team will be.  There’s room for rookies to stick.  Other questions remain…Will Myers be good with Tallinder back?  Will Hodgson be here?  Is Ott the captain?  Will Miller and Vanek still be here?  The rookies are interesting, especially to compare and contrast between Girgensons and Grigorenko.  And Zadorov!  It’s a team with a ton of questions, which could make for a very long season.  I just hope it’s a fun one.

It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

The Sabres traded away their captain yesterday.  Jason Pominville was a completely inoffensive, very solid player.  He said the right things, to a fault.  He played hard, he produced at a decent rate.  He provided us with one of, if not THE most exciting moment for the franchise since the lockout, the short-handed OT series winner against Ottawa.  I’ll wish him well in Minnesota.

I do NOT think Buffalo is done dealing their core players.  Obviously they are until the season is over, but no one is yet safe.  Players with years left on their contract make a lot more sense to be moved in the offseason, at the draft for instance.  You know what exact picks you are getting then, and what holes you may need to fill.  And make no mistake, you will want to get players at the draft or via trade – you’ve seen the ‘Top’ UFAs at CapGeek, right?  The only one under 30 is Tyler Bozak, he of 23 points this year.  Pascal Dupuis isn’t scoring 40 for Buffalo, not unless he brings the rest of Pittsburgh’s top lines with him.  That leaves players in the system contributing, and players traded for.  I like the haul Darcy pulled in for Jason.  The two players are actual prospects, with good upside.  Another 1st rounder and a 2nd added to that is great.

Would I trade Miller and Vanek.  My heart says no, especially on Vanek…but my brain says, why not?  You’d get a fantastic return, clear tons of cap room, and be well positioned to build a new core from the existing prospects and draft picks stockpiled.  Girgensons, Grigorenko, Armia, Larsson, McCabe, Hackett, Catenacci, Pysyk, any of them could be a star.  Or it could be someone else.  I’m with the majority that sees Steve Ott as the mentor moving forward, possibly with a letter.  On D, it’s Ehrhoff.

It’s kind of funny how fast this has changed.  A few weeks ago, who could’ve imagined a Sabres team without Vanek and Miller?  Now, I feel almost…excited at the idea.  A new era!  A (presumably) new coach!  I want this, I want to see the change.

Sabres Gameday LIVE – Leafs at Sabres

I am blogging from the press box tonight, so this post will be updated after each period (and maybe once or twice before the game) with my thoughts as I have them.

Pre-game thoughts:

  • Grigorenko stays.  It makes the most sense.  He hasn’t been out of place, and it isn’t like he’s keeping somebody else important from playing.  There’s plenty of time to lock him up if he’s good.
  • Passed RJ while getting a hot dog.  That never gets old.  Good to see him up here.
  • Still cold.

First period thoughts:

  • First few minutes has some good pressure for Buffalo.  Foligno and Scott both involved.
  • Good clear by Pominville when they needed one.
  • Myers showing his physical side a bit.  Love that.
  • On the Leafs goal, Miller had the stop but there was nobody around to clear McClement away.  Should’ve caught it, though.  Letting Kessel skate right in afterwards too for a chance.
  • Great patience by Pominville to wait for the traffic to clear before shooting. And as @BNHarrington said, great keep in by Ehrhoff.
  • Weber’s fight was a great response, though Brown is a tough customer.  Kaleta went to the locker room, not what you want for a guy that has neck issues.

Second period thoughts:

  • Ott keeps winning faceoffs.  Is he the only one?
  • No Kaleta yet.
  • Just after I complained about Stafford being weak on the puck, he deals to a streaking Sekera who shelfs a backhander.  Nicely done.
  • And then they give it right back.  Typical of the D this year.  Ugh.
  • The Sabres D has quickly melted down and can’t clear.  3-2.
  • Some small signs of life at the 7 minute mark.  Probably means another Toronto goal is forthcoming.
  • Vanek trying to dig the puck out from under Reimer there.  Can someone else show up?
  • Ott stuffed on a breakaway…should’ve deked.  Hindsight of course.
  • 4 minutes of penalty by Hecht.  One down, one yet to be killed.

Third period thoughts:

  • Grigorenko back at it after being benched for a while, had a solid shot.
  • Foligno shows what to do when you lose the draw – paste the opposing player to the boards and try to get it back.
  • Great rebound clean-up by Mikhail Grigorenko for his first goal, and a great celebration with Foligno.  Great job, kid.  Tie game.
  • Sabres are working harder on the puck  now, and it shows.
  • Myers is not right.  Had a chance to wind up and blast one from the point, and Reimer snagged it easily.
  • Heartbreaker.  Miller doesn’t seal the shortside and the goal sneaks in with a fraction of a second left.  Frattin.

Anger Leads to Hate

I’m certainly not going to tell you not to react poorly when your favorite team plays poorly – it’s an understandable reaction.  The short season makes every game feel important right from the get-go, so losing points hurts.  Still, it’s worth looking at the big picture here.  This season is one tenth over – that means NINE tenths are yet to be played.  The problems are many, but fixable.  The D has been a train wreck at times, that won’t last.  The Sabres finally scored some goals without Vanek on the ice, though of course that was because he couldn’t play due to an injury.  So while I tossed down the remote in disgust at the end of the game today, I also know there’s time yet to pick things up.

In other news, I hope Grigorenko sticks around.  He hasn’t gone all Tarasenko on us, but he hasn’t looked out of place.  If Lindy is willing to play him as much as he did today, there’s no reason not to kick one of the scrubs to the press box and keep him in the lineup.  I like Foligno’s game today, and Kaleta as well.  Saw a few good plays by Myers so I’m hoping he gets things rolling in the right direction.  See everyone on Tuesday.

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.