Things to Remember

If you’re like me, and you tuned out the NHL a bit since the end of last year thanks to lockout shenanigans, you may be a bit fuzzy on some of the details surrounding the Sabres as they currently stand.  Here’s a handy list you can refer to, to help with your water cooler conversations.

  • Steve Ott, Adam Pardy, and John Scott are all Sabres.  Yes, Scott counts, even if he’ll be warming a press box seat.  (please don’t kill me John Scott)
  • Ville Leino is still a Sabre, too.  Sorry jerks, compliance buyouts start AFTER this season.
  • It is still funny when Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Myers stand next to each other.
  • Terry Pegula added a pit trap underneath the Sabres logo in the dressing room, so REALLY don’t walk on it, Harrington!  There’s no spikes at the bottom, but that IS where Harry Neale will be sitting, ready to regale you with the same stories about coaching in the WHA that you’ve heard thirty times.
  • Rob Ray will be in the booth next to RJ, so you can marvel at the way he makes ‘at all’ sound like ‘a tall’ even more.  Rayzor is thrilled, as Pierre McGuire was really starting to creep him out when sharing the space between the benches.
  • The Winnipeg Jets are a team again, in case you forgot.  They have not yet moved to the Western Conference, either.
  • Toronto fans will still be crossing the border to see their beloved Maple Leafs, until they take a look at the roster and decide shoving the money they’d be spending in the fireplace for heat would be a better use for it.
  • Tim Thomas is still crazy.
  • Milan Lucic was denied by the competition committee when he asked if he could use “one of those mart carts” on the ice.  He left the conference room dejectedly, though he did have to take a knee once to catch his breath.
  • Scott Gomez is still a Canadien.

I hope that helps you get ready for training camp.  Go Sabres!

Head Games

The plot, it does thicken.  After a resounding win over the Senators, Buffalo went to Boston and let the Bruins run roughshod over them (literally).  A lot has already been said about Lucic and Miller and responses.  I think Nick Mendola summed up the immediate reaction best for me:

The Sabres immediate response to the offense was mostly fine in my book, given their personnel. Miller tried a blind baseball swing back at Lucic. Thomas Vanek tried to knock the train over. No dice. Andrej Sekera shoved Lucic and looked around for reinforcements. Not seeing any coming, he buried his head and hoped for the least beating possible. I’d like Paul Gaustad to look more interested in getting to Lucic, and maybe it’s above Tyler Myers’ weight class right now.

While I did wonder where the Gaustad is that came off the bench to attack Ovechkin for cheap-shotting Briere, but the officials got their arms on guys as quick as they could and Goose apparently didn’t see it happen.  As for not taking care of Lucic later, well, for the rest of the 1st and 2nd periods, the game wasn’t out of reach (though those two goals later in the 2nd off stupid defense AGAIN had to drive even a concussed Miller crazy).  Would I want a full-on brawl to develop?  Would I have wanted Kaleta to run Tim Thomas?  Or the usual suspects to charge Lucic whenever they could, late/dirty or not?  I might’ve had a positive visceral reaction to events like that at the time, but after the fact, I’d be a bit disappointed.  I like Tim Thomas, and I wouldn’t like to see him get hurt, even in retaliation for a stupid shot on a Sabre.

So, what happens next week when these two teams meet again, here?  There are a few scenarios:

  • Scenario One – The Sabres call up Kassian, roll out a line featuring Cody McCormick, Gaustad and BZK (backed by Regehr and Weber), and they brawl with whoever they are on the ice with, Neil/Drury game style.  EXTREMELY UNLIKELY.
  • Scenario Two – Cody McCormick fights Lucic, Kaleta hits him a few times.  Beyond that, a normal game.  MORE LIKELY.
  • Scenario Three – Gary Bettman or Colin Campbell attend the game, and the teams are on their best behavior.  SOMEWHAT LIKELY.

There is one wild card in this – a Sabres player truly running a Bruins player.  Maybe Myers bounces Horton’s head off the boards accidently with his elbow.  Maybe Kaleta does the usual Carubba worthy hit near the boards on a guy in an awkward position.  It might even be an accident, and have nothing to do with the recent history.  But that’s the one thing that will kick that next game into clownshoes territory.  Still, the most likely one is the ‘one fight and done’ thing.  ‘The next game’ is always a disappointment.

Miller is concussed, and Drew McIntyre will be the door opener for however long that lasts.  Jhonas Enroth is the man now, and it’s no easy stretch coming up, in Montreal tonight, home for NJ Wednesday, then another set of back to backs this weekend (Friday in Carolina, Saturday here for Phoenix).  You have to think Darcy and Lindy are hoping Miller is ready for the weekend but with a concussion, you just can’t know.  The team needs to pull together here and rally.

Potential Opponents

Now that the Sabres are all but assured of making the playoffs, let’s take a look at their most likely combatants.  There’s a few possibilities here, as the Sabres could be anywhere from 6th to 8th.  7th is the most likely spot to finish in.

First up is the Washington Capitals.  The season series with the Caps was 1-2-1, with Miller going 1-2-0 with a 2.32 GAA and .924 SP.  Jhonas Enroth played the game last week, losing in OT (sandwiched between those 2 outstanding games for what it is worth).  The win, if you recall, was the game that Thomas Vanek dazzled John Carlson and Braden Holtby for the OT winner.  I’d be curious to see what a seven game series against the Caps would look like, as Buffalo is playing much better lately, and Washington has some injuries of their own they are dealing with, including Mike Green, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti on the blueline.

Next up in the likely opponents list is the Flyers.  Unlike the Caps, the Sabres have one more game against the Flyers this Friday, going 1-2 in the first three.  Ryan Miller has played all 3 games against Philly, and the numbers aren’t great – 4.03 GAA, .881 SP.  Again, a couple of those were earlier in the year and the most recent game is a 5-3 win.   The Flyers are 2-3-3 in their past 8 and who knows what’s going to happen with their goaltending tandem.  Bobrovsky is the likely starter for the playoffs, though you have to think Philly wouldn’t hesitate long to put the more veteran Boucher in there if  ‘Bob’ struggles.  They’ve also been missing Pronger and Briere, though Briere might be in for the Sabres game Friday.  Pronger hasn’t played since March 8th and had a ‘minor setback’ in rehab that puts his earliest return game 1 of a potential playoff matchup at the earliest.

The other likely foe would be the Boston Bruins.  This probably happens if the Sabres can overtake Montreal for 6th in the conference.  Buffalo has gone 4-1-1 in the season series, with Miller posting the 4-0-1 portion of that, with a 3.01 GAA and .911 SP.  Those numbers are skewed a bit by the 7-6 SO win where Stafford scored with 30 seconds to go to tie the game.  Tim Thomas took back the goaltending job from Tuukka Rask and had a Vezina-caliber season.  I’m really hoping they end up playing Montreal, though.  It would be great drama, not to mention they are likely to beat each other up.

As of today, it is still mathematically possible to see the Lightning (and an even smaller chance to see the Penguins) but it’s so unlikely that there’s no reason to worry about it.  Looking at the potentials, there’s nobody there that this team, they way they are playing can’t stand toe to toe with.  There’s a lot of variables right now with the health of key guys up and down the Eastern conference, including the Sabres with Miller, Pronger as I mentioned, and the Washington D.  Boston has the best goaltending situation, but the Sabres still have a great record against them.  I know the excitement builds with every passing day, and I expect tonight’s home game crowd to blow the roof off the place.  Let’s send this team streaking into the playoffs.

Gameday 2010-2011 – Bruins at Sabres

Buffalo gets another crack at getting their first home win tonight when the Bruins visit, but it’s not going to be easy.  Boston is 6-2, having only allowed 11 goals on the year.  Tim Thomas is back in the saddle, with a ridiculous .50 GAA.  Ryan Miller is questionable tonight with a ‘lower body but not groin’ injury, so Enroth has already been recalled in case he can’t go today.  The assumption is Lalime would get another start but nothing is set in stone.

On the plus side, Jason Pominville is set to return tonight, having finally mastered the neuro-psych test.  Craig Rivet is also back from being a healthy scratch.  The biggest improvement needs to come from special teams, where they have a middling power play and a bottom five PK.  When you are taking a ton of penalties (especially when already on your own power play), a horrible PK will end your chances of winning pretty quick.

I tweeted this yesterday, but it’s worth mentioning this article about Tyler Myers by Kent Wilson of The Score again.  He shows that Myers has been pretty unlucky so far this year, unsustainably so, which bodes well for his production here on out.

When we look at Myers’ PDO (on-ice SV% + on-ice SH% at even strength), that’s exactly what we find: the kid has suffered from horrendous fortune thus far. The team has shot at just 3.64% with him on the ice and Ryan Miller has a .880 SV% behind the kid. That’s a PDO of 91.3 and so unsustainably low that it can’t possibly continue indefinitely. To extend the poker allusion, he’s not going to be dealt sevens and twos all night.

Steve Montador, as a comparison, sees an 11.85% shooting percentage and a .929 save percentage when he is out there, against weaker competition, which is boosting his numbers.

Edit:  Miller is OUT tonight, no word on Lalime/Enroth, according to multiple reports on Twitter.

Top 10 Goalies of the Northeast Division

We looked at the defensemen, so let’s follow that up with a look at the goalies of the Northeast division.  The goaltender situation in the Northeast is interesting, with surprising changes (Halak out) and a whole mess of veterans running out of time to regain form.  All stats are from last season.

10.  Pascal Leclaire, Ottawa Senators (3.07 GAA .877 SP)

Leclaire was brought in by Ottawa to compete for a starting job with Brian Elliott, but inconsistent play and some hard luck injuries have relegated him to the bench.  Even the bench wasn’t safe for poor Pascal, as a stray puck nailed him in the jaw while he was chatting idly.  At least he had a sense of humor about having surgery for it:

“I don’t know I might try to get calf implants or abs or something. We’ll see what the prices are.”

9.  Alex Auld, Montreal Canadiens (2.96 GAA .895 SP)

Auld was brought in to back up Carey Price after Client Jaroslav Halak moved on to the Blues.  Auld is a journeyman who is not a threat to take Price’s job, which is good for him, I guess.  He’s played well for short stretchs but has never been able to turn in a season that could win him a job.  If he sees significant time this year, Montreal is in trouble.

8.  Patrick Lalime, Buffalo Sabres (2.81 GAA .907 SP)

Ryan Miller was pushing for Lalime to be back as his backup, and he got his wish.  He’s a great guy, and Miller likes him, which is good enough for me.  He hasn’t always gotten goal-scoring and defensive support the way Miller has, but Lalime plays better with more playing time.  I would expect a few appearances by Jhonas Enroth, and if Miller were to go down, I bet they’d split time.

7.  Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto Maple Leafs (2.85 GAA .907 SP)

Giguere is basically in a dead heat with his partner, both are solid goalies on a team that was bad last year.  Improved play around them could see one of the two jump up the list, though I give the edge to Gustavsson because of his youth.

6.  Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto Maple Leafs (2.87 GAA .902 SP)

See the above, I guess.  Jiggy has the name recognition, but Gustavsson should get a solid shot at being the goalie of the future.

5.  Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (2.77 GAA .912 SP)

The former Jesus Price lost playing time to Jaroslav Halak last year, before getting handed the starting gig by default for this one.  He only won 1/3 of his games last year, on a team that went on a decent playoff run.  Pretty shaky situation for a team under a ton of scrutiny.

4.  Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (2.56 GAA .915 SP)

His unorthodox style and the wild saves that come with it make for some fun video, Tim Thomas gained popularity quickly once he finally earned a starting job in Boston.  It comes as quickly as it goes, though, with Tuukka Rask taking over from the former Vezina winner and starting every playoff game.  Still, he can make plays and can rebound if Rask falters under the heavier load of a full season.

3.  Brian Elliott, Ottawa Senators (2.57 GAA .909 SP)

This guy absolutely KILLS the Sabres, going 4-0 with a 1.81 GAA against our hometown club last year.  He also went 4-0 against the Sabres the year before that.  He never seems to be playing that well, just always well enough to win versus Buffalo.  It’s good enough to put him below the top two.

2.  Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (1.97 GAA .931 SP)

As I mentioned above, Rask took the reins and the Bruins rode his success into the playoffs and past the Buffalo Sabres.  I’d want to see him in for 60+ games but he was great for a team that dropped off offensively from the previous season (Boston was the only team to score fewer than 200 goals).

1.  Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres (2.22 GAA, .929 SP)

Did you have any doubt that I would put the reigning Vezina champ (and Olympic Silver Medalist) at the top of this list?  Sabres fans will again sound like a broken record in asking for Miller to not play quite so many games, but he dealt with an intense workload last year and threw down his best numbers.  Though he can flash the leather when needed, Miller is at his best when the saves look routine, relying on excellent positioning, rebound control and anticipation to be in the right place at the right time.

There you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  I’m a nutjub?  Fire away!