Backup Goalies, Man

The Buffalo Sabres beat the Boston Bruins last night.  They scored FOUR goals, which is a ton for this team.  It helps that Chad Johnson was the goalie (not the football player), and let in a couple of butter-soft goals.  Of course, it seemed that Miller was going to match him with a rough patch of ‘tending, with two goals by Marchand but those were it for the night.

The goal-scoring came from a variety of sources, and included some hard work in front of the net.  Foligno took a Jamie McBain shot off the chest and tapped it in, for instance.  I like that Myers scored, even if it was a “hey, might as well try it – it went IN??” goal.  Stafford had the game-winner on a wraparound.  It was that sort of night for the B’s backup goalie.

Special recognition to Ville Leino for the dive of the week, drawing a tripping call on Milan Lucic.  On the downside, karmic retribution came on short-handed goal.  Marcus Foligno had the Gordie Howe hat trick.

Buffalo and Boston do it all again on Saturday, with 12:30 tussle in Beantown.  I imagine we’ll see Tuukka Rask this time.

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.

Gameday 2013 – Flyers at Sabres

It sure was fun to type that title, and it’ll be even better to watch the game.  Let’s put the lockout in the rear view and enjoy the Sabres being back on the ice.  I won’t be at the game, though I will still be trying to get into the press box several times this year.

Ville Leino may not be able to play today, with a nagging injury.  Nathan Gerbe is hurt but should be back soon.  We get to see the first game for Mikhail Grigorenko, as well as Steve Ott.  And John Scott I guess.  With so little camp action, and no pre-season games, I don’t have much more to put here, other than I’ll be recording the game and will have some thoughts on real, actual Sabres hockey afterwards.  Let’s go!

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.

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!

The Beginning, Not The End

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.

Beatings Literal and Figurative

The Buffalo Sabres beat the Boston Bruins.  Badly.  They tried two goalies, both of who allowed 3 goals.  The Bruins took a bunch of stupid penalties.  When they couldn’t solve Ryan Miller, they tried to get dirty.  That didn’t work, either.  Buffalo stood in and took the physical pounding, and won the game.  My positives:

Ville Leino.  What a game he had last night.  He’s a puck possession beast, and we might finally be seeing what we hoped to see from him.  Great fun watching him right now.

Patrick Kaleta.  That was about as close to a perfect Kaleta game as we’ve seen in a long time.  Scored, fought (well, mostly held on for dear life), and was a prime agitator.  Bruins were after him all night, including Chara trying to elbow him in the head.  This is what we expect when he’s in the lineup.

Ryan Miller.  His stellar goaltending performance could almost get lost in the shuffle, with all of the other stuff going on.  But we won’t let it, because it was awesome.  It seemed like there were long stretches where he wasn’t challenged, but he made 36 saves anyway.

Tyler Ennis.  The only guy above 50% at the faceoff dot (other than Luke Adam’s single faceoff win), he had a goal and an assist to boot.


The officiating.  I think that the Boston goal probably should’ve counted, that was a reputation call based on the previous games in this series.  I’m glad it didn’t count, though.  The refs also didn’t seem to have a good feel for the rough stuff and how to control it.

NBC Sports Network.  I love Doc Emrick, so I don’t think it’s his fault, but it seemed as if the broadcast and studio show were ready with all sorts of stats and facts and video to show how awesome the Bruins are…and had no idea what to do when the Sabres dominated them.  Milbury was an idiot again (no surprise), and as mentioned on Twitter last night, I find it really funny that someone who once beat a fan with a shoe would think that someone fighting on the ice with a visor on is some terrible person.

What’s next:

Buffalo currently sits 9 points back of Ottawa for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, but they have to leapfrog a few other teams to get there.  The Senators have lost seven straight, though, so a run by the Sabres now might just get them back into contention.  Still, I think the focus should be on getting past the Islanders (who they are tied with) and Winnipeg (4 points up).  Then we’ll talk about 8th place.

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.

Pain and Suffering

I’ll admit it, I quit watching this game after the second period, listening to it in the background.  I picked it back up partway through the third, just in time to see Stafford tie it.  This game went from an easy win for Buffalo after the first, even if they give up that late goal, to a performance so bad that I don’t even think they deserve the loser point.  I mean, Leino, Kassian and Vanek scoring in one period is basically a fan’s dream.

Ryan Miller.  He’s got all the eyes on him still, after all the hits he’s taken (a few more last night, including the puck when his helmet came off), and to see 5 goals given up might give you pause.  Shitty defense is to blame here, though, and not Miller.  Maybe he could’ve saved a goal here or there, but when your D is giving up odd man rushes and breakaways with wild abandon, not to mention passing the puck straight to the Flyers’ best players (Gragnani to Giroux), there’s only so much he could do.

Were there positives?  Zack Kassian seems legit, both with the sick passing with Adam on the Leino goal to start things, and his own snipe.  Corey Tropp handled Rinaldo (I’m reading that they have a history, have to check that out).  The boys sticking up for Ennis and Gerbe was great, I don’t think we have to worry about that anymore.  That’s about it, though.

I was impressed with Jaromir Jagr, that was the first time I had really seen him play since coming back.

If there’s one person I’ll feel bad for today, it’s Brendan Shanahan.  He’ll be forced to watch swaths of this game to look at the hit on Gerbe and the elbow by Leino, and hopefully whoever hit Ennis in the head.  The Sabres host Florida tomorrow, let’s hope they play like the first period for oh, say, the whole game.