Forget Pominville At Your Own Peril

It’s easy to forget Jason Pominville.  He doesn’t run guys over, he’s polite and non-controversial in his interviews, and doesn’t make waves off the ice.  We can’t even make fun of his haircut anymore.  Before this year, how many players on the team would you go through before you got to Pominville, if a new fan asked “Who are the Sabres’ best players?”  Remember even Bryan Murray, asked about Pominville’s magical short-handed OT series winning goal, asked about how a player got behind the D like that, answered “It’s Jason Pominville”.  We as fans have called him overrated, overpaid, and have hoped he’d be traded for someone, anyone else.  Eyebrows were raised when he was given the C, for sure.

It’s pretty clear that maybe Lindy and Darcy knew more than we did about the room and Jason.  68 points in 77 games, 5 game winning goals, while facing the tough minutes each night.  That strip of Ovechkin last night, and the comments after the game about the team wanting to impose their will on Washington, speak volumes to his leadership by example.  He works hard every time you see him.  We need to do a better job of remembering Pominville.  I bet Ovechkin doesn’t forget him for a while.  Just like Bryan Murray.

Big McLargeHuge

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.

Perspective, Again

This comment at the Buffalo News article about the rest of the team needing to be like Vanek stopped me dead in my tracks:

Listen, exactly one year ago, would it have been plausible that the expectation for the 2011-2012 season would have been President’s trophy and Stanley Cup? Come on, really? Do you realistically think Terry and Ted had that expectation for this season? The long term outlook for this team is not just good, it’s friggin’ great! The owner is a bleed-Sabres-blue high integrity guy who wants success more than any of the knuckleheads who post here. Color me naive, but even with the inconsistent team performance, I absolutely believe that the players want it too – why, because they say so and I don’t think they’re BS’ing me – I actually like them. It’s just not something you can wave a magic wand over – it’s going to take time, and not months-time, but years-time. Sorry about that reality for you gotta-have-it now-wantski’s.

Dude, what?  A positive comment, thought out, with decent spelling, punctuation and grammar?  What the hell?  Dan from Charlotte, you are in the wrong place my man.  Don’t let the rest of the trolls over there eat your soul.  In all seriousness, I can see the right of what Dan says here.  I sometimes felt I was the only person who wasn’t in full-on freakout mode after the Sabres’ recent struggles.  I WANT them to win every game and win the cup and poop in the Leafs players’ gloves.  But it won’t be happening, not right away.  Having the money to spend to the cap and eat a bad contract or two and upgrade the facilities doesn’t mean the wins just roll in.  Do their chances go up?  Yes.  It does not mean, however, that James Reimer will simply bow and step aside to allow Vanek to score a quadruple hat trick the next time Buffalo goes to Toronto.

Me, I’m here for the ride.  I learned a few years ago to stop letting sports teams make me miserable.  I will still get on the players not pulling their weight, raise up the ones who are raising their game, and when I attend as a fan, I’ll cheer and clap and chant and boo.  Let’s just do that and have fun.  The wins will be there.

As for tonight, Buffalo is in Washington tonight, to try and beat the only team nice enough to lose to them in the past five games.  Miller is in tonight, maybe Enroth tomorrow.  Gragnani in for the injured Sekera, out ‘weeks’.  So there went a whole couple of days where we could think the Sabres were getting healthier.  Let’s go.

Which is it?

Are the Sabres really as good as they looked last night?  Did getting two NHL players back in the lineup (even ones derided as much as Boyes) make that much of a difference?  Or were the Capitals really playing that poorly?  I’m inclined to think the latter, and I only heard the first period on the radio and watched the other two.  There was a lot of cruising around by Caps players, and Buffalo could consistenly break out of their zone and gain entrance on the offensive side.  For any of us that have watched Sabres games this year, you know it hasn’t been THAT hard to stop ’em from doing that.

Christian Ehrhoff did some great work last night.  Scored what turned out to be the game winner, blocked four shots, had some other solid defensive plays.  Robyn Regehr frustrated Ovechkin quite a bit, including that hard hit behind the net.  Though my favorite ‘hit’ on Ovi is when he ran into Kassian and went flying backwards right along with him.  I’d like to give a shout out to Roy also, 21 minutes of ice time, had a point, won 65% of his faceoffs.

Michal Neuvirth deserves ‘special’ recognition for being terrible, letting in 3 goals on 6 shots, none of which was some amazing, unstoppable shot.  He had nothing last night, not sure if it could be fatigue since there was that whole Christmas break thing.  On the other hand, it was Miller’s sixth straight start, and it was his best in that stretch, with both goals scored on him due to a screen in front.  The first might’ve even been goalie interference.

The rest of the week is busy for Buffalo, as they play the Devils tomorrow in Jersey, then go to Washington for these same Caps for Friday.  Saturday (Tux and Pucks) they return home for the Senators.  Enroth one of those games if Lindy still has ‘The Schedule’ going.  Might try for a press pass for Saturday depending on what ends up happening for New Year’s Eve.  We don’t usually go out.

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.

One, Two, THREE Periods! Ah-ah-ah!

Now the Count, HE can backcheck

Hey guys, that first period was not a glorified warm-up!  Those goals counted!  But seriously, it wasn’t a terrible game despite it being a loss.  Right now Washington is still better, so winning one of two games with them is not bad.  What I liked:  seeing Ennis/Roy/Vanek continue to play well, more D contributions, and not giving up when down 3-0.  Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth was very good, he was definitely the difference after Buffalo scored their two goals (which he didn’t get much help on).

It’s not getting any easier for Buffalo, as they have a Friday/Saturday schedule at home, with the LA Kings and Steven Stamkos’s Tampa Bay Lightning in town.  Tampa had lost 3 in a row before facing the coach-firing, injury riddled New York Islanders.  If you are a Vanek fan, by the way, watch Saturday.  He’s got 16 goals in 20 games against them.

Gameday 2010-2011 – Sabres at Capitals

The Caps look to get revenge on the Sabres tonight at the Verizon Center, as Buffalo makes the trip down to Washington to face the Ovechkins.  Did you know “that’s great” Derek Roy has 21 points, while Ovi has 25?  I also wonder if we’ll see an NHL goalie this time around.

Gerbe is back in while Kaleta sits with a bruised sternum.  Rivet is…more interesting.  He’s healthy, but Ruff may not want to mess with a winning lineup.  Rivet isn’t happy about it, but even he said he understands the idea.  It’s something to keep watching as the season develops.  Would they ever reassign the captaincy with Rivet still here?

Vanek Dazzles on OT Game-Winning Goal

It almost wasn’t fair to Braden Holtby, who had played quite well against the Buffalo Sabres.  When Thomas Vanek skated in alone, with two defenders in the area, Holtby probably thought he could handle it.

Yeah, John Carlson, you might just have to read up on this Vanek character.  What a way to get your first home win, no matter how delayed it was.  Vanek also had a more typical goal in the second, cleaning up a rebound in his office in front of the net.  Montador had the Sabres’ first goal.

Ryan Miller had some great saves in his first game back, including stopping Ovechkin on a breakaway, though he did have a puck that he thought he squeezed bounce between his legs and thankfully not into the goal.  Great to see him back out there.

Do yourself a favor and go back and watch that goal again.

On Traditional Markets

This seems to be a topic right now, and I have a confession to make:  I am probably only a hockey fan because of Gary Bettman.  I don’t like saying, because I dislike many of his policies and changes, but his big push on ‘non-traditional’ markets was definitely a part of why I’m here now.

When I was a kid, I wanted something different, sports-wise.  I grew up watching the Atlanta Braves with my parents, mostly because they were always on TV, a rarity for a single franchise back then.  But I wanted to be different, and hockey was on TV a lot thanks to ESPN2 getting added to our cable service.  I remember a young Buccigross, and ‘Fire on Ice’…Jim Schoenfeld, Gary Thorne, Bill Clement.  I went and saw Hampton Roads Admirals games with my dad (ECHL team back then, with players I saw in Roller Hockey International in the offseason).  I even went to an NHL exhibition at Norfolk Scope, between the Washington Capitals…and the Buffalo Sabres.  Here’s the game story from one of the newspapers.  I remember being disappointed that Mogilny didn’t play that game, but I saw LaFontaine, Hasek, Byron Dafoe, and Matthew Barnaby scored, even.  It was great.

But what REALLY cemented me as a hockey fan, was expansion MADNESS.  The Hampton Roads area tried for several years after that to get in the league, but the cities that made up the area never could cooperate well enough.  But that didn’t stop me from obsessing over my hometown getting a real pro sports franchise.  So I guess, thanks Gary, for keeping my interest in hockey energized long enough for it to become a lifelong passion.

Sabres and Respect

As usually happens, as soon as the cup was awarded, you started seeing odds for who was going to win next season getting thrown around.  So I took a look to see where Buffalo ranks, and they (as of this morning) sat at 18/1.  Not in the top tier, with teams like Chicago, Pittsburgh, or San Jose (ha), but solidly in the second tier.  Where they should be, most likely, based on the talent we think will return.

What I want to know is, will the Sabres be considered a true threat next season?  Buffalo was a division leader, had a respectable if not spectacular scoring differential, and has Ryan Miller.  But you KNOW that the top ‘Cup Contenders’ everyone will mention in the East are Pittsburgh and Washington, with yet more obsessive coverage of Crosby and Ovechkin.  Olympian Miller might get Buffalo some more pub and national notice, but I think our guys will have to seriously outperform WAS/PIT for a long stretch to get put in their category.  And, you know, get back on NBC.

Whatever else happens this offseason, I am expecting this team to be the division winner again.  Let’s see if anyone outside of Western New York has any opinions, or if the extent of it will be “oh hey, yeah, the Sabres, they’ll be OK, I guess…”.