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Why the Buffalo Sabres are a Better Team

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I picked out a few reasons as to why the Sabres were a horrible team.  Since then a lot has changed and many of problems this team had have seemed to disappear.  They have earned 9 out of a possible 12 points in their last 6 games, winning 2 games in a row at home, something that seemed impossible a few short weeks ago.  They’ve climbed from worst in the league to 3 spots out of a playoff spot.  All this during one of the toughest stretches of the season so far, facing teams like Washington and Vancouver and coming out on top.

So…what’s changed?

First off this team plays like it wants to win for a change.  Monday night Vancouver stormed back at the end to rally and close a 2 goal deficit.  The old Sabres team would fold and all but give up.  The opposite happened, an amazing penalty kill at the end of the third and a hard-fought OT period gave them the win.  Wednesday night against Washington, down 3 goals, they fought hard and not only got 2 quick goals to get them back in it but they dominated the third period giving them a decent chance to pull off the win, falling just short of doing so.

The Sabres needed players to be hero’s.  And with the exception of Derek Roy that spot on the team was empty.  That too has changed with the rise of Vanek who was off to a slow start this season, having many chances but never seeming to come up with the goal.  He has seemed to gain some confidence in the recent games and it shows with a few multiple goal games and an amazing overtime winner.  Ennis is turning into one of the better forwards on the team and Hecht has picked his game up recently also.  They went from having no playmakers to multiples.  Tyler Myers has even started to turn his game around netting the OT winner Monday night (even though he is still -9 on the season).

Rivet has been an unhealthy/healthy scratch for a while now.  Normally that would be bad for on ice leadership but it seems to be just the opposite.  A team with no captain has played like they’re a “team” more than any other time this year.  It’s clear the C needs to reside on another jersey and there’s a handful of available candidates, only question is if Ruff will make the change. Word is that Rivet will be back sometime this weekend so we’ll see what happens.

Saying Ryan Miller started out slow this year is a bit of an understatement.  He spent the first few weeks towards the bottom of the goalie stats…stats he dominated in years past.  Turns out the Vezina hangover I thought he might have had was “just” a bum knee.  After a few games off to get healthy, and an impressive showing from Enroth, it seems that was the cause of his issues.  He seems to be a different net-minder now that he’s back making those saves we’ve become use to.  He’s still not putting up superstar stats but he’s keeping the Sabres in games again, something we needed.

Like many I was calling for Ruff’s head during their losing streak, not because I think he’s a bad coach but more because the team needed a shake-up.  Looking at his track record, Ruff hasn’t exactly over-achieved in his time at Buffalo and maybe it was time for a change of guard.  However, him being able to pull the team out of this rut they were in says a lot.  Lets just see if they can carry the momentum forward, if not this may be the last season Ruff is in Buffalo.

Another test comes tonight when the Kings come to town, a team on a bit of a roll themselves.  The Sabres went from win-less at home to winning 2 in a row.  If they can keep that streak alive and earn 2 more wins this weekend (Tampa is in town Saturday night) then maybe we can lower the cover on the panic button.  The Sabres aren’t out of this hole yet but they at least have their heads above the surface.

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Why the Buffalo Sabres are Horrible

November 1, 2010 1 comment

The panic button has been pressed and it’s time to admit the Sabres are a bad hockey team.  It may still early in the season but it’s clear that this team needs some dramatic changes and key players to step it up in order to right this ship.  Here, in my mind, are the top 5 issues this team faces.

Coaching – I’ve never been on the fire Lindy bandwagon.  Not last season after the disappointing playoff loss or the seasons before after being playoff no-shows.   That was until last week.  The number one problem with this team is lack of motivation.  It’s not solely the coaches job to get a team to put in 100% every game but they’re a big part of it.  Coaches in the NHL aren’t exactly teaching players how to skate.  They’re more motivators than teachers, trying to get their team to work together as one and play at their best.   Whether it’s through game plans or in between period shout-fests, the coach has to get their team ready to play at its highest level.  It’s clear that Lindy has lost this ability.

Not only will a new coach bring in a new viewpoint but the firing of a coach, who currently has 999 games under his belt for the Sabres, might be the wake-up call this team needs.  Proof that ownership and management is tired of the same story season after season and they’re ready to do something about it.  Lindy is too comfortable.  If he’s not fearful of losing his job (which I don’t think his is) Darcy should at least be in his office reminding him there are plenty of other people willing to coach an NHL team.

On Ice Leadership – When a team benches their captain you know they have leadership issues.  Rivet came into Buffalo and was immediately assigned the C.  I was a bit skeptical at first but after thinking it through it was a young team and he was one of the few who had the experience required for the job.  Essentially he became the captain because no one else had the requirements.

Since then I haven’t thought much about it.  Rivet’s worn the C and that was it.   Thinking back though that’s not really a good thing.  We never saw him step up in a moment of need and give the team that extra push they needed.  The only mention of him as a captain was the occasional practice after a rough game where he would call a players only meeting to try to regroup them.  A captain should be at the forefront of this team and remind us every game why he’s wearing that letter.  You’re not a captain if you’re blending in with the rest of the team, that was Rivet’s problem.

His benching was an obvious sign this team is leaderless.  The C on Rivet’s chest has a limited lease at this point and where it’ll end up is anyone’s  guess and a-whole-nother topic of discussion.  The only question left in this saga is will he get another chance and step it up when he does.  He’s been in the league for a long time and this could be the beginning of the end for him.  I’m sure this isn’t how he wanted to go out.

Ryan Miller – If you told me a year ago I’d be writing a list of problems the Sabres had and Ryan Miller was on it, I’d probably have done my best to find a new team to root for this year.  Miller has been a pillar of this team for years.   He’s been our superstar and the one to dig us out of holes on a regular basis.

This season that isn’t the case.  Call it a Vezina hangover or whatever you’d like but Miller is no longer that superstar goalie.  I hate to admit it but Lalime looks just as good as Miller this year and that’s not saying Lalime has improved.  Miller is 29th in sv% and 20th in GAA.  Last year he finished the season second place in both categories.  Take out the couple good games he’s had and it gets ugly.

Miller needs to step it up in order to give this team a chance.  If not the Sabres need to start scoring goals which, judging from previous seasons, is easier said than done.

Tyler Myers – Keeping with the topic of players having horrible years add Myers to that list.  Sophomore slump doesn’t begin to describe the issues he’s having.  He constantly makes mistakes and big ones at that, there have been multiple (3 I can think of off the top of my head) that have led directly to goals for the opposing team.  His -10 rating shows this and his 3 goals are easily canceled out by his mistakes.

The blue line lost 2 key players this off-season and we all justified that  because of Myers, knowing he’ll fill their shoes.  If we knew he’d be -10 12 games into the season we would have been panicking at the loss of Lydman and Tallinder.  Leopold has been the only saving grace on defense this year, save Sekera who has stepped up his game slightly.

Penalty Kill – Not only have the Sabres been taking stupid penalties lately but they’ve been allowing those penalties to turn into goals against.  The Sabres are 74.5% against the power play, good enough for only 27th in the league.  In their last 3 games alone they’ve given up 7 power play goals.  That’s 50% of the total goals against coming on the penalty kill.

I’m fine with the team taking stupid penalties as long as they can prevent the team from scoring in those 2 shorthanded minutes.  However they don’t have the penalty kill to be able to do that.  It’s either step up the PK or stop taking the penalties, I think the latter is the easiest.

 

So there you have it.  My top 5 reasons the Sabres are a horrible hockey team.  This team has talent, there’s no doubt about that.  They have Calder and Vezina trophy winners on their team.  They have a new guy who is getting votes for the Calder this year.  They had a guy who at the start of the season at least was leading the league in goals.  They have a goalie who almost lead the underdog US to a gold medal in last years olympics.  They have the skill.  It’s just getting that talent to show up every night that’s the issue.  It’s getting the few guys having a bad year to snap out of it.

If all that happens soon we’ll be fine.  If not we’re in for a long season.

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Sabres Vs Flyers – Another Road Game, Another 2 Points?

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Remember when we used to think road games were tougher?  Well that’s not the case this season as I for one am glad the Sabres have a bit of a road trip coming up this week.  While remaining win-less at home and playing well away this is a prime opportunity for the team to pick up some valuable points before falling too far behind.

Right now the Sabres have 7 points, good enough for 12th in the conference and 4th in the division.  The good news is the leaders of the conference and division only have 11 points.  Four points are easy to make up when you’re only 3 weeks into the season.

In search for those points the Sabres travel to Philly tonight, Atlanta again on Friday, and Dallas on Saturday.  The Sabres have only played 4 road games thus far but 6 of their 7 points have come from those games.  Their only road loss being a tightly fought battle in Chicago.

The Flyers seem to be struggling this season as well as they are currently sitting on 7 points.  Ex-Sabre Danny Briere is leading the Flyers in goals with 5. The rest of the scoring being spread out among the team.  The 2 goaltenders, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, have split the 8 games played evenly with 4 a piece so it’s hard to tell who’s going to get the nod in goal tonight.  Both are under 3 GAA (2.78 and 2.26 respectively).

The Sabres look to continue on their strong showing in Newark Saturday night after defeating the Devils 6-1.  Vanek tallied 2 goals as it looks like he’s finally remembered how to put the puck to the back of the net.  This team needs more than just Derek Roy scoring the goals so it’s good to see Vanek stepping up and filling the gap.

Luke Adam has been recalled from Portland to play tonight as Rob Niedermayer will be staying in Buffalo to be with his wife and newborn.  Always good to see a young guy being called up to get a chance.  He played alright in the pre-season so lets see if a few AHL games improved his skills enough and allow him to contribute.

7:30 face off tonight and for the first time of the year the game will be on Versus.  Lets see which team shows up tonight.  I’m hoping it’s the same one as Saturday.

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Sabres Looking For Their First Home Win

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Tonight the Buffalo Sabres will host the Ottawa Senators at HSBC arena.  The Sabres are still win-less at home however one of their two wins this season came opening night against the Senators who are also struggling early on.

Buffalo looks to build on an impressive win Wednesday night in Atlanta.  The Sabres out-shot the Thrashers 42-18 which lead to a 4-1 win.  As they dominated the game and finally got the payout to improve their record to 2-4-1. More importantly the 4 goals were scored by 4 different Sabres which has been rare this season.  One of those scorers was Thomas Vanek finally netting his first of the season.

Ottawa has also had issues finding the win column this season as they currently sit at the bottom of the NHL with only 3 points.  I’m sure they’ll be hungry for a win in hopes to gain some momentum.  Add that to the fact that, minus the season opener this year, the Sabres haven’t had good luck against the team so anything could happen.

For the Sabres, getting this win is just as important as getting the win Wednesday night.  They need to build some momentum, take advantage of other struggling teams, and pull themselves out of this rut they’ve seem to be in.  Another losing streak like the last and that rut is going to quickly become deeper, eventually too deep to climb out of.

We always talk about games later in the season being important but the truth is that a win in October is worth the same amount of points it is in March.

A win tonight and they face an also struggling NJ team on Saturday.  Those two wins can give them the momentum needed to take on the Flyers Tuesday and a Thrashers team they seemed to make easy work of next Friday.  If they can turn that schedule into a winning streak they’ll propel themselves up the standings and right into the thick of things again.

7:30PM face-off tonight.  The Sabres need this win as much as any other this season.  Not only because of the slow start they’re having but because it’s Ottawa and who doesn’t like seeing them lose?

Sabres @ Thrashers – Game Preview

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The Sabres continue looking for their first win since opening night as they travel to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers.  With the Sabres amidst a losing streak and desperate for a win they face a team they haven’t had much luck with in the past.

In the last 9 matchups between these teams the Sabres are 0-7-2.   For whatever reason Buffalo can never seem to get past the Thrashers and this is one game the Sabres could use a win in after starting the season 1-4-1.  That start puts them last in the East with Ottawa and New Jersey.

Ryan Miller will be in net tonight after getting a rest Saturday night in Chicago.  If the Sabres can put up the shots they did Saturday (41) and Miller has an alright night I’d be surprised if they didn’t walk away with a win. What they really need however is their core players to step up and get some goals, Myers needs to snap out of whatever slump he’s in, and everyone needs to finish their chances as there have been way to many missed chances this season.

7:00 PM faceoff.  For some reason I have a feeling this is the game they snap out of their funk and put up 5+ goals.  Guess we’ll know in a few hours.

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Game Preview – Sabres vs. Devils

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The Sabres look to break out of their 2 game losing streak tonight at HSBC Arena when they face the New Jersey Devils.  The win less Devils aren’t off to the best start of the year either and with some caps issues you have to question if they’ll be able to turn that around.

Monday night the Devils dressed only 15 players as a result of injuries and a suspension caused by their cap issues which essentially boil down to the Kovalchuk deal.  Tonight it looks like they’ll be dressing 16 after somehow finding the cash to sign ex-Sabre Adam Mair.  Not only with Mair be back in Buffalo for the first time in another uniform but Tallinder will be also after signing his 4 year deal with New Jersey in the off-season.  Both were well like Sabres so lets hope the booing is kept to a minimum.

Miller isn’t the only all-star goalie struggling this year as Brodeur isn’t putting up great numbers either.  Miller and Brodeur are ranked 37th and 38th respectively in the save % stats.   For comparison, last season Miller finished 2nd and Brodeur 13th.  These are both good goalies and I think it’s a matter of time before they turn their game around.  Neither have been getting much help from their team either which doesn’t help the situation.

The Sabres will need to step it up tonight as just like the at-the-time winless Blackhawks that defeated them Monday night the Devils are hungry for their first win.  The Sabres have been leaving way too much open ice out there and need to close the gaps and play tighter hockey.  Of course withe NJ only dressing 16 players the open ice might just help tire them out.

Another 7:00pm faceoff from HSBC arena tonight.  Radio coverage will be on WGR and MSG will have the HD TV Feed.

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The Pominville Hit Wrap-Up

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The Pominville hit and resulting 2 game suspension of Hjalmarsson has dominated the hockey news for the day.  Here’s a wrap-up of the coverage….

  • Mike Harrington of Sabres Edge has the reactions from Ruff and Miller on the suspension.  Miller brings up an interesting point.  Is going head-hunting saturday night really sending the right message?  I don’t think anyone is suggesting a dirty hit in retaliation but I think the best way to get the message across is playing the guy hard all night.  Wait for him to drop the gloves first then react instead of dropping the gloves the second the puck drops.
  • Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy thinks the suspension is perfect and I’d have to agree.  As much as a fine or suspension might cause Hjalmarsson to think twice next time he’s in a situation like that there’s nothing like some vigilante justice to make the Sabres feel better about it.  I know I’m angry about the situation so I can’t imagine how the mood is in the Sabres camp.  Hitting Hjalmarsson with a good clean check will probably help release some of that anger.  Throwing some punches in his direction may help that also.
  • Nick Mendola shares his thoughts.  Again, he’s happy that the Sabres will get some of their own justice, or at least a chance at it, Saturday night.  He also suggests that maybe Colin Campbell planned Hjalmarsson’s return on Saturday as some additional punishment.
  • Another good post by Mike Harrington from Sabres Edge.  The NHL isn’t exactly consistent in its discipline and even though I think this worked out for the best it’s still one of those rulings you question.  No doubt that hit could have ended Pominville’s career if not more.  The league then essentially says that chance is on the same level as someone making a lewd gesture.  Doesn’t make sense to me.
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