Friday, October 31, 2014

Nikita Zadorov should follow Mikhail Grigorenko's lead

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Regardless of the disaster that is the Buffalo Sabres right now, it doesn't seem as if the organization is looking to take any shortcuts. with player development.

Due to extenuating circumstances, rookies Sam Reinhart and Nikita Zadorov are both on the roster, but were it up to the Sabres, both would be playing in the AHL instead. Unfortunately for these two rookies, just like with Mikhail Grigorenko through the first two seasons of his career, the Canadian Hockey League doesn't afford 18 or 19 yr. olds that opportunity. It's either the NHL or Canadian Junior.

Zadorov's case is a bit trickier as the big defenseman is in a situation where he and/or his agent, Rolly Hedges, believes he should be playing against men, specifically for the club that holds his Kontinental Hockey League rights, CSKA Moscow.

Hedges told Ryan Pyette of the London (ON) Free Press, that Zadorov believes it would be better for his development. 'It’s not that he doesn’t want to play for the London Knights,' Hedges said to Pyette. 'Nikita is 19 now and thinks it’s better for his development — if he’s not able to play in Buffalo — to play in a men’s league.'

Until an agreement is reached by all parties, including the defenseman himself, Zadorov remains in limbo and the wheels on this will only get moving if Sabres GM Tim Murray decides to send him to the Knights.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

10-game grace period? Plus, a change of heart on Sam Reinhart

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Sabres head coach Ted Nolan has tried an approach to coaching similar to former Sabres' bench boss Lindy Ruff, treat his team like professional hockey players.

After an embarrassing 4-0 loss--the fourth time they've been shut out in the last six games--it would seem as if he's had enough. If the team plays like a "pee wee" team, then they need to be taught a lesson .“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If it’s not working, maybe you’re not working hard enough,'" said Nolan. "I was upset the way we worked.”

He had them working "hard enough" today putting them through a tough skate reminiscent of Ruff's (in)famous bag skates. Nolan said he gives his teams a "10-day grace period" but  "taking it easy is over now. We got to work. I’ll take full responsibility for that. Maybe I didn’t push them hard enough. But today’s the day we have to start."

They'd better get started. The team is 2-8-0 and even the "Tank for McEichel" world is getting a bit restless. Apparently they thought that barreling towards the bottom of the league to land one of the top two picks shouldn't be this difficult to watch.

And if fans think it's tough, the coaching staff must be going out of their minds.

Granted, there's not a lot to work with on this club and they've had a pretty tough schedule for the first 10 games. You could even throw in Paul Hamilton's synopsis concerning the west coast trip the Sabres just returned from and how, usually, a team falters. But the performance last night was just plain pathetic. What more can one say except "Wake the (expletive) up!" which is what Nolan screamed today.

Fact is, the Buffalo Sabres are what they are and this is what they'll have to work with for a fairly large part of the season. You are either professionals or you're not and as of right now, they're not.

From Reinhart to Neuvirth to the Leafs and more

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Tonight will mark forward Sam Reinhart's eighth game with Buffalo and at the end of his next game played, the Sabres will need to decide whether or not they wish to keep him with the club for a 10th, thus "burning" a year on his entry-level contract.

Reinhart hasn't really done enough to this point to warrant keeping him on the Sabres as the team looks destined to struggle for the rest of the season. The team is at 2-7-0 on the year thus far and have scored a league-worst 1.11 goals per game. Were he pitching in more offensively, perhaps things would be different but Reinhart it took him seven games to register his first NHL point, a secondary assist in San Jose' on Saturday.

Tonight Reinhart will be between Nic Deslauriers and Cody McCormick on the fourth line again. Deslauriers scored a goal on a feed from McCormick after Reinhart worked the puck to him and the rookie feels as if they may have some chemistry. “I’ve felt with Deslauries and McCormick we’ve had some success and it was nice we finally buried one." he said, and for the kid a weight was lifted “Yes I think so, it’s always a relief, it’s a little later than I would’ve wanted, we had some success and it was just a matter of time.”

It's a tough situation when deciding Reinhart's fate. There's been marked game-to-game improvement even while playing only 10+ minutes per game and the kid has a definite feel for the game. But, he's still a kid and the decision that needs to be made is whether he's better off playing over 20 minutes a game in junior or 10 minutes a game with the Sabres.

We'll know the answer on Saturday before the team gets ready to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sabres headed to Toronto with a little wind at their backs

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It could have been disasterous. Well. About as disasterous as a last place team could expect.

The victory at San Jose' was a welcome reprieve from the ineptitude of the first two west coast contests and it provided the team with some postitives as it heads to Toronto tomorrow night.

First off, they were able to come out of the San Jose' contest with a win in regulation, the first time they could make that claim this season. Second, they showed they could score two goals, and they could do it with players not named Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Torrey Mitchell, the only four players to have scored through the first eight games. The Sabres were also able to head into the third period with the lead for only the second time all season, and unlike their game against Carolina, were able to hold on to the lead.

So that's good.

What's even better is that the Sabres have two winnable games in front of them.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter what's on paper

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The are times in sports where a lop-sided match-up on paper doesn't really matter.

Yesterday afternoon the Buffalo Sabres entered "The Shark Tank" with a 1-7-0 record on the year. They were on a four game losing streak, had been shut out in three of those games, and had been outscored 11-1 during that stretch.

Last season the Sabres had the worst record, by far, in the entire NHL and entered the season with less weapons than they had last season. Their top scorer coming in was Matt Moulson, a player traded three times last year, and a player who has tallied only two assists (both in separate games vs. Anaheim) this year. The Sabres no longer had their only true top-line forward in Thomas Vanek and they moved on from their #1 goalie, Ryan Miller.

The Sharks, on the other hand, boast some of the most consistent, veteran scorers in the league like Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski while Logan Couture Tomas Hertl are two of the best young forwards in the game. San Jose' has not missed the playoffs in over 10 years and although they came in to the contest yesterday on a three-game losing streak, they still were a very respectable 4-3-1 and having scored 27 goals to that point.

Just how lop-sided and uninteresting was this matinee yesterday? For the first time since December 3, 2009, a span of 206 games, the Shark Tank failed to sell out. Maybe the 192 fans who opted to stay home, thus preventing a sell-out, either had something better to do or knew something was up.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sabres fans can take some solace in watching the Amerks for now

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Buffalo Sabres fans are getting a bit of a reprieve from the wreckage as the team is off tonight after a back-to-back road set with two of the best teams in the league--the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings They'll resume tomorrow with a matinee in San Jose' vs. the Sharks.

Buffalo is still reeling from lack of scoring as they've been shutout in 3 of the last four games and managed just one goal in the other. They haven't been playing poorly, but they haven't been able to put the puck in the net either.

Only one player, Tyler Ennis, was able to pot a goal in those four games and as it stands, through eight games, the team has scored only eight goals. With only two points the team is in a last place tie with the Florida Panthers although the Sabres have played two more games.

Conversely, their farm team, the Rochester Americans, have gotten off to a excellent start with a 3-1 record through the first four games of the season. They've won back-to-back games and are looking to extend that streak against the Adirondack Flames, a team they beat 6-1 to open the season.

Unlike the Sabres, the Amreks are putting the puck in the net. Through four games they've scored 17 goals tied with the Milwaukee Admirals (four games) and the Albany Devils (seven games.) And their goaltend has been holding up real well too. Rochester has allowed 10 goals with six of them coming in a 6-4 loss vs. the Hamilton Bulldogs in the second game of the season.

Forward Phil Varone (2+4) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (1+5) lead the team in points, while two unlikely players, hard-working forward Tim Schaller and Akim Aliu, who is with the team on a 25-game professional tryout lead the team with three goals each. Ruhwedel leads all AHL defensemen in points. William Carrier, acquired in the Ryan Miller trade, is tied for the AHL lead in scoring amongst rookies with four points (1+3.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wanted. Difference-makers

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After dropping a 4-1 decision at Anaheim last night, the Buffalo Sabres head up Interstate 5 for a meeting with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. It's a tall task for the reeling club and doesn't get much easier as the rest of October looks like this: @ San Jose', @ Toronto, vs. Boston. At this stage of the game, and with the Sabres playing like they have, a win against the Leafs would constitute a minor miracle while anything more would be akin to St. Jude making an appearance.

This is not a bad team, though, unless you define a bad team as a lack of difference-makers. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals were a bad team. They had absolutely nothing to work with. I challenge anyone to go down that roster and find any player of consequence on that club. And if you thought Mike Weber's league worst minus-29 was bad last season, he would have been middle of the pack on that Caps team. In only 59 games played, defenseman Bill Mikkelsen was a minus-82.

Keep in mind that it was Washington's inaugural season and there really wasn't enough talent to go around the 18-team league especially with 12 teams in the rival WHA poaching players. Plus, there was another expansion team, the Kansas City Scouts (Colorado Rockies, NJ Devils) who had to stock their roster as well. The scraps that were thrown to the Caps and the Scouts to get their franchises moving amounted to some stale bread crumbs and chewed gristle, so an 8-67-5 record for Washington was not too surprising.

Forty years from now, people will have at least heard of Brian Gionta, a Stanley Cup-winner with the New Jersey Devils, and anyone who's even slightly interested in delving into the sport would probably recognize Tyler Myers' name. And when they look at the roster, they certainly will have at least seen the name Sam Reinhart, or even have had an opinion as to how his career went. Does anyone remember Greg Joly? He was the Caps first draft pick ever and the first player taken in the 1974 draft.