Friday, April 29, 2011

Mark Voakes' Long Road Is Paying Off For Himself and the Portland Pirates

Portland Pirates center
Mark Voakes
Never heard of Portland Pirates center Mark Voakes?

Pretty sure not many have. Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen certainly knew about him.

In 2009 Voakes was invited to the Pirates training camp, but didn't make the cut. On the exit interview, Dineen talked to the kid, telling him he considered him a "viable call-up," and Voakes was headed to Cincinnati to join the Cyclones of the ECHL.

Injuries stunted his first season with the Cyclones, though. Just after posting his first pro goal en route to netting the hat-trick on October 23, 2009, Voakes was injured and was out two months from October 25 to December 31, 2009.

Tough break for the kid, as Dineen said that he wanted to call him up at the time, but his injured knee put that on hold. A hold that lasted nearly 18 months.

Having played a total of  24 games in the 2009/10 season for Cincinnati, scoring eight goals, adding seven assists and logging a plus-8, he was traded to the Bakersfield Condors on March 9, 2010.

This wasn't the first time that Voakes faced adversity and movement. As a 19 yr. old, he had a brief, two-year stint with Bowling Green University in the NCAA which yielded nothing--zero points in 14 games.

After that disaster, he headed back to his home province of Ontario to enroll in Wilfrid Laurier University.

Voakes (left) receives Wilfrid Laurier's
Presidents Award in 2009
During his four years with the Golden Hawks, Voakes played in 102 games, notched 56 goals and added 98 assists for a total of 154 points. He was named 2008-09 Ontario University Athletics West MVP in his senior season as well as Laurier's Presidents Award for 2009 Most Outstanding Male Athlete.

The four years he spent back home in Ontario, along with the MVP award and two first team all-star selections, seemed to rekindle his scoring touch as well as give him the confidence to deftly find that "dead-ice" that so important to offensive producers.

Although his first nine months in the ECHL were rocky, he eventually said good-bye to the 2009-10 regular season and welcomed the 2010 playoffs with Bakersfield.

In eight playoff games he proceeded to register three goals and five assists for the Condors.

Those results earned him another AHL tryout in the 2010 off-season, this time with the Houston Aeros.

Passed upon once again by the AHL, it was back to the ECHL, this time with the Greenville Road Warriors.

This time Voakes stayed healthy, and with 60 games under his belt for the 2010-11 season, he scored 17 goals and finished with 54 points.

Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen remembered the 6'0" 180 lb. center from nearly two years ago. Voakes had made that much of an impression.

Voakes (center) celebrates his first AHL
goal with Luke Adam (left) and
Mark Parrish (right)
With the parent-club Buffalo Sabres suffering through injury-woes up-front late in the season, Portland Pirates forward Mark Mancari was summoned from the minors which left a hole up-front with the Pirates. Dineen called-up Voakes to fill the void.

Voakes took full advantage of the opportunity scoring his first AHL goal on his first shift and earning accolades from Dineen, "He hasn't done it the easy way, and he earned his call-up and his ice-time [in that game]"

He also earned an extended stay with the Pirates playing in a total of 18 games scoring six goals, adding five assists and finishing with a plus-7.

A very appealing part of Voakes' game is how he seems to pick it up in the playoffs.
  • Eight points in eight playoff games for the ECHL's Bakersfield Condors.
  • Two goals and three points in three games for the Greenville Road Warriors when he was loaned back to them earlier this month.
  • With Portland this season in the playoffs, he's recorded two goals and seven points (tied for second on the team) in eight games thus far.
Mark Voakes' road has been long--both in years and in mileage--and full of pitfalls along the way. Yet, he's persevered. And just like the ice time he's earned from Kevin Dineen, he may have earned himself an AHL contract in the process.

The following links contributed to this piece:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bills First-round Draft

With the Sabres eliminated form the playoffs two days ago, Buffalo sports fans will turn their attention to this weekend's NFL draft which begins with the 1st round tonight.

Me too.

Time to join the "experts."

My choice in the 1st round.

If the Bills keep their pick, the #3 overall:
  • Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert has very strong physical attributes, but maybe the most appealing aspect of his game, when looking through the eyes of head coach Chan Gailey, might be the intelligence level of Gabbert. He scored a 42 on the Wonderlic test, but as pointed out in this Yahoo piece, he has a near-photographic memory, has the strong ability to "decipher offenses" and he should easily be able to handle a playbook of over 700 pages. Although he has all the physical attributes, "its his mind that might push him further." Gailey is known as a "quarterback guru." His present quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has that incredible mental capacity, but lacks the physical attributes to "push him further." It's highly probable that Gabbert is Fitzpatrick with size and skill.
I really hope they do not take Cam Newton. He's is not the answer. All the physical attributes that are perfect for the combine-workout, but you never hear any good things concerning his intelligence. Whether on or off the field, he does not seem to have the smarts to dissect a defense or dissect the many leeches that will attach themselves to him because of his money. STAY THE EFFF AWAY FROM THIS GUY!

What's cool about this draft is that there may be a number of teams looking to trade up and maybe this is the route they should take

Should they trade down, trade down enough to still be able to get OT Anthony Costanzo.

Costanzo should be their choice in a trade-down scenario. whether they want to go high with a tenth or eleventh-overall pick, or take a chance lower on a double trade-down, he would fill a need at tackle. Right now he should be a lock at RT with a good possibility that he'll be able to move to the left side and anchor it.

Phase one complete. We'll see what happens.

Why the Flyers Moved On

Why did the Philadelphia Flyers move on to the second round leaving the Buffalo Sabres and fans with, as Tyler Ennis puts it, "the worst feeling ever?"

You can dissect it all you want: the Flyers were stronger up-front, more experienced, lucky with goaltending switches, spent more money, Kate Smith, etc. Any and all may have contributed to the four games to three series victory over the Sabres.

But the reason that they came out on top can be summed up by Danny Briere, " doesn’t matter who has the puck, you are going through them."

Briere was talking about his ties to the Buffalo Sabres, his former team. He's still friends with a number of players, including Ryan Miller, and said it was "probably one of the toughest series I had to go through." Adding, "It's no secret, in the playoffs there are no friends."

Class act, Mr. Briere. On a side note, he also pointed out that there's no animosity towards anyone presently in the organization, because "the people that didn't want me [are] gone."

One more quote from Briere, he was talking about the Sabres not being able to win Game-6 at home to finish off the Flyers. He said, "That was probably a good lesson for them."

Why the Philadelphia Flyers won is because their team, as a whole, know that the Stanley Cup playoffs are about "going through" opponents. No friends, no mercy.

Valuable lesson indeed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I'm Selfish, I Want A Sabres Win Tonight

Don't care, I want to see a win in Game 7 tonight vs. the Flyers.

Throw everything out the window--history, injuries, the regular season, hot-streaks, cold-streaks, "experts," sooth-sayers, pray-ers and nay-sayers.

I don't think anyone on the Sabres team or within the organization wants to a hear post-game mortem featuring, "You're a young team, you'll go far," "You guys gave it everything you had, just came up short," "You fought through some tough injuries and had some really good players step up and gain valuable experience."

Nope. Don't want to hear none of that.

Nor do I want to hear anything like "we're just gonna go out there and have fun."
It's only fun if you win, boy(e)s. Losing never is. Just ask Thurman Thomas and the rest of the Bills of that era. That's all you heard from them pre-Superbowl. And look where it got 'em.

There's only one way to approach it.

Score one more goal than the Flyers, by any means necessary.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Mass Murder?" Richards Goons Connolly

Mike Richards is shrewd.

Take a look at the hit on Tim Connolly:

Richards, who was also responsible for throwing an obvious elbow to face of the Sabres Patrick Kaleta in Game 3, did a great job of hiding the fact that he was going to take out a Sabres player.

The reason that it was, as Ryan Miller said post-game, "mass murder" (obviously not the proper term, but we get the point) is because Richards altered Connolly upper-body just enough as to not allow Connolly to protect himself. And Richards is shrewd enough to hide it.

If you look at it game-speed, you can see it. If you slow it down, it's even more pronounced.

Richards has the reputation of walking that fine line between nasty and dirty. And the reason that he is not looked upon as dirty in the general hockey-public eye is because he hides it very well. Very much like his mentor, the person who drafted him--Bobby Clarke--once did.

Philadelphia Flyers Chairman Ed Snider, who is also on the NHL Competition Committee, was part of the group that revised NHL rules to combat cheap shots and recklessness on the ice. This was Snider after the game, "I have to see a replay," he said and added this explanation, defense and half-truth, "It looked to me that he was down low. Richie didn't raise his arms or anything. These things happen. What we're trying to target is purposeful hits to the head."

Richards, btw, was not available for comment after the game yesterday.

There's no way you can prove intent, which is something that allowed Richards to get away with only a two-minute boarding penalty instead of a five-minute major, a game misconduct and the possibility of further disciplinary action.

It's highly doubtful that after a "thorough review" there will be any suspension. It's the playoffs, the games are called differently and the league, in their "reviews," temper "further disciplinary action."

Flyers chairman Ed Snider once owned the parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers--Spectacor. In 1996 he sold 66% of his company--which included the Philadelphia Flyers--to Philadelphia-based Comcast Cable forming Comcast Spectacor.

Parent-company Comcast completed a deal earlier this year to purchase a major stake in NBC Universal from GE which included NBC Sports Group and Versus.

The NHL just signed a 10 year television contract with NBC for $2billion.

Yesterday's game just happened to be on NBC and was a do or die situation for the Philadelphia Flyers.


Not saying anything here, but....


12:00pm--The league reviewed the hit. No suspension, no hearing. No biggie. It's over with;_ylt=ArfaOWtSfXJXS0DV_QqZuKF7vLYF?urn=nhl-wp3396

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Fourth Win Is the Hardest

After an incredible Game 5 that saw momentum swing back and forth, ending with a Tyler Ennis gift from goalie Michael Leighton, what's next?

The pressure is on Flyers bench-boss, Peter Laviolette, to make the right choice in goal today. Will it be the black space--Brian "Boosh" Boucher? Or will it be the green space--Michael Leighton? Maybe go back to red with Sergei Bobrovsky?

Don't know as of yet, but I do know this much, I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. It;s hard enough developing a game-plan for the playoffs, but to then be expected to pick the right goalie? With an understanding of the situation, no empathy here.

The fourth win of a series is said to be the hardest one to get. The Fly-boys should be coming out like a rat trapped in a corner--teeth and claws bared for a fight.

Get ready, young Sabres.

See you all at the game today.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Philly Media Adds Some Cheese To Flyers Whine

From Sam Donnellon,

***my personal notes in parenthesis***

Flyers' captain Richards should have used a little restraint

BUFFALO - He should have known better.

In a game in which Dan Carcillo was punched in the face (actually, it was the chest) by a goalie (in the goalie's crease) and (acted like he was) pounded to the ice by a defenseman without retaliation (without an Oscar either, although it was Oscar-worthy,) a game in which so many of his teammates took numerous unreciprocated hits to the back trying to tie the game (ummmm, it is the playoffs, isn't it?), the captain should have known better than to throw an elbow at Patrick Kaleta along the boards in a one-goal contest on the road, at the end of a period in which the Flyers seemed on the precipice of turning things around.

"I thought maybe 2 minutes," Mike Richards said in the losing locker room last night. "To make a call like that, it's personal maybe. Not sure." (hmmmm, nothing personal, right David Booth?)

 Personal? All the more reason not to do it. If Richards believed referee Francois St. Laurent had it out for him, then the elbow to the Sabres' agitator is only more puzzling. Maybe he thought Kaleta's reputation would allow it, the way countless extra shots have been allowed on Scott Hartnell and Carcillo in the four games so far (these two "angels" who've skated with a halo throughout the series thus-far.) Maybe he thought Kaleta would get one of those phantom calls that the Flyers' two agitators have received in this series, just for being on the wrong end of a stick shaft or a glove. (perhaps they could use a hug.)

"You never know what Kaleta is capable of," Kris Versteeg was saying (he of the classic soft-but-skilled perimeter game). "He's a dangerous player out there so you never know. He can run you from behind and he will hit you without the puck. (yeah, because Flyers never do any of that) It pretty much came down to 'Richie' protecting himself." (as well he should, he's definitely no Lady Byng candidate)

That was the company line (did you mean, WHINE?) all right, from the coach on down to the captain.

"It looked like he was getting run and got his arm up," said Peter Laviolette, while adding that he didn't get a clean look at the replay. But, said Laviolette, "I didn't see any intent there" to warrant a 5-minute major. (uh, right, maybe if you took off those orange and black glasses, coach)

General manager Paul Holmgren (he who would easily make the all-time Flyer goon list) also didn't see 5 minutes in the elbow, which caught Kaleta in the face, which he had been covering with a cage during practice.

Maybe that's why St. Laurent went over the top a bit. Yes, Kaleta is a known agitator, a guy who gets under the skin of his opponent. Richards has been known to do that as well. But amid a low-scoring series in which past Flyers miscreants (miscreants? really? how about keeping it simple like goons) like Hartnell and Carcillo have shown gritty maturity taking their licks (more like trying to play victim against the Sabres which is a silly notion to begin with) as they doggedly pursue pucks , the captain should not have put himself and his team in the position he put them in at the end of the second period last night. (maybe that's why all the Philly hulllabaloo over the call their captain, Mike Richards, did something blatantly stupid and now they're tryin to cover up for him)

Was 5 minutes a little - pardon the pun - over the top? Maybe it's personal, as Richards said. But the referee probably reads too, probably knew that Kaleta was wearing a cage during practice, probably knew he left Monday's game early and did not return after banging his head. (yup, that's exactly it, the ref felt sorry for Kaleta and was waiting for the exact moment where he could slyly show it)

Richards' best point is this: "I thought they got away with murder," because they did. (said with head down, hiding eyes like he was being asked where his lunch money was) First it was Hartnell picking up a matching penalty in Game 3 after being repeatedly crosschecked in the back. Last night it was Carcillo who, after nearly scoring, buzzed around the net too close for Ryan Miller's liking. Miller punched him in the face (no, it wasn't the face it was the chest, Carcillo acted like it was the face, the ref didn't bite) with his glove, Carcillo was subsequently thrown down by Sabres defenseman Mike Weber (either Carcillo was acting on that or he proved what a wuss he is getting rag-dolled like that) and the end result was matching roughing penalties for poor, old "Car bomb" (did you mean lady finger?) and the two-fisted goalie.

"I mean, I don't know what I did to deserve that penalty," Carcillo said afterward. (in the crease, a couple shots at Miller...DIVING!)

"That call on Carcillo there, he's getting killed every time," said Richards.

Richards wasn't playing that card for himself. He knows he gives as much as he gets. (perhaps he should inform Carcillo) He was upset with the length more than the call.

"I saw him take a couple of strides towards me," he said. "I had to protect myself." (yeah, brilliant. had you not tried to break his jaw, maybe the Flyers woulda been on a powerplay to open the third. Kaleta certainly woulda garnered two for stupidity)

But if the replay showed nothing else, it showed some exuberant self-defense. Maybe even frustration. (maybe even a sly player who thought he could get away with a dirty play, but instead got nabbed)

At the worst time.
The Flyers were amid their best stretch of pressure at the time, seemed on the verge of a huge third period. (yeah, maybe or they coulda continued to get stonewalled and did something stupid like Richards did) Instead they began it a man down for nearly 5 minutes, and it took another 5 minutes to build the kind of momentum they had finished the second with.

The captain didn't cost them the victory. (no he didn't, but it was a blatant elbow and downright stupid, especially for a captain) But he cost them valuable minutes. (and displayed what happens to the Flyers when they're frustrated) And in a series in which they have now been shut out twice, (thus the frustration) those minutes could become haunting. (not as haunting as being intimidated by the [snicker, snicker] Buffalo Sabres and whining about it to the referees)

Some Keys To Game Five

Score at least one more goal than the Flyers do by whatever means necessary.

That's it. Anyone who thinks they know what's gonna happen in this game is either crazy, has a deadline to meet or makes his living as an "expert."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Sabres' Coach Lindy Ruff Has A Smirk On His Face

The quips in the above post-game video came from a coach who was on the winning end of a 1-0 victory.

Lindy Ruff is like any coach and/or player:  win the game and the mood is much lighter. If you're on the losing end, darkness envelops the room.

Lindy Ruff Post Game 1
But Ruff seems to have a "cat-who-ate-the-canary" look about him. It's a look that was captured after the first game in the post game presser.

Even after Game 2, when the Sabres paraded to the penalty box in a 5-4 defeat, he took the "yeah, I know" approach to his team's play.  After that game he said, "I am proud of the emotion that they fought through. I am not upset that we took it a little too far because the response is what we were looking for and they came back at them hard."

After a decade of dealing a with highly-skilled, yet extremely soft team, he's got himself a team that has the grit and tenacity that he had when he played. He knows it and he's kinda giddy about it--win or lose.

"It was a war when we left Philadelphia" Saturday evening," he said. "It will be a war tomorrow when we go back there and it will be a war Sunday when they come back here. Emotions are running hot."

An Early Game 1 Scrum
Were the Flyers ready for this?

I don't think so. Since when, this past decade, have you ever heard an opposition player, especially from the Philadelphia Flyers, say that the Sabres seemed to want to get into a street fight with the Flyers, as Fly-boy, d-man Sean O'Donnell suggested.

Danny Briere, the Flyers star forward and himself a former Sabres star, said the tough series is good for both teams. "If that's the way it goes, fine," Briere said. "They can play that way. We can play that way." (Sporting News)

Nate Gerbe Body-slams Claude Giroux,
and Gets A Double-minor in Game 2

And the hockey world knows that the Philadelphia Flyers can, in fact, play that way. It's woven into their fabric.

What the Flyers have done this series, though, is goad the Sabres into asserting their toughness by having them play with too much of an edge, too much emotion. The aggressiveness, especially after the whistle, has lead to many Fly-boy powerplays.

Mike Weber Protects His Goalie
In Game 4

Game 4 was different in one respect from the three previous: the refs seemed to tire of the Flyers as victims routine as evidenced by the Daniel Carcillo/Ryan Miller matching-minors.

Carcillo was going after an academy award with that one. "They're getting away with murder out there," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "And we got called every time [Dan Carcillo] was on the ice. It's frustrating, but we've got to battle through it. It's a physical series."

A physical series that the Sabres are actually winning.

Forget the statistical "hits" counted by the NHL. Check out this headline from Philly. com columnist Phil Sheridan after last night's loss by the Flyers:  Sabres get better of nasty play.

The Sabres are playing a tough, hard-ass game, and it's paying dividends--almost.

Although the Sabres could only muster a round of boos from their home fans on a five-minute powerplay, the fact that Flyers captain Mike Richards was whistled for a major penalty on an elbow shows that the Flyers were thinking about the Sabres game in general and Pat Kaleta in particular:

Pat Kaleta Cleanly Levels Ville Lieno
In Game 1
From  Richards said he was protecting himself from Kaleta. So did coach Peter Laviolette and the captain's teammates. "I think he was protecting himself because you never know what
Patrick Kaleta is capable of," winger Kris Versteeg said. "He's a dangerous player out there when it comes down to it. You never know if he's going to run you from behind, or he's going to hit you without the puck."

In my opinion, I believe that the five-minute major was warranted. Richards threw an elbow at Kaleta, it hit exactly where he wanted it to. Richards is shrewd. Although no one will ever be able to prove it, I believe he threw that elbow with intent to injure and I also believe that he thought he could get away with it in the name of "self-defense."

One final note on that penalty. It's done. No further punishment is needed.

As for the series, from Sheridan:

The "Goose" doesn't care if former-
Sabre Daniel Briere remembers his
time as a Sabre fondly. (Game 2)
"...the Sabres have gotten the better of the physical play in this series. With no Chris Pronger and no Jody Shelley, the Flyers are missing a couple of the intimidating players who might discourage some of that physicality.

"They're hard on the right guys," Carcillo said. "They haven't said boo to some of the other guys who they know will fight back. That's the way they play. That's the way they've always played. So we'll see what happens in [Game] 5."

He had a point, though, about the Sabres' approach. There is little doubt that former Sabres star Danny Briere, the Flyers' smallest player, is a special target for extra punishment. After the game, Briere walked through the locker room with a cut on his left cheek and a nasty red welt across his neck. He was at the bottom of that postgame pileup of angry players.

Sabres d-man Mike Weber clears Daniel Carcillo
and the crease in Game 4
So why does Lindy Ruff have a smirk on his face?

His team is more physical, especially on the back end, than any team he's had since 1999. They're more skilled up-front than that team as well.

And maybe, just maybe, he knew after the first game that this team, playing like they did that night, has a good chance to pull off an upset in the first round.


From WGR's Paul HamiltonSabres Ruff thinks Flyers are whiners

The Flyers think the Sabres "Get away with murder." The Sabres had four power plays in Game 4 while the Flyers had three. Buffalo was on the PP for 9:41 while Philadelphia had 4:41 with the extra man. In Game 2, the Sabres were shorthanded for almost 16 minutes, but last night, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere both thought they were not getting a fair shake from the officials. Lindy Ruff, well he's tired of it, "I just feel that they're doing a lot of whining. I didn't hear any whining when they had ten power plays in Philly and I didn't hear any whining when the power plays in the first game were lopsided, but all of a sudden there's all this whining that we're getting away with murder, that's a bunch of crap. That's for the media, that's for the officials to read, that's for here let’s get the next call, that's a bunch of crap, let’s just play. We're just playing, there hasn't been one word about officiating out of us, but if they want to cry about the officiating or whine about different calls, go ahead."
When Ryan Miller heard that they were getting away with murder, he couldn't stop laughing, "Murder huh? He's just trying to start spinning something (Richards), he's a smart guy, he's been around awhile, he's been through a lot of these battles and he obviously knows that some attention needs to be drawn to something. I think he's just trying to draw it away from himself. That elbow (on Kaleta) is something we're trying to stay away from and he threw it, no matter who's coming at you. It's Patty Kaleta and he's got a reputation, but Patty hadn't hit him yet, he didn't even know what Patty was going to do and he got an elbow in the face so I think it's a big smoke screen. Mike is trying to throw everyone off his trail."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some Keys To Game Four

With his team down 2-1 in these Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, head coach Lindy Ruff is in a bit of a quandary. The Sabres need to score.

The playoff run that Buffalo went on just to make the playoffs was predicated upon offense. They went from 2.57 goals per game in December (21st in the league) to 2.93 to finish the season (9th.)

This series has seen them score 1, 4, 2 goals, respectively, in the first three games. That's 2.33 goals/game and they find themselves behind two games to one in the series.

During 2011 they managed to keep thier goals against average to right around 2.80. In this series it's 2.66 (including one shutout and one empty net goal.)

So what does Ruff do?

Does he follow the winning formula from Game 1 where the Sabres basically went "rope-a-dope" on the Flyers and capitalized on a counterpunch? Or does he continue to attack, at the expense of defense, and hope to outscore Philly?

It's highly doubtful that Ryan Miller can pitch another 1-0 shutout with the defense as young and mistake-prone as it is, and it's safe to assume that the Flyboys will pot at least 2-3 goals.

Throughout the season Flyers goalie Brian "Booosh" Boucher had a 9-1 record when he gave up two goals in a game. When he gave up three or more he went 2-7. During last year's playoffs, Boosh went 1-5 when giving up three or more goals.

Therefore the first key for the Sabres is:

--Get at least three goals.
Not sure how Ruff will do it. Three goals on a counter-punch will take elite-sniping so, within the game, they will need to open it up a bit. If Ruff believes Ryan Miller is ready for an early onslaught of Flyers' odd-man rushes, he could open it up early and often. That may catch Flyers coach Peter Laviolette somewhat off-guard and would be a case of feast (goals and/or powerplays) or famine (missed opportunities and/or goals against.) Maybe it's time for Ruff to put the game squarely on the shoulders of his goalie. Is it desperation? No, not really. It would be a case of playing to the only advantage the Sabres have.

--Take advantage of the power play.
The Sabres have scored three goals on 15 opportunites (20%) in the series thusfar. At least one, preferably two, would go a long way towards a victory tonight.

--Boosh is very beatable.
But when he gets on a roll, like any goalie, confidence builds. Quick-wristers top-shelf are a proven method to beat goalies and Boosh is no exception. Also, within the next game or two, he's bound to give up a weak one. Boosh is not Bernie Parent, but if the Sabres approach it like he is, he will become Parent.

--Ryan Miller (again...still.)
Miller needs to shoulder the weight of his young defensmen's miscues. Obviously a save would be optimum, but he needs to ditch the "arms-raised-in-disbelief" crap on a breakdown or a funky goal. We all know that some (most) goals are not his fault. No need for him to show the world.

--The fans at HSBC.
This is the playoffs. Momentum shifts from game-to-game, period-to-period, shift-to-shift. The Sabres can play with the Flyers. Enjoy the playoff atmosphere and don't expect the Sabres to take the weight of the world off of your shoulders. They have their own concerns, most notably the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nothing earth-shattering here. The chess-match between Ruff and Laviolette continues,

Bottom line:  the Sabres need to score one more goal than the Flyers to make this a best of three series.

***ADDENDUM (3:40 pm):

So far the Philadelphia game plan, in the physicality deptartment, has been to stay away from any type of "Broadstreet Bully"-type play. Maybe it's because Chris Pronger is out, maybe it's because they'd rather play to their strengths--offensive firepower--or maybe they've just decided to not play that card knowing that the young Sabres would be intent upon proving how tought they are. Probably a combination of all three.

As of right now Lindy Ruff is trying to tone down any goon-like play from his team. Would be interesting to see if the Flyers take a run at Ryan Miller and do some questionable things to catch the Sabres off-guard.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ryan Miller: Dump the Vezina Headlines

Dear Ryan Miller,

Man up.

I don't care if you let in a softie. And I don't care if you've not perfected the "Hasek-windmill" either.

But what's the deal with your whiny display of disbelief after deflection-goals?

This is something that's been happening all season. A goal against due to a Sabres player either defelecting it in accidentally, or a Sabres player out of position on an a "lay-up" goal, or a Sabres player coughing up the puck in their own end, and next thing you know up come the arms in disbelief.

It's a display that says something to the effect of, "Jezzzzuzzz, guys, what are you doing out there?" and, to an extent, "You're making me look bad!"

I'm not gonna make this a "bitch-blog" about Ryan Miller, you can go to any number of blog-sites and find pages upon pages of that. I will say this much, though, at times, seems like he's been caught up in his Vezina headlines too much. And at this time of year, especially with a very young defense in front of him, I'm pretty sure that's not the approach you want to take.

Miller's proven he can steal games. He's proven he can lock-down a game. He's proven that he can keep a game within reach. He's also proven that he can win big games and seems to be on the thresh-hold of winning the big one.

But what he needs to prove is that he can take the miscues of his teammates upon his shoulders so that his team-mates, especially the young defense, can move forward after a goal against.

Playoffs games are a series of momentum shifts that can, and do, happen from minute to minute. The weight of a defensive miscue, if not put aside and forgotten about, will snowball.

For instance, on the Jeff Carter goal. Instead of, "Sheeeot, Mike [Weber] what did ya do that for?" it should be "No problem, Mike, it happens. I got your back."

A true leader is comfortable enough with himself and his game to take the miscues of others and put them upon his shoulders.

Right, Ryan?


Boos, Philosophical Counselor

Monday, April 18, 2011

Some Keys To Tonights Game

Game 3 tonight. Series tied 1-1.

How about some keys to the game?

--After 15 Flyers powerplays in the first two games, how about staying out of the penalty box?
The Sabres won't play a perfect game, hell, the odds of a ref making a bad call are pretty high, so they will be in the box at some point. If they take a obvious penalty, anything outside of decking a Flyer in defense of their goalie or their teammates would be of the bad variety.

--Steve Montador
Dude. This needs to be your big game. Two veritable clunkers as the "veteran" of the d-corps is unacceptable. The Tyler Myers/Chris Butler duo is solid. Whichever youngin you're paired with, they need you to be solid, dependable and covering their backs. Same with Jordan Leopold. If he's in, he'll need plenty of support getting back into the game.

--Ryan Miller
Game 1, Sabres win with solid defense--Miller good. Game 2, Sabres lose scoring four goals--Miller not good. It's no secret that Lindy Ruff would prefer his players skate while having his d-men join the rush and be active in the Flyers zone. Miller will be tested. He needs to come up big at the right time.

--Nathan Gerbe
Gerbe's turning into a cult hero and turning HSBC into his ice. He's proven that he won't back down from any physicality against the Flyers. He needs to stick it to the Flyers tonight.

--Get that first goal/Score on their first powerplay.
I wouldn't be suprised if the Sabres get the first powereplay, whether the penalty is legit or not. Regardless, the Sabres need to score that first goal. Then get the next. The larger a Sabres lead, the more likely the Flyers will get frustrated, and the more they get frustrated, the bigger the possiblility Daniel Carcillo will do something stupid trying to spark the team.

--Keep Flyers coach Peter Laviolette thinking about his goaltender situation.
The roulette wheel is spinning. Laviolette went from red (Sergei Bobrovsky) for one full game and 12:30 seconds of the second to black (Brian "Boosh" Boucher). He's already looking towards green as Michael Leighton is said to be the back-up for tonight's game.

No expectations except for there to be a really intense playoff showdown between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Emotions Run High, Sabres Chill In the Box In Game Two

"It was an awesome display of emotion tonight. It is what the playoffs are all about. We have some guys that were able to taste that for the first time and they handled it pretty damn good. I am proud of the emotion that they fought through. I am not upset that we took it a little too far because the response is what we were looking for and they came back at them hard."--Sabres Head Coach, Lindy Ruff

"You had to want the ice, want the puck and want to be a part of the game...As far as that emotion and that energy [we're] talking about, it's called the Stanley Cup. And it's worth fighting for."--Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, young Sabres.

What you just went through was a playoff game that featured championship-calibre team desperate to win.

FUN?...Brad Boyes?...It's not all that fun when you lose, is it?

You got guys getting hit in the head with a slapshot (Mike Weber,) guys taking one to the body (Andrej Sekera,) guys figthing ("Goose" Gaustad/Scott Hartnell,) guys getting under each others skin (Patrick Kaleta and Daniel Briere.)

You got guys in the paint, guys getting hammered along the wall and guys making feeble attempts and stupid plays with the team paying the price for timidity.

Boyes, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford. Do your really want to be a part of the game? Do you want the puck? Is the Stanley Cup worth fighting for?

"Rej" (Sekera,) great goal, but do you want to fight for the ice in your own zone?

Rob Niedermayer has a Stanley Cup ring. He knows what it takes.

Mike Grier is a grizzled vet with tons of playoff experience. He knows what it takes.

Thomas Vanek is doing it like he has been for years, right around the paint. He knows what it takes.

The Flyers played a smart game by luring the young, overzealous Sabres into taking their emotions a bit too far. Although Philly only went 1-10 on the powerplay, a continued parade to the penalty box keeps your scorers on the bench.

Sekera- two minor penalties
Tyler Myers--two minor penalties
Nathan Gerbe--double minor for a take-down (loved this, though)
Kaleta--two-minute minor for roughing

Rob Niedermayer--no penalties in two games
Grier--no penalties in two games (and one of the best hits of the series thusfar)
Vanek--no penalties

Although "Goose" did get a minor, his was a relentless, gritty performance. His emotions were high and he's willing to do whatever it takes.

The youngins need to look to Nieds, Grier, Vanek and Goose. They need to listen to them, watch them, follow their lead.

Young Sabres d-man Chris Butler has played 53 minutes of hockey in two games. Of those minutes, 14 have been on the penalty kill. Overall he an the rest of the penalty-killing unit have kept the Flyers 1-15 on the powerplay. He's a minus-1 and has been a beast  in the physicality department.

He seems to get it.

Last night the Flyers showed why they went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Within the game, they found an area they could exploit (youthful overzealousness) and it contributed to their victory. They saw weakness in certain defenders (Sekera and Steve Montador) and took advantage of it.

They know that in the playoffs the ice is smaller, the spacing is less, the speed is a bit faster, the stick-work more refined, the hits harder, the checking more controlled and minor mistakes magnified.

Put it all together and you've got the series tied at one apiece headed back to Buffalo.

cool links:
Photo Gallery:
Post-game quotes:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dude, Really? What Are You Like After A Loss?

The set-up:

The seventh-seeded Buffalo Sabres go into Philadelphia for the first game of their series. Due to a relentless forecheck the Sabres are forced into a Muhammed Ali-like "rope-a-dope" battle. The officiating "tilts" towards the Flyers as they have a 5-1 advantage on the powerplay.

This is the type of scenario that in the past would have lead to a sure Sabres loss. Instead the Sabres PK unit shuts down the Flyers, they hold them scoreless throughout the game and take Game One, 1-0.

Nothing really to complain aboput right?

Leave it to this "fan" to find something (many things) to whine about:

Here's an unbelievable line from the above article:

"Ice time was a factor, with Vanek and Ennis getting only 13 minutes because of the Flyers' 5-1 power-play edge."

Doesn't Vanek earn over 7 MILLION DOLLARS a year? I know our new owner isn't as concerned about his bottom line as the previous owner, but talk about getting laughably little for your money!

Nobody wants to criticize Lindy right about now, and I get that. However, why do other teams double shift their stars earning that much money, while Ruff not only never double shifts Vanek, but also allows him to sit even longer on the bench in a playoff game due to "game circumstances." ?

At the same time, Ruff has thought nothing about over-playing his star goalie who earns about 2 Million a year less then Vanek, to the point of exhaustion year after year. Is it just me, or shouldn't Vanek be killing penalties sometimes, as well as double shifting regularly? Especially now at this point in his young career, as he seems to be taking on the role of leadership more and more?

I bet Edmonton would have used the heck out of him had the Sabres not matched that insane contract the Oilers handed him a few years ago. Of course I have no way of proving that take, but I see almost every other team double shifting it's star players and using them on all special teams. Why doesn Vanek get used so sparely on Buffalo?

Every Sabre on the team did what they needed to do on Thursday night. They won.


Question Marks Abound For Philly Before Game 2

Did the Sabres steal Game 1 of the Series on Thursday? Or was it a deserved win?

Will Philadelphia play the same game they did in Game 1 and plan on lighting the lamp this time? Or will they open it up?

Will Flyers coach Peter Laviolette add some offense by putting in Nik Zherdev, he of the 25 healthy scratches this season? Or will his stick with the line-up he has?

The Philadelphia powerplay went 0-5 including :38 of five-on-three. Trailing 1-0 a late thrid period powerplay produced zero shots. Was it the Sabres penalty kill that was exceptional? Or does the powerplay need some serious adjustments?

Young Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret was powned by the Sabres Patrick Kaleta as he allowed Kaleta to pounce on a rebound uninhibited for the game's only goal. Does he stay in? Or do the Flyers turn to veteran Nick Boynton?

Philly bench boss Peter Laviolette basically chalked it up to right game plan, wrong outcome. "I don't think it's the game we have a problem with; it's the score," he said. "But that's an issue. You're on limited time here in the playoffs, and you only get so much of it to make your mark."

On the surface there seems to be no real panic on the part of the Flyers. But you gotta wonder what they're thinking after throwing everything they had at the Sabres, only to be foiled.

"It's frustrating, obviously," captain Mike Richards said. "You wonder what went wrong and what you could have done. . . . Four or five times, we just missed tips."

And, I might add, you gotta wonder if goalie Philly's rookie goaltender Sergie Bobrovsky thinks he needs to play a perfect game in order to pull out a win in Game 2.

"Bob" was rarely tested in Game 1, but he made one mistake--a juicy rebound that Kaleta jumped upon. Across the ice is veteran goalie, and former Vezina winner, Ryan Miller who just pitched a shutout by not making a glaring mistake like that.

The series is young and should be a long one. But losing the first game of a series as a favorite after doing nearly everything you wanted to do except score does lead to question marks. And that makes the decision-making process for the coach and players all the more difficult.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sabres Play Near-Perfect Road Game In 1-0 Shutout

Ya gotta love playoff hockey.

And ya gotta love what the Sabres pulled off last night. The Flyers applied all kinds of pressure for nearly the entire game and the Sabres held their ground.

Philadelphia had five powerplays (Buffalo had one) including a five-on-three for :38 and the Sabres held their ground.

The Sabres blocked 16 shots including one by Paul Gaustad, who was without his stick on the penalty kill, on a shot from the point.

Buffalo played a near-perfect road game last night. They took care of their own end, they clogged the shooting lanes and the forwards didn't cheat up-ice.

Not to say that it was a flawless game. The Sabres did turn the puck over, were hemmed in their own zone often and they also had a bit of luck as an early James van Riemsdyk shot beat Ryan Miller five-hole only to glance off of the post. They couldn't generate much of a forecheck either as their offensive zone presence was minimal.

But that's to be expected, especially in the playoffs.

  • Chris Butler--"Buts" was rock-solid all night logging a game-high 26:04 of ice-time including all of the :38 five-on-three against. The 24 yr. old d-man seems to have passed through a thresh-hold and has taken his Nik Lidstrom-type game to another level.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani--"Grags" was basically thrown into the fire and he looked like a vet out there. You may of forgotten but Grags was making a strong pitch to be on the roster out of camp before an injury scuttled that.

  • Pat Kaleta- Kaleta was shutout by the Philly media on the Three Stars Of the Game ballots, but drove to the net to pounce on a big Sergei Bobrovsky rebound for the game's only goal. He also played a disciplined, hard-checking game including leveling Flyers forward Ville Lieno at the Flyers blueline.
  • Paul Gaustad--Honk for the "Goose!" He did it all including getting the puck to a wide-open Grags in garnering the secondary assist on the only goal of the game.

  • Ryan Miller--He set the tone early by face-washing Philly's captain, Mike Richards early on. He was challenging shooters all night, his positioning was stellar and he, unlike Bobrovsky, did not give up the big rebound.

Special shoutout to Tim Connolly. Much maligned all season for his less than stellar offensive play, the Sabres center was a monster--yes, monster--in his own zone. He (along with other Sabres forwards) was helping out his young defenseman (as well as the two vets who were playing like rookies) all night. Connolly was out there with Buts and Tyler Myers for the entire :38 of five-on-three against as well. And, he was 11 of 18 (61%) on the face-off dot.

Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff
post-game after his team's 1-0 game one victory.

The Sabres have now beaten the Flyers for three consecutive games beginning with a come-from-behind 5-3 victory on March 5th when the Sabres were in the middle of a seven-game road-trip and battling to get into the playoff picture.

Buffalo is also on a five-game winning streak, it's longest of the season.

Finally, I love this picture. It was taken as the Sabres were headed into the Wells Fargo Center for the opening game of the series. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you look at the players, their clothing and demeanor and it says a lot about the four players. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Sabres' Keys To the Series From the Goal Out

First things first:  Forget the regular season.

--Forget that the Philadelphia Flyers head into the playoffs stumbling. It really doesn't matter.
--Forget that the Buffalo Sabres head into the playoffs on a serious roll. It will help them, but it doesn't mean too much.

This is the playoffs, the NHL's second season. The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and are loaded with playoff experience. They know what to do and what to expect this time of year.

The Flyers and Sabres boast contrasting organizational styles when it comes to team building:
--Philadelphia's GM, Paul Holmgren, has built a team heavy on finances and heavy on free-agency
--Buffalo's Darcy Regier has built the team on a fairly tight budget through drafting and patience.

Both teams boast two of the best coaches in the business:
--the Flyers with Stanley Cup-winner Peter Laviolette
--the Sabres with Lindy Ruff

The contrast in team-building styles takes the ice tonight in the first-round matchup.

Holmgren has hedged his bets on building a team of high-priced skaters at the expense of goaltending. The roulette wheel in goal for the Flyers has not helped them win the Cup yet, but they were knocking on the door last season losing in the Finals to Chicago in six games. This year, like last season, they're one of the favorites to win the Cup, or come out of the East at the very least.

Regier has the philosophy of build from the goal out and has placed his bet upon goalie Ryan Miller to lead the Sabres to their first Stanley Cup. And this is where we'll start with the #7-seed Sabres keys to beating the #2-seed Flyers in round one of the playoffs which begins tonight.

Buffalo's keys to taking the series:
  • Ryan Miller--Captain Obvious here, but as Miller goes, so goes the Sabres. Fact is, it will be hard to pitch a shutout vs. the potent Flyers' offense. The tremendous forecheck from the Orange and Black will produce plenty of turnovers and, therefore, a multitude of scoring opportunities. Miller's task will be to keep the scoring to a minimum and come up with big saves at crucial times. In addition, he'll see plenty of odd-man rushes coming his way, and a big save could be a momentum-turner. This is how an elite goalie will be judged. He's rested, should be fully focused and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion.
  • The Buffalo D-Corps--They're young. They will be under constant pressure from the Fly-boys and will need to keep their turnovers to a minimum. And, because Ruff wants his defense to join the rush, they'll need to pick their spots as well.
  • The Forwards In Their Own Zone--Don't cheat up-ice. Guaranteed they'll get caught and it'll end up in their own net. It all starts with defense and transition. Working up a sweat in the defensive zone has been known to lead to goals for the hardest workers.
  • The Brad Boyes/Tyler Ennis/Drew Stafford Line--This line is known as a "perimeter line" right now. Ennis and Stafford could be expected to play that way, but Boyes needs to get his nose dirty. He's the key. Continued perimeter play from him will continue his goal-scoring drought and exacerbate an problem that occurred in last year's playoffs--no goals from the Sabres top-two centers. Scoring from this line eases the pressure on the Tim Connolly/Thomas Vanek/Jason Pomminville line.
  • Connolly--He was one of the aforementioned centers from last season. His special teams play has been excellent as of late and he needs to keep it up. On the PP, though, he needs to take care of the puck when heading into the Flyers zone. He cannot beat three defenders and needs to be smarter. Five-on-five he needs to show the desire he had in the 2005/06 playoffs and he needs to trust his shot, which is lethal. 
  • Put Doubt Into the Flyers Goalie Situation--Laviolette now has three goalies to juggle and a very short leash. Make him choose between the three by making any of them look shaky.
All-in-all, this is a test of the team-building of Paul Holmgren and Darcy Regier.

Will the Flyers win with all there money up-front? Or will the Sabres "build from the goal out"/balanced approach win out?

Don't know, but this is a series that should go at least six games, possibly seven.

Relentless Flyers Forecheck Will Test Sabres Young Blueline

 One thing the Sabres can count on tonight and throughout the length of this series vs. the Philadelphia Flyers is a relentless forecheck from the Fly-boys forwards. It's something of a hallmark that goes back to the Broadstreet Bully days with the likes of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Reg Leach, Rick Macleish, etc.

The 2010/11 edition of the Flyers is no different with Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and James Van Riemsdyk carrying that banner into the playoffs.

Beginning tonight the heat will be on the Sabres back-end.

Ryan Miller, obviously, will need to come up with some big saves for the Sabres to have a chance in the series. The onus on the defense will be to keep glorious opportunities to a minimum.

The quandary for Lindy Ruff on the back-end is d-pairings. Injuries, especially to Jordan Leopold, and lately, Andrej Sekera, have caused Ruff to do some juggling on the back-end. Veteran d-man Shaone Morrisonn's poor play hasn't helped either as rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani has been forced into action because of it.

Put it all together and you have a very young, group of d-men facing a tenacious Flyers forecheck--quite possibly the best in the league.

The only constant as of late is the pairing of sophomore, Tyler Myers and Chris Butler. Myers has six playoff games under his belt, Butler has none. The duo has logged big minutes and in the last six games of the regular season they have only one game in the minus column--the OT loss to the Washington Capitals.

As pointed out by WGR's Paul Hamilton, Butler has been playing extremely well lately (only one minus-game in the last 26.) From what I've seen his stick-work has been nothing short of impressive and his positioning in the d-zone has been exceptional. He's always had a good head on his shoulders and it seems as if he's fought his way through poor play to reach a level of confidence and consistency.

Hamilton seems to give credit to Myers for the uptick in Butler's play, and I'd agree, somewhat. But, it actually may more of a case of Butler covering for Myers' inconsistencies in the defensive zone. Regardless of who makes who better, that duo will be key to holding the fort under immense pressure.

The other pairings may fluctuate, but if Sekera is ready to go, you may see him paired with Mike Weber. That duo played well two seasons ago in a failed playoff push and were paired late in the season before Sekera went down with an injury.

Steve Montador, the veteran of the d-corp, should take his spot on the third-pairing with either Morrisonn or Gragnani. In either case, keeping this pairing to a minimum five-on-five would seem to be the best scenario with Montador and Morrisonn logging minutes on the PK and Gragnani getting extra time on the PP.

Of course, it matters little what pairing is on the ice if the Sabres forwards don't take care of their own end. That means no cheating by the wingers on the half-wall and big help from the centers (whoever they are) on the back-check.

The Flyers love to punish defensemen and cycle in the offensive zone. Their forecheck forces plenty of turnovers for easy goals and they're not afraid to wreak havoc in front of the net either.

Put it all together and you have a huge challenge for the Sabres very young defense. If they can keep the turnovers to a minimum and have Miller bail them out as many times as humanly possible, frustration will set in, and the Flyers will end up off of their game. That, in turn, should help lead to victory.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Exploitable Goaltending Roulette Wheel In Philly

Make no mistake about it, the Buffalo Sabres are clear underdogs in this 1st-round match-up with the #2-seed, Philadelphia Flyers.

The only areas where the Sabres have an advantage is goaltending and coaching (maybe.)

The Sabres have Ryan Miller in net. He's a veteran of the playoffs as well as high-pressure situations. And although Philadelphia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had a regular season on par with Miller, he's still a rookie who could pull a Ken Dryden or a Roman Chechmanek. More than likely, it'll fall somewhere in between.

Here-in lies the problem for the Flyers. Head coach, Peter Laviolette has a competent back-up in veteran Brian Boucher. Not only that, last year's playoff hero Michael Leighton cleared waivers and is with the club. That's three goalies who Laviolette can turn to.

Laviolette knows how to win--he has a Stanley Cup ring as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 (juggling two goalies) and last year his Flyers lost in the Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Not only that, he has the horses up-front and on the blue line to reach the Finals once again this year. He knows his team's strengths and weaknesses, knows how to coach within a game and proved last playoffs that he could juggle goalies and go with the hot hand.

Flyers Head Coach, Peter Laviolette
will be playing the roulette wheel
once again in this years playoffs
But, this year he'll have three choices in net which could make it much more difficult to find and/or ride the hot hand.

I've often likened the Flyers goaltending situation to playing roulette--red or black. You've got a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Ride a color until it gets cold and hopefully the next color will get hot. Hello, Stanely Cup Finals.

Throw in the green space on the wheel, and the odds of hitting black or red just went down (minimally, albeit, but down none-the-less.)

If things go well with "Bob," there's no decision to make, you ride him. The second choice is rather easy as well--Boucher is the back-up and should "Bob" falter, he gets the nod. Should "Boosh" tank, then where does Laviolette go? Back to "Bob" or does he go "green" with Leighton?

That's not a good position to put the coach in. In fact, that probably puts him in a position to fail.

If the Sabres can get to the Flyers early, and it will have a lot to do with Lindy Ruff's strategy (as well as the players bringing it up a notch,) the quandary that Laviolette will find himself in as he tries to find the hot hand may be too much. That's not to say that if the Sabres win the first game convincingly and/or the second game that the Flyers would implode.

But it could be the way to put just enough question-marks into Philly's overall scheme to pull off an upset.