Friday, March 16, 2012

Mario Williams signing a welcome diversion for Sabres

The signing of free agent Mario Williams is big for the Buffalo Bills. No, it's bigger than big, it's huge. And it's not just for the Bills, but for the entire Western New York area and the Buffalo Sabres as well.

Williams' decision is being put on par with that of another standout defensive end, the late Reggie White. Nearly 20 years ago White, "The Minister Of Defense," left Philadelphia for Green Bay in 1993.

From the beginning of NFL free agency on Tuesday until his signing with the Bills yesterday (a span of three days which is unprecedented,) the Williams saga grabbed all of the big headlines and all of the big talk on talk radio. And it should have. During the past 50 years, there are few "landmark" moves for the Bills.

WGR's Paul Hamilton ranks the Williams signing as close to his top-two Bills moves:  OJ Simpson and Jim Kelly. The trade for Cornelius Bennett back in the late 80's is up there as is the drafting of Bruce Smith.

The signing diverted attention away from the Sabres, and it's a good thing for Lindy Ruff and the team. The team, on the outside looking in, needs every point they can get for their playoff push, and for the second game in a row on Wednesday night--smack dab in the middle of the Willams saga--they gave up a game-tying goal with less than five seconds to play in the game.

That's troubling.

The first time it happened was against Montreal on Monday night as the Habs David Desharnais scored with less than five seconds left in the third.

Although they came back two minutes into overtime as Derek Roy fed a streaking Tyler Myers for the game-winner, they should have felt lucky to come away with the extra point.

But, tempting fate two games in a row?

On Wednesday night against a better Colorado Avalanche team, the Sabres did exactly that as Jamie McGinn scored his second goal of the game with 1.9 seconds left on the clock.

It was back-to-back Keystone Cops moments.

After the Montreal game the team practiced 6-on-5 situations, as Ruff stressed the importance of the back-door. Well, it obviously didn't resonate as the team choked away a point vs. Colorado pushing them one point further away from the playoffs.

Although the videos speak for themselves concerning defensive breakdowns, what's more troubling is the fact that they are getting very little production from their "top-line." Their failure to extend a lead has them scrambling to hold on to a one goal lead late in the game.

The team is getting production throughout the line-up at various stages except from their "top-line." That line had Derek Roy reunited with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville back on February 19 against Pittsburgh and they had a stellar game. In the 12 games since they've been nearly invisible five-on-five.

Take away special teams play and their stat-line as the "top-line" looks like this:
  • Derek Roy:  0 goals, 2 assists, minus-5
  • Thomas Vanek:  1 goal, 2 assists, minus-2
  • Jason Pominville:  1 goal, 3 assists, minus-7
Put it all together and their "top-line" five-on-five combined for 2 goals, 7 assists and are a minus-14 in the last 12 games.

Their lack of production is really hurting the team. In a strange twist though, Lindy "the Tinkerer" Ruff has kept this line intact.

We'll see what happens when the team plays in Florida tomorrow night. Right now the team is enjoying the two days off in a row for the first time this month. Yesterday they were given the day off and will have an early practice today.

If the team wants to keep it's playoff hopes alive two points will be needed against Florida. If they really want to help their cause, getting two points in regulation will keep the team six points back of the Cats who are battling for the division crown trying to the a red-hot Washington Capitals team at bay. The Caps sit in eighth place in the division three points ahead of the Sabres with one game in hand.

There's a good feeling in Buffalo right now because of the Mario Williams signing and it would be great if the Sabres can keep that going.

If not, there's always March Madness.


The "top-line" has been broken up. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News gives us this practice update with the lines being:

Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Cory Tropp, Derek Roy, Jason Pomiville
Ville Leino, Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek
Cody McCormick, Brad Boyes, Patrick Kaleta

The defensive pairings remain the same with Tyler Myers serving the second of his three-game suspension and Andrej Sekera recovering from pneumonia:

Robyn Regehr/Jordan Leopold
Christian Ehrhoff/Alexander Sulzer
Brayden McNabb/Mike Weber

Myers and Sekera skated as the extra pairing.

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