Friday, March 30, 2012

The Sabres are on their own in the playoff push (plus other notes)

Last night the Boston Bruins could have done the Buffalo Sabres a favor.

Of course, that's a phrase that doesn't work very well when it comes to a rivalry that dates back to the early days of the Sabres inception.

Or maybe, the Bruins could have done themselves a favor by securing a playoff spot with a win last night vs. the Washington Capitals. Two points would have put Boston in the playoffs.

Leave it to them to come back from two goals down late in the third period to tie the game, then lose in the fourth round of the shootout to a Washington team that needed the two points to stay right with Buffalo in the push for the final playoff spot.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, the team the Sabres meet tonight, could've helped Buffalo last Saturday as they faced a reeling Ottawa club. The Pens started their third goalie, Brad Thiessen, and he was promptly demolished in an 8-4 loss. The Sens gained a valuable two points as the Sabres are nippin' at their heels.

One week ago today, the Winnipeg Jets were battling for the eighth playoff spot with a game on the road vs. the Capitals. In a strange turn of events, the Jets overcame a three goal deficit in the third to force OT and ended up winning the game. And Sabres fans were thankful for that favor.

But Winnipeg, who's considered one of the best home teams in the league had a chance this past Monday to keep their playoff hopes alive as well as help the Sabres again. They faced Ottawa at home, and promptly lost 6-4.

So out of four games that the Sabres could have used some help on, in three they received none, and the fourth was partial help as Washington snared a loser point.

It's a good thing that Buffalo is in control of their own destiny. It's nearing the end of the season and weird things are happening as playoff teams are downshifting their intensity a bit as the playoffs near.


Ted Black trys to refrain from "I told ya so," but really couldn't.

Sabres President Ted Black did his weekly radio show on WGR yesterday and tried not to say "I told you so" when asked if injuries were the main problem with the team two months ago.

The Sabres were in the East cellar, they couldn't win on the road and everybody had nearly every Sabres' player traded or demoted. They had Head Coach Lindy Ruff getting fired or moved within the organization and GM Darcy Reiger on a one-way flight to Uzbekistan.

To be fair, everyone bemoaning the dismal state of the team had every right to feel that way. Sure the Sabres were losing and playing like crap, but for many it wasn't just that they were losing, but how they were losing. The just didn't seem to care.

While Black stressed patience, Owner Terry Pegula blamed the inordinate number of injuries to the team.

Neither seemed to realize that Sabres fans over the last four-plus seasons had been subject to Regier's patience (see Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, Max Afinogenov, the core, etc.) and had heard the injury excuse (2008/09) way too many times.

So when they blurted that out, the ire of fans reached crescendo level.

To be fair to both of them, injuries did play a major role in the teams' demise, although the injuries occurred mainly on the back-end and to goalie Ryan Miller. It should be interesting to note that as of January 2012, the defense-corps had gone through a major makeover dating back to the 2007 off-season. The core up-front remained intact with the "top-six" going through only a couple of changes.

So they were right in one sense and fans who'd been watching the team, were right as well.

It wasn't until a major blow to Regier's "core" was dealt as Paul Gaustad was shipped to Nashville at the deadline. Regier followed that up by bringing in a legit "top-six" center in Cody Hodgson that same day. Add in the fact that, finally, Tyler Ennis was moved to the pivot from wing and you have a pretty significant change in the top-six/nine. (plus we'll throw in Hodgson "throw-in," Alexander Sulzer, who's been rock-solid on defense, as having a positive influence on the Sabres fortunes)

Howard Simon asked Black if he had the urge to say "I told you so" to the doubters--both fans and media-types. After the obligatory "not really, we haven't won anything yet," Black comes out and says (2:35-mark) "I don't want this to slip into an 'I told you so' but earlier I said I liked the trajectory we were on. I'm dumbfounded that people don't think we're ahead of where we were a year ago."

Back in January during the Sabres plummet in the standings, Black was as "dumbfounded" as the Sabres' faithful. After a particularly excruciating loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on national TV, one that had the NBCSN hockey people criticizing the teams lack of competitiveness, he actually apologized on his weekly WGR spot "I apologize to the fans," he said, "it's not what we envisioned. It's painful for us and I'm sure it's more painful for the fans."

As the Sabres PR man, Black did a good job of dancing around the debacle unfolding but he seemed to be leaning towards next season without coming out and saying it. He mentioned sticking to "what they'd said all along" concerning Regier and Ruff, although he never mentioned what it was and never gave an outright vote of confidence. He referred to "the core" group of players on the team as "the Rochester Guys" and mentioned that "over a two or three year period teams flip over for the most part," indicating that a big changeover was coming.

And, when asked about how he'll approach the rest of the season--whether he'll be adding a piece for a run or selling pieces for next year-- his thoughts seemed to be leaning heavily towards next season, "you could argue either of those points," he said, "or a hybrid. By hybrid, I mean, maybe there's an opportunity to peel off pieces for future games, perhaps there's an opportunity to get a piece that either helps this year or next year."

Message to Ted Black, we Sabres fans have been "dumbfounded" for years starting with the 2007 off-season. This is not to take away anything that the Pegula regime is trying to accomplish, but we've waded through so much bullshit, words like "patience" and excuses like "injuries," no matter how valid they may or may not be, do not resonate well.


Say what you will about Regier, and I've said plenty and have wanted him fired for years.

But you can't take away what he accomplished at the deadline.

Cody Hodgson seems to be acclimating himself to his new team, teammates and linemates and shows top-six center promise.

The "throw-in" in the deal seems to be Alexander Sulzer. Sulzer has been nothing short of a revelation, though.

He's been paired with fellow German Christian Ehrhoff and has played real solid, nearly mistake free hockey.

For his part, Regier has been getting accolades for his team's incredible run since February 17 when they sat 10 points out of a playoff spot in 14th place.

Yesterday on NHL Network's NHL Hour with Commisioner Gary Bettman, Regier got to talk with big chief thunderclap himself concerning his team and what they've accomplished thus far.

Regier took the humble approach, "Where we are now, it's cautious optimism," he said, "you're respectfully grateful for where you are, recognizing you're not out of the woods yet."

Like Black Pegula before him, Regier mentioned injuries as playing a role in the near despondency the team was facing in January. The big injury for him being goalie Ryan Miller who he said, "Even though he came back and played I didn't think he was quite right, back to his normal form."

He touched upon other things like NY Islanders mentors GM Bill Torrey and Coach Al Arbour--giving them both high praise and thanks--as well as his and Ruff's relationship.


Before the big Washington Capitals match-up this week, Rob Ray, who was on the road with the team for a change, had this to say about the Capitals on WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog before Tuesday's game "As far as the team?" he said, "you're not sure what you're gonna get."

He said that those involved with the Caps "don't know what to think, they don't know who's gonna show up, they don't know what players are gonna come to play. There are just so many questions they don't even want to predict how they're gonna play."

And that included Alexander Ovechkin. Bulldog was sure the "Ovie" would be showing up especially after his nine goal in seven game tear.

Ray had different thoughts, though, "You would think he (Ovechkin) would [show up], but I wouldn't bet a dime on it," he said. "Because it's happened too many times when you've seen him do that this year and then he kind of asleep for a few games." He concluded that he hoped Ovechkin "would take a real big nap for the game."

"The Oracle" that is Rob Ray.

Sure enough, the Caps dropped a crucial game to the Sabres 5-1 and Ovechkin's lackadaisical play at the blue-line on the powerplay lead to Jason Pominville's short-handed goal, a goal that pretty much sealed their fate.

Let's hope they have at least one more slip-up for the Caps the remainder of the season.

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