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.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Six Sabres' (including one former Sabre)....

...have scored their first NHL goal this season with the former Sabres being Zack Kassian.

Here are the videos in chronological order:

Corey Tropp 11-8-11




TJ Brennan 11-23-2011




Zack Kassian 11-26-2011





Brayden McNabb 12-26-11




Marcus Foligno 3-10-2012




Travis Turnbull 3-23-2012





The "new core" is rising.

Monday, March 26, 2012

If the playoffs started today...

the Buffalo Sabres would still be on the outside looking in. But, they're as close as they can get being tied with Washington in points having played the same number of games.

There are two weeks left in the regular season, six games left to play with one huge game tomorrow as the Sabres meet the Capitals in Washington.

Last Monday Buffalo was tied with Winnipeg two points behind Washington for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and opportunity was knocking. The Sabres did all they could, with a some help along the way, and have their destiny in their own hands. Win out (obviously no easy task) and they're in.

The Caps face a somewhat daunting task as they left Chicago on a two game losing streak with two games still remaining on their four-game road trip. Both Detroit and Philadelphia represented tough games as the Wings were the best home team in the league and the Flyers were boasting one of the hottest goaltenders in the league in Ilya Bryzgalov.

They downed an injured Detroit club rather easily then snared a point from Philly taking that one to the shootout. Opportunity was right there for Washington as the prepared to take on a road-challenged Winnipeg team. The Capitals promptly blew a three goal lead and lost in overtime to the Jets.

After dropping a tired Minnesota team, Washington still did well grabbing six out of a possible eight points.

For their part, Winnipeg saw their playoff hopes dim as they dropped two of three last week snaring two out of a possible six points, but they did Buffalo a big favor by allowing Washington only one point in their match up. The Jets can help the Sabres out again tonight as they face the stumbling Ottawa Senators at home.

Ottawa had looked like a solid #7 seed in the East going into last week, but dropped two of three games and now are only two points ahead of Washington and Buffalo. A quick note, they should thank Pittsburgh for the two points. The Penguins were the hottest team in the league having not lost in regulation in 12 games. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma started rookie goalie Brad Thiessen, he of the 2.68 gaa and a .897 sv%. Thiessen promptly gave up eight goals in an 8-4 loss for the Pens.

As for the Sabres? Eight points on the table, eight points in their pocket.

Wins at Tampa Bay and versus Montreal set the team up for a big match up in versus the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The Sabres would not be denied pasting the Rangers in a 4-1 victory.

Minnesota was next up the following night and after a slow start Buffalo came back with two unanswered goals and a last second empty-netter by Cody Hodgson to with their second to last set of back-to-backs 3-1.

Goalie Ryan Miller has been sick in goal as of late going 3-0-0, including his career best sixth shutout of the season, with a 0.67 gaa and .977 sv% to finish off the week. He has not lost in regulation since March 5 when the team was finishing a five-game western road-trip in Winnipeg.

Since the all-star break, Miller is 16-3-5 with a 1.90 gaa and a .938 sv%. That stretch coincides with a defense corps that became healthy once again. And it should be noted that Miller may have finally gotten healthy again himself. He got his bell rung by Boston's Milan Lucic on November 12, and though cleared to play less than a month later, it would seem as if 2 1/2 months was a more realistic time-frame to fully recover.

In addition to the stellar play of Miller, along with the contributions of the defense, the offense has been heating up as well thanks in large part to the play of one of the hottest lines in the league--Tyler Ennis centering rookie Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford.

That line has been smoking hot.

Ennis has been a revelation at center. In his last 10 games he has 5g, 7a and is a plus-7. Stafford has gotten his game going with 4g, 8a and is a plus-9. Those two have really helped Foligno get his career off to a rollicking start. Since he came up eight games ago he has 6g, 4a and is a plus-8.

That line has been held off the scoresheet once in the last eight games, the 3-0 shutout win vs. Montreal.

Contributions on offense have come from a number of players at different times during the last 10 games.

But last week we saw the Ennis line smoke Tampa Bay to kick off the week. They were held scoreless two nights later when the team returned home to face Montreal. But Miller shut out the Habs and Cody Hodgson scored his first goal as a Sabre and added another. Hodgson had final hit the scoresheet for the first time in 10 games with the club by registering two assists the game before.

In New York, call-up Travis Turnbull notched his first NHL goal--the sixth Sabre to do that this season--to get the team going while Ennis and Stafford put on a clinic to put the Rangers away.

Finally, after falling behind 1-0 in the first period vs. Minnesota, Thomas Vanek contributed a big goal for the team to tie it up--his first goal in seven games and only his sixth this calendar year. Vanek, it seems, is playing injured again, but that tally was a biggie. Stafford and Ennis combined for the go ahead goal while Hodgson added a rare Sabres empty-netter with less than a second to go in the game.

Also of note is the fact that defenseman Tyler Myers sat out for games two and three of his three game suspension to start out the week. "Big Tex" is back in the lineup and the defense seems to be whole. They limited the Rangers and the Wild to one goal each when he came back.

The Sabres are really clicking right now, and it seems as if they have the confidence now to beat anyone. And they'll need it.

Not only do they have a huge game at Washington this week, but they also play their nemesis--the Pittsburgh Penguins--three days later.

Once again, two points by any means necessary.

They are at 84 points with six games left in the regular season. If 94 points is the target number, they'll need to post a record of either 5-1-0 or 4-0-2 to get there.

Here's a look at the standings as of today starting with 7th place Ottawa:
  • Ottawa--86 points
  • Washington--84
  • Buffalo--84
  • Winnipeg--78 (one game in hand on all three teams above)
Last week it looked as if Ottawa would be out of reach for the Sabres, but dropping two of three last week pulled them back into the mix.

Tonight they travel to Winnipeg where the Jets have been one of the best teams in the league at home. It's the first of three road games for the Senators this week.

A look at the upcoming schedules:
  • Ottawa--@Winnipeg, @Philadelphia, @NY Islanders
  • Washington--vs. Buffalo, @Boston, vs. Montreal
  • Buffalo--@Washington, vs. Pittsburgh, @Toronto
  • Winnipeg--vs. Ottawa, vs. NY Rangers, @Carolina, @Tampa Bay
Yes, every game is still huge as the Sabres try to become the first team in history to be at least 10 points out in February to make the playoffs.

And it all begins tonight with a little help from a team that's chasing them--the Winnipeg Jets.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thx, Chicago and Carolina

Yesterday both Washington and Winnipeg played their game in hand on Buffalo. The Sabres were two points behind the Caps and even with the Jets although Winnipeg still holds the tiebreaker.

The Caps were hot before they hit the road for a real tough five game road trip. After a comeback shootout win on Long Island, the Caps headed to Winnipeg to take on one of the best home teams in hockey. The Jets held true to form taking that game 3-2. Off to Chicago yesterday where Washington took a beating in a 5-2 loss. It doesn't get any easier as they head into Detroit for the second of a back-to-back against the Wings on a two game losing streak.

As for the Jets, they're one of the best home teams in the league. They entered yesterday on a four-game home winning streak, playing their third game in a row vs. the Hurricanes. Winnipeg went into the third last night with a 3-2 lead but 'Canes center Eric Staal scored mid-way through the third and Chad LaRose scored with less that two minutes remaining.

Because of Chicago and Carolina the Sabres, who snared four of six points last week, remained tied with Winnipeg two points behind Washington with all playing the same amount of games.

As for the Sabres, they should be shaking their heads. A harbinger of things to come was last Monday when they gave up a goal to Montreal at home with five seconds remaining in the game. They promptly won two minutes into overtime to get two points, but they certainly made it hard upon themselves.

The next game vs. Colorado it was deja vu all over again as the Avalanche scored the game-tying goal with two seconds left. The game went to a shootout with the Sabres failing to score a goal in three rounds as they completed the loss of an important point.

A big game in Florida had the Sabres tie the game in the second and the team headed to the shootout. On four separate occasions Buffalo had the opportunity to win the extra point, but Jason Pominville, Cody Hodgson, Brad Boyes and Derek Roy failed to put the game away. After a Dmitri Kulikov goal, Drew Stafford failed and the Sabres effectively blew yet another point.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda. If's, but's, and's.

Bottom line, they head into the week still two points out of eighth place.

The race in the Eastern Conference is pretty much for eighth place as Florida and Ottawa effectively distanced themselves from Washington, Winnipeg and Buffalo, so essentially we'll look at only three teams heading into this week.

Here are the standings with 10 games remaining for each team:
  • 8th--Washington, 78 pts.
  • 9th--Winnipeg, 76 (owns regulation/overtime wins tie-breaker over Buffalo)
  • 10th--Buffalo, 76
The upcoming schedule for the week:
  • Washington--@Detroit, @Philadelphia, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota
  • Winnipeg--@Pittsburgh, @Washington, @Nashville
  • Buffalo--@Tampa Bay, vs. Montreal, @NY Rangers, vs. Minnesota

If this were a horse race, the jockey would see an opening here and give the horse a good whip sensing the opportunity to make a strong move.

Washington travels to Detroit to play a back-to-back versus the best home team in the NHL. Then they travel to Philadelphia against one of the hottest teams in hockey as the Flyers have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10.

Winnipeg leaves the comfort of home to hit the road for three games. Their first stop is in Pittsburgh to face a Penguins team that lost for the first time in 11 games yesterday (Philadelphia 3-2, SO.) They'll travel to Washington for a crucial match-up versus the Caps and then head to Nashville to take on the Preds who are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and are fourth in the Western Conference.

If the Sabres are to make their move, this week is tailor-made for their success. Although Tampa Bay is troublesome for the team, solid goaltending from Ryan Miller and a few goals could lead to two points. And although Montreal is a tough divisional foe, two points looks very achievable.

If they lay an egg against these two opponents, it'll be real tough to make the playoffs as they follow with a road game vs. NY Rangers.

Opportunity is staring the team right in the face and is welcoming them with open arms. Will they embrace it?

Stay tuned.

edit:  94 points is still the goal, which equates to a 9-1-0 record.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

We take a break from the annual Sabres' playoff push...

...and take a look at the Buffalo Bills.

The upcoming draft for the Bills is really all about the signing of free agent defensive end Mario Williams. Landing a premier player at his position this month should effectively eliminate any reaching for that "stud player" in the first round of the draft by Buffalo. They can now focus their attention on need and/or depth.

After their 5-2 start to the season last year, a glaring weakness reared it's ugly head--lack of depth. As injuries mounted, the team plummeted. Going 0-7 following that impressive start undid everything Coach Chan Gailey and Co. accomplished.

Starting in Week 8, the week after the bye, the injured list included left tackles Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston, wide receiver Donald Jones, along with defensive end Shawn Merriman and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

And the list kept getting longer and worse:  Kicker Ryan Lindell and defensive end Chris Kelsay. Then center Eric Wood and right tackle Eric Pears.

Then "the big one" hit as running back Fred Jackson, who was having an MVP-like season, was lost.

Injuries are obviously a part of the game, but the Bills had more than their fair share especially at some positions--OT and WR. Hell, at times it seemed as if they'd be looking to their local grocers for roster help.

The Williams signing really changes everything. The Bills can get that need or roster player without reaching for that impact player in the first round. And they can now legitimately take the "best player available" approach as well.

Sure, other options may present themselves, like trading down if there's a great offer, but for all intents and purposes, Bills nation should be looking at the #10 overall pick and take it from there.


The Consensus, Safe Pick If Available At #10

Recently, WGR's football guy eschewed his previous, somewhat esoteric pick--OT Cordy Glenn--to offer a more reasonable approach at #10 with the Bills picking Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd. Floyd, even with his off-field issues, would be a real solid pick, except for the fact that the Bills, because of the sheer numbers at receiver, may not be interested in picking the second or third best receiver on the board that high.

We'll let GM Nix do the talking when it comes to wide-outs. "Once we signed Steve Johsnon, we felt pretty good about our receivers," he told host Mike Florio (via the Buffalo News.) "Everybody thinks we need (one). And I've said it. That's why they think it I guess, that we need a speed guy on the outside. But we've got some guys. We've got nine receivers right now that are under contract that we think can fill that role. So we're probably not in the wide receiver business."

The injuries to left tackles Bell and Hairston along with Pears on the right side last season probably gave the Bills pause to seriously consider using their first pick on an offensive tackle. And there might be a pretty good one available after Matt Kalil is taken early by the Minnesota Vikings.

So with the first pick, #10 overall, the Bills will probably select Iowa OT, Riley Reiff if available.

Iowa OT Riley Reiff is rated
the second-best tackle
in the 2012 draft.
Reiff chimes in at 6-5, 315 lbs. and Walterfootball.com's Charlie Campbell calls him the "consensus second-rated offensive tackle, a high level technician at left tackle." He continues, "In the pass-driven NFL, teams need reliable blind-side protection and Reiff fits the bill. He has quick feet and mirrors speed rushers well. [He] is also a strong run blocker who has the strength to move linemen off the line of scrimmage."

This pick will be even more of a no-brainer if Bell decides to sign elsewhere this off season.

Should Reiff be plucked earlier, a quality player will fall to the Bills in the 10-slot and they may end up going with the "best players available" in Floyd or maybe Boston College ILB Luke Kuechly. And even if they still believe that OT is the position they need to go with, Stanford OT, Jonathan Martin may fit the bill, although right tackle may suit him moreso than left.

Dismissing esoteric picks, and with the knowledge that Nix sometimes telegraphs his choice, Reiff as the second best tackle on the board if available at #10, would constitute a pretty safe pick at this point.


On To the Second Round

With the defensive line set and ready to wreak havoc in the pass-rush, the Bills should look towards a ball-hawk to join Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard. Although, if a quality defensive end comes into play things could get pretty interesting as well.

In the second round with the 41st pick in the draft, the Bills could focus their attention at linebacker, this of course is presuming that they don't go for Kuechly in the first round. Or they could look towards a "pass-rushing" defensive end to add depth there should Shawn Merriman continue his injury woes.

Or they could get a fast-rising hybrid in Boise State OLB/DE Shea McClellin.

Boise State OLB/DE,
Shea McClellin, learned
the value of hard work
on his family farm.
There are other possible picks here including the "best player available," but McClellin has a constant motor and a farm-tested work ethic that is very hard to pass up. His versatility would allow him to play outside linebacker, or be used as a weak-side edge-rusher or just be moved to wherever he's needed situationally.

CBSSportsline called McClellin "the type of player and person who is always hungry and never satisfied -- a prospect coaches wouldn't bet against...who isn't flashy and won't have great work-out numbers, but simply makes plays on the football field."

There is plenty of flash, as always, in this year's draft and those with the chiseled bodies and extreme athleticism sparkle to the point of being mesmerizing. The word "prototypical" gets the hype-machine churning, the heart pumping and lets the dreams flow effortlessly.

Until reality hits.

Looking back at the 2009 NFL Draft, Nix whiffed on "the sculpted" Aaron Maybin in the first round while fourteen picks later, Green Bay picked a football player in Clay Matthews.

The parameters were different and much has changed since then. Now with the Bills looking for depth, they won't need dream-boat, "chiseled specimens." They can focus their attention upon "football players." And McClellin looks to be exactly that.


The Third Round Presents An Interesting Choice

The third round represents a bit of a quandary as to where they could use the 72nd-overall pick.

One would think that CB depth would be a position of need considering how many times the DB's got torched last season. But was it because of a lack of talent? or the lack of QB pressure from the front-seven?

The Bills could reach for that developmental QB here, but would there be much of a difference between this spot and, say, the 5th round?

The third-rounder is an integral pick. If teams can make the first two picks work, this third one can take the overall draft from strong to real strong. As for the Bills, this just may be the spot where they take that wide receiver.

Not sure what was in the water last year, but Buffalo's wide receivers were dropping like flies.

Before the Williams signing, the Bills were in the hunt for free agent wide receiver and former New Orleans Saint, Robert Meachem. Meacham passed on Buffalo leading the Bills to focus exclusively on Williams which, in hindsight, was a blessing.

It also lead to the earlier quote by GM Nix about his receiving corps.

Still, if they can fill two depth roles in the first two rounds and are satisfied with their cornerbacks, they can get themselves a quality wide receiver in this round.

Which leads us to 6-3, 224 lb WR Juron Criner from Arizona.

NFL.com's Gil Brandt has ranked as the #71 overall prospect, 9th-best wide receiver in a very deep wideout pool.

WR Juron Criner has
big hands and the ability
to go up and get wayward passes.
Criner had a stellar junior season in 2010, which walterfootball.com described as "a massive year. He caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns and he repeatedly bailed out quarterback Nick Foles on deep passes that were tossed up for grabs. Criner uses his size, body control, and leaping ability to come down with some big catches."

"There are faster receivers than Criner," they continue, "but he provides good hands with a big target and still runs well."

Buffalo fans should take Nick Foles' name out of the bolded part and insert Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"Fitz," as we all know, has those moments where the ball gets away and if Criner can use his 38" vertical leap to snare some of them, or at least get his 10 1/2" hands on some of them, Fitz could see his INT's drop from a poor 23 last season to a more manageable level in the mid-upper teens.


The Skinny

Adding Mario Williams to last year's group is huge for the Bills. Drafting for need and or depth in the first three rounds should only enhance what the team accomplished last season before injuries decimated them. With Chan Gailey's ability to integrate players into his scheme, adding quality depth with the first three picks in the draft should make them stronger and deeper and it just might be enough to end their decade-plus playoff drought.


The choices:

1st round, #10--OT Reilly Reiff
2nd round, #41--OLB Shea McClellin
3rd round, #72--WR Juron Criner

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.



update:

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.


http://blogs.buffalonews.com/sabres/2012/03/tropp-joins-roy-and-pominville.html

Monday, March 12, 2012

There's only one way to look at the Sabres upcoming stretch...

two points by any means necessary.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs going south in a hurry via a 2-12-2 stretch in their last 16 games and Montreal buried at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Buffalo is the only team left in the Northeast Division battling for the eighth playoff spot.

Four teams from the Southeast are battling for the division crown--Florida, Washington, Winnipeg and Tampa Bay--with the second place team presently holding down the eighth and final playoff spot.

One week ago today, the Sabres were four points out of the final spot behind Winnipeg, and trailing Washington and Tampa Bay as well. Today they remain four points out of the eighth spot behind Washington tied with Winnipeg.

Which isn't all that bad considering they went 2-2-0 this past week and considering they lost in regulation to Winnipeg to start the week.

The game in Winnipeg vs. the Jets--a 3-1 loss--was the last of a four game western road trip that saw the team go 3-1-0, an impressive record considering the fact that they played four games in six nights.

A condensed schedule continued as the Sabres came back to the F'n Center for a game against Carolina before heading to Boston the next night. It ended two days later with a trip to Ottawa.

After the Winnipeg loss, the team gutted out an OT win vs. Carolina then showed signs of fatigue in Boston as the Bruins scored three unanswered goals. Jhonas Enroth was in net for that game--his first appearance since Feb. 16--and he played very well, but remained without a win since November.

Hindsight may prove that the Boston game was pretty much conceded in order to give Ryan Miller a rest.

Miller has been on fire lately going 7-1-1 with a 1.74 gaa and a stellar .947 save percentage in his last nine games.

The team needed him to be stellar considering the fact that they scored three goals twice and were held to one goal four times (a 1-2-1 record) during that stretch.
Regardless of who the Sabres are chasing for eighth spot, and it has the potential to change almost nightly, they need to get two points nearly every night. Saturday's shootout win at Ottawa was exactly that.

The Sabres never lead in that game while overcoming one-goal deficits three times on their way to a 4-3 SO win. It was one of their best games of the season as they faced 6'7" Sens goalie Ben Bishop.

In a David vs. Goliath scenario the two smallest Sabres players contributed mightily to the Sabres victory. 5'5" Nathan Gerbe used his scoring touch to beat Bishop far side with a shot that hugged the ice. That tied the score at one.

5'9" Tyler Ennis, who was moved back to center, took a diving lunge at a rebound to chop one past Bishop to tie the score at two. Then in the shootout, he deked "Goliath" for the game-winner.

The team still faces a very steep climb with 13 games to go. Once again, it's not so much how many points back of eighth they are, but who they need to jump over to get there. And what makes the task more daunting is the tiebreaker. The Sabres have significantly less regulation/overtime wins (25) than the teams their battling with (Florida and Winnipeg are the closest with 28.)

This week we'll focus upon the Sabres vs. the Southeast (minus Carolina.) With Ottawa nine points ahead of Buffalo and in control of the 7th-seed, right now all that's left is who takes the Southeast Division and who will get the eighth and final playoff spot.

A look at the standings:
  • 3rd, Eastern Conference, Florida--77 pts.
  • 8th, Washington--76
  • 9th, Winnipeg--72
  • 10th, Buffalo--72
  • 11th, Tampa Bay--69
A look at the schedules for the week:
  • Florida--vs. Toronto, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo
  • Washington--@ NY Islanders, @ Winnipeg, @ Chicago
  • Winnipeg--vs. Dallas, vs. Washington, vs. Carolina
  • Buffalo--vs. Montreal, vs. Colorado, @ Florida
  • Tampa Bay--vs. Boston, vs. Toronto, vs. St. Louis

Some quick notes:
  • The Sabres could make league history by becoming the first team ever to be at the bottom of the conference in February and make the playoffs in April. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News also notes that there has been only one team to be 10 points out of a playoff spot in February that made the top-eight--the 1994 NY Islanders. He also noted that they were swept by the NY Rangers that year and were outscored 22-3.
  • Winnipeg is a Jekyll and Hyde team when it comes to home and road games. They're 21-10-4 at home and 11-19-4 on the road. It doesn't help the Sabres that all three games for the Jets this week are at home.
  • The Florida Panthers are filled with veterans with cup rings and plenty of playoff experience. As of the past six weeks they've been able to beat the teams they should beat, with mixed results vs. playoff calibre teams. Toronto's an important game for them even though they're 3-0 vs. the Leafs this season. They have Boston after that and the Sabres on Saturday night.
  • Washington seems to be getting stronger and is making a big push. They're 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and head to the Island on a three-game winning streak. The Islander game is the first of five games on the road where their road record is an unspectacular 12-18-3 though.
The saving grace for Buffalo is the fact that all of the teams they are chasing have flaws, whether it be goaltending (Washington, Tampa Bay,) scoring (Florida, worse than Buffalo) or glaring home/road disparities (Winnipeg.)

The Sabres head into tonight's game vs. Montreal missing their second-leading goal scorer, Thomas Vanek and energy forward Matt Ellis, both felled by injuries the last two games. They also may be without the services of defenseman Andrej Sekera who has missed the last three games due to "flu-like" symptoms. Sekera was replaced by former Vancouver Canuck, and trade-deadline "throw-in," Alexander Sulzer who's acquitted himself very well. In the four games since the trade he's a plus-3 and in the last two games he's logged over 20 minutes.

In the battle for the Southeast Division crown and eighth place in the Eastern Conference, it's wide open right now and the most important thing for the Sabres is to get two points by any means necessary.

The goals should be 94 points which equates to going 11-3-0; 10-1-2; or 9-0-4.



Finally, Marcus Foligno scored his first-ever NHL goal vs. Ottawa on Saturday night, a game-tying tally late in the 3rd period. It was a pure hustle/muscle play that ended up ricocheting off of Sabres nemesis Daniel Alfredsson and into the net.

It's also cool collection of little events surrounding the goal--from Foligno out-muscling aged veteran Sergei Gonchar and making him look like a cardboard cut-out, to the nifty way Foligno pulled the puck between the legs of Gonchar, to the perfect deflection over the shoulder of Ben "Goliath" Bishop, to Drew Stafford inadvertently whacking Bishop in the mask as he tried to smack the puck in.







Foligno post-game:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sabres' "top-line" lauded for their performance vs. Carolina

Center Derek Roy was reunited with wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville nine games ago when Pittsburgh came to town. They came out smokin' but then fell into a bit of a funk.

In that first game,  6-2 Sabres win, the line combined for 2 goals and 3 assists five-on-five. Add in Roy's short-handed tally, assisted by Pominville, and the complete stat-line for the game is 3 goals, 4 assists and an astounding plus-10 by that line.

After that, the bottom fell out. The next seven games they combined for 2g, 6a and a minus-11: 
  • Roy--1g (powerplay,) 3a, minus-4
  • Vanek--1g, 1a, minus-3
  • Pominville--0g, 2a, minus-4
Oddly enough, Head Coach Lindy "the Tinkerer" Ruff, a coach noted for changing lines constantly, has kept these three together.

After last night's 3-2 OT win versus Carolina, you would think that the line had a dominating performance. The Buffalo News had this as one of it's headlines, Sabres' first line rewards Ruff's patience.

Paul Hamilton really liked the "top-line." On WGR's Howard Simon Show this morning, he said, "They spent most of the time in the offensive zone. It was like night and day, [Thomas] Vanek got himself moving, he was skating, he was active and I think it really helped the line do what they're supposed to do, and that's score goals."

Actually, that line didn't score goals. Both Vanek and Pominville lit the lamp on the powerplay, both finished with a goal and an assist each while linemate Roy went pointless (although he banged a couple off of the post.)

Vanek and Pominville have been doing this all season no matter who's centering that line going back to rookie Luke Adam who started the year there and had 10g/10a before slumping.

Through the 2011 portion of the season both Vanek and Pominville were at a point-per-game pace. Vanek is mired in a 2012 calender-year slump while Pominville was Mr. Steady up until those seven games between Pittsburgh and Carolina.

Ruff had himself a difficult decision to make. Yesterday before the Carolina game, Ruff mentioned that this was the toughest stretch that Pominville's gone through all season (see above stats.) And what does he do?

Ruff goes to Roy and asks him if he should keep the line together.

The same Derek Roy who's been centering a line that was invisible for the better part of the last seven games.

The same Derek Roy who's having the worst statistical season since his rookie year.

The same Derek Roy who from the Milan Lucic hit on November 14 through the end of the teams' record-setting road losing streak of 12 games on January 24 had 4 goals, 9 assists and was a minus-11. In the 31 games he played in during that stretch, the team went from the top-half of the Eastern Conference to the bottom with a 10-17-4 record.

The same Derek Roy who had this to say in the middle of the above mentioned malaise, “We had high expectations at the start of the year. We knew that,” he said, who has only eight goals and 24 points (as of the Jan. 9 writing.) “Going forward now there’s low expectations. So now it’s easier to play. We just play loose, play fun. Go out there and play hard."

You've got to be kidding, Lindy, right?

Oh yeah, I forgot, Roy's like a son to you (11:50-mark.) You end up throwing your leading goal scorer (five years running) under the bus in that same interview.

That interview was on February 21st which, coincidentally, is the same time that the "top-line" started tanking. A quick reminder, from that night vs. the NY Islanders through the Winnipeg loss this past Monday--a span of seven games. Thomas Vanek had 1 goal (that very same night @ the Islanders,) 1a and was a minus-3. Pominville went on his worst scoring drought of the year, 0g, 2a, minus-4 and Lindy's son had 1g, 3a and was a minus-4.

Getting back to Ruff's question to Roy, if you are Derek Roy and you're having the type of season he's having, and you get the opportunity to remain with the teams' top scorers and use them as a life preserver, what the hell else would you say other than, "yes, keep the line together."

Another reminder, both goals by Vanek and Pominville were on the powerplay last night and Roy did not factor in either.

Therefore the "top-line," five-on-five at least is still in a funk.

****

Ryan Miller has been on a tear: 4-1-0, 1.61gaa and a .953 sv.% in his last five games. Over the last 10 he's 7-1-2 with a 1.80 gaa and a .942 sv. %. He's not allowed more than three goals in any of the contests and had back-to-back shutouts on the road.

He was the NHL first star of the week last week.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Right in the thick of things

The Buffalo Sabres enter tonight's game at Winnipeg with the prospect of doing something unthinkable a six weeks ago--the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Six weeks ago they were stuck in a franchise record 12 game losing streak at the bottom of the conference 10 points out of a playoff spot.

Beginning with a 2-1 win at New Jersey, the team went on a mini-run going 4-0-1. It was a good stretch, but they ended up gaining only one point on the 8th seed and still had four teams to jump over.

An 0-3-1 winless streak in February kept their playoff hopes dim, but a strong finish in February and a 3-0-0 west coast streak to straddle February and March put them in the position they're in right now.

As of today, Winnipeg is in the 8th spot, two points ahead of Buffalo with the Sabres having one game in hand. Washington and Tampa Bay are both ahead of Buffalo and have the night off. The Capitals are one point ahead of Buffalo while the Lightning are even, but own the tie-breaker having played the same amount of games.

If the Sabres win tonight in regulation, they will have worked themselves into a playoff spot, even if it's for only one night.

Goalie Ryan Miller has been stellar the last three games going 3-0 with two shutouts (2-0 in Anaheim and 1-0 in San Jose') and although he gave up three goals in Vancouver, the team scored five for the win.

The defense has been solid while the offense has done what's necessary to secure victory.

Interesting to note that the Sabres top line of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have been in the tank the last six games after a breakout game in Pittsburgh, the first game that line was "reunited":  Roy--1g, 3a, minus-2; Vanek--1g, 1a, minus-1; Pominville 0g, 2a, minus-2.

Since the All-star break the Sabres have gone 10-3-3. since their three game winless streak they've gone 6-0-1.

Here's a look at the present Eastern Conference bubble teams:
  • 7th place, Ottawa--76 pts.
  • 8th, Winnipeg--70
  • 9th, Washington- 69
  • 10th, Tampa Bay--68
  • 11th, Buffalo--68
  • 12th, Toronto--67
A look at the upcoming week for the teams:

Ottawa (3 games)--@ Tampa Bay, NY Rangers, Buffalo
Winnipeg (3 games)--Buffalo, @ Vancouver, @ Calgary
Washington (4 games)--Carolina, Tampa Bay, @ Boston, Toronto
Tampa Bay (3 games)--Ottawa, @ Washington, Carolina
Buffalo (4 games)--@ Winnipeg, Carolina, @ Boston, @ Ottawa
Toronto (4 games)--Boston, @ Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, @ Washington

The goal for the Sabres should be 94 points. With that they should be able to secure at least 8th place in the conference and make the tie breaker a moot point.

At 68 points, they'll need another 26 to hit that mark. With 17 games remaining that equates to a record of 12-3-2.

Still a tall order, although the improbability factor has gotten better. When they started this run, sportsclubstats had them at a 0.6% chance of making the playoffs. Today they sit at a 32% chance.

The Sabres hit the Heart Of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive back six weeks back: 
"Please do not be alarmed," it said, "by anything you see or hear around you…We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway. Thank you…"


Arthur Dents in Sabreland, hold on to your towel.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

February 27, wasn't the only deadline for the organization

There's another deadline tomorrow at 3PM for the Amerks. But more on that in a bit.

We're nearly a week removed from the 2012 NHL trade deadline, and the Sabres are making some noise by stringing together three west coast victories putting them two points out of the 8th spot in the east.

It's a far cry from January when the team was in the midst of a franchise record 12-game losing streak and they had a 0.3% chance (according to sportsclubstats) of making the playoffs. It's a far cry from early February as well when the team went on a four-game winless streak and looked to be cooked once again.

Even last week, the moves that Darcy Regier made at the trade deadline, especially Paul Gaustad and a 2013 4th-rounder for a 2012 1st-round pick, had the look of a retool.

Safe to say that almost everyone was looking in that direction.

Kevin Oklobzija covers the Rochester Americans for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. And he was thinking the same thing when he wrote this about Regier, "The best part of what Regier did today," he wrote, "He made a very realistic assessment of the Sabres’ chances to earn a playoff berth and knows they’re probably done. He’d never say that, but the deals indicate that was his thinking."

Oklobzija breaks down the day along with "Regieran" attributes that happened to work, like holding out for a first round pick for Gaustad. The bottom line:  Regier, the "Texas Hold'em player," landed his "pair of Jacks" on the draw. He moved a 7th-round pick for a first rounder, landed a top-six center with skill, but lost grit and toughness, the latter a move that was necessary.

Unbeknownst to a lot of hockey fans (myself included) the AHL deadline is 3pm tomorrow. Oklobzija forsees the possibility of some moves for the Amerks, especially with the number of defensemen on the team.

According to Oklobzija, Regier will be on a conference call today with Amerks Head Coach Ron Rolston, Assistant to the General Manager, Mark Jakubowski and Head of Amateur Scouting, Kevin Devine.

Oklobzija says that "While Regier has the final say on all matters hockey within the organization, Devine oversees operations in Rochester. (Yes, he needs an amendment to his job title; his duties span well beyond just amateur scouting.")


It's not something that's official on the registrar, but Regier referred to Devine as "our Director of...Assistant General Manager who still oversees our scouting," on WGR two Friday's ago.

The Amerks are looking to bolster their team for the playoffs. After a win last night at Toronto, the Amreks are one point out of the final playoff spot. A mere two points separates the #6 seed and the #11 seed right now.

It will be interesting to see what Devine does at his first "trade deadline."

Another interesting note that came out of Oklobzija's article was that the Sabres put in a waiver-claim on the Minnesota Wild's Brad Staubitz. An undrafted free agent signing by the San Jose' Sharks back in 2005, Staubitz has got some size--6'1", 215lbs--and had some attitude ta boot. Montreal, who had the worse record, made the claim and received the services of Staubitz. He is a free agent at the end of the season.

All-in-all a great week for the Sabres organization with Regier wheeling-and-dealing, the team pulling off an improbable three-game west coast win-streak and the Amerks looking to bolster their roster for the stretch-run to the playoffs.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I blame Ryan Miller (and other thoughts)

Think about it.

Ryan Miller just finished stopping 82 shots in back-to-back games. He got the shutout in each.

It's the first time that a goalie has done that since 2010 when Miller did it in his Vezina winning season. It was the first time it was done on the road since the Bruins Tim Thomas did it back in 2008.

No small feat.

Miller has been hot lately. But he's been ramping it up for quite a while. He seemed to have bottomed out, along with the team, during their franchise-record 12-game road losing streak that finally ended in New Jersey on Jan. 24.

He entered that game with a 3.15 goals against average and a .897 save percentage. Since that game in New Jersey he's gone 10-2-3 with four shutouts (including a shutout in a shootout loss to the NY Rangers Feb. 1,) his goals against average is down to 2.58 and his save percentage is up to .915. Both of those latter numbers are right around his career numbers.

Those are not Dominik Hasek/Martin Brodeur elite numbers, but what he's done, especially after the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, is carry the team on his back for long stretches and be consistent enough to keep them in the playoff race most years, like he's doing this year.

Without Miller this season the team would be near the bottom of the league, just like they were when he was slumping/recovering from the Milan Lucic hit.

And if you take him out of the equation for 2007/08 and 2008/09, the team probably would have had a lottery pick instead of mid-first rounders. Although they did well with Tyler Myers at #12 in 2008, Zack Kassian, their 13th overall pick in 2009 was traded for a center earlier this week--Cody Hodgson.

This edition of the Sabres is on a pace to score the least amount of goals since the 2002/03 season. In 2003 the team finished with the fifth worst record in the league and picked Thomas Vanek with the #5-overall pick.

So, I blame Ryan Miller because he's kept the Sabres from bottoming out and getting upper-level draft talent for at least two years.

And it looks as if he's doing it again.

Carrying on with that theme, after watching Hodgson last night, I could see two things--Vancouver has some real good forward depth from the skill side to be able to trade away a talent like him and Hodgson already looks to be better than almost anyone on the team up-front.

His skating is pretty smooth, he has great on-ice vision, his transition game is quick, he backs off the defenders and he always seems to be in the right position. His line was clearly the best line on the ice last night, and although he didn't register a point, he was on the break as linemates Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford combined on the latter's goal.

I don't know if it's Hodgson's overall talent or the Sabres lack of upper-eschelon talent up-front, maybe it's a combination of the two, but the Sabres brass really need to upgrade the talent up-front in the off-season. Hodgson was a good start (potential great start,) but it looks as if he's already leaving a couple of "top-six" guys in the dust.

Which brings us to a "top-six" guy on the Sabre who's been MIA for a big chunk of the 2012 calendar year--Thomas Vanek.

Vanek's in a slump, which isn't all that peculiar.

But his four goals in 23 games since the beginning of the calendar year should at least be of note. As should his upper body injury that kept him out of three games. Since his return from injury, though, he's managed three goals, three assists and is a plus-2 in 11 games.

Vanek and linemate Jason Pominville were the only contributors to the Sabres offense during the first half of the season. Pominville has continued his steady, productive pace while Vanek has dropped off.

Lindy Ruff has had Derek Roy centering those two for quite a few games now and they still don't seem to click. When you put Hodgson's line up against Roy's line, the latter looks like it has checking line talent.

On WGR's The Howard Simon Show 10 days ago, Ruff had some interesting thoughts on the two. Ruff called his relationship with Roy, "almost like a father/son relationship where you're tough on your kid" (11:50-mark.) Ruff was almost playful in his response.

But when it came to Vanek, Ruff became terse. Because of Vanek's penchant for dumb penalties in the offensive zone this year, Simon asked Ruff how much rope will the talented goal-scorer get. Ruff responded cut and dry, "No more rope anymore."

"I've probably given out too much rope in that situation during the year," Ruff continued, "and there's been too many conversations about the type of penalties he's taken."

As he delves into his response a little further, Ruff ties in Vanek's penalties as costly in important games throughout the year, especially the games he pointed out earlier where the Sabres could've come away with points most notably Carolina early in the year and St. Louis in January.

Ruff basically throws Vanek under the bus, indirectly blaming him for a handful of losses and then continues his theme, "I've told him there's no more rope. If you want to take those penalties, whether we think there was a penalty or not, I don't want him taking any more."

Vanek is not innocent, by any stretch of the imagination, but who'd have thought that Roy would be Ruff's boy, and Vanek, the team's leading goal scorer for five years running, would be Ruff's whipping boy?

*shrugs*

2011/12 Individual Stats--February

As Ryan Miller goes, so go the Sabres.

The driving force behind a 7-3-3 month of February which saw the team claw back into the playoff bubble, fall, then get back into the bubble again.

Miller went 7-2-3 for the month, brought his goals against average down from 2.99 to 2.64 while upping his save percentage from .901 to .912.

On the offensive side, "Mr. Steady," Jason Pominville, continues to do it all. He's been either first or second in total points, goals and assists all season and this month has been no different.

Derek Roy started heating up as did Christian Ehrhoff, both totaling 11 points each for the month.

On the plus/minus side of the equation, Tyler Myers had an outstanding month going +8 while "Mr. Steady" came in at a +6.

Points:

  • October--Thomas Vanek--15...Jason Pominville--14...Luke Adam--9
  • November--Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy--12
  • December--Pominville--13...Vanek--12...Stafford, Roy--7
  • January--Pominville--8...Gerbe, Gaustad--5
  • February--Pominville--12...Roy, Ehrhoff--11

Goals:
  • October--Vanek--8...Pominville--5...Drew Stafford, Adam--3
  • November--Adam, Roy--5...Vanek, Pominville, Jordan Leopold--4
  • December--Vanek--6...Pominville--3...six with 2
  • January--Pominville--5...five with 2
  • February--Pominville-6...Roy-5, Stafford-4 

PP Goals:
  • October--Vanek--3...Pominville--2...Brad Boyes, Stafford--1
  • November--Vanek--3...Roy--2...Pominville, Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Andre Gragnani--1
  • December--Vanek, Pominville--2...seven with 1
  • January--Myers--2, Pominville--1
  • February--Vanek, Stafford, Roy-1

Assists:
  • October--Pominville--9...Vanek--7...Ehrhoff, Adam--6
  • November--Vanek, Pominville--8...Roy--7
  • December--Pomiville--10, Vanek--6...Stafford, Roy, Leopold--5
  • January--Gerbe--4...Pominville, Gaustad, Hecht, McNabb--3
  • February--Ehrhoff-10...Pominville, Leino, Roy, Myers-6 

PP Assists:
  • October--Pominville--4...Vanek, Boyes--2
  • November--Pominville--4...Vanek, Roy, Boyes, Ehrhoff, Gragnani--2
  • December--Vanek, Stafford, Leopold--4
  • January--Pominville, Boyes, Myers, Gragnani--1
  • February--Ehrhoff-2...Pominville, Vanek, Roy, Myers-1 

Primary Assists:
  • October--Vanek--6...Pominville--5...Gerbe--4
  • November--Pominville, Stafford--6...Vanek--5
  • December--Pominville--7...Stafford--4...Vanek, Leopold--3
  • January--Gerbe--3...Pominville, Stafford, Boyes, Hecht--2

Plus/Minus:
  • October--Andrej Sekera, +6...Nathan Gerbe, +5...Vanek,+4
  • November--Leopold, Gragnani, +5...Hecht, +4
  • December--Gragnani, +3...Stafford, even...five at -1
  • January--McNabb, +1...three, even...five, -1
  • February--Myers +8...Pominville +6...Leino, Roy, Ehrhoff +5

Plus/Minus (bottom):
  • October--Ehrhoff, -6...Ville Leino, -4...Cody McCormick...-2
  • November--Myers, Robyn Regehr, Mike Weber, -5
  • December--Ehrhoff, -7...Sekera, Regehr, Pominville, -6
  • January--Weber, Vanek, -6...Adam, Roy, -5
  • February--Kaleta, Regehr -3...Weber -1

3-Stars (1st=5 points, 2nd=3 points, 3rd=1 point):
  • October--Vanek--16...Pominville, Adam--10
  • November--Roy--13...Adam--9...Pominville--8
  • December--Pominville, Stafford--6...five with 5
  • January--Gaustad--6...Stafford, Miller--5
  • February--Miller-19...Pominville-10...Myers-8


Time On Ice/Game-Forwards (year-to-date)

Total:
  • October--Pominville, 18:00...Vanek, 17:42...Roy, 16:54
  • November--Pominville, 19:06...Roy...18:48...Vanek...17:42
  • December--Pominville, 19:30...Roy, 19:13...Stafford...17:53...(Vanek 17:52)
  • January--Pominville, 19:23...Roy, 18:47...Stafford, 17:50
  • February--Pominville, 19:33...Roy, 19:04...Stafford, 17:31

Even Strength:
  • October--Vanek, 13:47...Gerbe, 13:33...Roy, 13:30
  • November--Hecht, 14:32...Roy, 14:14...Leino, 14:13
  • December--Hecht, 14:50...Roy, 14:23...Leino, 14:00
  • January--Leino, 14:33...Roy, 14:27...Hecht, 14:25
  • February--Roy, 14:45...Leino, 14:39...Hecht, 14:25 

Powerplay:
  • October--Vanek, 3:12...Pominville, 2:57...Adam, 2:16
  • November--Pominville, 3:26...Vanek, 2:23...Roy, 2:41
  • December--Pominville, 3:36...Vanek, 3:33...Roy, 2:55
  • January--Pominville, 3:20...Vanek, 3:14...Roy, 2:37
  • February--Pominville, 3:16...Vanek, 3:10...Roy, 2:38

Penalty Kill:
  • October--Paul Gaustad, 2:56...Patrick Kaleta, 2:40...Pominville, 2:13
  • November--Gaustad, 2:49...Kaleta, 2:41...Pominville, 2:26
  • December--Gaustad, 2:54...Kaleta, 2:56...Pominville, 2:33
  • January--Gaustad, 2:49...Pominville, 2:25...Kaleta, 2:16
  • February--Pominville, 2:17...Kaleta, 2:15...Hecht, 1:49 


Time On Ice/Game--Defensman (year-to-date)

Total:
  • October--Ehrhoff, 24:32...Myers, 21:28...Jordan Leopold, 21:06
  • November--Ehrhoff, 24:04...Myers, 21:39...Leopold, 20:48
  • December--Ehrhoff, 23:35...Myers, 21:39...Leopold, 21:29
  • January--Ehrhoff, 23:36...Myers, 22:58...Leopold, 22:13
  • February--Ehrhoff, 23:15...Myers, 22:52...Leopold, 22:05 

Even Strength:
  • October--Ehrhoff, 19:21...Leopold, 17:12...Myers, 16:21
  • November--Ehrhoff, 19:06...Leopold, 16:57...Sekera, 16:39
  • December--Ehrhoff, 18:38...Leopold, 17:11...Myers, 16:14
  • January--Ehrhoff, 18:33...Leopold, Myers, 17:46
  • February--Ehrhoff, 18:46...Myers, 17:57...Leopold, 17:45

Powerplay:
  • October--Marc-Andre Gragnani, 3:03...Ehrhoff, 2:59...Myers, 1:57
  • November--Ehrhoff, 2:56...Gragnani, 2:52...Myers, 2:43
  • December--Ehrhoff, 3:14...Gragnani, 3:14...Myers, 2:43
  • January--Ehrhoff, 3:12...Gragnani, 2:42...Myers, 2:39
  • February--Ehrhoff, 3:04...Myers, 2:35...Leopold, 1:57

Penalty Kill:
  • October--Robyn Regehr, 3:12...Myers, 3:09...Ehrhoff, 2:12
  • November--Regehr, 3:11...Weber, 2:50...Myers, 2:42
  • December--Regehr, 3:11...Myers, Weber, 2:42
  • January--Regehr. 3:03...Myers, 2:33...Leopold, 2:23
  • February--Rehehr, 2:56...Leopold, 2:22...Myers, 2:20


Goaltending (year to date):

Ryan Miller--
  • October--4 wins, 4 losses, .930 sv.% (ranked 9th,) 2.14 gaa (ranked 21st,) 1 shutout
  • November--5-6-0, .909 (37th,) 2.86 (41st,) 1 shutout
  • December--9-10-2, .901 (51st,) 3.05 (55th,) 1 shutout
  • January--13-15-2, .901 (57th,) 2.99 (60th,) 1 shutout
  • February--20-17-5, .912 (42nd,) 2.64 (44th,) 4 shoutouts

Jhonas Enroth--
  • October--2-0, .946 sv % (8th,) 2.00 gaa (13th,) 0 shutouts
  • November--8-4-2, .926 (21st,) 2.27 (26th,) 1 shutout
  • December--8-7-2, .921 (23rd,) 2.49 (32nd), 1 shutout
  • January--8-9-3, .919 (28th,) 2.59 (39th,) 1 shutout
  • February--8-10-3, .917 (32nd,) 2.68 (46th,) 1 shutout

Drew MacIntyre--
  • October--
  • November--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts
  • December--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts
  • January--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts
  • Februrary--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2011/12 Team Stats--February

A quick flashback to January had the Sabres end that month in 14th place, nine points out of an playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With a win on the road at New Jersey before the All-Star break, they stopped the bleeding of a franchise-record 12-game road losing streak.

They ended the month of January with a win versus Montreal giving them back-to-back wins for the first time since November.

The healing process continued in February with the team going 7-3-3. The NY Rangers handed them a loss to begin the month (a 1-0 shootout loss,) then had a three game win streak followed by a four game winless streak (0-3-1) and finished strong going 4-0-1.

Thanx to the parity that reigns in the conference, and the fall from grace by Toronto, the Sabres now sit in 12th place, five points back of a playoff spot and they've managed to really tightened things up.

The trade deadline came and went, with the Sabres trading one integral part on the defensive side--Paul Gaustad--but bringing in one part on the offensive side--Cody Hodgson.

They begin the month of March on the west coast tonight in the second game of a back-to-back against San Jose'. All-in-all, the team will play four on the road before returning home March 7 when Carolina visits.

"As Miller goes, so go the Sabres."

As of late, no truer words have been said, unless you'd like to add the defense in there as well.

In the last five games, the team has given up two goals or less in regulation and have two shutouts (vs. Boston, 6-0 and at Anaheim, 2-0.) The play of Miller and his defense has helped the team bring down their goals against average by .20 (which is significant) and helped them move five spots up and into the top-20 gaa--with the same amount of shots against per game.

That's the main reason that they've been able to make some progress in the standings for the offense has remained stagnant.

As the team heads into March, their playoff push will take on a somewhat different dynamic as the team, in effect, traded defensive/faceoff prowess (Gaustad) for more offense/secondary scoring (Hodgson.)

Here's a look at their team stats for March.


Wins:

  • October--6 (T-9th)
  • November--13 (T-10th)
  • December--17 (T-23rd)
  • January--21 (24th)
  • February--28 (T-22nd)

Points:
  • October--12 (12th)
  • November--27 (T 15th)
  • December--38 (T-23rd)
  • January--47 (T-24th)
  • February--64 (T-23rd)

Eastern Conference Standing:
  • October--7th
  • November-7th
  • December-11th
  • January--T-14th
  • February--12th

Northeast Division Standing:
  • October--3rd
  • November--3rd
  • December--4th
  • January--T-4th
  • February--4th

Goals/Game:
  • October--2.90 (8th)...(#1, Wash-3.78)
  • November--2.75 (15th)...(Philly, 3.48)
  • December--2.58 (T-17th)...(Bos, 3.43)
  • January--2.38 (26th)...(Bos, 3.54)
  • February--2.38 (25th)...(Philly, 3.24)

Shots/Game:
  • October--29.4 (18th)...(#1, Det-35.7)
  • November--30.9 (10th)...(Det-34.9)
  • December--29.0 (T-19th)...(SJS-34.6)
  • January--28.8 (20th)..(SJS-34.7)
  • February--28.9 (19th)...(SJS-34.4) 

Goals Against/Game:
  • October--2.20 (T-5th)...(#1, Edm-1.46)
  • November--2.58 (T-14th)...(STL-2.00)
  • December--2.90 (23rd)...Bos-1.91)
  • January--2.96 (25th)...(STL-1.96)
  • February--2.79 (20th)...(STL-1.91)

Shots Against/Game:
  • October--31.9 (22nd)...(#1, STL-25.9)
  • November--31.1 (21st)...(STL-25.6)
  • December--31.3 (T-24th)...(STL-26.5)
  • January--31.3 (26th)...(STL-26.2)
  • February--31.3 (27th)...(STL-26.2) 

Five-On-Five GF/GA Ratio:
  • October--1.43 (2nd)...(#1, Wash-1.64)
  • November--1.12 (T-7th)...(Bos-1.71)
  • December--0.93 (20th)...(Bos-1.83)
  • January--0.87 (22nd)...(Bos-1.72)
  • February--0.96 (15th)...(Det-1.52)

Powerplay:

  • October--21.9% (8th)...(#1, Ott-31.0%)
  • November--18.4 (10th)...(Van-24.8)
  • December--19.0 (9th)...(Van-24.2)
  • January--17.8 (T-16th)...(Van-23.0)
  • February--16.2 (21st)...(Edm-21.7) 

Penalty Kill:

  • October--91.9% (2nd)...(#1, Pit-92.3%)
  • November--87.6 (5th)...(NJD--94.4)
  • December--84.2 (9th)...(NJD--91.2)
  • January--81.4 (20th)...(MTL--89.6)
  • February--80.8 (21st)...(MTL- 89.3) 

Faceoffs:

  • October--50.8% (11th)...(#1, Col-54.7%)
  • November--51.3 (T-9th)...(BOS-55.0)
  • December--51.0 (11th)...(BOS--55.4)
  • January--49.6 (T-18th)...(BOS--55)
  • February--49.6 (19th)...(BOS--54.7