Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sabres get Rolston his first NHL win

It wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was a win nonetheless.

In his third game since taking over the head coaching reigns, Ron Rolston finally got his first victory as a head coach in the NHL, a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay and their potent offense.

The Lightning came into the game with a league best 3.70 goals/game and the 7th best powerplay. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, and Cory Conacher must have been licking their chops looking at this one. The Sabres defense had given up the fourth most goals against in the league (3.23) and had a penalty kill ranked in the bottom half.

With the score tied 1-1 in the 2nd, the Sabres had a parade to the penalty box that lasted nearly a full five minutes with 43 seconds being down two men. With the help of a fortuitous post rung by Stamkos 5-on-3, the Sabres weathered that tornado and, unlike previous games this season, the weathered the entire second period as well.

Ryan Miller came up strong throughout the game and was awarded the 1st star. But unlike other nights this season, he wasn't tested often. The defense looked much better position-wise and kept most of the shots to the outside. They also refrained from screening their goalie and made cross-ice, one-timers into long passes giving Miller ample time to scoot over.

The post hit by Stamkos was one of two breaks that the Sabres got last night, the first being Cody Hodgson's eighth goal of the season. Hodgson gathered the puck behind the net and sent it out front to Jason Pominville but it deflected off of Tampa d-man Sami Salo into the net. That tied the score not long after Stamkos put the Lightning up 1-0.

Rolston called it a "gritty win" last night and it was. Not from the sense of a street brawl with, say, Boston, but from the perspective that they were exorcising (or trying to exorcise) the many demons that have plagued this team throughout the 2013 season.

Not everything was corrected last night, but they moved the puck much better out of their zone with fewer (although still too many) turnovers. They also had sustained pressure in the offensive zone more than we've seen all year. Their defense was tighter and they had fewer breakdowns.

"Baby steps," as Rolston put it the other day.

And the true grit came out when they came back from Stamkos' goal a mere 1:30 into the game and while they had that parade to the box early in the second period. Plus, they were able to get the lead in the third and hold it, not by sitting back, but by attacking more than they've done so far.

Are they Stanley Cup contenders? No. Are they among the elite in the conference or division? No. Is this the beginning of a drive to the playoffs? It's their fourth win in the last 14 games.

What we may have seen is a bottoming out last Saturday vs. the NY Islanders. There's still a ton of work to do, but a victory like last night should start moving the confidence meter a notch away from despair.

And now Rolston is 1-2 as Sabres interim head coach.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rolston's Challenge continues

No, it's not a series on CWTV or the Hallmark channel. It's the task of the new Sabres head coach. Although the 2013 edition of the Buffalo Sabres has all the makings of a soap opera right now.

Sabres' bench-boss Ron Rolston had no idea what he was walking into when he made the jump from Rochester to Buffalo.

After Saturday's 4-0 home loss to the NY Islanders, he continues to dig deeper in search of answers.

Yesterday marked the first time in his short tenure that he's had a the chance to put the team through a full practice.

And after watching his team skate, the operative word he came up with is "patience."

Via Bill Hoppe, “I know patience isn’t big with anybody,” interim coach Ron Rolston said Monday inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. “It’s not big with me. It’s not big with fans. It’s not big with media. But right now, it’s going to be a process.”

It's been six days since the Lindy Ruff era ended and the retraining of the Sabre's began. In that short span, this is what we've learned about the team from Rolston:
“From what I saw [looking at video,] it was more there were just a lot of shortcuts … a lot of rest in shifts,” Rolston said prior to the Sabres’ 3-1 loss to the Leafs. “The things that you just have to eliminate if you’re going to be a good hockey team.”--February 21
“We’re the team that blinks first when you have a stare down,” Rolston said this afternoon inside the Northtown Center following his first full practice as coach. “The faceoff's in the (Toronto) zone and we make a mistake in execution, and the next thing you know it’s a 2-1 game going into the third,” Rolston said. “And that’s part of the reason things aren’t going the way we want them to go.” He added: “In this league, if you have even a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times that’s been the case here.”--February 22

Sunday was an off day for the team, and Rolston had plenty of time to go over the debacle that was the Islanders game, and this is what he came away with:
“There’s two things,” Rolston said. “You go into hockey games and some teams hope they’re going to win, and some teams know they’re going to win in this league that night. The better teams are the knowing teams, and we’re right now the hope team.
“To get from hope to know is a process. And to get there, you got to do a lot of things well, and you got to do them for 60 minutes. We’re still hoping. Our job is to get to the point we’re knowing.”
So how do you get from "hoping" to "knowing?"

The next step for him is how the team practices.

Hoppe says that Rolston, who was dubbed "the first professor at the University of Sabres," is still in instructor mode doing a lot of 'educational teaching,' and the thing that he's working on is pace. 'Pace,' deduced Hoppe, 'not just team speed but doing everything quickly – has been a big message from the coach.'

I culled an interesting quote from Walter Gretzky, "the Great One's" father and mentor when it comes to practice.

"One day, when Wayne Gretzky was already the greatest hockey player in the world, he was practicing with his team, the Edmonton Oilers. Walter watched from the stands. Afterwards, the two drove home together.
'You just wasted two hours of your life,' Walter Gretzky told his son. 'If you’re going to practice, then do it right.'"

The Sabres have always been a fast team, even while adding more grit to the lineup. But they've looked extremely slow this shortened season. When you watch other teams play, especially the upper-echelon teams, they're continually in motion, continually in overdrive and always seem to be moving north-south with a sense of purpose.

“In terms of team speed, and not only is it how you can skate, but how you move the puck and how clean you are moving the puck and where your support is moving the puck,” Rolston said. “So there’s a lot of elements to a team being a fast team, and right now … we need to be much faster.”

The Sabres more often than not seem to be plodding at times, cruising at others, rarely kicking it into gear. There are probably a number of factors involved, like practicing at a causal pace.

In his first segment on WGR, Rolston said he is looking at each player individually, "Right now, there are habits we can change." he said. "We talk about systems but right now it's the individual within the system and the details that those individuals have. If we're not going to be detailed we're not going to have good habits."

Picking up the pace at practice will help iron some things out. This is a team that's been in Lindy Ruff's system for many years, most of them for their entire careers. They know where to be and what needs to be done and it's not too far-fetched to believe that many players--too many--have had a laissez-faire attitude. But as game-day has proven time and again, a waltz through practice will leave you a step or two behind during the game.

Rolston seems to be on the right track. He's trying to sort out this mess and he's taking "baby steps." He's there to teach, correct and, one would assume, eventually evaluate for the future.

Regardless of whether or not this season is lost, Rolston has the task of rooting out the bad habits that each individual has and laying a foundation with which to build upon for the future of the Sabres that are in the system. There's a lot of talent there right now and the team is not going to bring any of them into a laconic and/or toxic situation.

 "We have a lot of players in Rochester who are talented, "he said. "We just want to make sure we have the right environment here when we do [bring a player up] especially with younger players. Right now we want to make sure we solidify things first, take care of what's going on here."

And the Rolston challenge continues with a game tonight at Tampa Bay.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

From the purgatory of the last five seasons to "Hockey Hell"

"It's not about talent, it's about playing a certain way right now."

So said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after yesterday's 4-0 loss to the NY Islanders which dropped Buffalo right to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

That loss was their second under interim coach Ron Rolston, fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games. For the month of February they are 3-9.

The boo-birds were out in full force last night at the F'N Center and many started leaving with about 15 minutes left in the 3rd period after John Tavares put the Isles up 3-0.

Fans actually could have started exiting after Mark Streit and Michael Grabner scored goals 65 seconds apart late in the second period.

The Sabres are playing like crap right now, and what's truly amazing about this team is how they crumble at the first sign of adversity.

They nearly weathered another suspect second period last night--that 20-minute time frame which has been downfall of this team all season. Yes, one should question, or stare in disbelief, as to how Isles winger Matt Moulson could thread a cross-ice pass through four Buffalo defenders to a streaking Streit for a tap-in. But more than that, you need to question why veteran Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff would attempt a cross-ice pass at the NY blueline a minute later.

Grabner, who is noted for anticipating that kind of stupidity, turned it into a breakaway. Not only did he put the puck past Ryan Miller, but Ehrhoff's stick also went, as the defenseman attempted a limp-wristed stick check.

Miller, who has been outstanding in the last six games, looked as if he just said "Screw it" on the play. He has turned aside countless shots on odd-man rushes and defensive giveaways with the opponents looking at a gaping wide net. Miller had, and has had for years, a birds eye view of a turnover heading back his way. Most of the time he comes up with the save.

The Sabres netminder has clearly been frustrated this year, and when it was mentioned by Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times that his teammates seem to be frustrated as well, Miller chirped, "Well, it's about God Damn time."



Keep it simple, stupid.

"I keep saying it, but it's a little thing, it's so big," said Myers postgame, "make simple plays throughout an entire game."

This team, especially in front of a home crowd, tends to get too fancy. They try to put on a show when their talent-level doesn't allow for that level of fanciness. The result is usually a turnover that often finds the back of the Sabres net.

Ehrhoff should have known better. He is a veteran on this team. He should know his opponent, know who's on the ice and know what they like to do. He should also know that it's Hockey 101:  don't make a cross ice pass like that with three defenders pressing, dumb-ass.

"We're a good team with a lot of stupid mistakes right now," said Sabres forward Steve Ott. "And it sucks."

Sure does, Steve. Is it correctable?

"We're on the bottom on the ground right now," he continued, "we're kicked in. But it's the guys that rise, the character that has to continue to show and that's when the team can start getting out of this hole."

Agreed. But who on this team is willing to say, "Me. I'll take it?"


Where are the "character" guys? Is it within the leadership group?

Alternate captain Thomas Vanek was there post game. He missed another golden opportunity and was robbed by Evgeni Nabokov as well. "I'm a goal scorer that's not scoring goals right now," said Vanek.

Miller was there post game. "Not a very strong performance overall," he said matter of factly, "Nothin' else, man." His interview was short. "I had an opportunity to at least keep it to a one goal game, and [I] didn't step up and take it," he added.

Captain Jason Pominville....

was no where to be found. Perhaps he was off somewhere looking for Roysie's blankie. Pominville has 2 goals, 2 assists and is a minus-3 during the 12 games of February. His play is languishing.

The other alternate captain, Drew Stafford, was no where to be found as well. Just like his offense. He has one goal this season.

Those three with the letters on their sweater are the remnants of GM Darcy Regier's "vaunted" core of skaters. Those three were chosen as leaders last season along with other "core" members Derek "Roysie" Roy and Paul Gaustad who were traded last year. Last season the team missed he playoffs and it seems as if this team will miss the playoffs this year as well.

Is it a leadership void or issue in the locker room, Mr. Ott?

"No, I think this leadership group is solid," he said post game. "It's definitely not a leadership or accountability aspect."

Just go ask them. Oh, that's right. Where's Pominville? Where's Stafford?

God love him. Ott is there after every game talking to the media and for him the glass is always half-full. Had he been around Buffalo as long as Ryan Miller, though, methinks he'd be throwing around some unprintable words.

The proof is in the pudding with this leadership group. There is no leadership. No character. No passion. No intestinal fortitude.


"It's almost like 'Here we go again,'" said Myers.

Only it's worse.

Buffalo having a glass jaw is nothing new. But there was a time when only a few teams could put them on the ropes via one mistake. Now, it's pretty much every team in the league.

This team is pretty bad right now, so bad that Jessica Pegula, daughter of Sabres owner Terry Pegula, was said to have tweeted (and quickly rescinded,) "Lets just call a spade a spade. The Sabres are really bad... #makesmemad".


A spade is a spade. The core is the core. The home crowd is still booing. And the Sabres record is a clear indicator of how good this team is right now.

Will Rolston be able to fix this team?

I like how WGR's Paul Hamilton put it, "When you watch this team, they are who they are, and I’m not sure what Ron Rolston or any other coach can do about it." he wrote. "It’s a soft, mentally weak group and always has been. If Rolston can get that trait out of them, he should win the Jack Adams Trophy."

Rolston has been in the pro ranks for all of a year and a half. He went from teaching teenagers to dealing with pros in Rochester to dealing with well-to-do pros in Buffalo. That may be more of a jump than rookie Mikhail Grigorenko going from junior to the pros.

It's to the point now where Rolston may just be an evaluator and if they continue their descent into "Hockey Hell," that's all he should be doing, eventually giving player evaluation to his superiors so that they can decide which players they want moving forward.

There's no reason to believe that this team can make it out of the basement, no matter how much they try to simplify and avoid mistakes.

Not with remnants of "the core" in leadership positions.

This may be one of the worst seasons since 2002/03 when Regier finished the dismantling of "the hardest working team in hockey" on his way to building "a team built for the new NHL."

That was a bad year. And this one may be even worse.

This team is unwatchable right now, the losses keep piling up and the Sabres are looking at a draft pick that might be higher than Vanek at #5-overall.

But, as my friend Cisco put it, "If you're going to shit the bed, at least do it in the shortest ever season."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ron Rolston's assesment of the team he inherited

On February 20, 2013, Lindy Ruff was fired by the Buffalo Sabres after 16 years as head coach.

It's a landmark date.

For the past five seasons--a period marked at the beginning by the loss of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere (another landmark date)--the team as languished in mediocrity. And thus, for the past five seasons, there was a debate amongst Sabres fans:  were those results because of inadequate coaching or the players they had to work with?

With Ruff now gone, we should begin to a better idea. But don't take my word.

We'll let the words of interim coach Ron Rolston speak about the team.

Roslton had been on the job less than 48 hours and his comments were pretty direct.

In his words, this is what he has to work with:
“From what I saw [looking at video,] it was more there were just a lot of shortcuts … a lot of rest in shifts,” Rolston said prior to the Sabres’ 3-1 loss to the Leafs. “The things that you just have to eliminate if you’re going to be a good hockey team.”--February 21
“We’re the team that blinks first when you have a stare down,” Rolston said this afternoon inside the Northtown Center following his first full practice as coach. “The faceoff's in the (Toronto) zone and we make a mistake in execution, and the next thing you know it’s a 2-1 game going into the third,” Rolston said. “And that’s part of the reason things aren’t going the way we want them to go.” He added: “In this league, if you have even a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times that’s been the case here.”--February 22

Bill Hoppe, who does exceptional work at, used a term in that last link that we've been seeing a lot of over the past five-plus seasons--the Sabres wilted. And that's not a good thing.

Tonight Rolston will be coaching his first home game against the NY Islanders. The team is 3-5-1 at home this season, 115-73-28 during the last five-plus seasons.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Who is in charge of the Buffalo Sabres hockey operations?

Terry Pegula is the owner of the Buffalo Sabres. He has a lot of money. He bought the team as a fan and it was a welcome change for the team and the fans of Buffalo as he released the financial chains.

He wants to win. He wants to win as an owner and as a fan. And he's put his money where his mouth was.

That part is in place.

One of the golden rules of managing a business is hiring people who are smarter than yourself, which was pretty easy for Pegula. He walked into the F'N Center with no knowledge about running a sports team. That being said, he did hire some quality individuals who worked for quality organizations.

He laid out his team:

Team President, Ted Black--Black is a PR/media guy, and he's damn good at it. He was vice president of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1999-2008 and helped Mario Lemieux rebuild the franchise. After that he was senior vice president and general manager of FSN Pittsburgh. Ted is not in charge of the hockey operations, and he'll let everyone know that during his weekly show on WGR when fans inundate him with personnel questions. Black is also alternate governor for the team.

Chief Development Officer, Cliff Benson--Benson is a CPA and attorney. He was at Pegula's side when the latter donated $88M to start up Penn State's Div-1 hockey program. He was there when Pegula bought the Sabres. Benson's main job is overseeing development outside of hockey operations as well as charitable works. He's a community relations kinda guy.

Senior Advisor, Ken Sawyer--Sawyer is the guy who advises Pegula on organizational decisions concerning the hockey operations. He worked for the NHL as a CFO for 14 years. He was with the Penguins with Lemieux in 1999 as one of his senior executives for 11 years. He's the guy who can get the big things done especially when dealing with the league.

Senior Vice President/Director of Hockey Operations--____________________

General Manager--Darcy Regier

There's the hole that Pegula really needs to invest in, with both a quality hire and a good amount of money to lure someone to Buffalo.

Apparently Regier has been in charge of that.

Yikes. Not a very good track record, especially in giving the team an identity. Make no mistake, if he's told to get something done, he'll be able to do it, as evidenced by the last two years of transactions.

But to ask him to define this team? It will be in his image and likeness. And he's a guy who could not compete in the NHL. He's had an affinity for soft-but-skilled players and puck-moving defensemen and knows nothing about grit and toughness.

He has not been able to identify and aquire hockey players. Real hockey players. Thick-skinned professionals who will not be denied at any point in the period, game or season. Guys who don't "want to win" (because all players want to win,) but guys who hate to lose.

How many of those players have been with the franchise post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere? Not many. As of right now the best of those is Ryan Miller. Steve Ott is like that. Patrick Kaleta, Nathan Gerbe even Thomas Vanek and Robyn Regehr, in a subtle way, all hate to lose.

Regier's core from the past six seasons and his acquisitions?

Not so much.

So, Terry, as the Lindy Ruff era officially came to a close, perhaps a look at your organization would be a place, THE place, to start your drive to the Stanley Cup.

The task of Sawyer and yourself is to hire the best hockey mind in the hockey operations business. One with a proven background of winning the Stanely Cup.

None of us outside the NHL circle know who's available, but a very good candidate may be Larry Robinson.

Robinson has had success everywhere he's gone. He started his career in one of the greatest organization in the NHL--the Montreal Canadians--who had one of the greatest coaches of all time in Scotty Bowman and was a major part of one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history--"The Flying Frenchmen" of the '70's. He won six Stanley Cups as a player.

His coaching resume' has him winning three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils as both an assistant and as head coach.

Presently he's an assistant with the San Jose' Sharks. One of the reasons he went to the west coast, apparently, was to be close to his grandkids.


It's been said that he was willing to take an assistant coach with the Canadians, but there was no opening, so the east coast is not out of the question.

Regardless of whether or not the team would want him or whether or not he'd come to Buffalo, Terry Pegula needs to fill that gaping hole in his organization.

Especially if their de facto Ops-guy, Darcy Regier, is no longer with the team come season's end.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"The First Professor" hits the real world

Sabres GM Darcy Regier hired Ron Rolston as head coach of the Rochester Americans in the 2011 off-season. He was immediately dubbed "the first professor at the University of Sabres."

That moniker was pinned on him as the team, under new owner Terry Pegula, began to lay a foundation for the future. Pegula is noted for his open wallet approach to free agency, but he also has put a premium on scouting and player development.

As the "first professor," Rolston was in charge with teaching the fundamentals to the youngsters coming up through the organization. That's what he was noted for as head coach for a very successful US Hockey National Team Development Program.

As the new, albeit interim, head coach he'll be in charge of a Buffalo Sabres Team Development Program. The team is in a mess right now and is in need of structure, especially on the back end.

According to Regier, Rolston's teams "play with structure, discipline, they have a work ethic." And no where will the structure and discipline be more welcome than on defense. delves into Rolston via an interview with Ron's younger brother Brian, a recently retired veteran of over 1200 NHL games.

Here's what Brian had to say:
"[Ron] demands that everybody is prepared; and he wants a north-south game. His attention to detail starts with having to take care of the defensive end first," Brian said. "I was lucky to play nine seasons for a great coach in Jacques Lemaire, and Ron would ask me, 'What does Jacques do here? What does he think about this?'
In Boston, we had a rule: the forwards back-checked the puck and the defence took the middle of the ice away. The goalies knew the shot was coming from the outside. Ron will be like that. He'll set up a defensive system and expect the players to stick with it."
There have been fans bemoaning Lindy Ruff's defensive "system" over the past four or five seasons preferring "the Ferrari" of 2006/07. But, you can't do a damn thing if you don't have the puck, or turn the puck over when you have it. Or have the puck end up in the back of your net because you're constantly out of position or losing your man.

Another area for Rolson to address is the lack of secondary scoring through the underperformance of some players, most notably Drew Stafford and, to an extent, Marcus Foligno. Both made up two-thirds of a potent line, with Tyler Ennis in the middle, that almost jettisoned the Sabres into the playoffs in the 2011/12 season.

Stafford has been downright abysmal, which is a huge step back from being inconsistent for the length of his career in Buffalo. He has the size and skill to be a consistent 20-25 goal scorer, but for some reason his head seems to be somewhere else way too often.

Foligno was developed under Rolston in Rochester for much of the 2011/12 season before being called up.

The big power forward took it to the next level with a vengeance scoring 13 points in 14 games. Foligno was the epitome of north/south--strong to the net, strong in the corners of the offensive zone, strong on the back-check.

Like the team as a whole, Foligno is off to a rather slow start with only one goal thus far. He also seems to have lost those attributes which lead to success in his first pro campaign a year and a half ago.

Other youngsters up-front who will need more attention are Cody Hodgson, Ennis and, maybe most importantly, rookie Mikhail Grigorenko, all of whom are young centers on this team.

Hodgson spent the entire lockout with Rolston over in Rochester. He was a point per game player during that time. He'll probably never be known as a two-way center, but if he continues to score and be the glue that keeps the top line together, then nearly all will be forgiven.

Tyler Ennis was finally moved to the middle by Ruff last year and he responded with a fantastic run. This season he's provided the only consistent secondary scoring on the team with 5 goals and 8 assists through 17 games.

As for Grigorenko, he's just getting his feet wet and is looked upon as a future top-six/top-line center. He has been relegated to the bench for much of the young season in favor of veteran Jochen Hecht on the third line. The mantra from the organization was that he would be developed slowly--playing some, sitting some--much like the Boston Bruins did with Tyler Seguin.

Grigorenko has not been lighting it up, nor has he been a total disaster. Rolston's structure and attention to detail should help the 18 yr. old develop a sound NHL foundation with which to build upon.

It all starts tonight in Toronto against Maple Leaves team that's found new life under new head coach Randy Carlyle. They are presently third in the Northeast Division, sixth in the Eastern conference, have a 10-7-0 record including 4-2-0 vs. the Northeast. Buffalo beat the Leaves in their second game of the season--a game Ryan Miller stole--and gained a point in an OTL eight days later.

Rolston is being thrown into the fire with a mish-mash of styles and skill-levels to work with. And more importantly he'll be guiding a team that lacks a true identity. What he'll be relying upon moving forward is the innate professionalism within each player as he tries to move this underachieving group forward.

Right now there are only two players on this roster who have played up to their level thus far--Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller.

Vanek found new life to his game during the lockout while playing in Austria, his homeland. He leads the league in points (25) and goals (12.)

Miller has been under duress all season, maybe even his entire career in Buffalo, and has acquitted himself well lately. During the past six games he's given up more than two goals once (4, Pittsburgh,) stole a game on Long Island to help end a poor run by the team, and was named 2nd star in a loss to Boston.

The rest will need to fall into place, the defense in front of Miller and the offense behind Vanek.

And it will be up to the "first professor" to bring it all together as he moves from the "university" into the real world of the NHL.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A poignant post-game question sticks a fork in the Lindy Ruff Era

Following yesterday's home loss to Winnipeg, a fatal question was directed towards embattled Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff:  "Lindy, this fan-base clearly hates this team, do you understand their [booing]?"

Ruff stood there like a man with no fight left in him and answered, "I understand, I totally understand."

Today Sabres GM Darcy Regier announced that Ruff would be relieved of his duties after 15+ seasons as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.

It was a sad day, yet it had to be a relief for everyone from Ruff, to his players to the fan-base once the decision was made and announced. The weight of poor start had grown so heavy that it's doubtful anything but Ruff's firing could lift it.

This was big news splattered everywhere throughout the hockey world and was the prominent story for the NHL Network throughout the day. After all, Ruff was the longest tenured coach in the NHL, the second longest in American pro sports leagues (San Antonio Spurs coach, Greg Popovich.)

Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston will take over the reigns of a 6-10-1 Buffalo Sabres team that goes in to tomorrow's game at Toronto 27th in the league. It's a team that's in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season under owner Terry Pegula.

It had to be a difficult decision for Pegula, basically having to eat his "Lindy ain't goin' nowhere" proclamation. He stood by Ruff throughout, but when words like "this fan-base hates this team" ring true to the tune of relentless booing for 40 minutes, something needed to be done. And Ruff is gone.

I can guarantee that 99% of Buffalo fans don't hate Ruff personally, they just hate the product on the ice. It was a bad movie. Groundhog Day, hockey-style. And who's to blame for that product is still under scrutiny.

With Ruff now gone, the onus is completely on the players from this point forward, and it's now Regier's ass that's on the line. This is a team that he ultimately put together. These are the players that he wanted. This is the team that got his coach fired.

A visibly upset Regier took the podium today and thank his friend and former coach for everything he did for the organization.

For a guy who sets his team up in the off season and pretty much sticks with it throughout the season, except for some tinkering at the deadline, this was an unusual move. But Regier, and it would seem the organization, still has their eyes set upon making the playoffs. And the product on the ice lead by Ruff simply wasn't getting the job done.

With the Winnipeg game as "the tipping point," Regier met with the powers that be this morning, while Ruff went about his normal routine, then proceed to Ruff's house to tell him the news. Upon learning of that, the now "former coach" only asked that he be allowed to go say goodbye to his players which he did at the team bus as they were getting ready to go to Toronto.

At the end of a very difficult press conference today, Regier nearly broke down when asked how his long-time coach should be remembered. "As a great coach," he said and after gathering himself for a second he continued, "Someone who should be..."

Regier closed by choosing to remember Ruff as legendary NY Islanders coach Al Arbour, "with a sense of humor."

Fans of the Sabres will not remember Ruff that way, simply because a) they don't know anything about Arbour or b) Ruff does not have four Stanley Cup rings like Arbour had.

I'll remember Ruff as a coach who was a steadying force through a multitude of changes in ownership--four owners--during his 15-plus seasons. He also had success with two of those owners:  a Stanley Cup Final appearance with one--the Rigas'--and two Eastern Conference Finals with another--Tom Golisano.

I'll remember Ruff as a coach who could be successful with different personnel--from the "hardest working team in hockey" to the post-lockout Ferrari squad of 2006-07. A coach who could also juggle that through league wide changes in style from the clutch and grab 90's to the post-lockout "new NHL."

But I'll also remember him as a coach who relied too heavily on his starting goaltender to bail out his system, and one who also couldn't get his goalie rotation figured out. He also put too much faith into bottom-six players who were like himself yearning for them to play way beyond their capabilities and/or "show the way,"

And I'll also remember saying throughout his tenure, save for a few seasons, that this team should decline the penalty because of their atrocious play with the man advantage.

The coming days, weeks and months will tell us a little something about the team that Darcy Regier built and just how much talent Ruff had to work with. It will tell us about the players themselves and just how thick and heavy that cloud was hanging over them.

But come tomorrow night it will be a strange sight seeing someone else behind the bench as Head Coach of the Buffalo Sabres instead of Lindy Ruff.

Good Luck, Lindy.

Statement from owner Terry Pegula:  "The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person. His long tenure with the Sabres has ended. His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Ryan Miller sums up yesterday's loss perfectly

It was pretty hard to come up with the words to describe Buffalo's loss to Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon without going off the rail.

Perhaps we should let Ryan Miller sum it up, "It was just a shitty way to lose."

Sure was.

NBC had the hockey world watching as it kicked off it's Hockey Day In America with the Pens visiting the Sabres. And you could hear a collective groan from Sabres fans nationwide as Pittsburgh jumped out to a blazing 2-0 lead less than a minute and a half into the game.

Nightmares of a December, 2011 8-3 loss to Pittsburgh were coming to the fore as boos were raining down on an embattled Sabres coach and team.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to total embarrassment.

Faced with a penalty to Captain Jason Pominville a mere two and a half minutes after Pittsburgh's second goal, the Buffalo PK unit buckled down and laid the foundation for a comeback.

Cody Hodgson then scored later the first, Thomas Vanek mid-way through the second, and  Steve Ott early in the third put the Sabres up 3-2 with 15 minutes to go.


On a play reminiscent of a Derek Roy move, Pominville, a mere five feet from clearing the zone, got too cute and got pick pocketed when a simple chip-out was all that was needed. After a 10 second scramble in the Buffalo zone Pasqual Dupuis sent a cross-ice, one-timer past Miller to tie the score.

Ten minutes later--at the 17:56 mark of the third--Miller was screened by his own teammates as a Paul Martin shot from the point found the back of the net.

Miller played an outstanding game and was the sole reason this team not only was in it, but had a pristine opportunity to walk away with at least one point.

"Your guard has to be up at all times," he said, alluding to the Pominville play, "it's preventable and not what we need to be doing right now."

When asked which goal--Pittsburgh's game-tying or game winner--bothered him the most, Miller didn't hold back, "Well, just fucking losing at the end."

He continued, "It's 3-3, just get to overtime, it's 3-2 make 'em fuckin' come all the way down. [We] worked too hard [to have this happen.]"

Yeah, what he said.


Pominville has been pretty awful as of late.

Stat-geeks will look to his six-game scoreless drought and minus-2 rating during those games as proof. And those are pretty telling stats.

Watching the games, you can see why his stats are like that.

His decision-making with the puck is mostly wrong as his vision seems to be clouded. Clouded by God knows what, pressure? The pressure of losing as the team's gone 3-6 through the month of February?

He's really gripping the stick tight. He has one goal in February (one assist as well) and is just firing the puck everywhere. Yesterday, in a perfect example of his frustrations, he broke his stick on a 5-on-3 powerplay trying to channel Al Macinnis or Zdeno Chara.

And yesterday he gave up on the game-tying turnover. My God, son, you're the captain. Show some heart. You screwed up, make amends instead of relying on other people to cover.

And, Damn It! show some emotion.

Quit hiding behind a "calm, cool and collected" front. Your team is on a road to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, fourth out of the last six since you were dubbed a leader on the team.

How about following Millers lead?



Pominville, along with Vanek and maybe Drew Stafford, are what's left of Darcy Regier's core, the core of players that were to lead this team after the 2007 off-season. Jochen Hecht, although not one of the "Rochester guys" like those three, is "core-like."

The definition of "the core" for Buffalo fans is soft-but-skilled and wilting under pressure.

And the only way owner Terry Pegula will move this team forward is to continue removing players that are defined like that.

The team has already peeled away Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad. And it may be time for another one to exit.

The Colorado Avalanche are at an impasse with RFA center, Ryan O'Reilly.

Rumor has it that the 'Lanche are looking to move the 22 yr. old. The asking price? A roster player and a top prospect, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.

And, I like the way CBSSportsline's Adam Gretz is approaching the situation when he writes, "If you're the general manager of an NHL team that's in need of a young, two-way center and you're not doing everything in your power to land restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly , you're simply not doing your job.

Buffalo's Pominville fits the bill for the "roster player" portion of the equation. He's also a winger, which is an area of need for the organization. And he's not chopped liver either.

He's about as consistent as they come. As poor as his play has been the last six game, he will bounce back and he will probably hit his .80 points/game career average. He will also be there on the penalty kill and the powerplay. In fact, Avs head coach could probably squeeze more production out of Pominville by putting him on the half-wall instead of the point on the power play.

Pominville should have a long, consistently productive career in the NHL with the style of hockey that he plays. He may even end up being a key contributor on a cup-winning team some day.

That's fine.

But Sabres fans really have seen enough of "the core" and "core-like" players. We know all about them having seen a team full of them for the last six seasons. And we also know where this will probably end up--missing the playoffs again.

If  Pegula is intent upon changing the culture of the Buffalo Sabres, the dismantling of Regier's core should continue.

And if he and his GM are hell-bent upon sticking with their head coach, than a two-way center like O'Reilly should be vigorously pursued.

As for the "top-prospect" portion of the rumor, according to hockey's future the Avalanche are thin on the wing, just like the Sabres. So they'd probably be looking to bolster that area of the organization.

Surely a prospect like Joel Armia, would catch Colorado's eye. Kris Baker of has him rated as the #1 prospect in the system. But that may be asking too much.

Winger Corey Tropp, #7 according to Baker, is injured.

Looking to Rochester, perhaps Regier could convince Avalanche GM that center Luke Adam fits the bill.

Although not a "prospect" any more, Adam is still only 22 yrs. old. At 6'2", 205 lbs. he has NHL size and he is a former AHL Rookie of the Year.

As of right now Adam is parked behind centers Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and rookie Mikhail Grigorenko on the top-nine depth-chart and the team would rather he get loads of ice-time in Rochester.

Regier really needs to get working on this, if the rumors are true. He just got an extension from Pegula largely based upon (it's assumed) the transactions he's made since Pegula took over nearly two years ago.

And he needs to continue re-tooling this team while saying goodbye to his "vaunted" core.


A week or so ago, I did a piece on four players who I felt should be sent to the minors--Jochen Hecht, Matt Ellis, Jhonas Enroth and Nathan Gerbe.

Since then, Ellis was waived and cleared. He's now with Rochester.

Enroth will continue to be nailed to the bench during this next stretch of games because there are reasonable breaks for Miller.

Hecht is still on the team. And he's still logging top-nine minutes as Grigorenko sits in the press box. Hecht really needs to go, in my opinion.  He is a "core-like" player, first and foremost, but his game is fading fast.

Three years ago he was one of the Sabres' best two-way players, notching 21 goals and 21 assists. Since then he's been in serious decline.

He may never score a goal this year. He reminds me of Rob Neidermayer, without the ring, in the twilight of his career with the Sabres. He also has a knack for getting open, like former Sabre Mike Grier did. And, like Grier, he can't seem to finish.

Yet, he's still on the team. And probably worst of all, he's like an opiate for Lindy Ruff.

Move on.

And then there's Gerbe.

Gerbe's played his best hockey of the season the last three games. He has assists in back-to-back games, is in the plus column (+1,) and Ruff is using him more--on the second PP unit as well as a bit on the PK. In fact the past four games his ice-time has nearly doubled.

Perhaps he was still recovering from back-surgery to start the year and he wasn't fully recovered earlier, but he looks like a different player out there. He's regained his "dog nipping at your ankle" attitude.

You can see that his timing is still off, but he's skating with a sense of purpose. He knows what to do, it's just a matter of what the opposition will allow and how he'll get it done.

Yesterday he streaked down the right wing and launched a perfect rebound-shot which went directly to Ott who was barrelling towards the net. Ott buried it and the Sabres went up by a goal.

Gerbe is the "ultimate underdog" and has more heart than all of "the core" combined. Perhaps we jumped the gun on wanting him waived a week ago.


A few other quick notes:
  • Tyler Ennis has sick hands. What he does with the puck in tight quarters is amazing. At 23 he still has some growing to do, but right now he may have the best hands on the team.
  • Cody Hodgson has incredible on-ice vision. He has a great set of hands and can skate real well too. At 22 he also has some work to do, but as an offensive package, he has the tools to be a top-line center in the NHL.
  • Robyn Regehr may be playing the best hockey of his tenure in Buffalo over the past few games. Yeah, we know speed isn't a strength, but everything else seems to be in place--positioning, attitude, leadership--and it really seems to be helping Tyler Myers.
  • Speaking of Myers. He's come back full-throttle after his two-game benching and looks to be just a notch below his Calder-winning rookie year. He's moving the puck up ice with authority, playing well in his own end and jumping into the play correctly. He still looks like a baby giraffe at times, but he seems to be on the upswing. And that's a good thing for the Sabres.


Is it too early in the shortened season to consider Tuesday's match-up versus Winnipeg as a must-win?


At 6-9-1 a third of the way into the season, the Sabres have dug themselves a hole once again. Which makes yesterday's loss to Pittsburgh--and zero points--even more bitter.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Take a load off Terry

For those who did not happen to catch the Grammy's on Sunday night, check out this All-star band covering The Band's, "The Weight" in a tribute to the late Levon Helm.

Elton John is the centerpiece with the likes of Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes' Brittnay Howard and Mumford and Sons channelling Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in a rousing rendition of the epic 1968 release.

From the book Across the Great Divide, The Band In America, author Barney Hoskyns asks Robertson about the character in the song, who's simple directive--a favor for a friend--turns into an "incredible predicament."

"One thing leads to another," says Robertson, "and all of a sudden it's like 'Holy Sh!t, what has this turned into?'"


What does this have to do with the Sabres?

While watching Buffalo struggle in Ottawa last night, one could see that there's something weighing heavy on the team.

Perhaps it's the weight of high expectations gone south or the seemingly constant struggle to find their identity. Perhaps its the burden of a fan base left wondering what the hell it did wrong and clamoring for something, anything, to cling to.

Or, the team could be struggling because of the heavy weight that's upon the shoulders of their coach, Lindy Ruff.

Whatever the cause, this team is stumbling right now.

Sure, they came out strong Tuesday night, like they've often done in years past. But a failure to pot a goal against a hot goalie left them frustrated, like so many times in the past.

That frustration traditionally leads to brain-cramps in the second period. Sure enough, Ottawa scored a shortie in the second.

Then a familiar refrain of nervous uncertainty followed by another quick goal against.

Finally they spend the rest of the game in a valiant attempt to get back in, only to fall short. And in the end, another loss.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Lindy Ruff is doing his best, but he's being crushed right now and it would seem as if he can barely breathe.

Maybe it's been that way for a while with myself and many others just not seeing it. Then again, maybe it's just never been this much of a burden, especially when the entire organization wants to do their best for their owner.

Whatever the circumstances, this team is in a bad way and doesn't seem to be getting any better. It's gotten to the point that maybe owner Terry Pegula should do his coach a favor and take a load off.

Ruff's a good guy and has guided this team through many adverse situations. He's re-invented himself and the team through no less than four ownership changes. And he's digging deep to find something else. But perhaps he doesn't have anything else to give.

The "B" side single of "The Weight" has the band covering Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

Perhaps it's time to flip that 45 over.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thomas Vanek's getting some serious press...

and deservedly so.

Vanek presently leads the league in points with 23, goals with 11 and is tied for third in assists with 12. His 2.09 points per game also lead the league.

He's also pulling his linemates along as well. Winger Jason Pominville is at 1.17 ppg while center Cody Hodgson is at a ppg.

Good thing for the team he and his linemates are hot. Without them they'd undoubtedly be much worse than their pedestrian 5-6-1 record.

After scoring two goals in the third period against Montreal to tie the game--the second with 1.9 seconds left--and burying a shootout goal, The Hockey News gave him props. And he gives credit to his return to Austria during the lockout for his success.

From the article; "Spending five weeks at home, I got to see how big the game had grown. I went back and every rink was sold out," he said. "And it just kind of made me realize how fun this game could be and how many people are following it. I think that's the biggest lesson I got taught."

Well, that's one player on the team that's "having fun." Although one would think that losing at the rate they were, 1-6-1 before the Montreal win, would be a bit of a drag.

Vanek keeps it all in perspective, "Sometimes, when you're in the tough times, missing the playoffs, I think you kind of forget," he said. "And that's what made me realize over there that you've got to work hard, but at the same time enjoy it, because before you know it, your ride might be over."

The 29 yr. old winger has never looked more comfortable on the ice. He's never looked faster, his shots have never been truer (over 25%) and the game seems to have slowed down for him like never before.

During last nights game at the Islanders, Vanek jumped on an opportunity to strip John Tavares of the puck in the offensive zone. After snatching it he curled towards the net and uncorked a lethal wrister that clanged off of the post.

He's banking pucks off the boards to himself on the rush, setting up team mates, deflecting shots in front of the net and showing some nifty, patient stickwork in-close while lifting the puck over a sprawling goaltender.

It's all clicking for him. But, will it last?

Why not?

Yeah, he's been known for slumps before, but one of the big things that he has going for him is some excellent chemistry with Pominville. Maybe bigger than that, and why he may not go into a prolonged slump, is the player that's centering their line--Cody Hodgson.

Unlike his predecessor Derek Roy, Hodgson is playing off of those two, kinda like what a winger on the Sedin-twins line does out in Vancouver. Just work off of those two and always be prepared. Hosgson is an extremely gifted center with excellent on-ice vision who's a wizard with the puck. And it seems as if he doesn't need to be center-stage all the time.

At 22 yrs. old he still has a lot to learn and is still making mistakes, but he's got a good handle on his linemates and what they like to do.

It's been a tough road for the team this season so far and Cam Charron of Yahoo's Puck Daddy looks at Vanek's start as a big surprise considering the troubles the team is enduing on the ice as well as the huge post-honeymoon questions off the ice.

One thing he doesn't question is Vanek and his prolific scoring. "[Vanek's] not just scoring snack goals out there, feeding on defensive complacency of leading teams," Charron writes, "He scored two late third period goals the other night against Montreal, including one on a scramble with two seconds on the clock, to tie the game and send it to a shootout. He scored this excellent dagger goal against Boston last week to complete his hat-trick."

Tonight's a big challenge for the club as they face a well rested Boston Bruins club who certainly will have a chip on their shoulder after Buffalo pounded them at home.

So far this season nothing's fazed Vanek, can't see it happening tonight either. He loves playing against Boston. His 28 goals and 26 assists in 46 games vs. the B's are the most vs. any opponent he's faced.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Myers benched, what's up with him?

Tyler Myers will sit out tonight's game on Long Island as a healthy scratch.

According to WGR's Paul Hamilton, he was skating at practice with Robyn Regehr who's been sidelined with an upper-ankle strain. At one point, it was expected that those two would be logging tons of minutes as a pairing, for tonight, though, they'll be up in the press box.

In another quick note, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reported that defenseman Adam Pardy was sent to Rochester after a playing a solid game in Ottawa and being a healthy scratch vs. Montreal.

The return of Andrej Sekera from injury made those two moves possible. The six defensemen for the game tonight at the NY Islanders are Sekera, Christian Ehrhoff, Jordan Leopold, Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber and rookie TJ Brennan.

As for Myers, he's been a train wreck for the better part of the season scoring only one goal and is tied for a league worst minus-9 rating.


It's a far cry from his Calder-winning 2009/10 season when he scored 11 goals and was a plus-13.

So, what's the deal?

Is he a bust? Is it coaching? Does he need a change of scenery? Will this benching lead to a stronger return like the last time he was a healthy scratch?


No panic here, though. Growing pains or maybe the pangs of growing up.

Simple truth, this year he's been real bad at worst and wildly inconsistent at best. Which, if you look at what was said of him before the 2008 draft, it's not surprising.

Some of the pre-draft profiles and scouting reports:

ESPN 2008 mock draft:  Scouts think Myers, listed at 6-foot-7, is ahead of Zdeno Chara at the same stage. That said, Chara, though raw, possessed strength as a teenager that Myers lacks right now.

The Hockey News 2008 Mock:  It’s a bit of a tumble for Myers, who stands 6-foot-7 and enters the draft as something of a high-risk, potentially high-reward player. He skates well for a man that big.

Central Scouting/Allan Muir via
Tyler is the tallest player among the top-rated players. As a defenseman, that height translates into a great poke-check and great stick work. At 6-foot-7, he still has a little bit of growing into his body to do. Obviously, comparisons are made to Zdeno Chara."

His up-and-down play with the Rockets suggests he's a bit of a risk at this spot, but there's undeniably a high-reward element that makes him irresistible. He's already a smooth skater and is reliable at both ends, but it's going to take some time, like it did for Chara, for him to grow into that body. He could become an elite shutdown defender.

The 6-foot-7 defenceman's performance has yet to come close to his potential, but he skates so well and shows flashes of being something special both offensively and defensively that teams are wondering if he might not be a late bloomer who is going to be every bit as good as Doughty, Bogosian, Pietranagelo and Schenn. But his play is erratic enough to likely ensure he won't be taken as highly as those blue chippers. And while, at No. 11, he's a candidate who could easily jump up into the top 10, there's as much reason to believe he could go for a bit of a skid beyond 11, too.

His height differentiates him from the rest of the draft-eligible defencemen - he towers above all the other players. He is not often burned by the small, quick players and because of the emphasis in today's NHL on a lack of restraining type of play, Tyler has adjusted well to that and is more ready to play in the new NHL than a lot of the other smaller players. He's got a rocket shot from the point on the power-play .

Nearly five years ago when Myers was drafted, he was listed at 6'7", 204 lbs. This year he's 6'8", 227 lbs. The kid has grown into his body and this past off-season he's still trying to put on more weight.

But, how much is enough?

Hamilton did a nice little story on Myers before the season began.

Myers mentioned working out with Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber wanting to add an edge to his game. A couple of areas that he also focused upon as well were strength and conditioning.

Lindy Ruff, as quoted by Hamilton had this to say about Myers, "He still needs to get stronger. We're trying to get him to add strength and he's trying hard, but he's one of those guys who don't put on weight real easy."

Myers concurred, "It's been one of my biggest frustrations," he said, "putting on weight and getting stronger has been a slow process with my body frame."

Ruff said in the piece that he has no delusions about Myers going to 260 lbs. Both want to add strength, for obvious reasons, but how much is enough before it starts affecting what made him so "irresistible" in the first place.

He'll never have the pure size of Chara, nor should he be perceived as having the meanness of a Chris Pronger.

So are his coaches pushing him too far in the "strength" aspect of his development? Is he pushing himself to hard to become a badass on the back-end?


Hey shouldn't be rushed into those things until his body matures. You can't turn a gazelle into a gorilla. Adding bulk to that stretched out frame on those thin blades playing such a fast game can really only have adverse affects. And those adverse affects were seen after his Calder winning season when it was said that he tried to put on some weight in the off-season--it's taken away from his skating ability and his ability to stride effortlessly to join the rush.

Maybe what we saw when he was paired with another lengthy defenseman, Hank Tallinder, is an emphasis on using that length and reach to cover a huge patch of ice.

You don't come around a 6'8" defenseman with the reach and skating skills he has all that often. There's way too much upside, even after 3+ years in the NHL,  for him to be traded at this point, unless it's for a d-man like Shea Weber.

Pretty sure everyone needs to chill and let nature take it's course with him.

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Regeir, Ruff and the Sabres defense

Lindy Ruff received a vote of confidence from GM Darcy Regier on Wednesday. In other news, the sun rose again.

When the Buffalo News' Mike Harrington asked Regier if changes were in the air--either player or coaching--due to a 1-6-1 record after a 2-0 start, Regier proclaimed, "It won't be the coach."

In any other town it could be construed as the kiss of death. But as we've seen after 15 seasons Regier remains staunchly behind his head coach, and one would take his word as gospel.

But Harrington points out that Ruff and owner Terry Pegula had a meeting early Wednesday morning. Ruff, of course, did not divulge any specifics with Ruff stating simply that the owner always meets with his coach and GM.

Fair enough.

But the growing discontent amongst the fan-base and Ruff's longevity without recent success, which Harrington points out, begs the question, is the Lindy Ruff era be coming to a close?


Ruff's defense is a mess, still. They're tied for last in the league in goals-against, and if there were a statistical category for odd-man rushes against, one would think they be near the top in that category as well.

Regier acknowledged that the defense is in shambles, but also noted that Ruff is a defensive coach. "Lindy has an area of expertise within an expertise of coaches." he said on WGR's Schoppsie and the Bulldog yesterday. "I believe it is to solve those problems defensively."

Not sure what to make of that. Yes, we know Ruff's a defensive coach. His assistants, or those with coaching "expertise" on the back-end, are James Patrick and Teppo Numminen. While Numminen was just brought on board in 2011 and has been upstairs, Patrick has been an assistant on the bench since 2006.

If Ruff's arse is on the line, his defense is to blame. And if he wants to get it out of the hot seat, he needs to take the reigns of the defense.

In that same segment Bulldog posed the question to Regier, "Is it too complicated a question to answer, why you have the defensive problems if he's such an accomplished coach?"

Regier answers by saying, "This is a very short-term area where we have problems. This team has historically been pretty good defensively."

And now for the league rankings since the end of the first lockout:
  • 2005/06:  G/G--#5; GA/G--#10; PK--#2
  • 2006/06:  G/G--1;   GA/G--13;   PK--20
  • 2007/08:  G/G--4;   GA/G--22;   PK--11
  • 2008/09:  G/G--13; GA/G--14;   PK--14
  • 2009/10:  G/G--10; GA/G--4;     PK--2
  • 2010/11:  G/G--9;   GA/G--18;   PK--13
  • 2011/12:  G/G--17; GA/G--18;   PK--19
  • 2012/13:  G/G--8;   GA/G--29;   PK--19
In gymnastics they take out the lowest and highest scores to get a solid look at the performance. Using that here, the GA/G average for the years between the lockouts excluding this young season is 15th.

Historically pretty good indeed, Mr. Regier. In fact, middle of the road, which is where the team has finished in four of those seven years.

Assistant coach James Patrick is an all-around good guy and has been an assistant since 2006. He has incredible amount of experience gained from his 1,280 games played in the NHL. He's also no stranger to scoring either having accumulated 639 points during his 24 NHL seasons.

Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between what he's done, what he wants his players to do and what the players are actually doing.

The inability to consistently defend a two-on-one is something we've been seeing for years. Players not pinching at the right time is another problem area which leads to the aforementioned odd-man rushes going the other way. The inability of the defenseman to get the puck out of their own zone has been a constant for years.

Oddly enough, these were all traits that Patrick excelled at. Yet his defense has had trouble with all of the above.

And, when leading after two periods:
  • 2005/06:  #8 (.892)
  • 2006/07:  12 (.842)
  • 2007/08:  25 (.800)
  • 2008/09:  26 (.794)
  • 2009/10:  1   (1.000)
  • 2010/11:  20 (.833)
  • 2011/12:  10 (.893)
For as calm and collected as Patrick was throughout his career, his players are choking.

Those are just the facts. Players regressing, vets looking older and slower than they should and the Keystone Cops comparisons are not easily quantifiable, yet have been evident for a few years now. And although the names have changed, the tandem of Ruff and Patrick have remained.

Simply put, if Regier isn't looking to oust Ruff, perhaps there should be more scrutiny of Patrick's performance as Ruff's defensive assistant.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Time to waive goodbye to some players

At 3-6-1 on the season, the Buffalo Sabres have dug themselves a deep hole--again.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Anyhow. All Sabres fans know the drill.

Owner Terry Pegula--"Lindy ain't goin' nowhere," and GM Darcy Regier doesn't seem to be goin' anywhere either after signing an extension at the beginning of this season. And we all know, if Regier's around, so is Head coach Lindy Ruff. (edit: Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News interviewed Regier this evening, when asked if there were big changes coming with either the players or the coach, Regier was quoted as saying, "It won't be the coach."

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Since nothing's going to change there, perhaps we can only hope for personnel changes. Maybe inject some fresh faces without disrupting what little has been successful this season as the time for "blowing it up" will come soon enough--should the precipitous drop in the standings continue--at the April 3 trade deadline.

Let's waive goodbye to the following four. If somebody claims them, fine. If they go overseas, fine. If they go to Rochester, fine.

Jochen Hecht--Hecht is like having a pack of cigarettes around while quitting. He's like a bottle of booze when you're going to AA. Simply put, you think, "Meh, I'll have just one, and then quit again." Signing Hecht for fourth-line duty at $1M really wasn't a bad signing, but...Ruff fired up that cigarette, poured that drink and viola--eight games into the season Hecht is playing more minutes than the hottest player in the NHL, Thomas Vanek. Even last night, sure as sh**, Hecht was on the ice with the Sabres down one and the goalie pulled. Ummm...Lindy?...You once labled Tyler Ennis as "greazy." And he can score. *shrugs*

Matt Ellis--Gotta love a guy is 100% effort, and Ellis certainly is that. Ellis is a "Lindy kinda guy" in that respect, only he has worse numbers. At least John Scott has a defined role. Fourth-liners are a penny a dozen anymore. At one time, back in 2008, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi was angry at Regier for claiming Ellis off of waivers. That's when the energy forward actually had some upside. The worst thing that could come out of waiving him is a fresh face. Which is actually a positive for us fans.

Jhonas Enroth--Sheesh. There was a time when Enroth was "the truth." At one point when he was stifling the opposition as a back-up there was a loud and boisterous "trade Miller" contingency. Then an injury to Miller thrust him into a starting role. Since the infamous Lucic/Miller incident Enroth is 1-11-4 (a 15-game winless streak after that lone win.) Does it really matter if Rochester Americans goalie David Leggio is ready or not? Could he do much worse?

Nathan Gerbe--Maybe he's still recovering from his "upper body" injuries. Whether that's true or not, he's basically taking up space, about as much space as a 5'5", 175 lb. frame can take up. Gerbe's very likable as the ultimate underdog, but he's done nothing that would endear him to the team. At the very least, anyone brought up for him will add more size. Hell, they might even get a point or be an improvement on Gerbe's minus-3.

This is a stale team, playing a stale game. Just witness the mortuary that is the F'N Center for a home game.

Since there will probably be no changes at the top or at the coaching level and since they'll be keeping the players that produce and won't be able to move the stiffs, at least throw the fans a bone and give them some fresh faces.

Who knows, maybe these players will spark the team for a stretch and move the Sabres from a laughingstock to a level of respectability.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Lindy ain't goin' nowhere"

Sure enough, Mr. Pegula, and it would seem as if your team ain't either, unless you say so.

It was a nice thought there, Uncle Terry. But, that was nearly two years ago, and the honeymoon is pretty much over.

After two wins to start the 2013 season--one good one vs. Philly and a somewhat lucky one at Toronto--the bottom has fallen out. The Sabres are 1-5-1 since.

That's not good. And neither is the way they've been losing.

After a stellar effort to defeat Boston at TD Gardens this past Thursday, the Sabres came out flat in a clunker at Montreal (6-1) on Saturday and gave away a game that they were in control of yesterday vs. Florida (4-3.)

Take away the efforts of Thomas Vanek who leads the league in points (19) and assists (11,) his linemates Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson, as well as goalie Ryan Miller, and you'd have a team that would be near the bottom of the league.

Head coach Lindy Ruff has a mess on his hands with his defense, he's gotten very little secondary scoring and the team is dead last on the dot with an historically low faceoff percentage (42.5%.)

Those are just the facts.

Strong emotional, psychological, and motivational undercurrents are pulling the team down and something needs to be done.

On the eve of this abbreviated season, GM Darcy Regier received a contract extension based upon his work since the team was bought by Pegula. His moves have been shrewd and it would seem as if he's doing what's asked of him.

Ruff, though, is a different story. He just can't seem to pull it all together.

There really aren't any excuses this season. His "system" is in disarray. The defense can't defend and looks like the Keystone Cops in front of Miller. Secondary scorers are missing opportunities. They can't finish a team off and continue to play not to lose instead of playing to win. And much of the team looks flat and unmotivated far too often.

To varying degrees, each of these monsters have individually reared their ugly heads over the past seven seasons and much of the time the team has been able to tread water. But this season, they've all come together and if this continues, the Sabres will be all but out of the playoffs by the end of the month

This convergence has got Ruff so out of sync that he's like a gambler who can't make the right bet, even if it's near 50/50. He'll keep betting black, hoping that it will come up soon, but the wheel keeps coming up red.

A good example would be his goalie "rotation."

Over the years, because of poor back-ups, Ruff has had to abandon a scheduled day off for Miller because the team needs two points. Miller starts and the team invariably drops the game. It happened in Florida yesterday. Because of slow starts to the season, like this one, the pressure has been on to get every point possible. Ruff buckle's, passes that pressure on to Miller and it will take some time for the team to recover.

Another well he keeps going to is his reliance on his "tried and true" players. Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair; they were all Ruff favorites throughout the years and he relied on them time and again.The latest example,though, was how he played Jochen Hecht yesterday.

Hecht has always been a favorite of Ruff, but he's really no more than a fourth-liner, and except for maybe an odd shift here and there, he should never sniff the top-six, much less the top line. Over the years Hecht, like other Ruff favorites, have spent way too much time up where they don't belong.

And it came to a crescendo yesterday as Hecht garnered 19:35 of even strength ice-time. Vanek, who is averaging 2.38 points/game and was named the NHL's 3rd-star for the month of January, played 16:32 five-on-five.

That's inexcusable.

But it is a trend that dates to at least the 2011 playoffs vs. Philly. Vanek was 7th in even strength time on ice behind the aforementioed Roy and Gaustad, Tyler Ennis, Hecht, Rob Neidermayer and Drew Stafford. Total average ice-time for the series had Vanek behind Stafford, Roy, Gaustad, and Tim Connolly.

From everything I've read, Ruff's a good guy, but when decisions like this are being made, he's lost himself. If you've lost yourself, it's pretty hard to gain the trust of anyone you're coaching. And if there's no trust, you end up lame and 1-5-1 in your last seven games.

As much as we should respect Uncle Terry for what he's done so far, he also needs to make an incredibly tough decision.

His personal allegiance to his coach, a Sabre he's admired, is having a detrimental affect upon the team's play. If his coach can be detached and still keep his job, surely the players can do the same. And it would seem as if that mentality permeates the team right now.

That's cause for dismissal. And Pegula is the one that needs to do it.

It's been said many times that Regier will not fire his coach, but because Pegula unequivocally proclaimed "Lindy ain't goin' nowhere," he may get lucky and may not need to.

If that's the road the organization wants to go down, there's only one person that should hand Ruff the pink slip, and that's Terry Pegula.

Friday, February 1, 2013

2013 Individual Stats--January

The Sabres have themselves a top line:  Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson. And they're tearing it up.

Vanek leads the league in points and was named the 3rd star for the month of January (OTT goalie Craig Anderson, SJS forward Patrick Marleau.) In addition to his league leading 15 points he's second in goals with 6 (Marleau, 9) and his nine assists are good for second (Joe Thorton, SJS, 11.)

Pominville is tied for fourth in the league in points (12) and tied for third in goals (5.) Center Hodgson is off to a real good start and is doing for Vanek and Pominville what former center, Derek Roy could not--stay out of the way, let those two work some Sedin's-type magic and play off of what they do.

It's nothing new for Vanek and Pominville to be coming out of the gate strong while carrying a center along with them. Last season after the opening month Vanek had 15 points, Pominville had 14 and center Luke Adam had nine. Adam, unfortunately, couldn't sustain his pace. Let's hope Hodgson can.

The rest of the team needs too catch up, though.

The only player playing a solid game and producing is center Tyler Ennis. After that it's a mixed bag.

To say that the top line is carrying the team is an understatement, but various players are at varying degrees of game-readiness.

The defense is still a mess. Those playing a simpler game--Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber and Robyn Regehr--are pretty solid out of the gate while the "offensive-minded" defenseman--Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold and Christian Ehrhoff--are taking a while to get up to speed.

Secondary scoring needs to come very soon as the season is only 48 games. Although Vanek and Pominville can put up strong numbers, they shouldn't be looked at to continue to produce at this pace. But, you never know,with the focus and chemistry they have, it wouldn't be surprising to see them remain hot.

In goal, Ryan Miller's doing his thing. A clunker vs. Toronto and a below average performance in Washington gave everyone cause for concern, but he had a stellar game last night in Boston and shows that when he's focused, he can get into an opponents head.

Can giving up four goals constitute "stealing a game?" The best case for the truth in that statement was last night. Miller held the fort while being under constant siege and came up with some remarkable saves. That kept the team within striking distance until Vanek, he of the hat trick and a 5-point night, decided to take over the game.

The Sabres are presently 7th in the league in goals for but 24th in goals against. Head coach Lindy Ruff would love to roll at least three lines, but until Ville Leino comes back from injury he has his top line and Ennis playing well. Unsteady contributions from Steve Ott, Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford and a mish-mash of bottom-six forwards who, on some nights. look like borderline NHL'ers, are making things difficult at both ends of the ice.

Things should fall into place during February as every player in the league will be settling into their spots. But it was a fantastic first month for the Vanek, Pominville, Hodgson line and lets hope that they can continue producing while the rest of the team plays catch-up.

Individual Stats:

  • January--Thomas Vanek-15; Jason Pominville-12; Cody Hodgson-6

  • January--Vanek-6; Pominville-5; Hodgson-4

Powerplay Goals:
  • January--Vanek-3; Pominville, Steve Ott, Tyler Myers-1

  • January--Vanek, 9; Pominville-7; Christian Ehrhoff-5

Powerplay Assists
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Ehrhoff-2

Primary Assists--
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Drew Stafford, Ehrhoff-2

  • January--Vanek +4; Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber +3

Plus/Minus (bottom)
  • January--Stafford, Jordan Leopold -4; Myers, Mikhail Grigorenko -3

Three Stars (1st=5 points, 2nd=3 points, 3rd=1 point)
  • January--Vanek (10); Ryan Miller (7); Pominville (6)

Goalies (year to date):

Ryan Miller
  • January--3-2-1; .920 sv % (20th); 2.64 gaa (28th); 0 shutouts

Jhonas Enroth
  • January--0-1-0; 856 sv % (49th); 5.00 gaa (T-56th), 0 shutouts

2013 Team Stats--January

Two wins to open the season, three losses, and one OT loss.

Heading into Beantown last night the Sabres were at an early season crossroads. Lose and they're way off of the pace. Two points and they're still in the playoff mix.

It's a 48-game season and everyone is playing within the conference. Last year they struggle vs. the Eastern Conference going 28-26-10. Within the Northeast Division they were even worse--6-11-3. If they want any hope of making the playoffs they'll need to kick it in the conference and battle hard within the division.

The four game winless streak put them in a bit of a hole and if they want to continue to climb they'll need to come through in a couple of areas which are interrelated--faceoffs and shots against.

The Sabres are last in the league in both categories and it makes sense, if you can't win the draw the other team has the puck. Having the puck means more shots.

In last week's loss to Carolina, Tyler Ennis won a defensive draw with the game tied and under five minutes remaining in the third period. Unfortunately Andrej Sekera inadvertently iced the puck. Canes' center Eric Staal won the next one, got it back to the point where Jay Harrison found the back of the net for the game-winning goal.

With three centers 23 and under, it's not surprising that their faceoff percentage is low. The key will be to continually increase that percentage and Assistant coach Kevin Adams has some work to do in that department.

Seven games in, the Sabres are skating, shooting and scoring. Unfortunately, their defense is a mess. Coach Lindy Ruff is still trying to find combo's while the individual defensemen are still working themselves into game shape, each with varying degrees of success.

Ryan Miller's been the key to goals-against as he's been pretty solid save for the clunker vs. Toronto on Tuesday. Last night in Boston, he was magnificent and nailed the 3rd-star of the game despite giving up four goals.

As their record states, the Buffalo Sabres are middle-of-the-road, and in most team stats, they're there as well.

We won't get a real good feel as to where they are in relation to the league until next month as everyone will be settling into their rhythm.

For now, though, they should be happy with where they're at. Take away a couple of breaks in each of their first two games--Philly and Toronto--and they'd be in real rough shape.

The playoff push started with the first puck drop. No time for slackers.

Team stats for the month.
  • January--3 (T-13th)

  • January--7 (T-15th)

Eastern Conference Standing:
  • January--T-9th

Northeast Division Standing:
  • January--5th

Goal Differential:
  • January--T-12th

  • January--3.29 (7th)...(#1 TB-4.83)

  • January--31.9 (7th)...(#1 CAR--38)

Goals Against/Game:
  • January--3.29 (24th)...(#1 OTT--1.71)

Shots Against/Game:
  • January--34.3 (30th)...(#1 STL--20.3)

  • January--24% (11th)...(#1 NYI--37.5)

Penalty Kill:
  • January--82.8% (12th)...(#1 CHI--91.3)

  • January--42.1% (30th)...(#1 BOS--60.1)

Now you know why

Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk took out Thomas Vanek in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs and why Milan Lucic took out Ryan Miller in November, 2011.

And we now have evidence as to why the Sabres signed Big John Scott.

Buffalo left TD Garden last night with a 7-4 win, but maybe more importantly, they left with their lunch money. They went in, Scott "poked the Bear," and the team smoked the B's.

It's not that the Sabres haven't beaten the Bruins over the last few seasons, they have. And it's not like the win was some magical panacea.

What last night's game showed was that when their two best players can focus upon their game, they can be dominant.

Vanek had the hattie, showing three different ways to score--one-time slapper, re-direct in the slot and a backhand after some nifty front-door moves. He also made a beautiful pass to Tyler Ennis while getting cross-checked to the ice and banked a pass to himself in the neutral zone, skated in on the right wing on a two-on-one and fed a streaking Cody Hodgson for a one-timer that put the Sabres up for good. Three goals, two assists (both primary,) the game's first star, two five-point games this season and, now, a spot atop the NHL leaderboard in points (15.) Two words--en fuego.

Despite giving up four goals, Miller was outstanding.

Thanks to a Keystone Cops defense, Miller was standing on his head with Bruins in his face, but in the end he still managed to stop 38 of 42 shots (.905 sv%) on his way to being named 3rd star of the game.

As for Scott?

That's why they brought him in.

With the game nary three minutes old, Boston's enforcer Shawn Thorton said, "let's go." The two, who have a history, were said to have been jawing at each other pregame and it down went the gloves.

Scott was so dominant in the fight that all he could really do was express his concern that Thorton wasn't hurt too bad. Thorton would head to the locker room after serving his penalty and would not see the ice the rest of the game.

"I was asking our trainers how he’s doing. You never want to hurt somebody,” Scott said. “I was kind of concerned after the first period we never saw him again. So I still don’t know how he’s doing, hopefully he’s doing well. You hate to see someone leave the game like that.”

He also stared down the Bruins bench on the way to the box and told 'em, "that's one."

CBS Boston's Michael Hurley wrote a pretty sullen article on the incident, and the underlying current is that of concern.

Hurley called it "somewhat stunning" witnessing Thorton "decidedly lose a bout," while his teammates came to his defense. Forward Tyler Seguin stated the obvious by saying that "Thorty" took one for the team while goaltender Tuuka Rask augmented that by saying, "It takes some balls to fight a guy like that that’s two heads taller than you."

Yes, Tuuka, it sure does. Just ask the Sabres Patrick Kaleta.

Last year he took on Lucic, got pummeled and was ridiculed by Bahhhhstonians. But, he took one for the team, Boston got thrown off it's game and the Sabres went on to win.

The Sabres always could beat the Bruins on occasion, it just never seemed as if it was decisive.

Last night was decisive.

Just goes to show that when the Sabres two best players are allowed the luxury of focusing--thanks to Scott--they can do it in a convincing fashion, even against one of the toughest--if not THE toughest--team in the league.


Lindy Ruff called a timeout with 14 seconds left and the Sabres up by three goals.


Bruins coach Claude Julien decided to put a goon out there against Vanek, Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht. Apparently Ruff thought Julien was up to something.

After the time out, Ruff trotted out Scott and Marcus Foligno.

Oh my, how the Big, Bad Bruins can whine.

Said Brad Marchant, “Yeah, [Ruff] wants to be a big shot, and that’s not the best play to do. “That’s pretty disrespectful. If he wants to be like that, that’s fine. We just have to move on.”

Really? Disrespectful?

Sheesh. If Ruff would've said something like this all of Bahhhhhston would've been mocking him.

Visit Puckdaddy for a nice encapsulation.

Nice work from WGR's Paul Hamilton noticing "a big difference in the Bruins" after Scott KO'd Thorton, 6:47-mark.