The Buffalo Sabres just finished up a four games in six nights stretch that took them to Florida, back up to Buffalo and over to NYC culminating in back-to-back games vs. New Jersey and the Rangers.
They came away with seven of eight points after last night's SO loss to the Rags. No small feat for a team that was booed off the ice in the game before the stretch, were sitting in last place in the eastern conference at the time, and spent the last two games without their best offensive player, Thomas Vanek.
Ryan Miller was stellar in net for the team keeping them in every game and/or doing everything in his power to maintain a lead. He was in three shootouts in a row, denying Florida and New Jersey any goals before succumbing to exhaustion against NY. Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan both scored rather easily last night.
Miller was the game's 1st star in a 2-1 win at Tampa, 2nd star at Florida and 2nd star vs. the Devils. He was great in last night's game as well, but had nothing left to give in the shootout.
Vanek, the team's leading scorer was out with an upper body injury the last two games.
The team finally got some secondary scoring during the four-game stretch as Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe all contributed. Gerbe scored two vs. NJ and was named the game's 1st star. Last night at NY he scored a short-handed goal to tie the game 2-2 after a nice feed from Steve Ott.
And, you know things are going well when Jochen Hecht scores. He potted his first of the season vs. the Devils in one of his "from goal-line down/bank it off the goalie" shots.
All-in-all, if I were a Sabre though, I'd be ticked that the team didn't get get the win last night. They had a golden opportunity going on the powerplay then having an extended 5-on-3 in overtime.
The powerplay has been awful. They have absolutely no chemistry.
They're dead last in the league in pp efficiency-no flow, no one backing off defenders, and very few shots getting through from the point or anywhere else.
Sabres coach Ron Rolston had a multitude of problems to correct when he took over the team 12 days ago and he chose to focus upon the back-end first, which has looked much better over the past four games. There's been progression in each game and you can see confidence building.
Next he needs to focus his attention on the powerplay. It's the sole reason they gave away a point in this game. The team is now 9 for 84, a 10.4% rate. Tampa Bay leads the league with a 29% conversion rate.
And why Jason Pominville is still on the point is beyond me. It's something that hasn't been working for years and it has gotten progressively worse this season. He's much better suited to the half-wall where he can stickhandle and try to find an open man. He is not a powerplay quarterback from the point, nor does he have the knack for getting pucks through. Plus, far too often, maybe as much as Andrej Sekera, the puck either jumps his stick at the blueline or he mishandles which leads to bad things happening, like his hooking/interference penalty against New Jersey.
Speaking of Pominville, he's been gathering some points lately, but he seems to have more mental lapses than a veteran player should.
A perfect example is the game vs. New Jersey.
He scored two goals but ended up a minus-1 as he was on the ice for New Jersey's three goals, out of sorts on two of them.
Somethings not right.
Either he's been looked at through blue and gold colored glasses over the last few seasons or he's starting to decline a bit. Maybe it's the pressure of being the captain. Maybe it's that his linemates--Vanek and Cody Hodgson--have quite a bit more raw talent than him and he's just a bit off playing with them. Maybe the speed of the game is beginning to pass him by.
For whatever the reason, he's not what he should be--Mr. Consistency with the puck and a leader by example.
What Rolston has done with this team so far is just short of remarkable. He's 3-2-1 since being named interim coach, 3-0-1 since his opening two losses.
He's been solidifying the Sabres defense, which was said to be a strength before the season started, but was awful for 19 games. They're now playing sound team defense in their own end keeping most shots to the outside. They're playing odd man rushes better and they're getting their sticks in on a lot of plays.
And when things break down, Miller's there to cover.
Rolston doesn't have a lot of talent to work with, but he has them playing a team game. They've not been able to generate much offense, but they've been able to capitalize on their opportunities. They're lacking talent up front, especially without Vanek and, to an extent, Ville Leino, but he has most of them playing to the best of their abilities right now.
That's how he's managed to get seven of a possible eight points the last four games.
As a whole, they're getting it done, and unless Darcy Regier brings in a top-six player, this is what Rolston will be working with.
And if they continue to progress the way they have over the last four games, methinks they'll be making some noise in the "bubble group."
Some quick notes:
--Veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr has been playing the best hockey since he's been in Buffalo. That scowl is back and he's be roughin' it up with a lot of forwards in and around the net. But one of the coolest things was when Gerbe scored that shortie last night. Regehr had an expression of pure joy.
|Sabres Pat Kaleta boards the Rangers|
Five games for Kaleta, as long as there is at least two games for Girardi. If Girardi gets one, Kaleta should get no more than three. IMO, of course.
(Sabres gritty forward Steve Ott has some interesting thoughts on the Kaleta hit, including a mention that Richards, despite looking like he was writhing in pain after the hit, returned to the ice the next shift on the powerplay. Thx to the Howard Simon show on WGR for the interview.)
--Gerbe has been the teams best player up-front lately. He has three goals in the last two games including a bullet, one-timer that went top-shelf over Henrik Lundqvist's glove last night. Earlier in the season he'd been playing like he was ready for a demotion to Rochester. But the Sabres stuck with him.
He had off-season back surgery and it seems as if he's finally recovered fully. He said after last night's game that he feels more comfortable (via WGR) "[I'm] feeling better now feeling better with the puck," he said, "but that comes with time. That comes with healing; trust in my body, trust in my back."
That allows him to play his gadfly-like/junk-yard dog-type game. It also allows him to go after the likes of Dion Phaneuf and Alexei Ponikarovsky lookin' for a fight.
I like what Rick Jeanneret said of Gerbe vs. New Jersey after the leagues shortest player (5' 5") was tussling with the 6' 4" Ponikarovsky, "Why is he always picking on the big guys?"
|Drew Stafford and rookie|
Mikhail Grigorenko celebrate
Stafford's goal vs. NY
Some notes while taking in my second Rochester Americans game of the season.
--Mark Mancari may be the Amerks AHL version of Dave Andreychuk. He has that kind of veteran presence for the Amerks. Unfortunately for the organization, he may also be considered the new Jody Gage--one of the best in AHL, can't cut it in the NHL. He'll have a good career in Rochester.
--As of right now Luke Adam will be lucky if he's as good as Mancari. He looked slow as ever yesterday afternoon--both mentally and physically. During the game he fell no less than five times on his own trying to keep pace. If Regier can somehow get something decent for him, it would be a semi-miracle.
--Zemgus Girgensons has progressed well. Back in December you could see he was still getting a feel for the game, yet he was always in position and seemed to be ahead of the play quite often.
He's taken that a step further. Girgensons was in constant motion yesterday, always keeping his feet moving and he was always in the right spot at both ends of the ice. He has some real strong two-way skills and may even get a crack at the NHL as a call-up this season if he continues to play this well. The jury's still out on whether he'll be able to contribute in a top-six role, but he will be in the NHL sometime in the near future. At the very least he looks to be a top-nine center.
--5'9" 135 lb. Amerks forward Fredrick Roy got in a beauty of a fight with the Monsters' 5'10" 175 lb. Tyler McNeely. Roy landed a couple of doozies before McNeely came back and landed a couple of his own. It was a long, spirited bout that proved Roy not only can fight, but can take a punch too.
--David Leggio is a pretty damn good goalie. He looks as if he'll have a damn good AHL career. His positioning is very sound and he anticipates real well. The goals against last night were very late with the Amerks already up 4-0. The first one was a turnover that lead to a tap in for Lake Erie. The second was a beautiful shot that went top-shelf from in tight. Most NHL goalies would be hard-pressed to stop that one.
He's playing well enough to get a look from the Sabres should Jhonas Enroth falter in his next start.
Speaking of Enroth, Rolston should opt to play the back-up at Carolina on Tuesday despite him not having won since November, 2011. Miller has been playing lights-out and the toll it's taken could be seen in the shoot-out last night.
|Ryan Miller give up a shootout goal|
to the Rangers Ryan Callahan.
In this situation--with a tired Miller, no back-up he could count on and every point at a premium--former coach Lindy Ruff would ride Miller until he fell over. That "falling over" normally lead to a lopsided loss anyway.
I hope Rolston goes with Enroth to give Miller a much needed rest.