Wednesday, December 31, 2014

If you're gonna have a "soft night," it might as well be on the road

Reprinted with permission from

Perhaps the best way for the 2014-15 regular season to ultimately unfold is for a young, inconsistent Buffalo Sabres team to have strong, entertaining home games balanced by lackluster performances on the road.

On Saturday night Buffalo entered the third period down 3-0 at home to the NY Islanders. For the only the third time in franchise history they were able to come back and win the game (4-3 SO) and they left the ice as a raucous First Niagara Center crowd gave them a standing ovation.

Last night on the road in Ottawa, the Senators scored three unanswered goals, including an empty-netter to take down the Sabres 5-2 in a game that was punctuated by soft, "fly-by" play from the Sabres. Buffalo is now 4-12-1 on the road this season. Only the Edmonton Oilers (what a surprise) have less wins (2) than the Sabres on the road.

For a team that simply doesn't have the firepower to even make a playoff run, a win at home/lose on the road mentality offers up a modicum success in what would otherwise be another bad season.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Legend of Zemgus is growing

The name "Zemgus" in Latvian means "one who eats lions."

It's not "one who is like a lion" or "one who eats like a lion" or "one who is king of the beasts like a lion." It's "one who eats lions." And Zemgus Girgensons is becoming all of that.

Last night with the Sabres down two goals and short-handed, Girgensons took a beautiful pass from Nic Deslauriers and barreled to the net with NY Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk closing in. Boychuk reached with his stick and tried to derail the "Latvian Locomotive," but it was fruitless. Girgensons boxed Boychuk out and snapped a shortie past Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin.

(Thx, Rolands Rivdikis)

It was a big time play that showed just how strong and well-balanced the 20 yr. old is as well as the skill-level he has. Sabres prospects like Mikhail Grigorenko, Sam Reinhart and Joel Armia, among others, should take note. It's how a man plays a man's game against men.

If Girgensons hasn't been turning heads yet, perhaps that goal will turn a few more. Sure, he'll be mocked because his Latvian countrymen are stuffing the All-star ballot boxes, but he's been playing a consistently strong game on a bottom-five team. He went from bottom-six to top-line and never missed a beat. In fact an argument could be made that he made his wingers, Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis, better and that his ceiling is now top-six/possible top-line.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Islanders great start is being tested. Sabres can add to the pressure.

Reprinted with permission from

Much to the dismay of many a Sabres' fan, the NY Islanders aren't anywhere near a bottom five spot at this point in the season, and it doesn't look like they'll even be close to bottom ten come season's end. The Islanders have been at or near the top of the Metropolitan Division the entire season and they head to Buffalo tonight sporting a 23-11-0 record.

With top-line forwards like 2009 first overall pick John Tavares and Kyle Okposo heading into their prime and a strong group of young, up-and-coming forwards hitting the ranks, the Islanders came into the season looking to take the next step in their six-year rebuild.

Isles GM Garth Snow has done a fine job bolstering his group of talented youngins and thanks to the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks he was able to take a big step forward this fall. Cap-casualties Johnny Boychuk (BOS) and Nick Leddy (CHI) were brought in at very little cost to Snow and their presence has helped stabilize a shaky blueline.

Veteran free agent goalie Jaroslav Halak was signed in the off season, a huge move in the right direction for a franchise that  has been fumbling in net ever since former GM Mike Milbury decided that goalie Rick Dipietro was the second coming of Jaques Plante.

His trade with Buffalo, though, is a huge cloud hanging over the franchise right now. Snow sent a bounty to the Sabres for LW Thomas Vanek and a finish outside of the playoffs for the Islanders this season would give the Sabres a 2015 lottery pick and a shot at the top pick in the draft.

It's a lot of pressure for a the 7th youngest team in the league (according to with a fifth year coach who's only winning record was in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sabres youngins get schooled in Detroit

Reprinted with permission from

You don't tug on Superman's cape,
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off of the ol' Lone Ranger...

If singer-songwriter Jim Croce was still alive and a Buffalo Sabres hockey fan he might have added, don't be stupid enough to put the Detroit Red Wings on the powerplay.

The Buffalo Sabres really helped the Wings out last night by putting the NHL's 7th best powerplay unit on the ice six times. And despite allowing a short-handed goal to the Sabres' Andre Benoit (his first of the season,) Detroit would score four goals with the man advantage en route to a 6-3 shellacking of Buffalo. It was a performance which vaulted their powerplay into fourth place in the league.

Buffalo's collapse with just over 22 minutes to play in regulation helped Detroit get out of a rut as the Wings were winless in their previous six games (0-2-4.) The six goals they scored were the most all season and matched the total number of goals they'd scored during the winless streak.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joel Armia gets the call today as injuries mount in Buffalo

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The injury/illness bug has hit the Buffalo Sabres hard this month and the list grew longer in their 4-3 OT loss at Boston on Sunday.

Brian Gionta got leveled by Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski in the second period and left the ice woozy. It was a borderline suspendable hit that ultimately was deemed within the bounds of the National Hockey League Player Safety Department.

As is the case in the NHL, when your teammate is smoked by a hit, clean or not, it's expected that he be defended. In many cases it's silly as the gloves are dropped after a clean hit. Bartkowski's hit on an vulnerable Gionta was worthy of defense by a teammate.

Marcus Foligno sent the pass to Gionta which left him in a vulnerable position and Foligno immediately went to his fallen teammate's defense. Unfortunately he got too much helmet in his blind rage and busted up his hand.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Larsson and Schaller net first career goals. Plus, the Bartkowski cheapshot

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Kudos to Sabres forwards Johan Larsson and Tim Schaller, both of whom scored their first NHL goals over the weekend.

Larsson's goal came against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night as he drove to the net to bury the puck as it slid across the crease:

(Thx, Sabres Hockey Central)

The goal came in his fifth game this season, 34th of his career.

Sabres' Nolan playing Chinese acrobat role. Eyes on Pysyk in his first call-up.

Reprinted with permission from

Ted Nolan's head coaching job this season might be akin to playing the role of one of those Chinese plate spinners. When it's balanced, it's a pretty amazing feat considering what he has to work with. He had the hockey world gazing in wonderment at his act as the Buffalo Sabres bench boss managed to make the Sabres look like a playoff contender for a few weeks.

During the Buffalo Sabres recent 10-3 hot streak, one which included two, four-game winning streaks, Nolan was able to delicately balance one-line scoring, rock-solid defense from his top-pairings and exceptional goaltending. But that came to an end the last two games.

The balancing act has been thrown out of whack in back-to-back 5-1 losses. Nolan's top line of Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis turned cold. His "Twin Towers" on defense, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, were a combined minus-10, while his goalies stopped only 50 shots of the 59 thrown at them (.847 sv.%.)

It was enough to send Nolan wobbling, and as injuries/illness eat away at the team's already thin depth, the sound we're hearing is the sound of plates crashing to the floor.

Buffalo began last night with forward Cody McCormick going on injured reserve and forward Torrey Mitchell ruled out. Defensemen Tyson Strachan and Mike Weber were also out. Although this group of bottom-tier players shouldn't be considered game-changers, they're decent depth players who have provided some good, solid play, especially during that aforementioned stretch.

That's four down with three more hitting the injured/illness list last night.

At 5:00pm over in, Rochester Amerks forward Johan Larsson got the call, jumped in his car and headed west to Buffalo. He was called up to replace Moulson who couldn't go because of "flu-like symptoms." Larsson arrived with barely two minutes left in the warm-ups and was thrown right into the fire. He was the only Sabre to score last night as he netted his first career NHL goal.

Top-pairing defenseman Tyler Myers suffered a "lower-body" injury in the second period of last night's game. Myers has been playing exceptionally well and is ninth in the league in time on ice logging 25:21/game. He's out for tonight's game at Boston.

Forward Patrick Kaleta, who left the game in the second period last night, is also out.

To replace this group, GM Tim Murray sounded the Rochester bugle. Amerks forward Mikhail Grigorenko was called up for the second time this past week and will remain for tonight's matchup at Boston. So will Larsson. And with Myers and Kaleta no-go's the team called up defenseman Mark Pysyk and forward Tim Schaller this morning.

It's the first call-up of the season for Pysyk, who was sent to the Amerks on October 16 after he recovered from a preseason injury with the Sabres. The 23 yr. old former first-round pick (23rd overall, 2010) has one goal and nine assists in 28 games for Rochester this season with a minus-9 rating.

Pysyk has been having a bit of a rough-go in Rochester to the point where Rochester Democrat and Chronicle writer Kevin Oklobzija suggested that "he wasn't himself" due to his demotion to Rochester.

"Pysyk isn't playing poorly," wrote Oklobzija back on November 8, "But he's not an elite AHL defenseman right now, and he should be. He has made some uncharacteristic turnovers in the defensive zone. He has made coverage errors that just don't happen very often."

Oklobzija thinks that Pysyk was caught fighting the mental aspect of getting sent down while rookie Zadorov (somewhat forcibly) stuck in Buffalo. "It's probably not surprising," he continued. "[Pysyk] played 44 games in the NHL last season. He played 19 with the Buffalo Sabres the year before as a first-year pro. And now he can't play for the worst team in the NHL?"

At that point in the season the Sabres were 3-10-2 and possibly playing worse than that. But it wasn't something that Pysyk should've taken personally. Not only was he caught up in a numbers game in Buffalo, but Zadorov's CHL/KHL conundrum complicated matters leaving Pysyk was left to fight through it being the odd man out.

"I think mentally it's probably been a hard thing for him," said Amerks head coach Chadd Cassidy at the time. "But you have to play where you're at. We've talked to him.

"He has to show Tim (Murray) that he can help the team win games, and he has to start doing that here (in Rochester.)"

Even with Rochester's poor record over the last six weeks, Pysyk will be getting his opportunity now thanks to the injuries and illness that's hitting the team. And it's up to him to make it work.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Luke Adam trade should be the first of many.

Reprinted with permission from

Prior to the Buffalo Sabres game at the Winnipeg Jets, the team announced that they'd traded LW Luke Adam to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jerry D'Amigo.

Adam was taken in the second round (44th overall) of the 2008 draft. He was the third Sabres pick behind the two Tyler's--Myers (12th) and Ennis (26th.) With the Sabres lacking size and depth down the middle they plucked the 6'2" 203 lb. Adam from the St. John's Fog Devils of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Kris Baker of echoed what the Sabres were seeing in the big center when they drafted him. "[Adam] goes hard at both ends, and was the leading scorer for St. John's this past season. With an Owen Nolan/Rick Nash type game, he's a responsible, soft-handed scorer who likes use his 6'2, 200-pound body to bang and create. His skating has prevented him from entering the elite tier of forwards."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The curious case of the Colorado Avalanche

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On the NFL network this morning, "tanking" came up in the conversation. There were accusations of tanking in the NBA and the question was posed as to whether or not it existed in the NFL.

Michael Irvin, of course, chimed in first saying that there's no way players would tank in the NFL. Boomer Esiason echoed the sentiments. Wish I was there to mention the saga of the Indianapolis Colts back in 2011 as a Colts team that had double-digit wins dating back to 2002 suddenly fell to 2-14.

I guess everybody believes it was a matter of coincidence that Colts QB Peyton Manning would be moving on at the end of the season and that the most highly touted quarterback since Manning himself was available at the top of the 2012 draft. Sure, Manning was injured, but you mean to tell me that they couldn't have found anyone better than Kerry Collins? Or his backup Curtis Painter?

After that dreadful season, the Colts made the smooth transition from Manning to another franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, and miraculously, they began a new string of double-digit wins that will continue this season.

Was it intentional, coincidence or pure luck (pun intended?)

The Buffalo Sabres could use Taylor Hall, but do they need him?

Reprinted with permission from

Or, better yet, should the Edmonton Oilers even think of trading him?

If one there's on thing the Darcy Regier-era taught us is that skill on the wing without top-notch centers can carry a team only so far. LW Thomas Vanek was drafted 5th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, a draft which is considered one of the best, if not the best, of all time.

Despite Regier's claims that he had "two of the top-20 centers in the league" at one point, the farthest Buffalo ever made it with Vanek on the top line was the first round of the playoffs. Derek Roy and Tim Connolly just weren't strong enough in the middle to get them any farther.

There's no doubt Edmonton LW Taylor Hall has top-line talent, but at 23 yrs. old riding with 21 yr. old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at center, that upper-end skill has yet to fully blossom. Throw in coaching gaffes that date back to the release of Tom Renney, and you have a young kid who will have his fifth coach in four years once interim coach Craig McTavish hands over the coaching duties to formere AHL coach/associate coach/interim coach in training, Todd Nelson.

That's messed up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A great sports weekend gets even better today

Reprinted with permission from

Things couldn't have gone better for Western New York sports fans over the weekend, unless you're a constant caller to WGR's Whiner Line.

The weekend kicked off a little early with the Buffalo Sabres downing the Calgary Flames 4-3. On Saturday there was a double dose of good news as both the Sabres and the Rochester Americans came out on top in OT by identical 4-3 scores.
And on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills bottled up almost sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rogers and his Green Bay Packers en route to a 21-13 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium making for a Monday morning full of call-offs and hangover cures.

Buffalo sports fans will get the week going tonight as the Ottawa Senators come to town tonight for a 7:00pm game that was originally scheduled for February 15, 2015. The brutal "Wall of Snow" November storm caused a game between the Sabres and the NY Rangers to be rescheduled. The NHL pushed up the Ottawa game to December 15 to accommodate the Rangers on February 15.

It will be the first of four meetings between the Atlantic division rivals.

The Sens will be facing a Sabres team that's on a roll. They're 9-3 in their past 12 games scoring 30 goals during that span while giving up 24 for a plus-6 goal differential. Not bad for a team that was a minus-41 in that department before this last streak.

Amerks finally find something to feel good about.

Reprinted with permission from

While the parent club was busy taking down the Florida Panthers on Saturday night for their ninth win in 12 games, the Rochester Americans were facing the back-end of a home-and-home against a team they've had little success against this season.

To say it's been a brutal stretch for the Rochester Americans would be an understatement. Six losses in a row, 2-8-0-0 in their last ten. Goaltending was erratic, defense inconsistent, and a once potent offense that was at the top of the league at one point in the season had lit the lamp a mere 11 times in last eight games. The team they faced last night, the Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL,) had just beaten them the night before and increased their record to 4-1 vs. the Amerks so far this season.

Crisis? What crisis?

Shall we go on?

Their leading scorers, Phil Varone, Johan Larsson, Luke Adam, Mikhail Grigorenko, Tim Schaller, and Joel Armia totaled four goals in the last eight games.

Armia has been sidelined with an upper-body injury for the last seven games and although one player does not an offense make, the big winger has a tendency to open up the ice for himself and his linemates. He had 15 points (6+9) in 19 games before his injury.

Joining Armia on the injured list are veteran defensemen Drew Bagnall and Nick Petrecki.

Bagnall's been sidelined the last four games while Petrecki has missed the last two. It left head coach Chadd Cassidy without a veteran presence on the blueline. Although his d-corps are gamers, they're very young. The "vets" on the back end are 24 yr. old Chad Ruhwedel and 23 yr. old Matt MacKenzie. Ruhwedel is beginning his second full season while MacKenzie has been bouncing between the AHL and ECHL the over the course of the previous three seasons.

No further evidence needs to be presented of their youth than the plight of Jake McCabe last night. In the first period with the Sabres up 1-0, the rookie was schooled by TJ Hensick at the Buffalo blueline. Hensick lifted a sleeping McCabe's stick on the backcheck and went in 2-on-1 with Drayson Bowman. Bowman buried Hensick's pass top-shelf, blocker side to tie the game. On the second Hamilton goal, McCabe was caught in no-man's land on a weak shot-block attempt. He not only failed to block the shot, he provided a nice little screen.

McCabe, though, would forget the first period and rest of the game he was solid. "Jake's been playing really well," said Cassidy. "we forget sometimes that he's only 21 yrs. old playing in a league with men. He competes hard, he plays hard on the puck in the d-zone, finishes off guys and is difficult to play against.

"[But,] he's still only 21 yrs. old, we [need] to keep that in mind."

Cassidy really doesn't have a "youth problem" per se up front, but with Armia out there was a pretty big void in the skill department. The coach did some juggling in Friday's game by moving Varone from center to the wing and followed through with that on Saturday. On the other wing Larsson with Grigorenko in the middle. Like the Sabres, Cassidy pretty much has himself a one-line offense.

"It's a different group this year," he said. "Last year we had two lines grind it out and skill up top [in the top-six]. Larsson, Grigorenko and Varone, they'll have a lot of rushes through the neutral zone and they'll have a lot of possession time, but really, our other [three] lines get it in deep and get a touch on [the puck]."

With only one skill line right now, Cassidy said "It's more of playing to that identity and an understanding that everybody's got to play a little different. As long as you're playing to your strengths and you're helping you're team out, that's what we need from each guy."

Up and down the lineup the coach got what he needed from his guys. McCabe recovered well from a rough first period. Chad Ruhwedel had a bit of redemption on his game-winner as he'd been foiled on a golden opportunity earlier. Larsson had three assists including a sweet cross-ice feed to Ruhwedel. Makarov was solid in net, coming up big when needed. Adam played out of character and paid the price with two ice packs on after blocking a couple shots.

"We played desperate," he said. "Guys know that it hasn't been good. We've played well enough to be in games and have opportunities to win, but we didn't have that push to win hockey games. We did tonight."

It was the first game of a season-long eight-game homestand. In all they'll be playing 11 out of the next 12 at home before they hit the road for 11 of 12. Having them pull out a gutsy win beats the alternative and after an extremely rough stretch, Cassidy was pretty relieved.  "We found something to feel good about," he said.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Sabres world turned upside down

Reprinted with permission from

Connor McDavid. Jack Eichel. Noah Hanifin. Their names invoke a holy trinity-like reverence in the world of hockey fans who are, and have been, looking ahead to the 2015 draft.

At one point early in the season, the Buffalo Sabres were supposedly a shoe-in to finish at the bottom of the league and land one of the draft prizes. Even with the league changing the odds of landing in the top overall pick (McDavid,) the consolation prize (Eichel) was nothing to sneeze at should the last place team lose the lottery. It got to the point where those two were mentioned so often that they've now became synonymous with hitting the jackpot and are simply referred to as "McEichel."

Early on this season it was beginning to look like a harmonic convergence was taking place in Sabreland where everything was to fall into place for the a rebuilding Buffalo franchise. While the Sabres were barreling to bottom of the league eventually assuring the organization of at least one of "McEichel," the lower ranks looked to be developing players in a winning environment.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nolan and Murray don't want any put-ons. Gotta belive.

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With snow hitting the northtowns and interest in the Calgary Flames low, there wasn't quite the announced 18,000 fans on hand for the game last night, but the ones who were there got a nice treat. For only the third time in 29 games the Buffalo Sabres scored four goals in a game as they came away with a 4-3 comeback win.

The Sabres seemed to have awakened from the stupor they found themselves in at the beginning of the season and aren't being kicked around anymore. Where once there were howls that the lowly Sabres were tanking, the press is now taking notice of a very strong 8-3-0 run over the past 11 games.

Last night they took on a Flames team that's well within their weight class and did what they do best as of late, endure an onslaught of shots and bury what few chances they had.

Case in point. In the third period and down a goal, Zemgus Girgensons found the back of the net at about the 12:00-mark. It was their first shot of the period and it brought their shot total to 13 for the game. Buffalo would get outshot by an incredible 45-19 margin.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Enroth and the Sabres pull out the "rope-a-dope" in 1-0 win against Kings

Reprinted with permission from

No one will ever be able to draw a parallel between the skill level of the Buffalo Sabres and Muhammad Ali. They don't "float like a butterfly" nor do they "sting like a bee." Nor are they "the greatest."

In fact the Sabres of the first two months may be more akin to Jerry Quarry, who was an average size fighter with a couple of good punches, a sturdy chin and decent footwork in the ring. But at every turn, Quarry was no match for the likes of Ali and his lightening fast punches, "Smokin" Joe Frazier and his relentless attack or George Forman and his devastating right hook.

Although Quarry was a gamer he inevitably came up short. In the hockey world he was basically a bottom-six hockey player, who gave it everything he had, but just didn't have the natural ability to hang with the best of his era. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

WJC would be the right move for Nikita Zadorov.

Reprinted with permission from

When defenseman Nikita Zadorov was selected by his native Russia to attend their World Junior camp, he was in the midst helping his Buffalo Sabres team out of a season-long slump. It was late November and after starting the month with a 1-5-1 record, they seemed to be turning it around as the Sabres finished the month on a 5-1 run. One of the key ingredients in that turnaround was Zadorov.

Zadorov was paired with fellow 2013 first round pick Rasmus Ristolainen and the two would help anchor the blueline behind the top pairing of Tyler Myers and a surprising Tyson Strachan, who replaced the injured Josh Gorges. With things seemingly falling into place, the team on a roll and Zadorov looking like he belonged, the Sabres would've been hard-pressed to allow him to head to the WJC for a few weeks.

As always, things can change. The team has been slipping in December and Zadorov has taken a slight step back.

Some Buffalo-centeric thoughts

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The video that the Florida Panthers showed before the Buffalo game on Saturday was bush-league and Cats GM Dale Tallon should have been embarrassed that it went on the Jumbotron.

Sabres owner Terry Pegula, a South-Florida resident, also did well in calling the Florida organization out for using it as 13 people died in the "Wall of Snow" storm shown on the video.

The video basically mocked Buffalo for its brutal winter weather while juxtaposing a happy-go-lucky mascot frolicking in the Florida sunshine. Although one cannot dismiss the lives lost, Stanley C, Panthers' joy of not having to deal with Buffalo's winters is something every transplant feels. It was a video intended for the "home" crowd and of the miniscule few thousand in attendance, I'd hazard to guess that upwards of 80% of those at the game were northern transplants or vacationers from up north. They could relate.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The heart (or lack) of the matter in Rochester?

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The Rochester Americans are on a vicious slide right now after a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Binghamton Senators last night. It was another poor night for a team who is now 3-10-1 after starting the season 6-2.

Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle writes that a contributing factor to their slump is something Sabres' fans are all too familiar with--lack of heart. His example comes from the game last night.

According to Oklobzija, with under a minute left in the game Rochester's Drew Bagnall laid out a B-Sen with a thundering hit that Binghamton tough-guy Darren Kramer didn't take kindly too. In a scene that repeats itself far too often, a player has to fight because he delivered a thunderous, yet clean hit. Bagnall himself said so, 'It's a 4-1 game -- he's doing his job. He's got to come at me. I'd have done the same thing.'

Being the trooper he is, Bagnall manned-up despite the fact that he had one shoulder surgically repaired last season while the other one he banged up last month is still not 100%. Try as he might, the fight was a disaster from the get-go. Bagnall skated off the ice in obvious discomfort and looks to be a question mark for at least the remaining two games this weekend.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Does this look familiar to you?"

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Such was the question coming from Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Dan Dunleavy to rink-side analyst Rob Ray. Although you couldn't see him, you could hear a smile coming through when that question conjured up memories of a time when scenes like last night were commonplace. "Yeah, I love it," responded Ray, fondly recalling a raucous era of which he was a large part.

That was back in head coach Ted Nolan's first stint with the Sabres, and he had a rambunctious group to say the least. During the 1995-96 season, Matthew Barnaby, Brad May and Rob Ray accumulated 917 total penalty minutes, a good chunk of them from roughing calls and fighting majors. During that season, lists Barnaby with 28 fights, May with 17, and Ray, 27.

Of the three, though, the 6'0" 205 lb. Ray had the unenviable task of taking on the heavyweights. Yet he reveled in his role, never hesitating to drop 'em with the enforcers of the league like Todd Ewen, Ken Daneynko and Donald Brashear. His fights with Toronto's Tie Domi are legendary in both cities and he once had his orbital bone smashed by possibly the greatest fighter of all time, Tony Twist.

Friday, December 5, 2014

I blame Kevin Devine and Darcy Regier as well as...

Reprinted with permission from

Pat LaFontaine, Ted Nolan and Tim Murray.

They're all responsible for the high-character core that's pulling the Buffalo Sabres up from the depths of the NHL. With a 6-1-0 run in the last seven games, the once 3-13-2, last place Sabres have now risen to their present 26th-overall standing.

Back in mid-November the team had showed some signs of life while mired in an awful start. After getting shellacked in Pittsburgh, they played fairly well at St. Louis the next game, yet still scored only one goal. They would play a little better at Minnesota while scoring three times, but still gave up six goals to the Wild, the third game in a row they surrendered six goals.

Avenging an earlier 4-0 embarrassment to the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in their next game was to be expected, but to destroy them 6-2 certainly raised some eyebrows. Surely it was just a shot of adrenaline that would soon pass before they hit the ice in Washington. Coming out on top of a 2-1 score against the Caps wasn't all that far-fetched either, but had it some wondering how a bottom-dweller like Buffalo managed to bottle up "The Great-8" and company.

For a team that most felt would bounce along the bottom of the league all season, something just didn't seem right.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2014-15 Individual Stats--November

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In a tale of two halves, the first part of November was as ugly as October was for the Sabres with their bottoming out coming during a three-game stretch where the team gave up 18 goals (six each vs. Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, and at Minnesota) while scoring only six.

But a funny thing happened on the way to rock-bottom. Head coach Ted Nolan found himself a line combination.

For the game against the Blues on November 11, Nolan moved Zemgus Girgensons up to top-line center and moved Tyler Ennis over to the wing opposite Matt Moulson. The trio began with a modest stat-line of one goal, one assist and an even rating, but Nolan noticed that there was something there. Over the course of the next seven games we were treated to that chemistry and it propelled all three to the top of the production heap.

From the St. Louis game to the end of the month, Girgensons, Ennis, and Moulson had a cumulative stat-line of 10 goals, 14 assists and a plus-12 rating. The Sabres went 5-3 during that span, 5-1 after the 6-3 loss in Minnesota.

Nolan was on WGR's Howard Simon Show this morning for his usual Tuesday appearance and talked about the trio an what's so special about them. He mentioned Ennis' highlight reel goal against Montreal plus his skill package and desire as a compliment to Girgensons' hard work and determination. Moulson, he said, is a "read and react" player which fits with those two. Why is it working? "Sometimes chemistry." said the coach, "Sometimes style of play. Sometimes you don't know."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2014-15 Team Stats--November

Reprinted with permission from

That the Sabres got shellacked through the first 18 games of the 2014-15 season shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Buffalo faced powerhouses from both conferences featuring games against LA, Chicago, Anaheim (twice,) St. Louis, Pittsburgh (twice) and Boston. Also thrown into the mix were playoff teams from last year--Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit and Montreal. There was also perennial western power San Jose' but the Sabres have their number for some reason.

With the team smack dab in the middle of a rebuild and 14 of their first 18 games against strong opponents, it's no wonder Buffalo went 3-13-2 during that stretch.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sabres gut out another win against Habs

Reprinted with permission from

For the better part of six periods this weekend (plus an overtime,) the Buffalo Sabres had their butts pinned in their own zone by the Montreal Canadiens. Yet the end result of the home-and-home was two wins for the Sabres and a loser point for the Habs. The Canadiens are a good team. They're fast, strong on the forecheck and can finish. They have a well-balanced group of defensemen that can contribute offensively and some pretty solid goaltending as well. Even with the lone point this weekend, they're still tied for the league lead in points with 34.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the ice in Buffalo on Friday and Montreal on Saturday was decidedly tilted in the Habs favor over most of those two games. Simple stats will show it. The Canadiens won 92 of 132 draws over the weekend, an astounding 70% and Sabres' netminder Jhonas Enroth faced 75 shots on goal while his counterparts faced only 51.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another game, another cheapshot, but Sabres down Habs

Reprinted with permission from

For the second game in a row a supposedly superior team was rankled by the Sabres to the point where one of their players delivered a cheapshot to a Buffalo player.

Unlike the last game where Winnipeg Jets Adam Lowry smoked noted pest Patrick Kaleta with a match penalty boarding call (for which Lowry was suspended one game,) Sabres captain Brian Gionta was laid out by a head shot from the Habs Alexander Emelin.

With the game tied 1-1 and less than two minutes left in the third period Emelin uncorked an elbow to the head of an unsuspecting Gionta which sent him to the ice. The Sabres captain would get up from the hit and go full-bore into the ensuing scrum to get at Emelin.

(thx to SomeHockeyVideos)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What to do with Chris Stewart

Reprinted with permission from

For a very long time the Sabres seemed to have been in the market for a big powerforward with grit who could skate top-nine minutes and drop the gloves whenever necessary.

Back in 2009 when the core was being whipped around like ragdolls on a nightly basis, former team president Larry Quinn and GM Darcy Regier, along with Head Scout Kevin Devine thought they had found the answer. After a some seasoning, 13th-overall pick Zack Kassian would surely be that guy.

I remember the draft party was held at the Albright Knox Art Gallery for the first round that year and when Kassian's name was called, thousands of chests pumped in unison as management and Sabres' fans were sure they found their very own Milan Lucic.

The Sabres drafted some hefty boys that year. Along with the 6'3" 210 lb. Kassian, they drafted 6'5" 200 lb. Brayden McNabb in the third round and Marcus Foligno (6'4" 223 lbs.,) in the fourth. Neither Kassian or McNabb are with the team anymore. Kassian was a the main target for Vancouver in the Cody Hodgson trade (February 27, 2012) while Tropp was waived by the Sabres on November 27, 2013 and was picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets the following day.

Foligno is lugging through his third full season with the Sabres.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving

When I wake up in the morning with some creaks and cranks that let me know ain't gettin' any younger, I still try to throw a big "thanks" to the universe.

I've been blessed with good health, have a big, wonderful, warm family, a roof over my head, clothes to wear and food to eat. I also have a real job that I enjoy, plus a gig here on hockeybuzz that allows me to pour thoughts on a page and interact with a very cool group of individuals.

It's Thanksgiving, and although I don't carry around a wad of Ben's with a supermodel on each arm or have a Bentley or a spread in Malibu, I'm very cool with what I do have. Not that I still don't have wants, but, I'm doin' alright and consider myself pretty lucky.

That being said, there are those who are in different situations with different outlooks. And that's cool too. Like I was told some time ago, someone will always be better off than you and someone will always be worse off. And it's within that context that we should keep in mind the words of the great philosopher, Homie, "Welcome All."

For those livin' large, for those who keep it tight and for those trudgin' through some troubles:

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some orgainzational movement

Reprinted with permission from

It's been a few days since the Buffalo Sabres extended their win streak to three game, but the down-time hasn't gone by without a little intrigue.

On Sunday the team sent goalie Nathan Lieuwen back to Rochester as the injured Michal Neuvirth has progressed quicker than expected. Neuvirth will be backing up Jhonas Enroth on Wednesday when the Sabres take on the visiting Winnipeg Jets at the First Niagara Center.

Neuvirth suffered a bruised knee against San Jose' last Tuesday and as luck would have it, the Sabres only had one other game on the schedule, a Saturday tilt at Washington. Enroth was stellar in net vs. San Jose' in relief and again on Saturday giving up only one goal in each contest while facing a total of 64 shots in five periods of play.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Edmonton/Buffalo and McDavid. Plus Rolston/Marrone

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres have some company at the bottom of the league thanks to a three game winning streak that boosted their record to 6-13-2, good for 21 points. It's the exact same record as the Edmonton Oilers who are presently on a four-game slide. The Oilers hold the "tie-breaker" via their six regulation/overtime wins. Buffalo has four.

I won't claim to know what's going on in Edmonton, but perhaps they're thinking that they can finally time it right to land a franchise-type player at the top of the 2015 Draft. For three consecutive years (2010-2012) they had the first-overall pick in drafts that were generally pretty good but not great. And even though they bookended that run with a No. 10 in 2009, a 7th in 2013 and a 3rd in 2014, they're still struggling.

With all that top-end talent (six top-10 picks,) something isn't right once again this season. Regardless if it's a tank job or just incompetence on the part of their entire hockey department it has to be embarrassing. Especially to their dedicated fan-base.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Nikita Zadorov "finds his way"

Reprinted with permission from

Just about a month ago, the Buffalo Sabres were in a bit of a quandary with defensive prospect Nikita Zadorov as he was caught in the middle of a tug-of-war.

At the time Zadorov wasn't ready for the NHL, but he had outgrown the CHL and even though he'd be a man against boys, if need be, the Sabres were prepared to send him to the OHL's London Knights. Basically, two things kept him out of London and in a state of limbo in Buffalo--his aversion to playing junior hockey and CSKA Moscow's (KHL) refusal to sign a release for him to play there.

If Buffalo had sent Zadorov to the OHL, he could have ended up playing in the KHL instead, something that the Sabres really weren't interested in. So they were forced to keep him with the team.

As Zadorov is readying himself to suit up for his 10th game for the Sabres this season, thus kicking in his entry-level contract, it would seem as if the team was able to make some lemonade out of the lemons handed them.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rochester the only game in town this weekend

Reprinted with permission from

Based upon historical statistics, Buffalo is the third snowiest city in New York State behind Syracuse and Rochester. Syracuse, according to, averages 123.8 inches of snow per year, much more than Rochester with 99.5 and Buffalo's 94.7 inches. All three cities are adversely affected by lake-effect snow as evidenced by the "Wall of Snow" that dumped on the snowbelt areas south of Buffalo.

Having gone through the Blizzard of '77 and climbing up 6' mounds of snow just to (hopefully) get to the front door to deliver the Tonawanda News, I can't imagine trucking across a blanket of snow that is 5 or 6 feet high.

Godspeed to everyone caught in this mess.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sabres score four, win 2nd in a row. Are the Leafs Tanking?

Reprinted with permission from

Before we get to a strange anomaly in the sportsworld--the Buffalo Sabres domination of the San Jose' Sharks--the Toronto Maple Leafs got chrushed last night at home.

The "non-traditional hockey market's" Nashville Predators laid a good old-fashioned southern-style 9-2 whooping on the boys from the self-described "Center of the Hockey Universe." The nine goals by the Preds tied a franchise record initially set in 2006 vs. Calgary.

This is the second loss in a row for Toronto and the second game in a row their fans displayed their anger and disgust by throwing their Leafs' regalia on the ice, although this time a Leafs' sweater was thrown on the ice during live play. Three nights prior, the Buffalo Sabres had pounded the Leafs 6-2 and frustrated Toronto hockey fans littered the First Niagara Center ice with a jersey and some scarves.

Although the Leafs are still a very respectable 9-8-2, no one can tell me that the thought of Connor McDavid donning the blue and white hasn't crossed the mind of Team President Brendan Shanahan. McDavid is from Newmarket, Ontario, just outside of Toronto and could take his place as a Zeus-type god sitting high atop Mount Maple Leaf.

Despite their self-perceived "holy" status in the hockey world, they've not been able to lure a true superstar to the Air Canada Center and like the Buffalo's and Edmonton's of the sportsworld, maybe the only way to get one is by picking at the top of the draft. With the Toronto languishing in mediocrity over the past nine seasons, and this year possibly spinning out of control, a nose dive to the lower eschelon of the league may well be in the cards.

It's something to keep an eye on and with deft PR work they can "tank with style."

After all, they're Canadian franchises that do things the right way. Right?
Last night the Sabres continued their mastery over the San Jose' Sharks, a team that has not missed the playoffs since the 2002-03 season.

With last night's 4-1 defeat at Buffalo, the Sharks are now winless against the Sabres in their last eight matchups (0-7-1.) The last time San Jose' beat Buffalo was January 23, 2010. During that span the Sabres have changed ownership, changed general managers, are on their third coach, were the worst team in the league last season and are well on their way to a bottom-finish this year.

In all, Buffalo is 16-1-0 vs. San Jose' at home. The only time the Sharks have come out on top in Buffalo was December 6, 2005.

Go figure.

Captain Brian Gionta would finally get off the schneid scoring two goals, including an empty-netter while another Brian, he of the surname, Flynn, collected a goal and an assist. The two Brian's had Torrey Mitchell as their other winger and although he didn't hit the scoresheet, Mitchell was a plus-3 for the night.

Another shot of the "Wall of Snow" pummeling
the Southtowns.
The game itself was played while areas just south of the city were being crippled by an immense "Wall of Snow". It was an epic storm which dumped six feet of lake-effect snow in just 24 hours. The clearly defined line of the storm spared downtown Buffalo and areas north which is why the game was played. There were 6,200 fans in attendance last night.

Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time that the Sharks would come to town and play a game with catastrophe surrounding the city.

On Thursday, February 12, 2009 a commuter plane crashed into a home in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo. The crash killed all 49 people on board plus, miraculously, just one on the ground.

47 yr. old Arturs Irbe, former NHL goalie
and present Sabres goalie coach,
puts on that pads as insurance for the team.

The Sabres would host the Sharks the following night and come up with a 6-5 shootout win. Former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had questioned whether the game should have been played at all, but with the outcome as it was said afterwards, "I think, yeah, ever so small, this event turned out to be a positive night. Though it is a hockey game, it was a good ending. It's a positive feeling. We needed it. I think our fans needed it."

For posterity's sake, Jason Pominville tipped defenseman Craig Rivet's point shot past the Sharks' Evgeni Nabakov to tie the score with only four seconds left in the game. "Obviously, it's been a real tough day for all of Buffalo," captain Rivet said. "If we could somehow ease some of the pain, I hope it'll help."

Were not sure how many fans were able to watch the Sabres win their second in a row while buried under Mother Natures fury, but hopefully it helped.

The Sabres played an entertaining game that once again saw them skate hard play solid defense and rally around goalie Jhonas Enroth who entered the game after starter Michal Neuvirth was injured. Buffalo was limited to only 14 shots but would score on four of them which would cause Sharks coach Todd McClellan to remark, we come out in the second and third period and play dumb hockey. Just flat-out dumb. Pinching, giving up two on ones, three on twos. We had only given up 10 shots after two periods and we're down (3-1). Just dumb hockey."
"You don't win at any level playing like that. You don't beat any type of team playing like that."

Enroth could have sued for lack of support in nearly every game this season as the team couldn't produce much of anything. In the 10 games he started for the Sabres prior to last night, Enroth went 1-8-1. During that span the Sabres were shutout four times, including back-to-back games, and scored only one goal on two other occasions.

With Neuvirth down and the Sabres without a back up, head coach Ted Nolan made the call to former goalie and present goalie coach, Arturs Irbe, who was up in the pressbox. After quickly signing a pro try-out contract, Irbe strapped on some goalie gear featuring Enroth's pads as well as a glove and blocker from former Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller. His helmet came from "parts unknown."

"It’s not the comfortable equipment I’m used to,” said Irbe. “But I had to preserve, put it on. It took a while. Much longer than it usually takes – it’s been seven years. And that was it. By the start of the third period, I was, just in case ready. It was a fun feeling."

Nolan could have used a skater to be back-up, but turned to Irbe. “We started scrambling, looking for options and it’s a snow day, No. 1. And No. 2, it’s Independence Day for Latvia, for our tiny country today,” Irbe said after the game. “Ted said, “Arch, why don’t you be our security net just in case?’

“I said, ‘Ted, I haven’t donned a uniform in seven years.’

“He said, ‘It’s doesn’t matter. Now you will.’"

The Sabres are on a bit of a roll these days having won two in a row and looking like a real NHL team. Nolan has them playing good, solid hockey and their willingness to drive to the net is starting to produce some goals.

Where this all ends up this season is yet to be determined, but if anyone thought that the Sabres would be alone at the bottom of the league and a clear-cut favorite in the "Connor McDavid Sweepstakes," they'll be sadly mistaken.

There are many teams who've been on that 10th-place treadmill to nowhere and although none will admit it, a player like McDavid, or Jack Eichel, is their way to finally get off of it. Only one team right now is in full rebuild-mode, and that's Buffalo, but there are a number of teams who could easily blow it up and start their rebuild this year with a shot at one of those two franchise-type players

How they do it, and how they'll be perceived as they tumble to the bottom, is another matter. But they all know where a fall leads.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sharks at Sabres a go as a dump truck of snow hits the southtowns

Despite an early storm that's literally dumping snow by the foot just outside downtown Buffalo, tonight's game will go on.

The official press release from goes like this:

Tonight’s Buffalo Sabres game against the San Jose Sharks, taking place at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center, will be played as scheduled. Due to the inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions in some areas of Western New York, the Sabres organization is urging anyone planning to attend tonight’s game to obey all local traffic advisories and driving bans. Those who decide it is safe to travel to tonight’s game are encouraged to use caution and allow for extra driving time to the arena.

Fans are also reminded that the game will be televised on NBCSN and the radio broadcast will be available on WGR 550.

Fans who are unable to attend tonight’s game will be able to exchange their unused tickets from tonight’s game for tickets to a future Sabres game (list of games below). Tickets and location will be based on availability.

For an idea of just what's happening with this storm, here's a pic that's been making the rounds. It's a shot from downtown Buffalo looking south towards the snowbelt:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dominik Hasek heads to the Hall. Na Zdravi, Dominator

Reprinted with permission form

In as much as Taro Tsujimoto is legendary in Buffalo and around the league for being a 10th round draft pick that never existed, tonight the NHL will induct a real Sabres' legend into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Dominik Hasek.

The Czechoslovakian native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft as an 18 yr. old by the Chicago Blackhawks but he was unable to come to North America because his nation was behind the Berlin Wall. When that fell in 1990, he began his trek to the Hall as backup to fellow rookie Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour for the Chicago.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Buffalo thumps Toronto 6-2 and Happy Birthday Taro Tsujimoto

Reprinted with permission from

For the first time this season, the Buffalo Sabres looked like an NHL team as they put in a 60-minute effort full of skating, hitting, top-notch goaltending and scoring. That their best performance of the year against a rival like Toronto, complete with a Leaf-nation invasion of First Niagara Center that turned sour, made it even better.

Despite giving up six goals in each of the previous three games, there were glimmers of hope beginning to emerge, especially on the offensive side of the equation. Head coach Ted Nolan had been juggling players, lines and positions more than an act at a three-ring circus, which is something this team had looked like for most of the season thus far.

It would seem as if he finally has one line he can rely on. Two games ago against St. Louis, Nolan put Zemgus Girgensons at center between left wing Matt Moulson and converted center Tyler Ennis. Although they didn't produce any scoring as a line, there was a noticeable chemistry between them which includes the defensive side where as a trio they were not on the ice for either of the Blues even strength goals.

In Minnesota they began click. Just over one minute into the game, they would tap into Nolan's "Latvian Line" play and were instrumental in Rasmus Ristolainen's first goal of the season. Girgensons, who was the catalyst in the Wild offensive zone on that goal, also scored his fourth of the season that game. Despite the Sabres losing 6-3 that trio had a stat-line of one goal, three assists and were a plus-3.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rick Jenneret on the call. Ted Nolan looking for the "want" in players

Reprinted with permission from

Legendary Buffalo Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret will be calling the first period of tonight's game against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. Jeanneret has been battling throat cancer all summer and has said that he is now "cancer free."

Back in July when he announced he had stage III cancer--where the cancer is within the general region where it first began--Jeanrette said he'd be back. 'I would like to stress I have every intention of coming back,' he told Alan Pergament of the Buffalo news back in July. 'I have probably three months ahead of me that aren’t going to be fun. I know they aren’t going to be.'

After three months of radiation and chemo therapy, doctors declared him cancer free and Jeanneret is now easing his way back into the broadcast booth. "The time seems right to slowly begin transitioning back to work,” Jeanneret said in a statement released yesterday. “My doctors have told me I’m cancer free and I’m feeling well enough to get back in the booth, even if it’s only on a limited basis for the time being."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Half-blind after watching the Sabres and Bills last night

Reprinted with permission from

Any Buffalo sports fan who had one eye on the Sabres game and the other on the Bills last night is lucky to be able to see this morning. The Sabres lost 6-3 at Minnesota while the Bills turned in a clunker at Miami 22-9 in a game that had playoff implications despite being played in mid-November.

For Sabres' fans, losses are expected, unfortunately. All they're asking for is an honest effort and that Connor McDavid stops getting into fights. Yet, for as bad as this year has gone, these last two losses vs. a very strong St. Louis Blues club and a very good Wild team have provided some positives that look to be longstanding.

Against the Blues they managed to keep it relatively close for most of the game while pulling up their man pants and actually sticking up for each other and last night they scored three goals. It was the first time they've scored more than two goals in a game since their three-goal "outburst" against Carolina on October 14th.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kaleta's back. Deslauriers is (kind of) sorry, and the Sabres "Twin Towers"

Reprinted with permission from

One year ago today, after starting the 2013-14 season with an NHL-worst 4-15-1 record, the Buffalo Sabres fired long-time general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston.

Owner Terry Pegula made the announcement and said of the decision, "[Regier] didn't do what he did by himself. There was input from many people, prior owners, myself.

"Why now? I just decided, and that's the only answer I can give you. We work together, and sometimes you get to the point where a change was needed."

Over the summer Regier told the fans to be prepared for some "suffering" as he was close to fully dismantling the team he constructed. Amongst his remaining core players, only goalie Ryan Miller remained as forward Thomas Vanek was shipped to the NY Islanders on October 27. Regier's core, or "The Rochester Guys" as team President Ted Black called them, also included Paul Gaustad, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sabres display some anger against the Blues last night

Reprinted with permission from

In the years between Ted Nolan's time on the Buffalo Sabres bench we often heard about how players needed to stick up for each other, and how important it was. There were instances of that happening between his head coaching stints in Buffalo, like Drew Stafford, a rookie at the time, engaging with the Ottawa Senators Chris Neil after the latter laid out Chris Drury with a cheap shot. But the occurrences were too few and far between and nearly every time a Sabres player "stuck up for his teammate," one was left with the impression that it was more obligatory than something straight from the heart.

As a team, they're still at that place, but it would seem as if they might be beginning to break free. Or at least trying to.

Last night, St. Louis Blues d-man Ian Cole sent Tyler Ennis into the boards. The 6'1" 220 lb. Cole simply brushed off the 5'9" 160 lb Ennis around the goal line sending him to the ice and hard into the wall. It was well after the play and probably didn't need happen. But it did.

Rookie Nikita Zadorov ended up engaging in a bout with Cole, acquitting himself well, while Ennis found himself fighting 5'11" 220 lb. Alexander Steen. Said Ennis, "I went into the scrum, just trying to give [Cole] a couple shots and Steen comes in out of nowhere and had his gloves off. I didn't know until about ten seconds in that his gloves were off and I was 'in-one.'"

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Should the Sabres apologize, Mr. Hodge?

Reprinted with permission from

I'll always have an affinity for Dave Hodge as he was a part of my hockey genesis growing up. As a kid in Buffalo during the 70's, he was as much a part of the game as the game itself. And though I have no recollection of Hodge doing play-by-play for Buffalo in their inaugural season, I certainly remember those who followed him in the Sabres broadcast booth--Rick Jeanneret and Ted Darling.

But with all due respect to our neighbors to the north, y'all need to get over this Connor McDavid thing.

The Buffalo Sabres are a bad team right now as they are in the midst of a scorched earth-rebuild. They will be at or near the bottom of the league this season. And in so much as Hodges believes the Sabres have an unhealthy "lust for McDavid," the media, especially up in Canada is even worse as they rehash the "tank-job" at every possible moment.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From Gregory Peck to Hlupáku, Sabres and Amerks on back-to-backs

Reprinted with permission from

"Oh if there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now"

Brownsville Girl, an epic 11-minute ballad co-written by Bob Dylan and Sam Sheppard begins with the line, "Well, there was this movie I seen one time." From there a series events unfolds from whence we find out, among other things, that "the only thing we know about Harry Porter is that his name isn't Harry Porter," and that Ruby greets our hero and heroine with "Welcome to the land of the living dead."

"Something about that movie though," sings Dylan, "well I just can’t get it out of my head. But I can’t remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Catching up with Don Stevens and the Rochester Americans

Reprinted with permission from

Plenty on the docket tonight for Sabres fans to watch as three contests are of relevance to the organization.

The Sabres are at home for their fifth back-to-back of the season as the Edmonton Oilers come to town. Edmonton is one point ahead of the Sabres in the league standings thus far and may be the most disappointing team in the league.

The Oilers are a team that had three consecutive first overall picks (2010-12) including claiming victory in the "Fail For Nail" campaign of 2012, yet it looks as if they're gunning for this year's prize prospect, Connor McDavid. If the Oilers continue to plummet to the bottom of the league (which wouldn't be tanking, would it?) they'll have a good shot at McDavid or the next two top-prospects, C, Jack Eichel and D, Noah Hanifin. Both are considered top-notch prospects who would be at or near the top of any draft year.

And for those interested in seeing them in action, the collegians face off against each other tonight as Eichel's Boston University Terriers face off against Hanifin and his Boston College Eagles in a battle of #5 vs. #3 in the college ranks. Game time is 8pm on NBCSN.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dear Habs fans, you're kidding me, right?

Reprinted with permission from

There's no justification, nor is there any rationalization of Montreal Canadiens rookie Jiri Sekac's boarding of Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Say what you will about Zadorov "turning at the last moment." You know, like when you quickly survey the flow of the play in anticipation of wear you can go with the puck then actually attempt to play it instead of turning away from it.

Yeah, it was his fault. And when former ref Kerry Fraser backs it, well you know you're right. Right?

Save your blabber.

I have one question. Would you feel the same way if a Sabres' player did the exact same thing to a Canadiens player?

It's doubtful.

What it should come down to in this case, as with any, is intent to injure. Even though intent to injure is almost impossible to prove, Jiri Sekac was intent upon doing as much damage as he could to a player in a vulnerable position. It matters not whether or not Zadorov was at fault for putting himself in a vulnerable position (and you can't prove that he foresaw what was coming as he was about to play the puck.) It was a brutal hit. So brutal that the immediate reaction from the booth was "That might be a game ejection. That was a vicious hit."

And so it was. 

You see, it wasn't about Zadorov, it was how Sekac zoned in on Zadorov's back, "He's looking at numbers the whole way" and the speed with which he went in. That and how Sekac snapped his hips for maximum impact on contact, kind of like a boxer when he snaps those hips while throwing a roundhouse to get the most power out of his punch.

Even though Sekac "does not let up one bit," the impact would have been lessened had he not cocked and released a George Forman-like roundhouse elbow smack dab between the five and one.

Don't worry, though, Sabres fans are accustomed to this kind of stuff. The city of Buffalo, the Sabres and their fans are looked (down) upon as the bastard-child of the red-headed stepchild and no matter what the child did, it's his fault.

We get it.

Just remember, very dog has his day.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Les Habitants visit Buffalo with Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges. Plus, susceptibility

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres continue a four-game homestand tonight as they host the Montreal Canadiens, a team that they've played 262 times. It's not hard to imagine the Les Habitants, a franchise with 24 Stanley Cups and over 3000 wins, dominating the Sabres. But, oddly enough, through four and a half decades of battling with Montreal, the Sabres have a 119-106-37 record in the series.

Recent history, though, hasn't been so kind. Although they are 4-6-0 in their last 10 games against Montreal, the Sabres haven't beaten the Canadiens since a 2-1 victory in Montreal on March 23, 2013. Since then Buffalo is 0-5-0, have scored only four goals and were shut out in the last two meetings.

Montreal enters tonight's contest with 17 points via an 8-4-1 record, good for second in the Atlantic Division. After a hot start, they've cooled considerably going 0-2-1 in their last three including back-to-back blowouts at home. They were dumped 6-2 by the upstart Calgary Flames on Sunday and were shut out by the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 last night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sabres raise some eyebrows in beating Detroit, are 2-2-1 in last five

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres weren't supposed to beat the Detroit Red Wings yesterday evening. Get a loser-point? Maybe. But win the game? Nope. Shouldn't happen.

It's too early to think that Sabres head coach Ted Nolan might be ticking off the powers that be in Buffalo, but Sabres President Ted Black and general manager Tim Murray may have had their interest piqued yesterday. The team Nolan coached vs. the Red Wings in the Sabres first home victory looked like a good, hard-working team that's tired of being an embarrassment.

With the 3-2 shootout victory over Detroit, the Sabres are now 2-2-1 in their last five games. Granted, they were shut out in the two losses by a combined 9-0 score, but a loss is a loss whether it's by a goal or five goals. And a win is a win no matter how few goals it takes.

The Sabres are in Jekyll and Hyde mode right now as they've altered between good, solid performances and embarrassments. It started in San Jose' as they throttled the Sharks 2-1 in the last game of their three-game, west coast swing. That was followed by a 4-0 shellacking in Toronto, one that caused Nolan to put the team through a grueling practice the following day.

Monday, November 3, 2014

2014-15 Individual Stats--October

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Although I'd rather have someone eye gouge me than watch a Buffalo hockey game sometimes, there are times when you can pull individual positives out of a wreckage. With a 2-8-1 record and only 12 goals scored in 11 games, they're really hard to find on this Sabres team, but here are a few pluses.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014-15 Team Stats--October

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The Buffalo Sabres hit Pittsburgh tonight for a tilt with the Penguins before returning home tomorrow to take on the Detroit Red Wings. In the process they hope to say goodbye to an ugly start to the season. (For posterity's sake, Buffalo was 1-9-1 after 11 games, 2-12-1 to for the month of October.)

For as bad as October was to open the season, there is a bright spot. The Sabres have a top-10 penalty kill unit allowing only six goals on 41 opportunities for a 85.4 kill percentage. And in a tribute to how well the goalies have played, despite giving up a league-high 36.7 shots per game, their team goals against comes in at 3.27, good for 21st in the league.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Sam Reinhart sent back to junior. Still awaiting a Nikita Zadorov decision

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Buffalo Sabres' rookie forward Sam Reinhart was returned to the Kootenay Ice, his junior team, today. The 2nd overall pick in the 2014 Draft was held without a goal and managed only one assist with the team and was playing fourth-line minutes during the latter part of his stay. Because he did not appear in his 10th NHL game for Buffalo, his entry-level contract will not kick in.

Simple statistics dictate that the move was warranted. Other players in his situation like forwards Leon Draisatl (EDM, 2014 3rd-overall,) Andre Burakowsky (WSH, 2013, 23rd) and Defenseman Aaron Ekblad (FLA, 2014, 1st) all had better numbers and were playing bigger minutes.

For a statistical comparison, through nine games, Draisatl had a goal and two assists averaging over 13 minutes per game and Burakowsky has two goals and six assists averaging 14 minutes per game as the Capitals #2 center. Ekblad is averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice-time per game on the Cats defense. He's playing second-pairing minutes while being one of the anchors on the penalty kill unit. He has two assists.

And the teams that those three are playing on are in much better shape than the Sabres at this point. After a slow start a young Edmonton team with plenty of talent up-front has gained some traction having won four in a row before losing to Nashville on Wednesday. The Panthers also started slow but went 2-0-2 in their last four games. Washington sits right in the middle of the Metropolitan Division with a 4-3-2 record.

But, one could also say that although Reinhart was on a bad team in Buffalo playing just over 10 minutes a game, he didn't look that much out of place in an NHL rink. He's always played a subtle game and he continued with that during his stint with the Sabres. You could see progress as he was learning the game and he would have continued to learn more as the season went on. But it was not enough, especially when you look at the physical differences in Reinhart and NHL players.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Nikita Zadorov should follow Mikhail Grigorenko's lead

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Regardless of the disaster that is the Buffalo Sabres right now, it doesn't seem as if the organization is looking to take any shortcuts. with player development.

Due to extenuating circumstances, rookies Sam Reinhart and Nikita Zadorov are both on the roster, but were it up to the Sabres, both would be playing in the AHL instead. Unfortunately for these two rookies, just like with Mikhail Grigorenko through the first two seasons of his career, the Canadian Hockey League doesn't afford 18 or 19 yr. olds that opportunity. It's either the NHL or Canadian Junior.

Zadorov's case is a bit trickier as the big defenseman is in a situation where he and/or his agent, Rolly Hedges, believes he should be playing against men, specifically for the club that holds his Kontinental Hockey League rights, CSKA Moscow.

Hedges told Ryan Pyette of the London (ON) Free Press, that Zadorov believes it would be better for his development. 'It’s not that he doesn’t want to play for the London Knights,' Hedges said to Pyette. 'Nikita is 19 now and thinks it’s better for his development — if he’s not able to play in Buffalo — to play in a men’s league.'

Until an agreement is reached by all parties, including the defenseman himself, Zadorov remains in limbo and the wheels on this will only get moving if Sabres GM Tim Murray decides to send him to the Knights.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

10-game grace period? Plus, a change of heart on Sam Reinhart

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Sabres head coach Ted Nolan has tried an approach to coaching similar to former Sabres' bench boss Lindy Ruff, treat his team like professional hockey players.

After an embarrassing 4-0 loss--the fourth time they've been shut out in the last six games--it would seem as if he's had enough. If the team plays like a "pee wee" team, then they need to be taught a lesson .“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If it’s not working, maybe you’re not working hard enough,'" said Nolan. "I was upset the way we worked.”

He had them working "hard enough" today putting them through a tough skate reminiscent of Ruff's (in)famous bag skates. Nolan said he gives his teams a "10-day grace period" but  "taking it easy is over now. We got to work. I’ll take full responsibility for that. Maybe I didn’t push them hard enough. But today’s the day we have to start."

They'd better get started. The team is 2-8-0 and even the "Tank for McEichel" world is getting a bit restless. Apparently they thought that barreling towards the bottom of the league to land one of the top two picks shouldn't be this difficult to watch.

And if fans think it's tough, the coaching staff must be going out of their minds.

Granted, there's not a lot to work with on this club and they've had a pretty tough schedule for the first 10 games. You could even throw in Paul Hamilton's synopsis concerning the west coast trip the Sabres just returned from and how, usually, a team falters. But the performance last night was just plain pathetic. What more can one say except "Wake the (expletive) up!" which is what Nolan screamed today.

Fact is, the Buffalo Sabres are what they are and this is what they'll have to work with for a fairly large part of the season. You are either professionals or you're not and as of right now, they're not.

From Reinhart to Neuvirth to the Leafs and more

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Tonight will mark forward Sam Reinhart's eighth game with Buffalo and at the end of his next game played, the Sabres will need to decide whether or not they wish to keep him with the club for a 10th, thus "burning" a year on his entry-level contract.

Reinhart hasn't really done enough to this point to warrant keeping him on the Sabres as the team looks destined to struggle for the rest of the season. The team is at 2-7-0 on the year thus far and have scored a league-worst 1.11 goals per game. Were he pitching in more offensively, perhaps things would be different but Reinhart it took him seven games to register his first NHL point, a secondary assist in San Jose' on Saturday.

Tonight Reinhart will be between Nic Deslauriers and Cody McCormick on the fourth line again. Deslauriers scored a goal on a feed from McCormick after Reinhart worked the puck to him and the rookie feels as if they may have some chemistry. “I’ve felt with Deslauries and McCormick we’ve had some success and it was nice we finally buried one." he said, and for the kid a weight was lifted “Yes I think so, it’s always a relief, it’s a little later than I would’ve wanted, we had some success and it was just a matter of time.”

It's a tough situation when deciding Reinhart's fate. There's been marked game-to-game improvement even while playing only 10+ minutes per game and the kid has a definite feel for the game. But, he's still a kid and the decision that needs to be made is whether he's better off playing over 20 minutes a game in junior or 10 minutes a game with the Sabres.

We'll know the answer on Saturday before the team gets ready to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sabres headed to Toronto with a little wind at their backs

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It could have been disasterous. Well. About as disasterous as a last place team could expect.

The victory at San Jose' was a welcome reprieve from the ineptitude of the first two west coast contests and it provided the team with some postitives as it heads to Toronto tomorrow night.

First off, they were able to come out of the San Jose' contest with a win in regulation, the first time they could make that claim this season. Second, they showed they could score two goals, and they could do it with players not named Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Torrey Mitchell, the only four players to have scored through the first eight games. The Sabres were also able to head into the third period with the lead for only the second time all season, and unlike their game against Carolina, were able to hold on to the lead.

So that's good.

What's even better is that the Sabres have two winnable games in front of them.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter what's on paper

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The are times in sports where a lop-sided match-up on paper doesn't really matter.

Yesterday afternoon the Buffalo Sabres entered "The Shark Tank" with a 1-7-0 record on the year. They were on a four game losing streak, had been shut out in three of those games, and had been outscored 11-1 during that stretch.

Last season the Sabres had the worst record, by far, in the entire NHL and entered the season with less weapons than they had last season. Their top scorer coming in was Matt Moulson, a player traded three times last year, and a player who has tallied only two assists (both in separate games vs. Anaheim) this year. The Sabres no longer had their only true top-line forward in Thomas Vanek and they moved on from their #1 goalie, Ryan Miller.

The Sharks, on the other hand, boast some of the most consistent, veteran scorers in the league like Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski while Logan Couture Tomas Hertl are two of the best young forwards in the game. San Jose' has not missed the playoffs in over 10 years and although they came in to the contest yesterday on a three-game losing streak, they still were a very respectable 4-3-1 and having scored 27 goals to that point.

Just how lop-sided and uninteresting was this matinee yesterday? For the first time since December 3, 2009, a span of 206 games, the Shark Tank failed to sell out. Maybe the 192 fans who opted to stay home, thus preventing a sell-out, either had something better to do or knew something was up.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sabres fans can take some solace in watching the Amerks for now

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Buffalo Sabres fans are getting a bit of a reprieve from the wreckage as the team is off tonight after a back-to-back road set with two of the best teams in the league--the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings They'll resume tomorrow with a matinee in San Jose' vs. the Sharks.

Buffalo is still reeling from lack of scoring as they've been shutout in 3 of the last four games and managed just one goal in the other. They haven't been playing poorly, but they haven't been able to put the puck in the net either.

Only one player, Tyler Ennis, was able to pot a goal in those four games and as it stands, through eight games, the team has scored only eight goals. With only two points the team is in a last place tie with the Florida Panthers although the Sabres have played two more games.

Conversely, their farm team, the Rochester Americans, have gotten off to a excellent start with a 3-1 record through the first four games of the season. They've won back-to-back games and are looking to extend that streak against the Adirondack Flames, a team they beat 6-1 to open the season.

Unlike the Sabres, the Amreks are putting the puck in the net. Through four games they've scored 17 goals tied with the Milwaukee Admirals (four games) and the Albany Devils (seven games.) And their goaltend has been holding up real well too. Rochester has allowed 10 goals with six of them coming in a 6-4 loss vs. the Hamilton Bulldogs in the second game of the season.

Forward Phil Varone (2+4) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (1+5) lead the team in points, while two unlikely players, hard-working forward Tim Schaller and Akim Aliu, who is with the team on a 25-game professional tryout lead the team with three goals each. Ruhwedel leads all AHL defensemen in points. William Carrier, acquired in the Ryan Miller trade, is tied for the AHL lead in scoring amongst rookies with four points (1+3.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wanted. Difference-makers

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After dropping a 4-1 decision at Anaheim last night, the Buffalo Sabres head up Interstate 5 for a meeting with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. It's a tall task for the reeling club and doesn't get much easier as the rest of October looks like this: @ San Jose', @ Toronto, vs. Boston. At this stage of the game, and with the Sabres playing like they have, a win against the Leafs would constitute a minor miracle while anything more would be akin to St. Jude making an appearance.

This is not a bad team, though, unless you define a bad team as a lack of difference-makers. The 1974-75 Washington Capitals were a bad team. They had absolutely nothing to work with. I challenge anyone to go down that roster and find any player of consequence on that club. And if you thought Mike Weber's league worst minus-29 was bad last season, he would have been middle of the pack on that Caps team. In only 59 games played, defenseman Bill Mikkelsen was a minus-82.

Keep in mind that it was Washington's inaugural season and there really wasn't enough talent to go around the 18-team league especially with 12 teams in the rival WHA poaching players. Plus, there was another expansion team, the Kansas City Scouts (Colorado Rockies, NJ Devils) who had to stock their roster as well. The scraps that were thrown to the Caps and the Scouts to get their franchises moving amounted to some stale bread crumbs and chewed gristle, so an 8-67-5 record for Washington was not too surprising.

Forty years from now, people will have at least heard of Brian Gionta, a Stanley Cup-winner with the New Jersey Devils, and anyone who's even slightly interested in delving into the sport would probably recognize Tyler Myers' name. And when they look at the roster, they certainly will have at least seen the name Sam Reinhart, or even have had an opinion as to how his career went. Does anyone remember Greg Joly? He was the Caps first draft pick ever and the first player taken in the 1974 draft.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amerks and Sabres hit the ice tonight while Connor McDavid faces off in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres are on the west coast for a three games in four nights road trip with stops in Anaheim tonight and Los Angeles tomorrow night (both games start at 10:30) before a 4pm matinee  with San Jose' on Saturday. With a 10:30 eastern start tonight, the Sabres can lay claim to the "feature" of tonight's double bill for Western New York hockey fans.

Two events are jostling for attention in the 7pm slot tonight as probable 2015 first overall pick, Connor McDavid, and his Erie Otters take on the Niagara Ice Dogs at the First Niagara Center, while the Rochester Americans are hosting the Rockford IceHogs.

It wouldn't be too far fetched to believe that the intrigue over McDavid will heavily outweigh any interest in the Amerks in the greater Buffalo area. McDavid is going to be a special talent in hockey and the Buffalo Sabres could very well be in a position to draft him in 2015. If your dreaming about the future and have never thought of travelling about to catch an junior hockey game, the Sabres are giving you the opportunity to go see one tonight in a familiar F'N Center setting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nikita Zadorov and three leagues, none of which are best for him

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Thanks to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald, light was shed upon the Nikita Zadorov dilemma yesterday.

Going back to last Friday, Sabres head coach Ted Nolan was asked about the dilemma but he said that he couldn't "answer that question straight up." Zadorov has been a healthy scratch through the first six games of the season, but was not sent back to his junior team, the London Knights. Questions were being raised, and all that Nolan could say was that the team was "trying to do the best with the situation."

That situation has Zadorov as not quite ready for the NHL. He should be playing in the American Hockey League. But, as we know all too well, the agreement between the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL has no provisions for allowing 19 yr. old CHL/NHL tweeners an opportunity to develop at the AHL level. It's deja vu all over again for the Buffalo Sabres as they went through this same situation last season with Mikhail Grigorenko.

But there's a twist with "Big Z" this year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A manic weekend ends on a high, and a quick look at the coming week

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When Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton tossed a touchdown pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins with one second left to somehow pull out a victory, emergency rooms across Western New York let out a collective sigh. The area side-stepped a sports calamity the likes of which may not have been seen before in Buffalo.

The Sabres started it by getting shutout in back to back home games (Friday and Saturday.) According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's only the second time in franchise history Buffalo has been shutout in consecutive home games. The only other time it happened was in 1972 when they were shut out 2-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 17 followed by a 4-0 shutout at the hands of Ken Dryden and the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 20.

For their part, the Bills were set to give fans a reprieve from the malaise as they entered Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday with a game against a poor Minnesota Vikings team. Buffalo ended up as 6.5-point favorites which may be the largest spread as a favorite since Doug Marrone took over as head coach last season.

But, were it not for Orton and Watkins, with quick plugs to tight end Scott Chandler and wide receiver Chris Hogan both of whom made huge plays on the game-winning drive, sports fans in Buffalo would have been out of their minds.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rivalry Saturday

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Both the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres face familiar foes today as the Amerks hit the road for a game with the Toronto Marlies while the Sabres play host to the Boston Bruins.

Rochester kicks things off at 3 pm with a match in Toronto. The Marlies swept the Amerks in the playoffs in the 2012 and 2013. Last season the teams split their 10 game series winning five apiece. The Amerks have won two of the last three.

Forward Johan Larsson and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel lead the team in scoring with four points apiece (each with a goal.) Mark Pysyk, who was sent to Rochester yesterday along with fellow defenseman Jake McCabe, should be in the lineup this afternoon. Pysyk played extremely well last season with both Buffalo and Rochester and looked like a lock to make the Sabres opeining roster. He played one shift in his first game of the preseason and went out with a shoulder injury.

Pysyk's assignment to Rochester should be deemed nothing more than a conditioning stint. When he's ready he'll be back up in Buffalo. Tonight he'll be on the top pairing with Drew Bagnall.

McCabe isn't expected in the lineup until the Amerks begin a three games in four night stretch on Wednesday in Rochester vs. the Rockford Ice Hogs.