Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Buffalo "Amerks" fall in Toronto in the shootout

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

The Buffalo Sabres iced a large group of players who will be ticketed for Rochester, at least to start this season. Of the twenty players in the line-up, only three are sure to be on the Sabres--Cody Hodgson, Andrej Meszaros and Chris Stewart--while two other, defensemen Mike Weber and Rasmus Ristolainen will probably be with the team when they open the season October 9th vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Amerks open camp today, and many of those who played in last nights 3-2 SO loss at Toronto will be headed east to Rochester. The Sabres have only two more preseason games--Wednesday vs. the Capitals and Friday at Carolina--to get ready for the opener.

Andrey Makarov got the start in net last night with Nathan Lieuwen serving as his backup. It was Makarov's first time on the ice in the blue and gold after spending three games as a backup in Buffalo last season. He had a stellar night between the pipes stopping 27 of 29 shots including a couple of the highlight-reel variety.

A pretty good defense helped throughout the game as the team blocked 21 shots, including Patrick Kaleta who stopped one with his face. But the shootout would get the best of Makarov as he got a little starry-eyed facing legimate NHL goal scorers which began with James van Riemsdyk. A 30-goal scorer last season, van Riemsdyk beat Makarov with a forehand deke and a nifty backhand high.

“My first game, it kind of surprised me, going to a shootout against the best players,” said Makarov. “We will work on that.”

Makarov was decked out in his red, white and blue Amerks mask and after a less-than-stellar Traverse City Tournament looks to be ready for a battle with Lieuwen for the #1 spot in Rochester. Lieuwen stopped 24 of 25 shots for Buffalo in the preseason opener at Washington.

On a side note. Recently hired goalie coach Arturs Irbe is fluent in Russian which may or may not have had anything to do with Markarov's performance, but it's something that can't hurt. Just wanted to point that out.

Fellow Russian, and often maligned center Mikhail Grigorenko had a strong game. He centered a line with Hodgson on the left and Stewart on the right. Hodgson was terrific for Grigorenko as he set him up twice. The first one had Grigorenko streaking towards the net on the left hash, but the rocket pass clanged off of his stick. You could see Hodgson offer words of encouragement as the two skated off the ice at the end of the shift.

On Grigorenko's goal, he took a pass from Weber in the Sabres end and got it to Hodgson who drew all three Maple Leafs defenders to him at the Toronto blueline. Hodgson sent a saucer pass about a foot off the ice which Grigorenko corralled on the backhand at Jonathan Bernier's doorstep. As soon as the puck hit the ice he snapped it home.

Grigorenko has been working extremely hard this off season after enduring a tumultuous 2013-14 season. He came into camp bulked up to 219 lbs after working out and adding muscle. He's taken everything in stride this summer and has been working hard at both ends of the ice. Last night he was finally rewarded.

Buffalo head coach Ted Nolan has been noticing Grigorenko from the moment he came to camp, "He did the right thing this summer by working himself into better shape. He came into camp with a real positive attitude, wanted to earn things versus just [being] given things," said Nolan. “He’s had a tremendous attitude from the get-go. Every practice he’s working and it’s great to see him get rewarded tonight."

Even though most of the group that was on the ice will be headed to Rochester soon, some should get an extended look as a natural part of the process and due to injuries to Kaleta and forward Johan Larsson.

Kaleta took a slapshot to the face on the penalty kill. He immediately threw down his gloves, took off his helmet and made a bee-line to the dressing room. On the replay it looks as if he may have caught a break, no pun intended. The slapshot was a fluttering knuckleball that may have hit him flat side which may have saved his cheekbone.

Larsson was the victim of an elbow from Leafs' rookie defenseman Petter Granberg. With the puck headed into the Leafs zone, the Toronto fourth round pick swung at it and in the process followed through with an elbow to the face of a closing Larsson. Larsson looked as if he took it square in the nose and fell to the ice. Knowing the way Larsson gets under opponents skin, I couldn't help but remember how former Philadelphia Flyer forward Mike Richards did the same thing to an on rushing Kaleta.

All-in-all a good showing by the Sabres/Amerks squad last night.

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