Monday, October 13, 2014

A tale of two teams

Reprinted with permission from

Before we get to hockey, for the first time since 1960, the Buffalo Bills will officially have a new owner at kickoff.

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim were approved as owners of the Bills on Wednesday and will be in the owner's box today as the Bills take on archrival New England for first place in the division.

The question asked often is what will the Pegula's do with the management structure and coaching staff? Will they keep them or will they clean house and bring in "their own people."

About the only thing we can hope for is that the Pegula's are intent upon having the best minds possible to run the team. If the best minds happen to be President and CEO Russ Brandon, GM Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone, so be it. I happen to like Whaley and Marrone, but I'm pretty sure that the Pegula's investment of $1.4B to purchase the Bills might just trump this bloggers opinion.


There was a time not too long ago when the Chicago Blackhawks were right near the bottom of the league. They finished last in the Western Conference in 2003-04, second last in the league after mustering 59 total points on a 20-43-11-8 record (ties-OT losses equaled one point.)

Even though they had the least amount of wins with 20, the Pittsburgh Penguins would finish last that season with only 58 points. The Hawks would end up with the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 draft, choosing defenseman Cam Barker, who's considered a bust.

The Buffalo Sabres, who won 21 games last season on their way to finishing dead-last in the league, were in Chicago last night playing against a Blackhawks team that's now considered a perennial Cup-contender. The talent discrepancy was most evident as Chicago romped 6-2.

In a hockey game reminiscent of Muhammad Ali toying with Jerry Quarry, the Hawks would come out firing, get stung a couple of times, then get down to business and dominate when it mattered most. Marion Hossa would deliver a shorthanded goal right to the chin of the Sabres putting the Hawks up 4-2 midway through the final stanza.

Through the first two periods, the Sabres hung with the Hawks keeping the score 2-2 after two. Or maybe it was more of Chicago toying with Buffalo while trying to put on a show for the fans in their home opener. Either way, the likes of Hossa, who scored the 30th shorthanded goal of his career, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (who put the Hawks up 3-2) and Andrew Shaw, along with a host of others, took control.

This is a Sabres team that right now is where the Blackhawks were some 10 years ago.

It took Chicago three drafts, including another wasted 1st rounder in Jack Skille (2005, 7th-overall) to really get the ball rolling. They hit on Toews (2006, 3rd) and Kane (2007, 1st) while defensemen Duncan Keith (2002, 54th) and Brent Seabrook (2003, 14th) began to emerge as elite defensemen about that time.

Six years after bottoming out, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. It was their first Cup in nearly 50 years.

Although it looks like it'll be a long season, this Sabres' team is markedly better than the one that was iced last season. Head coach Ted Nolan and coaching staff is also miles ahead of Ron Rolson and his staff. But at this point in time, the Sabres don't have the horses yet to compete with the big boys.

Some players are starting to emerge, though.

Zemgus Girgensons was moved up to center a line with Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta. It proved to be a solid move by Nolan as Girgensons would score his second goal in as many games.

Many Sabres fans have been waiting for Girgensons to put up some offensive numbers. He's been a fan-favorite for everything he does away from the puck, the way he plays a north-south game and for the grit he brings, but last season his production was mediocre at best. Of all the Sabres on the ice last night, he looked as if he could skate on a regular basis with the Blackhawks forwards.

That move by Nolan also slid rookie Sam Reinhart down a slot between big, powerforwards Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart.

Make no mistake, Reinhart is a skinny kid still figuring things out at this stage of his development, but this may be the most comfortable he's looked wearing a Sabres sweater. There's a long way to go, but he took a major step towards catching up to the speed of the game and figuring out how he'll begin to attack at the NHL-level. The Sabres will have seven more games to figure out where they want him to play this season.

Tyler Myers logged over 26 minutes last night after skating over 24 minutes in the season opener vs. Columbus on Thursday.

In those 50+ minutes of hockey, and with the opposition scoring nine goals against the Sabres, he remains at an even plus/minus rating. Although Myers didn't have the room to skate like he did against the Blue Jackets, he was moving really well and working pretty hard to get to any openings. The addition of, and pairing with, Josh Gorges has given him confidence the likes of which we haven't seen since Myers was paired with Henrik Tallinder during his Calder Trophy-winning season in 2010.

And finally, Buffalo's favorite jitterbug, Tyler Ennis, looks as if he's taken his top-line center duties to heart.

Ennis flashes nifty stickwork and is always skating with a purpose. Plus, as proven last night when he took a pass from Drew Stafford to go in on a shorthanded breakaway, he can finish. This is the first season that Ennis has been used on the penalty kill and he may take note of how the Blackhawks use a gifted sniper on the PK. Hossa, once touted as a one-dimensional, soft-euro has 30 shorties amongst his 465 NHL goals.

The Sabres are off today before hitting the ice on Monday, Columbus Day, for a 3:00pm tilt with the Anaheim Ducks at First Niagara Center.


The Rochester Americans dropped a 6-4 decision last night in the second of their back-to-back home games to open the season.

Nathan Lieuwen was in net for the Amerks and allowed 5 goals on 30 shots.

Of note is that Akim Aliu, who is on a 25 game pro tryout contract, scored two goals. His second tied the score at just over four minutes into the third period, but the Hamilton Bulldogs would score three times with less than three minutes to play (including an empty netter) to win it.

William Carrier scored his first professional goal on a nice effort while Johan Larsson scored his first goal of the season.

Amerk's scoring:

William Carrier from Chad Ruhwedel, Tim Schaller
Johan Larsson from Matt McKenzie and Luke Adam
Akim Aliu from Adam and Larsson
Aliu from Phil Varone

The highlights thanks to the Rochester Americans:

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