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.

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