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.