Monday, November 30, 2015

Chad Johnson holds the fort as special teams seize the moment

Reprinted with permission from

Buffalo Sabres goalie Chad Johnson has been on the winning end of identical 4-1 scores two consecutive nights. On Friday the Sabres snapped a six-game winless streak as Johnson stopped 27 of 28 shots in a home win vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. Last night the Sabres took their show to Music City where Johnson stopped 28 of 29 as they defeated the Nashville Predators.

"Johnny," as he's known in the locker room, held the fort in both games and the offense finally came through for him. It's something he's done throughout an excellent month of November. In seven appearances (two in relief of Linus Ullmark) he went 3-1-1, and gave up only eight goals on 174 shots for a .954 save percentage. After last night's game he told the gathered media that the team is beginning to come together. Johnson noted that he felt good from the beginning of the season but that the team was struggling with rust and to gel as a team. "You don't get the results when maybe you should," he told the gathered media. "I'm getting the results the team deserves, and I think I deserve."

Buffalo has seized the moment the last two games on specific turning points in the game and they both happened because of special teams.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Some Eichel heat + tertiary scoring = end to streak. Preds on tap.

Reprinted with permission from

With the way the Buffalo Sabres were dominated by the Carolina Hurricanes last night over the first 20 minutes, they could very easily be headed into tonight's game with their winless streak intact.

The 'Canes used a relentless forecheck and furious cycle to outshoot Buffalo 11-3 in the first period, but ended up down 1-0 on a goal by Josh Gorges. Gorges, according to Sabres PR, registered his first goal as a Sabre and his first one in 130 games dating back to October 12, 2013. The seeing-eye floater that skipped past Hurricanes' goalie Cam Ward was originally credited to Buffalo forward David Legwand but Gorges would end up getting the marker.

Early in the second period Carolina's pressure paid off a Sabres captain Brian Gionta gave away the puck deep in the zone where the 'Canes Victor Rask punched it home. Trouble followed the Sabres later as defenseman Zach Bogosian was called for a weak interference penalty just past the half-way point of the period, but they killed it off. And just eight seconds after the kill, Buffalo's Jack Eichel jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone and ripped a wicked wrister past Carolina's Cam Ward.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sabres could really be singing the blues on Black Friday

Reprinted with permission from

After hitting the .500 mark with a victory at Florida vs. the Panthers, the Sabres, according to Sabres PR Buffalo at 8-8-0 were off to their best 16-game start since beginning 10-6-0 in 2011-12 and are at .500 for the first time since the end of the lockout-shortened 2013 season.

Then they met some of the big-dogs of the Western Conference. The stretch began with an OT loss vs. the San Jose' Sharks before the Sabres alternated between the conference-leading Dallas Stars and 2nd-seed St. Louis Blues to finish both of those two-game season series in a six-game span (0-3-1.) The Nashville Predators came to town on Wednesday and pulled out 3-1 victory on First Niagara Center Ice. Of note, the Preds had been shout out the three previous games, a franchise-record 227:39 minutes without a goal before Mike "Mr. Underwood" Fisher broke the drought.

All-in-all the Sabres head into tonight's matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes on an 0-4-2 winless skid.

The 'Canes aren't exactly the Dallas Stars, as they're 6th in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference, but they present a formidable foe for Buffalo. Sabres PR has 4-6-0 in their last 10 meetings with Carolina, 5-5-0 at home. Many Sabres fans may have forgotten, but on the third-last game of the 2014-15 season, with the Sabres in a battle for last place, Buffalo defeated Carolina 4-3 at home. Goalie Anders Lindback made 49 saves for Buffalo while Tyler Ennis and Brian Gionta each had a goal and an assist.

Fans were finally able to breathe easy as the Sabres lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 four days later assuring a 30th place finish for the Sabres and a shot at either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 NHL Draft.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Having Zemgus Girgensons back would be a boost

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a five game winless streak that began with an OT loss to the San Jose' Sharks 10 days ago. And, coincidently, the Sabres have been without center Zemgus Girgensons, who went down with an upper-body injury in that Sharks game.

Pending the morning skate, Girgensons is set to return tonight as the Sabres take on the Nashville Predators at the First Niagara Center. For a guy who has only one goal and one assist on the year, there's a lot of anticipation surrounding his return. "The scoring chance differential with Zemgus on the ice for us is pretty substantial," head coach Dan Bylsma told the media after yesterday's practice. "He's got one goal and one assist [but] what Zemgus has brought us is that differential in the matchups he's gotten.

"We've missed him considerably."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not there yet.

Reprinted with permission from

For the second time in three weeks both the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres played on the same night and after a Buffalo sweep on November 12th both teams lost last night. The Bills had a primetime spot on Monday Night Football and lost a heavyweight bout against a perennial Super Bowl contender in the New England Patriots while the Sabres began a three-game homestand with a loss to the St. Louis Blues, a team they haven't beaten since December, 2009.

The Bills were on the road in Foxborough, and were much more composed against the Patriots this time around, but the end result was the same--a 20-13 loss. The Patriots have now beaten the Bills 28 of the last 31 meetings. Despite definite signs of progress on defense and with a running game that has improved as RB Lesean McCoy has gotten healthier, when matched up against a championship caliber team like the Patriots, they're not there yet.

Over at First Niagara Center the Sabres were hosting the Blues for the second time in four nights to finish their series. Buffalo is in the midst of a rough stretch where they're playing some of the big dogs of the Western Conference in an two week span. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in overtime November 14th then finished 0-2 vs. the West leading Dallas Stars and 0-1-1 against the Blues in their next four-game stretch. They'll bid adieu to November with two games against the Nashville Predators, who are fourth in the West right now, sandwiching a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Buffalo Sabes at the quarter pole.

Reprinted with permission from

At the quarter-pole of the 2015-16 season the Buffalo Sabres might be a little better than many expected them to be, especially when you consider the schedule-maker did them no favors. After 20 games the Sabres are 8-10-2 which places them 7th the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference, 22nd in the NHL.

Buffalo has already completed their four-game season series with the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning and, predictably, came out on the short end with a 1-3 record. They’re also in the midst of rough patch against some Western Conference heavyweights. Buffalo just completed their season series with the conference-leading Dallas Stars (0-2,) play the No. 2 team in the conference, the St. Louis Blues, tonight to finish their season series (0-0-1,) has played the 3rd place San Jose Sharks (0-0-1) and have two dates with the fifth-seeded Nashville Predators this Wednesday and Saturday to finish that series. All in a two-week span to finish the month.

A cupcake schedule this was not, but then again, when you're coming off of two consecutive last place finishes, there's no such thing as an easy game.

Although this team is far better than what hit the ice the previous two or even three seasons, they need to bring it every game and have done so for the most part. They've been consistent in the effort department, which has been enough to gain the respect of the opposition, but the results have varied thus far. Which is to be expected.

How the Sabres got to a respectable record this early in the season has been the more interesting aspect of the season thus far as the team has relied upon a banged up defense and a goaltending tandem that features a back-up and a 22 yr. old rookie sharing duties.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Some changes are needed on the Sabres powerplay

Reprinted with permission from

After seeing the Buffalo Sabres get shutout at Dallas vs. the league's No. 1 team, the overall feeling I got was that the Stars schooled 'em. Not so much in an overpowering, in your face trampling, but more like schooled them on how the little things matter in a big way.

The Sabres played the Stars fairly tough. Dallas has an extremely fast team that plays in overdrive the entire game. On a few occasions the Sabres were able to nullify the Stars' speed by putting a body on the man while at other times they were able to disrupt the play with good defense and proper angles. There were also times where Buffalo was able to show off some of their own speed and skate right with them. But, most of the time the Sabres were just trying to keep up and often times the Stars went into overdrive on the transition after gaining possession of the puck by great stickwork and/or beating Buffalo to loose pucks-- the little things that vets will do to a young team like Buffalo has.

Yet, the Sabres were in it most of the game until the Stars' Jamie Benn scored on the powerplay at the 7:11-mark of the third period. Benn's quick marker off the rush less than two minutes later sealed the 3-0 victory for Dallas.

As mentioned in the last blog, entering last night's game the Stars were 9-1-0 when leading after one period, 6-0-0 when leading after two. Buffalo would fall behind in the first period once again for the fourth game in a row (0-2-2 during that stretch,) but had a glorious opportunity to tie the score in the second as they had yet another 5-on-3 for :54 to begin the period. All for naught as they couldn't get anything going.

Perhaps they had too much time to strategize between periods or perhaps they just didn't have it together. For the first 1:06 of the Stars first penalty, Buffalo registered zero shots on goal as the Stars 20th-ranked penalty kill unit bottled them up pretty well. The Sabres started the second period with :54 left on their two-man advantage and guessed it, zero shots on goal.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sabres continute a tough stretch against the leaders of the western conference

Reprinted with permission from

The Dallas Stars are hot right now having won four in a row and eight of their last 10. Overall Dallas is off to a 16-4-0 start, best in franchise history. The Stars are leading the league in scoring at 3.55 goals/game, they have the league's second highest scorer in Tyler Seguin (28 pts.) and it's third in defending scoring champ, Jamie Benn (27 pts.) plus they have 23 yr. old John Klingberg who's sixth in scoring while leading all defenseman with 22 points.

Dallas has good size, a great mix of vets and youth, and is coached by Lindy Ruff an 18 yr. veteran behind the bench who has won 669 regular season games. Ruff's Dallas team has size and skill and likes to dictate the pace with speed. And if they get the lead on you, look out. Dallas is 9-1-0 when leading after one period, 8-0-0 when leading after two.

If the Sabres want to beat the league's best team tonight at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, it would behoove them get on the scoreboard first. In their last 10 games they're 4-0-0 when scoring first, 1-3-2 when they fall behind.

The Sabres are no slouches when playing with the lead either. They're 4-1-0 on the year when leading after one period, 6-0-0 when leading after two. And in a bit of a twist from early predictions, the Sabres have been carried by their goaltending and defense. With all the firepower acquired in the off season, Buffalo ranks 27th in the league in scoring at 2.21 goals/game. Their goalie tandem of back-up Chad Johnson, who will get the start tonight, and rookie Linus Ullmark have helped lead the team to 18th overall in goals-against average (2.68.)

The Sabres are getting shots to the net, but they're having trouble lighting the lamp, and even the powerplay, which is ranked 4th in the league sputtered mightily during the last game at St. Louis as they went 0-4 including a goose-egg on two 5-on-3's. They also faltered on the penalty kill allowing two goals on three chances. Add it up, and with better special teams play, the Sabres may have gotten out of St. Louis with two points instead of the one they got via the shootout.

This isn't an indictment on the team as it's best to keep things in perspective. Despite being near the quarter-pole on the season, this young Sabres squad (2nd youngest in the league) is still learning about each other and still acclimating their play to head coach Dan Bylsma's system. They'd been without their No.2 defenseman, Zach Bogosian, until the Dallas game on Tuesday and they lost Evander Kane for 10 games while he nursed a lower-body injury. Kane came back for Thursday's game at St. Louis and was a plus-1 in 20:55 all-purpose minutes.

The Sabres are in the midst of a tough stretch where they're facing some of the best teams in the western conference. Beginning with Tuesday's home match-up against Dallas, come Saturday November 28th, they'll have faced the Stars twice, the Blues twice and the Nashville Predators twice with Carolina thrown in for good measure. Those three western conference teams are a combined 40-14-4 at this juncture of the season and presently sit one, two and three, respectively, in the conference. (Carolina is dead-last in the east and tied for last in the league with Edmonton.)

Like the Buffalo Bills playing the New England Patriots this Monday night, if the Sabres want to be the best, they'll need to beat the best and they'll have four opportunities in the next week to see just how they measure up.


Today was an optional pre-game skate that was run by assistant coach Dave Barr, according to WGR's Paul Hamilton. He went on to tweet that all the players were on the ice.

Game-time is 8:30.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Bogosian effect.

Reprinted with permission from

Prior to defenseman Zach Bogosian stepping on the ice for the first time this season, the Sabres blueline didn't look complete. Not that it does right now as there are still holes to fill, especially now that Mark Pysyk is sidelined because of injury, but adding a No. 2/3 minute-eater helps solidify things up-top on defense.

"To have [Josh] Gorges and Risto (Rasmus Ristolainen) as a pair, Zach and Jake [McCabe] as a pair, it increases our ability to skate and play at that [top-level] speed," said head coach Dan Bylsma to the media on Wednesday prior to the Dallas Stars game.

Bylsma didn't hesitate giving Bogosian minutes upon his return. In his first game since April and against the western conference-leading Dallas Stars, he skated 21:03, second amongst defenseman to Ristolainen's 22:09 and last night Bogosian's 23:43 TOI trailed only Risto's 26:51 in their shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

What wasn't mentioned by Bylsma about Bogosian's presence is how he will probably be helping out the penalty kill. Before the Stars game the Sabres were 28th in the league with a 75% kill rate (11/44.) The top pairing on the PK remains intact with Ristolainen and Gorges but Bogosian bumps Cody Franson out of the picture and now slips into the second PK-unit with McCabe. After watching Franson screen his own goalie for the Blues' second powerplay goal of the night, I was left to wonder why Franson was even out there on the penalty kill.

The Sabres have allowed 13 goals against while shorthanded and these are the number of goals scored while each of the top-five penalty-killing d-men were on the ice (Bogosian and his two games excluded) along with the total penalty kill minutes played by each:

Ristolainen--6 goals...47:19 PK TOI
Mike Weber--2....12:33

Franson is on the ice for a PK goal-against almost every two minutes. Ristolainen who leads the team in PK TOI is on the ice for a goal every (approximately) four minutes. McCabe a goal every 11 minutes or so.

Simple math, simple numbers.

In a crucial five-minute kill thanks to a boarding major by Tyler Ennis, Sabres in-game host Brian Duff pointed out that Bogosian skated 2:45 of it. And after the Blues scored just :34 into the major penalty, Bogosian had a shift of 1:45, took a :37 break then followed up with another :45 shift. St. Louis was held to only one goal.

The only other Buffalo penalty of the game was McCabe's two-minute hooking minor. With him in the box, Franson was forced into PK duty and soon the Blues had their second goal of the game. One :22 PK shift by Franson, one goal.

Although this isn't a knock against Franson, as he was signed by GM Tim Murray to be more of a powerplay specialist, one should question why he was on the PK more than a player like Pysyk who's forte is smart, defensive work.

That said, with Bogosian back in the lineup, Franson's number probably won't be called for PK duty as long as the d-corps is healthy. Which is a good thing.

It should also be pointed out , however, that the PK unit dropped a notch to 29th in the league with a 72.9% kill rate since Bogosian's return two games ago.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On the ultimate 3-on-3 line, Gus, plus...

Reprinted with permission from

Wayne Gretzky was on Hockey Hotline today for a brief appearance talking about an array of things including the NHL's new All-Star format and you could sense "The Great One" salivating at the prospects of having with that much ice to work with. He would eventually got who his linemates would be in a 3-on-3--Paul Coffey and Mark Messier. That line just might be the ultimate 3-on-3 line and it got me thinking what other trio's could come close.

Immediately Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr came to mind at the forward slots and with Paul Coffey as their d-men, it would rival Gretzky's trio. You could through in the Pens Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with, probably, Kris Letang, but Letang is not close to the caliber of Coffey.

For Buffalo, Gilbert Perreault and Rene' Robert were a dynamic duo from the early days while Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny from the early 90's might have been even more dynamic. But finding a d-man close to those pairings was rather difficult. With Perreault and Robert one could fit in Jocelyn Guevremont while LaFontaine and Mogilny may have been joined by Doug Bodger.

Fun with hockey trios.


Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons won't make the two-game road trip that starts in St. Louis tonight and finishes in Dallas on Saturday as he's still recovering from the hit he took in the San Jose game this past Saturday.

Despite his paltry offensive numbers, head coach Dan Bylsma said he's missed on the ice. “He’s a big factor to our team in how we use him and where we use him and the quality of competition he plays against,” Bylsma said after practice yesterday (via Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News.) “Right now we’ve seen a pretty straight matchup with Ryan O’Reilly’s line, especially at home, against the top line of the opposition. But on the road it really was Zemgus and Ryan sharing those duties with not getting the last change, so his quality of competition has been high.

“We’ve used him against other team’s top lines, and he’s come out on the positive side of the possession with his line. That says a lot about what he has been bringing to our team and maybe a little bit past the goals and assist that he does have.”

It's assumed that he'll continue in that role when he returns from injury.


Speaking of injuries, one player is returning tonight while another will be out when the Sabres hit the Scottrade ice tonight.

Evander Kane, who's missed the last 10 games due to a lower body injury, will be back in action. According to reporters he's been flying at practice and has been chompin' at the bit to get back on the ice. "I feel fresh and ready to go," Kane said (via,) "... I'm well-rested. I've been all over our training staff to let me play. Tonight's the night, so I've got to go out there and prove (the training staff) right.

"I got the news [Wednesday]. It's because of them I was able to come back in three weeks and change."

Kane is joining defenseman Zach Bogosian who just came back from an injury to play against Dallas in his first game of the season. The two, if anyone needs reminding, were the key pieces in the Tyler Myers/Drew Stafford trade with the Winnipeg Jets.


Just when the Sabres thought they had a completer blueline, WGR's Paul Hamilton tweeted earlier today that defenseman Mark Pysyk will not play because of an injury to the upper part of his lower-body.

Have fun with that one boys and girls.

Carlo Colaiacovo took his place on the third pairing with Cody Franson at practice. The other pairings remained the same from the previous game with Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges up top and Bogosian with rookie Jake McCabe on the second pairing.

The lines for this morning's practice were, according to

Matt Moulson, O'Reilly, Brian Gionta
Kane, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Tyler Ennis
Nicolas Deslauriers, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn

Goalie Linus Ullmark will get the start.


One final note, Buffalo is on a three-game win streak on the road putting them 4-3 on the road this season. They're 4-6-1 at home.

Stay onsides, and while you're at it, Buffalo, how about a better start?

Reprinted with permission from

For the third time this young season the Buffalo Sabres scored a goal but had it overturned because they were deemed offside because of a coaches challenge. It happened in the very first game of the season vs. Ottawa nullifying a game-tying goal that would have clearly pushed the momentum in the Sabres favor. Instead, the score remained 2-1 and the Senators would leave the First Niagara Center with the 3-1 victory.

Last Thursday with the Sabres in Sunrise, Florida facing the Panthers, a goal by Tyler Ennis was overturned because he couldn't keep his skate on the line while he and Jack Eichel were entering the Florida zone. The goal would have put the Sabres up 2-0, but it remained a one-goal game until Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score about four minutes later. After enduring constant pressure from the Panthers and a barrage of shots, Buffalo would hold on for the win.
Last night against the western conference-leading Dallas Stars, it was deja vu all over again as the Sabres tied the score at 2-2 only to have the goal overturned when it was deemed Ennis had put himself offside. Like the Ottawa game to open the season, that momentum-changer was taken away and Buffalo would eventually fall to Dallas by a 3-1 score.

"I knew it was offside even before the puck went in," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media of Ennis' non-goal. "It's certainly disappointing."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's highly doubtful that any fan would notice a 1" increase in net size. Plus...

Reprinted with permission from

I'm an old-school kinda guy. I hate the DH in baseball and love the way the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors play team basketball as opposed to the more individualized street-ball. So I get when traditionalist bark about "the roots and/or essence of the game" and "messing with tradition."

Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR this morning and when asked about changing the size of the net, he was opposed, saying they should look at goalie equipment and calling penalties as they did after the 2004-05 lockout. He's not against angling the posts either to direct more shot into the net off of the iron.

And that's fine. Players and coaches can rail against the increased net size all they want, because they're ice-level and they would notice a change like that. But fans? Really? I guarantee that 95% or more of fans couldn't tell the difference. Adding one inch to a 72-inch width amounts to a 1.3% increase while adding one inch to the 48" height  equates to a 2% increase and if I put one traditional net at one end of the rink while at the other end is a net increased by one inch, I challenge any fan to sit in any seat in the building and tell me that they notice the difference.


Bylsma talked about the play of the game itself and how penalties aren't being called the way they were just after the 2004-05 lockout. He thinks calling the game using the rulebook will help in the goal-scoring department, which it will, but it's somewhat artificial.

According to teams averaged 5.85 powerplay opportunities (PPO) per game in 2005-06 while last season it was only 3.06. Teams scored and average of 1.03 powerplay goals per game in '05-06 (17.68% of the total) last season it was .57 PPG (18.66%.) In reference to the overall number of goals scored, in the 2005-06 season powerplay goals represented 33% of the 3.08 goals/game while last season it was 20% of the 2.73 goals/game.

The highest scoring season in the NHL was during the 1981-82 season when the league averaged 4.01 goals per game. Teams scored an average of .91 PPG. on 4.00 PPO for a conversion rate of 22.85%. The .91 PPG represented 22.7% of the total goals scored.

More powerplays mean more goals overall for obvious reasons, but the conversion rate in 1981-82 was much higher than the 2005-06 season and superior to most seasons after the conversion rate dipped below 20% in 1990-91.

Make no mistake, the 80's were a golden era of post-expansion hockey and the names playing the game were many and legendary. But part of the reason for their gaudy numbers is due to goalie equipement and goalies themselves.

Take a look for yourself at the images of Tom Barrasso, Eddie Belfour and Martin Brodeur from when they were rookies to the end of their careers, or if you want you can click on a blog I did back in August, 2010 entitled Why is scoring not like it once was in the NHL? See for yourself.

Not only there more equipment, but the goalies are also bigger.

Back in 1981-82 here are some of the leaders in goals against average:

--Rick Wamsley (MTL,) 5'11" 185 lbs.
--Billy Smith (NYI,) 5'10" 185
--Grant Fuhr (EDM,) 5'10"  201
--Richard Brodeur (VAN,) 5'7" 170

And others like Roggie Vachon (BOS) at 5'7" 170 lbs. or Buffalo's own Don Edwards 5'9" 160 and Bob Sauve 5'8" 178.

Go ahead, look at the images or the video.

Or check out this NHL, History Will Be Made, ad featuring Wayne Gretzky going in on Smith.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It may be time to focus a little more attention on the 3-on-3 overtime

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres had a glorious opportunity to tie last night’s game at one when they had a 5-on-3 for over a minute in the first period. They managed three meager shots with the “SHOOT!!!” brigade vociferously urging them to shoot the puck instead of passing so much. It didn’t work out all that well as they would manage only one more shot on their only other powerplay opportunity.

It was a rare egg laid by the NHL's fourth-best powerplay and it's 23.6% conversion rate. Going into last night's contest the Sabres have scored a powerplay goal in 10 of 14 games this season when they've had the man advantage (one game in Brooklyn vs. the NY Islanders, neither team was called for a penalty.)

The success of the powerplay is due to them practicing it almost every day. writer Jourdon LaBarber wrote that most times when the team practices, "the team is divided into yellow and blue sweaters. But rather than split up players by position like in years past, the significance of the colors this season is to indicate a player’s role on special teams. Those on the power play wear yellow; blue sweaters are for the penalty killers and the rest."

LaBarber points out that their success, according to the players, can be attributed to "a combination of good coaching, developed chemistry and those daily battles in practice." Time permitting, perhaps Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma can pay a little more attention to the new 3-on-3 overtime format.

Is the Bogo/Risto pairing ready to roll?

Reprinted with permission from

Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian hasn't played a game yet because of a lower body injury. Last week he began practicing with the team and according to, he's "inching closer to a return."

One could assume that it will be sometime this week. Just in time too as the Sabres are about to play Dallas and St. Louis, two western conference powerhouse two times each within an eight-day span beginning tomorrow at home vs. the Stars. Buffalo the meets the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday before heading south to take on Dallas on Saturday. And while the Bills are in Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, the Sabres will be at home facing the Blues.

No rest for the weary, however as the welcome the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, November 25th, the Carolina Hurricanes on November 27th before heading to Music City to take on the Preds Friday, November 28th.

Bogosian told reporters post-practice today that he was felt good, but cautioned, "I'm not gonna sit here and say I'm in. That's up to the coach. I feel like I'm ready to go and I fell like the last two days have been a step forward. For sure."

Head coach Dan Bylsma told the media that Bogosian "looks like he should be ready to play sometime this week. Today we put him in a few more situations on purpose to get some 5-on-5 situations and we’ll see how he reacts. We put him in those situations because the game ones are coming up for him.”

The Sabres have been faring pretty well with Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges on the top pairing, but it would seem as if Gorges would be better on the second pairing.

As for Ristolainen, he's been kicking it lately. points out his four game points streak (3+3) and that his 11 points on the season is tied for 12th in the league amongst defensemen. I think I’ve been doing a better job than last year defensively and offensively,” he said. “I think I can still be better and better and I try to be better and better," he told Jordon LaBarber of “I try to help the team offensively, lately I have some points. But I don’t think that way; I try to take care first in the defensive zone and then try to get something started on offense too.”

Bylsma was said to have been rotating d-pairing at practice today, possibly seeing what might work best as Bogosian re-entering the lineup is imminent.

The question is when?


A quick note on Zemgus Girgensons who missed practice after getting level in the San Jose game. When Bylsma was asked for an  update on Girgensons he replied, "I don't have a good update right now, it's a little bit more than a maintenance day. Obviously the collision he was involved in, he's still feeling some bumps and bruises from that."

But Bylsma somewhat emphasized to the gathered media, "[It's] not something to do with his head."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sabres/Sharks: Two very different .500 teams

Reprinted with permission from
There was a point in time not too long ago when the San Jose Sharks were a powerhouse in the rugged Western Conference. They boasted size and skill and were back-stopped by exceptional goaltending. Beginning with the 2003-04 season the Sharks made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons in a run that included a Presidents Trophy (2008-09) and two consecutive Western Conference Finals appearances (2010 and 2011.) 
That run all came crashing down, however, as the Sharks became only the fourth team ever to lose a Stanley Cup playoff round after leading a seven-game series 3-0 in 2014. That epic collapse by the Sharks not only propelled the Los Angeles Kings to their second Cup in three years, it through the team for a psychological loop.
The 2014 off season did not bring drastic changes but the team made some curious moves like stripping veteran leaders "Jumbo" Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau of their letters after not being able to move them and then added two fighters in Mike Brown and John Scott to the team in an effort to, I don't know, beat someone up if they brought up the collapse? Todd McLellan was retained, but after missing the playoffs with those shrewd moves, McLellan moved on to the greener pastures of Edmonton, Alberta to coach phenom Connor McDavid while Peter DeBoer, whose teams have missed the playoffs in all but one season, a 2012 Stanley Cup Finals loss to the LA Kings, was brought in.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

One Buffalo, Two wins

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The Sabres PR department alerted us to that little stat about the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. They also mentioned that Sabres are 113-64-33 when playing on the same day while the Bills are 89-119-2. Pretty easy to see who's not pulling their weight in that department.

For those who are not football fans, I'll make this part pretty brief.

Head coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills pulled out a 22-17 victory last night at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey against the NY Jets, the team that fired him after six seasons. Ryan likes to have fun with the media leading up to the game and oft-times there's a circus-like quality to his pressers. His return to NY/NJ was no different, save for the fact that it was during short week. The Ryan pre-game circus got going on Tuesday when he donned a Clemson helmet  (a prop that helped diffuse a Monday tweet by his former player, Calvin Pryor, a Louisville alum) and ended with him walking into Met Life Stadium flanked by two men, one of them in a Kansas City Royals cap (The royals defeated the NY Mets in the World Series.)

He'd said all along that it was about the game. About his 4-4 Bills chasing a division rival, the 5-3 Jets, for playoff positioning. And at the end of a pretty tough game which saw his team hold off the Jets, we had a glimpse of just how much this game meant to him personally, something he never let known pre-game. The team played well in all facets of the game. The offense got a touchdown, special teams added another on a fumble recovery and his much-maligned defense chimed in with two INT's, a fumble recovery, two fourth-down stops and a sack (good for an 18 point contribution to my fantasy team.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Can Rex Ryan help change the Buffalo underdog mentality?

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The city of Buffalo has not had a championship parade for it’s major sports teams ever, unless you want to include the pre-NFL merger when the Buffalo Bills won back-to-back AFL Championships in 1964 and ’65. It's something I'm sure is not lost on owners Kim and Terry Pegula and their charges at Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the umbrella organization in charge of running the Pegula's Bills and Buffalo Sabres franchises (among other entities.)
The Bills have been to the Super Bowl four times (all consecutive) but came out on the losing end every time. The Buffalo Sabres have made it to Stanley Cup Finals twice (1975 and 1999) losing both times in six games. The city of Buffalo also had an NBA franchise, the Buffalo Braves (1970-78,) now the LA Clippers via the San Diego Clippers (and Boston Celtics.) They made the playoffs three consecutive years (1974-76) but made it past the first round only once.
Being a small-market city in big-time sports has been a difficult task and it became even more difficult as the price to compete went up while the standard of living in Buffalo stagnated and the population decreased. According Google Public Data via the US Census Bureau the population in Erie County peaked during 1.12 million in 1971 and has been on a steady decline until a slight uptick in brought the number to it’s 2014 estimate of 922,832.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Big win for Buffalo as they avoid the series sweep.

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Buffalo's win last night over the Tampa Bay Lightning was pretty big. The Sabres headed into Amalie Arena last night having lost all three games against Tampa this season and hadn't beaten them since December 3, 2014, a 2-1 shootout win at home. Since that win the Sabres went 0-7 vs. the Lightning and were outscored 25-5 over that span while never scoring over one goal in any single game.

So taking down the defending eastern conference champions 4-1 last night on the road was a major up-tick for a team that's been trending upward over the last few weeks. Since getting blown out by the Montreal Canadiens on October 23, Buffalo has gone 5-3 and has played very well even in the losses. And after scoring only 12 goals in their first seven games (which includes Montreal) they scored 23 over their last eight games.

At 7-8 the Sabres are inching towards that .500-mark, a place they hadn't been all season. Granted, it's only November and there are always plenty of teams looking like contenders, but taken in context--with the back-drop of two 30th place finishes and the team missing their top LW in Evander Kane, a No.2/3 defenseman in Zach Bogosian as well as Robin Lehner, their starting goalie for he year--there's a lot to be excited about.

And it really starts with rookie Jack Eichel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sabres game-night, at Tampa Bay on NBCSN

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The Buffalo Sabers head into Amalie Arena tonight to face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fourth and final time this season. Not sure what the schedule-maker was thinking but having the Sabres play against the defending eastern conference champions once every four games on average is pretty tough way for a young club to start the season, especially when the franchise is coming of consecutive 30th place finishes.

In the first meeting between the two clubs at Buffalo, the Lightning schooled the Sabres dropping them to 0-2 on the season. Five days later the two teams met again in Tampa with the Lightning coming out on top by a 2-1 margin. The Sabres played one of their best periods of the season in Tampa that night but received a lesson in what it takes to be a Cup-contender.
And one week ago today, Tampa jumped all over Buffalo for three goals in the first period en route to a 4-1 victory. That first period was one of the worst by the Sabres this season.


McDavid/Eichel plus, Rex Ryan and a tip of the hat to Phil Housley

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Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel will always be linked together. And that's a good thing. A while back I posted a blog that compared a McDavid/Eichel to the NBA's Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry. In it I mentioned that the NBA at the time was no where near as popular as it is now and the Johnson/Bird was the driving force that brought into the limelight.

Although it's doubtful that the NHL will reach the status of the NBA in the States, 10-15 years of McDavid/Eichel will certainly have a strong, positive affect on a sport who's popularity has been growing steadily for at least a half-a-dozen years.

I also posted a while back that if the Sabres didn't win the lottery and have the opportunity to grab McDavid, I'd have no problem with the Oilers getting the pick even though they'd had an inordinate number of first-overall picks the previous five draft-years. I laid out similarities between the small-market cities while also citing that the two organizations had some real problems when it came to upper management and when you put it all together, they couldn't collect enough talent to make an impact beyond a short-lived playoff run or two. And it was a shame because both cities have a very loyal fan-base.

"In a way, I wouldn't mind the Oilers with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as the fans of Edmonton, who seem to be similar to those of Buffalo, deserve it," I wrote nearly a year ago. "They're a dedicated lot and although the people in charge of hockey ops should be held accountable (read fired) for their incompetence (as was the case in Buffalo,) it's through no fault of their fans that the incompetents were either put in their positions and/or lasted as long as they did. That's an ownership problem."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Charge of the youngins, four players 23 and under gettin' it done

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When Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray traded away defensemen Tyler Myers, Brayden McNabb and Nikita Zadorov for help up front, short-term pain was inevitable. Myers was a minute-eater for the Sabres and remains so with the Winnipeg Jets (20:48 ATOI, 2nd on the team) and the young McNabb (23 yrs. old at the time of the trade) has been termed "a key" (21:35 ATOI) for the resurgent Los Angeles Kings playing on the top-pairing with Drew Doughty. The 20 yr. old Zadorov just got sent to the minors, but is still being looked at as a possible top-pairing d-man.
And when none of the veteran goalies that had played well for the disaster that was the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres were re-signed, the team entered the season with big question marks in net. Murray traded for Ottawa's Robin Lehner to be the starter and he re-signed Chad Johnson who was acquired at the deadline but never played a game for the club, as his back-up.
The short-term pain would get even worse as two of the key acquisitions behind the blueline have been out with injuries this season. Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who's 26:34 ATOI lead the Sabres last season, has yet to make his season debut. At only 24 yrs. old Bogosian has over 400 NHL games to his credit and was expected to be on the top-pairing. The 24 yr. old Lehner had his season put on hold when he went down to injury in the first game of the season. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ryan Miller returns to Buffalo for the first time since he was traded

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Let's just get this out of the way right now--I've always been a fan of Ryan Miller. During his 11-year career in Buffalo he was a bona fide No.1 goalie who's stat-line isn't purely indicative of what he brought to the table. Despite his numbers which were solid, but not Dominik Hasek-like spectacular he invariably gave the Sabres a chance to win every night.

For instance, his stat-line doesn't tell you that he faced countless odd-man rushes during Buffalo's "Ferrari" years, nor does it tell you how many countless times "the core" couldn't get it done offensively or defensively during the ensuing five seasons post Daniel Briere/Chris Drury. And there certainly won't be an asterisks for his final 80 games as a Sabre at a time when Buffalo was beginning to blow the whole thing up.

What his stat-line will tell you, however, is that in 11 seasons for Buffalo he had 284-186-57 record with a 2.60 goals against average and a .916 save percentage during the regular season. His 284 career wins is a Sabres record while he also holds the franchise record for most wins in a season with 41 (besting his previous mark of 40 in '06-'07) during his Vezina Trophy-winning 2009-10 season. The 2009-10 season was also a Calder Trophy-winning year for Tyler Myers and it was the best Buffalo finish in three years as they ended up atop the northeast division with a 45-27-10 record.

Miller added to that outstanding NHL season by leading Team USA to a surprising silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Despite the team losing to a loaded Team Canada, Miller took home the MVP Trophy as Team USA almost pulled off a stunning upset in the gold-medal game.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Fifteen minutes of shame

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The Buffalo Sabres started out last nights game vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning well enough. They'd been playing a successful brand of hockey that got them to a 3-1 record the previous week, entered the contest on a two game winning streak and it looked as if they'd pick up where they'd left off. In the first five minutes of last night's game they looked pretty sharp. They were hard on the puck and were making plays, were hitting, skating and passing the puck well.
Then it all fell apart. Something happened along the way and they reverted back to a team that looked as if they were back in preseason trying to learn a new system with a huge influx of players still learning about each other. And it deteriorated even further as they looked just plain lazy at times.
How ironic that Sabres GM Tim Murray was on WGR’s Schopp and the Bulldog show pre-game talking about how far they’d come in a critical area—puck support. Murray was pretty happy with how they’d been playing, especially in the last four games, and mentioned their puck support in all three zones.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Sabres game-night--Three days off was a real long time

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One thing that a team really doesn't want when they're playing really well is time off and unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, that's just what they've had through the early part of the week. Buffalo hasn't played since a 2-1 win in Brooklyn, NY over the Islanders on Sunday. The third-period comeback victory in regulation capped off a strong week for the team as they went 3-1 with their only loss on the road in Pittsburgh, a 4-3 game where they outplayed the Penguins but came up just short.

On the positive side, this reprieve means that players get themselves in a maintenance day before or get some added time to recover from an injury. After a team day off on Monday forwards Jamie McGinn and Tyler Ennis were absent from Tuesday's practice. McGinn was attending to some bumps and bruises while Ennis was given an extra day to nurse a lower body injury that kept him out of two games last week.

Another positive is that the three-day break allowed for the team to work on some things. Head coach Dan Bylsma told reporters after practice that Tuesday was a "work day." Jourdon LeBarber of described it this way, "In the vernacular of coach Bylsma, it’s an opportunity to establish a pace and a level of intensity in practice that the grueling schedule of the regular season often doesn’t allow."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

On this year's Sabres, Connor McDavid, the NFL and more

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The Buffalo Sabres have been playing real well as of late and WGR's Paul Hamilton gave us a little insight as to what's transpired on the ice since the beginning of the season. The team went  from struggling early on to putting together four strong games in a row that lead to a 3-1 record. And even in the loss (to Pittsburgh) they were the better team.

So what gives?

"[Buffalo head coach] Dan Bylsma is always teaching and always coaching when he’s on the ice," began Hamilton's piece. "Last season the coaching staff preached hard work, but very little on systems or game plans. Bylsma is the exact opposite."

What it lead to according to was information overload for some of the players. “I think in some instances maybe it’s the first time a players been given a lot of information, I am mindful of that,”
said Bylsma in the Hamilton piece. “It’s evident, I can see it, I can see it from September 18 through the first three weeks of training camp, I can see it in some player’s eyes they’re like, ‘I didn’t know’, they weren’t aware of it, so I know that.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ullmark on the mark. Rochester wins two of three over the weekend.

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It's One Buffalo for Pegula Sports and Entertainment and fans of Western New York. With the Buffalo Bills on their NFL bye-week, the focus turned to hockey. Save for the World Series and one particular WGR host who, unfortunately for him today, is a devoted NY Mets fan (the Kansas City Royals won the Series 4-1.)

Although the sports-talk airwaves invariably come back the Bills quarterback situation (which if you listen too long will develop into worms eating away at your brain from the inside) the Western New York pro hockey scene had plenty positives. The Buffalo Sabres had a 3-1 record for the week including their first two-game winning-streak of the season to finish it off. After defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 at home on Friday the Sabres travelled to Brooklyn for their first appearance in the new home of the NY Islanders--Barclay Center--and came away with a 2-1 win.

Rookie goaltender Linus (pronounced, Lee-nus) Ullmark was sharp in net while allowing only one goal in each of those victories for Buffalo. The 6'4' 212 lb. native of Lugnvik, Sweden faced 58 shots and came away with a .966 save percentage. After last night's game in Brooklyn, Ullmark was quick to credit his teammates for his performance. "As a team we've become better and better," he told the post-game media at the Barclay Center, "We're buying in [to the system] every day. It's not me that's making the difference, it's the team that's making the difference every game, every night."

Ullmark continued to say that the team has "great confidence" in their style of play but also mentioned that he feels more comfortable in his game after an inauspicious start to his NHL career. Although the 4-3 loss at the hands of New Jersey was not 100% on him, it was a bit of a shaky beginning for him. He righted the ship and has Sabreland buzzing about his potential.

Monday, November 2, 2015

2015-16 Team Stats--October

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For the first time in five years of logging month-by-month team stats, the Buffalo Sabres are No.1 in one statistical category and I must admit that I wasn't sure what to do for a second after logging that number.

Head coach Dan Bylsma's aggressive, up-tempo style has the Sabres putting more shots on goal per game than any other team in the league last month. Their 33.8 s/gm barely edges out a team they beat twice last week, the Philadelphia Flyers, who averaged 33.5 s/gm. One could probably say that the Sabres beat the Flyers at their own game last week as the hallmark of a Philly team is attack with an aggressive forecheck while wearing the opposition down in their own zone with puck possession.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015-16 Individual Stats--October

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Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma spent the first month of the season mixing and matching his players in an effort to find chemistry amongst his forward ranks. He started out the season relying upon pairs to anchor lines but injuries to two top-six players threw a bit of a monkey-wrench into his plans. Left wing Evander Kane had been paired with 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel in Bylsma's scheme, but week ago he went down with a knee injury and will be out 4-6 weeks. Then on Tuesday right wing Tyler Ennis suffered a lower-body injury in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. He had been paired with Ryan O'Reilly to this point of the season.
Two injuries to top-six forwards could have provided a set-back, but instead the rest of the team stepped up with two very strong performances on back-to-back nights. Even though they lost on Thursday to the Pittsburgh Penguins they controlled much of the game pumping a season-high 53 shots on net including 24 in the third period. And in last night's 3-1 win over Phildelphia they once again controlled much of the game with a forecheck that made the Flyers envious.

For one four-minute stretch in the second period last night, Buffalo had the Flyers hemmed in to the point wher Philadelphia got the puck as far as the Sabres blueline twice. The rest of the time was spent in Flyers zone resulting in two penalties including a 5-on-3 for Buffalo for 1:06. The Sabres couldn't convert, however, but with the amount of skill and the way the team has possessed the puck, one senses it's only a matter of time if they continue to play that way.

Except for O'Reilly.

Sabres show some jam in Pittsburgh but fall just short

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Yesterday we revisited a December, 2011 Buffalo Sabres game at Pittsburgh, one that may be construed as a turning point for the franchise. Buffalo went into Consol Energy Center that year treading water on an average season then proceeded to get shellacked 8-3 at the hands of a depleted Penguins team that was without the likes of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and a host of others.

With new owner Terry Pegula and his inner circle in the owner's box that night for their first visit to Pittsburgh as the new regime in Buffalo, the Penguins struck quick that night just about two minutes in, tacked on another goal four minutes later then took a 3-0 lead with less than 10 minutes gone in the opening period. Even though Buffalo would cut the deficit to 3-1 in the first period, Sabres fans knew better than to think that the group on the ice could muster up enough intestinal fortitude to rally. Sure enough, the Penguins scored three unanswered and that Buffalo squad packed it in, which was typical of that team in that era.

My how times have changed.