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Welcome to the homestretch: Now what?

462497766_slideThursday’s Sabres/Oilers matchup might have been the most anticipated of the back half of the Buffalo Sabres’ season.

The hyperbole was in overdrive as 30th place Buffalo took on 29th place Edmonton, with just two points separating the two and a Sabres win enough to push them past the Oilers on a tiebreaker for the moment. It went about as well as you’d expect for a team riding a 12-game losing streak, with Edmonton claiming a 3-2 win, pushing said streak to 13.

Then the team traveled to Vancouver, and the result was much of the same, as two goals by Chris Stewart were hardly enough to match the Canucks in a 5-2 loss.

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The wheels came off of this season a long time ago, but looking ahead, there isn’t much reason to think this is going to end anytime soon. Vancouver out-Corsi’d the Sabres 70-29, one night after the 29th place Oilers racked up a 74-37 tally against the struggling Sabres. Struggling might not be a strong enough term.

This roster isn’t strong, but they’re not even playing the type of game that gives them a chance to win. The unsustainable (called it, by the way) streak through November-December was a combination of puck luck and strong goaltending. If the goaltender of the night is not standing on his head, this team’s got no shot in any given game.

They’ve got no confidence, which is fitting since their coach is known as a motivator. Their scorers aren’t scoring, with guys like Matt Moulson in slumps that date back to mid-December. Cody Hodgson can’t even stay in the lineup, much less earn a position on a scoring line or powerplay unit. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 67 to go: Neuvirth can’t do everything

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There wasn’t a lot of hope for good hockey with the 29th and 30th place teams in the National League facing off at First Niagara Center, but there was at least a lot of action.

If you were Michal Neuvirth, there was too much.

Neuvirth was impressive, but had to bear the brunt of 52 Edmonton shots, as the visiting Oilers handed the Sabres a 3-2 loss for their first road win of the season.

Noted Oiler-killer Drew Stafford and Matt Moulson scored for Buffalo, with Moulson finally snagging his first of the season. The two goals were enough to give the Sabres a lead in the final ten minutes, but the Oilers finally took control, with Mark Arcobello and Boyd Gordon adding the tying and winning goals.

“They were just throwing it at the net, and sending guys with traffic,” said Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges. “To be honest, we should take a page out of their book.”

Edmonton finished with 85 shot attempts, and their 52 shots on goal were both a season-high for them and a season-worst for the Sabres.

Buffalo is right back at it Saturday night, with the Penguins in town.

  • The Sabres should trade Drew Stafford immediately after the next game against Edmonton, because his stock will never be higher. He always seems to score against them. Should’ve placed a bet on it before the game.
  • Congrats to Oilers rookie Iiro Pakarinen, who scored his first NHL goal and now convincingly holds the title of my favorite name in the National Hockey League. The title was previously vacated by legendary Slovak forward Branko Radivojevic.
  • Neuvirth is going to have an aneurysm at some point this season. He was very aggravated after the game, calling for his post game presser earlier than normal. He seems sick of being bombarded every game. And there’s 67 games left!
  • Absolutely wonderful job by the Sabres on the pregame ceremonies for Hockey Fights Cancer night. The Jim Kelly/Rick Jeanneret puck drop was great. Only thing I would’ve liked to see is the ads on the boards in monotone lavender like other teams have done.
  • It amazes me that Ted Nolan felt that he just had to get Andre Benoit back in the lineup tonight. He was on the ice for a team-worst 41 shot attempts against, as well as the first two Edmonton goals. Play him more and see what happens: goals, for the other team.
  • The look of relief on Matt Moulson’s face was obvious. Hopefully they start going in more often for him. Not too often, we’ve got a tank to worry about. But he’s the kind of guy you like to see succeed. He wants to be here, amazingly. Appreciate that.
  • Attendance was listed at 17,490. In-house was probably closer to 15,500. Lots of empties for a Friday night.
  • Edmonton had 85 shot attempts. 29th place, terrible Edmonton had 85 shot attempts. What a mess.
  • Saw an Oilers beat writer tweet wondering why the Sabres would ever trade Tyler Myers. This means one thing: someone might actually want him. Sell. Sell. Sell.

3MI Three Star Selections
1. Michal Neuvirth, Buffalo
2. Iiro Pakarinen, Edmonton
3. Mark Arcobello, Edmonton

Official Three Stars of the Game
1. Teddy Purcell, Edmonton (2 assists)
2. Iiro Pakarinen, Edmonton (Goal (1))
3. Michal Neuvirth, Buffalo (49 saves, 3 GA)

Quote of the night:

“They wanted to win more than us… good for them.” — Buffalo Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth

Overreactions, 39th Edition: Secondary scoring shows up in Sabres win

In the Sabres’ recent struggles, it’s been the absence of the team’s second line on the scoresheet than would appear to be the difference between getting two points, one point or none on any given night.

For once, they showed up and got two.

Third period goals by Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe broke a 2-2 tie and provided the margin of victory in Buffalo’s 4-3 win over Edmonton.

“We’ve talked about it enough. Bottom line is guys knew we just needed to go out there and get it done,” Stafford said. “It feels good to get those two points. Now, hopefully we can string a few together.”

Even after falling behind 1-0, it was the usual suspects that got the Sabres back in it. Jason Pominville tied it up with his 13th of the year late in the first period. Jordan Leopold’s 7th on the season made it 2-1 before the Oilers tied it back up.

In the third, it was Stafford and Gerbe putting the game away. Edmonton closed it to a one-goal game late, but it didn’t change the outcome. Stafford was in on the last three Sabres goals, and finished with a goal and two assists.

Ryan Miller won for the fourth time in his last five starts at home, making 23 saves.

  • Zack Kassian needs to go back to Rochester. He’s having issues playing well enough to stay in the lineup, and he’s earning ice time by default. Another passive effort from someone who’s supposed to be earning a spot as a physical presence. Don’t damage his development by letting this poor play go unpunished.
  • Mike Weber was really good. He’s settling in very well after starting the year as a scratch. With the defense decimated by injuries, Weber is being relied upon right now. Good to see a solid effort.
  • Jordan Leopold has seven goals this season. The rest of the defense combined has ten on the year. Even after scoring 13 in 71 games last year, Uncle Leo is on pace for a similiar total. Guy has been a stud. Read the rest of this entry

Could cap crunch make Max movable?

afinogenovInteresting little piece I came across yesterday by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal:

THE HOTTEST NEW TERM IN THE NHL: “THE EXPIRING CONTRACT.”

The cap number for the 2009-10 season will be based upon of this year’s revenues, which were mainly generated last spring, before economic calamity settled in over the world, so it will take some time for the cap to really drop off. Nonetheless some sinking in the neighborhood of $2 million per year per team is likely in order, down to the $54-55 million range for the 2009-10 cap.

At that level, the majority of teams — including the Oilers with $55 million in salaries this year, $44 million already tied up for next year — will be scrambling to be under the cap and here is where expiring contracts come into play.

If you follow the NBA, which has played under a cap system for more than two decades now, you will be familiar with the term expiring contracts because they are something of an obsession in the basketball world. Read the rest of this entry