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Overreactions with 38 to go: A banner night for Hasek is a loss

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It’s been a rough year.

If you’re a Sabres fan, it’s been rough. If you’re a Buffalo Sabres season ticket holder, it’s been even rougher. Every game is draining, both emotionally and financially. It’s long been discussed (here on this blog and increasingly elsewhere) that the organization tends to be sloppy with things like marketing and game presentation, but this was going to be a special night.

It was underwhelming.

After a short, subdued ceremony to honor the greatest goaltender in franchise history and possibly the greatest player to ever wear the uniform, the Sabres dropped their eighth in a row, falling by a 3-1 score to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Mike Weber’s second period goal, his first of the season, would be the only offense the Sabres could muster.

Buffa461501680_slidelo fell behind midway through the opening period, as Darren Helm scored shorthanded to give the Wings a 1-0 lead. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar would add second period goals and the result was never in doubt.

Czech native Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves for the Sabres, while fellow Czech Petr Mrazek got the win for Detroit, stopping 25 shots.

One game on the schedule stood out as important for the fans. Tonight was that one game.

The game wasn’t thrilling. Little about the night was.

  • Seriously, the organization should be embarrassed about that. You don’t retire numbers often. This organization has arguably retired some numbers undeservedly. There isn’t a chance to do this better next year. There isn’t anyone close to being a candidate right now. It could be decades before we do this again. This should’ve been a seminal moment in team history, and it was completely underwhelming.
  • Little fanfare for Zac Dalpe’s Sabres debut. Honestly didn’t even notice him on the ice until near the end of the first period.
  • Whoever designed the patches the players wore tonight needs to take a lap. Uninspired and weak design. You’re retiring a number, why is the logo the primary focus of the patch?
  • Twenty years from now, the Sabres will be hit with a rash of injuries and will recall Matt Ellis from the Rochester Americans. The guy will never go away. That’s not an insult or anything. Ellis just seems like he’s always around and he never really hurts you. Read the rest of this entry
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Overreaction: Miller holds back Hurricanes in last minute win

474892745_slideWe don’t know if Tuesday night was Ryan Miller’s last game with the Sabres. It might be. Then again, any game could be anybody’s last, because, you know… life.

But the impending NHL trade deadline is making these things more of a reality. And Miller made a hell of a case to be someone teams want on their squad against the Carolina Hurricanes, stopping 36 shots and even adding two assists in a 3-2 win in Buffalo’s first game back from the Olympic break.

Christian Ehrhoff scored twice for the Sabres, including the winner with 43.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Tyler Ennis also added a third period goal for Buffalo, who was outshot 38-18 on the night.

“Sometimes the hockey gods are good to you,” Ehrhoff said.

Ennis’ goal put the Sabres up 2-1 with less than eight minutes to go, but a fine individual effort from Carolina’s Alexander Semin tied the game at 2-2 with four minutes exactly on the clock.

Eric Staal also scored for Carolina.

Buffalo now hosts Boston on Wednesday night to continue a stretch of three games in four nights at First Niagara Center.

  • The word “Latvia” came up more than I’m comfortable with during this game. Let’s not be them.
  • How about that game out of Ville Leino? He was good. Drew two penalties, and was generally effective possessing the puck. Not bad for starting the game between Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick.
  • Not sure I’m comfortable with the idea Tyler Myers has an “A” on his sweater. I don’t want him to be looked at as part of the core. There was one play with the Sabres on the powerplay, where he got caught with the puck at the blueline near the bench. With the team changing and trying to get onside, he just fired it into the corner, completely unaware that Christian Ehrhoff was alone and waiting for a pass at their own blueline. Simple play could’ve retained possession if he sends it back to Ehrhoff. Myers gives the puck away. The problem with Tyler is between the ears. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions: Penguins (talented) beat Sabres (not so much)

467052031_slideMaybe if you watched the first ten minutes of this game, you thought the result might be in doubt. If you watched the last fifty, you knew better.

Even despite jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead on the Eastern Conference leading Penguins, the Sabres couldn’t take advantage of early chances before the giant awoke. The result of that is Pittsburgh dominating Buffalo en route to a 5-1 decision in the last game at First Niagara Center before the NHL’s Olympic hiatus.

Drew Stafford scored just under six minutes into the game, but that would be the only time Penguins’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury would be solved. Buffalo got other chances, but Matt Ellis and Zemgus Girgensons couldn’t quite get it done and the lead was nothing but tenuous.

Then the beast came to life.

A rough hit from Steve Ott on Penguins star Harry Zolnierczyk seemed to rile up the NBC darlings. Zolnierczyk would tie the game late in the first period, and it was over from there. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each scored highlight reel goals in the second, and Brian Gibbons and James Neal added third period insurance goals.

“That’s a good team over there that’s obviously playing extremely well,” Ott said. “We shot ourselves in the foot with a couple of turnovers in the second, but there’s no lack of passion. Every guy is out there working hard trying to compete.”

Ryan Miller, looking to impress Team USA coach Dan Bylsma on the other bench, was solid but helpless, making 29 saves and getting hung out to dry on many occasions.

  • Lots of Penguins fans in the crowd at FNC. Games against Pittsburgh are the right time to play the “Hey Penguins fan, do you know who Lasse Pirjeta or Tomas Surovy is?”
  • Speaking of those guys, we’d all love to have a guy like Malkin or Crosby right? Here is a good reminder of what it takes to get one of those guys. Embrace it, because in the end, we’ll have guys on our team scoring goals like those in the second period. And I’ll take that over hearing the word “compete” on a daily basis 11 times out of ten.
  • Mike Weber on the first Pittsburgh goal, top to bottom, was a complete mess. Sabres were possessing the puck well, moving up ice, and he gets it and fires it into the corner. Pittsburgh easily collects it, goes the other way and he chases them into the corner. By the time he gets there, the puck is headed to the front of the net and Zolnierczyk has all the time in the world to beat Miller. That shift in itself gets him cut from good teams. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 69th Edition: Sabres get it done in Ottawa

In the spot they’re in, the Sabres are going to put themselves into a good spot if they find a way to assert themselves and grab games early. Saturday night in Ottawa, they never led for a second. But they left Canada’s capital with two points.

Erasing a one-goal deficit not once, not twice, but three times, the Buffalo Sabres found a way to win, earning a 4-3 shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Tyler Ennis scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Buffalo got yet another strong game from Ryan Miller, who made 33 saves, some in spectacular fashion before stopping two of three in the shootout.

Three times Ottawa took a lead, but they were all answered by the Sabres. Nathan Gerbe scored midway through the second to make it 1-1. Ennis tied the game at 2-2 with less than 20 seconds left in the middle period. The clutch goal to send it to overtime was scored by Marcus Foligno, his first career goal in his 2nd NHL game with 5:54 left on the clock.

“It was good to see us get pucks to the net, and we got a couple of nice bounces and that comes from just putting the puck in good areas,” Miller said. “They all count and they were a little bit dirtier. We needed it.”

It was an impressive effort from the Sabres to rebound, as Ottawa capitalized on Buffalo errors to jump ahead throughout the game. A Tyler Myers turnover at the blueline led to Erik Condra’s shorthanded goal. A breakout pass into Cody Hodgson’s skates set up Erik Karlsson’s first goal of the night. The third goal was a lost battle in front that led to Karlsson banking a shot off Miller and in from behind the goal line.

Buffalo now heads home, where they have Sunday off before facing Montreal at First Niagara Center on Monday.

  • The most important contract Darcy Regier has to get signed this summer is Tyler Ennis. The much discussed “second contract” is going to be key for the team’s cap situation for the next few seasons. Getting this guy signed for a reasonable rate is important. Injuries have kept his totals down this season, which should help, but Ennis is going to be a star by the time he has to sign his next deal. The most dynamic player in the organization, Ennis could be the team’s #1 center in a few years.
  • When Marcus Foligno came up earlier in the season, it was blatantly obvious he was not ready for the NHL. Seems like a totally different player now. I’d prefer to keep him in Rochester longer to continue development unless injuries provoke recalls, but you see why Zack Kassian was expendable. Solid 16 minutes from the rookie.
  • The defense is going to have to make a concerted effort to aim for the blade of Cody Hodgson’s stick instead of the blade of his skates. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 66th Edition: Sabres lose game, win because they get to leave Winnipeg

Sure, looking at the standings, Monday night’s game in Winnipeg (a vacation destination listed somewhere between Sarajevo and Chernobyl on the countdown of “Most Desirable Places To Visit”) looked like a big game. The Sabres, just two points behind the 8th place Thrashers-at-heart, could’ve jumped ahead with a regulation win.

Had it not been at the conclusion of a roadtrip that helped resurrect the team’s season, it might’ve been a do-or-die situation. But thanks to wins at Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver, arguably, they were already playing with house money. Four-for-four wasn’t in the cards. Oh well.

Buffalo surrendered a lead for the first time in more than two weeks and rarely looked threatening in a 3-1 loss to the team they renamed the Jets.

Ryan Miller, who was sublime for the first three games of the trip, looked solid, but his 28 saves on 31 shots was not enough to steal any points.

Corey Tropp scored for Buffalo.

The Sabres looked lifeless for most of the game, showing signs of wear after three hard-fought wins before getting sent to play in poor conditions against a rested team.

Buffalo now sits four points out of a playoff spot, while still maintaining a game in hand. Winnipeg, clearly a better team in their AHL-sized home rink, plays just six games there for the remainder of the season. They have the 25th best road record in the NHL. Needless to say, the 8th spot is there for the taking.

  • Pretty shocked Lindy Ruff didn’t juggle lines a bit to find something other than the fourth line that might’ve shown something. The top line of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville looked atrocious. They were each -2 and played under 17 minutes. Your top line is supposed to step up. They didn’t.
  • Seriously, when you’re down two in the final minutes and Matt Ellis is on the ice, your team has problems. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 44th Edition: Roadtrip of doom starts with disappointment

Opening a seven-game road trip, one would think it’d be prudent to snag what points you can in the games that should be deemed “winnable.”

Facing the 15th-best team in the Eastern Conference should fall into that category. Saturday night’s game in New York didn’t fall into the “win” category, though.

Despite another phenomenal performance from rookie Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo couldn’t get the goal support or the defense it needed, dropping a 4-2 defeat to the last place Islanders.

“When you don’t execute exits out of your zone, you have a hard time generating much at the other end,” Ruff said. “On the bright side, I did think Jhonas was terrific.”

Enroth’s 36 saves were in most instances timely and crucial to keeping the game close. The Sabres got goals from Patrick Kaleta and Derek Roy, but a late goal by New York’s Michael Grabner was the deciding marker.

Buffalo got a chance to tie the game, as Thomas Vanek got a penalty shot with just 1:24 left, but the team’s leading scorer rang a shot off the post behind Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov. New York added an empty netter with 30 seconds remaining to seal it.

Next up for the Sabres is a trip to Detroit, where they face the Red Wings on Monday night, winners of 14 straight of Joe Louis Arena. Oh boy.

  • Robyn Regehr left with an upper body injury and was deemed as out for the coming games by Lindy Ruff. With Andrej Sekera ready to come back, it won’t necessitate a call-up, but the defense has struggled mightily. Mike Weber has been alright, but right now he’s getting #4 minutes. Marc-Andre Gragnani and Joe Finley looked like a dumpster fire in their own zone for much of the night. Sabres need to get Christian Ehrhoff back badly.
  • Derek Roy came through with a big goal to tie the game right after the Isles made it 2-1. The second line finally chipped one in. Oddly enough, it was on a night where the top line wasn’t making an impact on the scoresheet.
  • The lack of production from the first line can be correlated with Thomas Vanek getting drilled in the side of the head by a Jochen Hecht shot. Vanek has been taking a beating lately. They can’t afford to lose him. If he’s done, they’re done. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 43rd Edition: “It was an important game for us.”

On the verge of a seven-game road trip and two and half weeks away from First Niagara Center, the Sabres desperately needed to end the month’s home schedule on a high note.

It wasn’t very high, but high enough.

Thanks to two first period goals from the team’s fourth line, solid goaltending, and the team’s leading scorer coming through as usual, Buffalo was able to secure a split to the home-and-home with Toronto, as they pulled out a 3-2 win at First Niagara Center.

Matt Ellis opened the scoring at 1:05, banking in a shot from behind the goal line. The rare fortunate bounce was followed up by Gaustad ripping a wrister past Jonas Gustavsson less than three minutes later.

“We haven’t got many of those,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff admitted in his press conference, referring to the team’s bad luck of late.

Buffalo’s two early goals were answered by the Maple Leafs before the end of the first, as they scored two goals in just 2:46 to even the score.

The tie was broken with just over five minutes remaining in the second, as Thomas Vanek threaded a beautiful pass to Jason Pominville at the back door for the All-Star’s 15th of the season. The Leafs defense failed to notice the captain sneak around the goal to the backside of the crease.

“We should’ve had the coverage in front of the net,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after the game.

Ryan Miller made 24 saves for the win, and allowed two goals or less in consecutive games for the first time since October. Jonas Gustavsson allowed three goals on 25 shots to a team he shutout a few days before.

The game wasn’t without the reemergence of the story of the season, as Brayden McNabb left the game with what could be a concussion. Ruff reported that he did in fact visit the “quiet room” and is out for tomorrow’s game on Long Island.

  • Getting goals from guys like Paul Gaustad and Matt Ellis is the difference between this being a competitive team and an average team. That depth in offense is crucial. The second and third lines didn’t contribute any themselves. Thanks to Gaustad, Ellis and Patrick Kaleta (two assists) chipping in, they got two points.
  • I’ll say there were probably a solid 9-10,000 Leafs fans in the building.
  • Derek Roy came out extremely strong and overall had a pretty solid game. He was doing good things with the puck down low, created a couple chances too. Read the rest of this entry

3MI Roadtrip Recap: Toronto

(In place of a traditional “Overreactions” post, which would be extremely tardy, this is 3MI Roadtrip Recap. A mix of what the postgame blogs usually look like and a look into the trip. Hope you like it. If you don’t, well, go find a bridge.)

Preamble

It really is the center of the hockey universe. Whether we like it or not.

Living in Buffalo, you get used to Toronto being “right there.” Honestly, it’s a nice perk. I hate Canada in general with a passion, but, to be truthful, I love going to Toronto. It’s beautiful.

I’ve made a habit of heading north to catch Sabres games since the lockout. Thanks to the Sabres’ ownership of the Leafs on the scoreboard since then, it’s been a habitually great trip. Heading into Tuesday, I had attended 15 Sabres/Leafs games at Air Canada Centre, with Buffalo winning 13 of them. Really. When you can leave an opposing arena on a winning note, it makes the trip much more enjoyable.

A couple weeks ago, I found a few standing room only tickets on StubHub for a reasonable $49.99 each. You read that right. Those damn fees turned into $60 each, but I’m a huge fan of the SRO areas at the ACC. You basically stand right at the top of the 300 level, with a birds-eye view of the ice and some space to breathe. Some would look at a $60 ticket that doesn’t include a seat and question it, but I don’t. It’s Toronto. It’s a different world.

So I headed north with some friends eager to see another win. Um, well…

Sabres @ Maple Leafs
Viewed at: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

You can’t win if you don’t score.

Thanks to an impotent offense and 60 minutes without a single powerplay, the Sabres had no chance to win in a 2-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.

First period goals by Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski were plenty of cushion as Jonas Gustavsson got the shutout for Toronto. Ryan Miller made 26 saves in the loss.

Buffalo was in rough shape early, as Thomas Vanek played just four minutes due to illness and left the game during the first period. Without their leading scorer, the Sabres struggled.

“We need to get one and it will make the boys in here feel good and hopefully we can string them on from there,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford said. “We’ve got a great opportunity in the rematch in a couple days.”

Opportunities are only useful if they’re converted.

  • The officiating was horrendous both ways. The only penalties called, save for the Patrick Kaleta charging penalty, all required tangible evidence to prompt a call. Stafford put the puck in the crowd. Then Stafford pushed a guy into the net and knocked it off. Then Mike Weber put the puck over the glass. That’s weak.
  • Love the atmosphere at Air Canada Centre, but honestly, that was the weakest vibe I’ve experienced there. Crowd was absolutely dead. If I ranked all the games I’ve gone to there in order of quality of atmosphere, that one was 16 out of 16. Shitty intro video doesn’t help get the crowd going either. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 37th Edition: Long December continues for Sabres

For Sabres fans, there’s been plenty of reason to have the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls.

Of late, it’s hard to come up with new things to say about this team. The pervasive use of “injuries” as an excuse for the team’s poor play has masked many of the team’s problems. Those problems have led to the team losing five of the last six thanks to an absence of offensive depth and the

Friday night, it was just another loss, with the Sabres’ top line being the only effective unit and goaltending that wasn’t going to steal anything. When the clock expired, it was Buffalo on the wrong end again, falling to Washington 3-1.

Struggling superstar Alex Ovechkin scored twice for the Capitals, who got a strong game from former Montreal Canadien Tomas Vokoun.

“I mean, they got a fortunate one on the first one,” right wing Jason Pominville said. “We kind of would like to get a few of those go our way, but that’s just the way it’s been going for us.”

Jochen Hecht scored Buffalo’s only goal, being set up by team MVP’s Thomas Vanek and Pominville.

Unfortunately, the injury excuse just got a little more support, as defenseman Christian Ehrhoff went down with an upper body injury, and could be out “weeks” according to coach Lindy Ruff. Having lost Andrej Sekera the game before, the team’s defense is now decimated with Tyler Myers still on the shelf and no sign that the goaltending will pick up the slack. Ryan Miller stopped 18 of 21 shots against the Capitals.

Buffalo’s last win on the road was December 3rd in Nashville. A team that’s been struggling at home and had the road record to compensate for it isn’t getting wins anywhere. With one game left against Ottawa, the Sabres are 4-7-2 in the month.

Injuries have kept a many players out for extended stretches, but the core of the team has remained in the lineup. Outside of Vanek and Pominville, none of them are contributing.

It’s been a long December, and there’s not much reason to believe right now.

  • Derek Roy got killed immediately by fans and media for that awful turnover at the blueline. He’s the new Tim Connolly. I’m not justifying his poor play, I’m just pointing out that he’s going to draw the most ire from fans now. Especially with Ville Leino out.
  • Jochen Hecht is producing. He’s honestly been pretty good whenever he’s been healthy. That said, I think it might be a good idea to get him off the top line. Vanek and Pominville are gonna produce with just about anyone in the middle between them. If Hecht is going good and you can put him with Derek Roy or Drew Stafford and get them going, it might be worth a shot. The team’s not winning. Something has to change.
  • Mike Weber is a solid #6 defenseman. May eventually be a good #5 blueliner. But right now, he might be the third best defenseman that’s healthy. Yikes. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 35th Edition: Sabres bust a cap on Washington

That was a hell of a start.

The previous statement isn’t facetiousness, as one would expect with the way the Buffalo Sabres have been playing, especially at home. No, that’s legit.

Opening the scoring just 51 seconds into the game on a Jason Pominville powerplay goal, Buffalo stormed out to an early lead with four first period goals en route to a 4-2 win over Washington.

The returns of forwards Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes from injury proved to be of great benefit, as the team’s persistent attack in the opening 20 minutes made the difference.

The Sabres chased Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth after Christian Ehrhoff made it 3-0 just eleven minutes into the game with a snipe to the top corner. Brayden McNabb tallied his first NHL goal to close the scoring in possibly the best period of hockey Buffalo has played all season.

“We got everybody going early, we got the fans into it, and we got the bench going,” Pominville said of the early spurt. “You always want to get that first goal, and for us to get it that early was huge for the team. To generate more chances and score more goals after that was big. We limited their chances, and probably could have put a few more away.”

Ryan Miller made 20 saves in the win. Matt Ellis also scored for Buffalo.

  • One of the team’s biggest problems since they’ve been struggling has been the lack of scoring outside of the top line. Tonight, it was two defenseman and a fourth-liner providing the margin. But even with them chipping in, look at the scoresheet: all the top offensive players made an appearance. Pominville got the goal, but Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes all picked up assists. When the guys you rely on come through, good things happen.
  • Boyes was really good in his return to the lineup. That additional firepower outside of the first line has been desperately lacking of late. He picked up an assist on the McNabb goal.
  • He was named the second star, but I would still like to point out that Jordan Leopold had another phenomenal game.  Read the rest of this entry