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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

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Overreactions with 37 to go: Have we reached the bottom?

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Thursday night may have been a new low for the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve been losing. They’ve been losing a lot. But this scoreline was as bad as it’s been all season.

Coming in on an 0-for-January slide, the Sabres didn’t even get a sniff of a game. Outshooting Buffalo 15-3 in the opening period, the visiting Minnesota Wild jumped out to a lead that would never be in question. Minnesota would had Buffalo a 7-0 loss, the worst scoreline of the season.

Returning hero Jason Pominville would pace the Wild with three assists, while fellow former Sabres captain Thomas Vanek would add a goal and an assist himself.

For Buffalo, there was nothing. No goals. No great defense. No great goaltending. No threat.

Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth stopped 30 of the 37 shots he faced.

“After a game like tonight, when you get blown out, embarrassed in your own building, I feel bad for fans that come and support us,” said Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges.

461597664_slideNick Deslauriers punched Minnesota’s Matt Dumba in the face for a bit in the first period. That may have been the Sabres’ most notable effort on the night.

Devan Dubnyk, making his Minnesota debut, made 18 saves for the shutout. The Wild snapped a six game losing streak with the win.

It wasn’t good. This team isn’t good. This team is bad to historic, incredible levels.

  • The Sabres showed a “thank you” video for Jason Pominville, a year and a half after he made his first return trip to Buffalo. They didn’t do it then, and they were ripped for it. It’s a nice gesture, but you don’t want to try too hard. It would’ve been fine if they passed on it. They missed the window.
  • It’s honestly kind of surprising there haven’t been more games of this type this season. This will unlikely be the last.
  • He hasn’t been scoring, but I’m continually impressed with Tyler Ennis’ game of late. He’s buzzing around. He’s getting no help but he’s been alright. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 49 to go: Avalanche bury crumbling Sabres

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With pregame rumors of a Johan Larsson call-up circulating, there was speculation as to what could possibly necessitate the move. Turns out Matt Moulson’s late scratch due to being sick would be what is referred to as a “harbinger.”

Missing their top left winger, and losing Patrick Kaleta due to illness and Tyler Myers to injury, the Sabres were on their heels all night and dropped a 5-1 decision to the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

In a fitting tribute to the discourse around the team this season, 2006 first overall pick Erik Johnson took a pass from 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon and beat Jhonas Enroth just 2:23 into the game.

It was all downhill from there. Colorado’s Cody McLoed would score shorthanded five minutes later. That 2-0 lead would hold through the third period, when Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell would score to put the game away.

Larsson made his whirlwind night memorable, burying his first career NHL goal with 6:33 left to make it 4-1. Tanguay would add an empty netter and the Sabres fell 5-1 for the second straight game.

Enroth made 22 saves in his first loss since December 4th. Calvin Pickard stopped 28 of 29 for the Avs.

  • Good for Johan Larsson to finally pick up his first NHL goal. Tonight was his 34th National Hockey League game. He’s not supposed to be some elite goalscorer, but at some point the points had to come. Nice way to cap off the day for him.
  • Ted Nolan brushed off the idea that it could be mumps that ailed Moulson and Kaleta. Could just be a flu bug, but hey, who knows. He’s not a doctor.
  • Missing Tyler Myers for an extended period of time will really aid the tank. Not so much in the way the team will be worse per se, but that guys like Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros might have to get more ice time.
  • The Sabres did a great job with the Make-A-Wish kid who dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off. The kid was in the locker room helping interview players after the game. Really cool experience for him.  Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 53 to go: Sabres keep inexplicable run going, beat Flames 4-3

460334184_slideThe season is still young enough where the expected results don’t yet match the sample size. The Sabres, by far the worst team in the league in just about every category, somehow can’t find a way to get run over on a nightly basis where it matters most.

The regression is coming, but we’re not there yet.

Getting outshot 45-19 and out-attempted 76-36, the Buffalo Sabres, on the strength of a huge night from their top line, defeated Calgary 4-3.

Matt Moulson scored his second of the night with 7:29 remaining to give the Sabres a tenuous lead they wouldn’t surrender. Tyler Ennis would finish with three assists and Latvian god Zemgus Girgensons added a third period goal and an assist to pace the Sabres. Marcus Foligno scored Buffalo’s other goal.

“It wasn’t one of our better games,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan. “But, it does show that the belief factor is starting to creep in.”

Jhonas Enroth was the workhorse again, stopping 42 of the 45 shots he faced. He’s come away with a win in 7 of his last 9 starts.

Buffalo has now won 8 of their last 11, and continue their homestand Saturday night against noted division rival Florida.

  • Tyler Myers and Josh Gorges… they did not have a good game. On the ice for every Calgary goal, Gorges himself was responsible for two of them, losing battles that quickly ended up behind Enroth. Myers was on the ice for 36 shot attempts against by the Flames.
  • Good that Marcus Foligno tallied a goal, but besides being smart enough to stand by himself on the back end of the goal crease, that goal was all Drew Stafford. Stafford made a great play to defend the puck behind the net and slide it cross-crease to an awaiting Foligno.
  • Really, really phenomenal game from Tyler Ennis. The top line has been playing very well and the result tonight is mainly on them. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 59 to go: But really, how about that Ennis goal?

459693712_slideWhen the season is going like it is, it’s hard for a lot of fans to convince themselves to turn on a game. Some might not see the value in it if the team’s this bad. Some just don’t care to unless the team is good.

But then something will happen, like Tyler Ennis‘ ridiculous acrobatic goal, and reaffirm that there’s a reason to tune in every night. You don’t know what you’re going to see, or in the case of someone who didn’t take the time to watch or sold their tickets, what you’re going to miss.

Ennis’ goal early in the first period gave Buffalo a lead they’d eventually surrender, but a fortunate bounce in the final minutes gave the Sabres a 2-1 win over the visiting Canadiens, snapping a winless skid against Montreal.

Matt Moulson tapped home a loose puck into a vacated net after a stanchion on the boards knocked it away from Habs goaltender Carey Price.

“It must be a lucky day, so I’ll take it,” said Moulson.

P.A. Parenteau scored a powerplay goal early in the third period to tie the game, poking in a puck from underneath Jhonas Enroth’s skate.

Buffalo has now won four of five and is undoubtedly a lock for a playoff spot.

  • Obviously we don’t want this team to be winning too many games this season, but I’ll take a dumb luck, last second win over Toronto/Montreal at First Niagara Center eight days a week.
  • Maybe the best game Andrej Meszaros has played as a Sabre. Was solid in both ends.
  • The Nikita Zadorov-Rasmus Ristolainen pairing has been on the ice for one goal against all season, Jori Lehtera’s second in the 6-1 loss to St. Louis. That was November 11th.  Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 63 to go: Sabres crush Leafs in convincing and hilarious fashion

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Any time the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town, it’s dreaded. Thousands of thousands of the worst, most obnoxious jackasses that come through the doors of First Niagara Center all season routinely leave their mark.

Tonight, they left jerseys on the ice. They left beer cans. And they left without two points.

The Buffalo Sabres, with a home crowd in Leafs gear booing them as they took the ice, played their best and most complete game of the season. With a 6-2 win, the throngs of visitors and their opponent went home angry and disgusted.

It was great. Really. Really great.

Zemgus Girgensons scored twice and Buffalo got rock solid goaltending from Michal Neuvirth, stopping 32 of 34 Toronto shots.

“It’s hard enough when you don’t win games,” said Girgensons. “Today was absolutely different how we played.”

Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Matt Moulson and Tyler Myers also scored for the Sabres.

“It was a fun one,” said Ennis.

David Clarkson and Phil Kessel scored for Toronto, who lost to the Buffalo Sabres.

  • Buffalo registered a season-high 35 shots on goal. The previous high was 32, twice. They registered 30+ just three times before tonight, and won none of those games.
  • Brian Flynn on that second goal was super dreamy. Tyson Strachan ripped the puck around the wall and Flynn took off immediately, beats Reimer to the puck and is cool as the other side of the pillow in finding Girgensons in the high slot. Great play. Super duper.
  • Understated with the goalscoring output is how well Neuvirth played. Made some huge saves early to keep the Leafs off the board until late in the second period. 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 with 76 to go: Bruins bury hard-working Sabres

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After a notably poor performance in the opening period of last night’s loss to Florida, the Buffalo Sabres came out flying against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Outshooting the visitors 16-12, it was a much better start for the struggling Sabres. Except for that whole scoreboard thing, of course.

A goal by Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton near the midway point of the first period held up, and Boston rookie goaltender Niklas Svedberg collected his first NHL shutout as the Sabres lost by as score of 4-0.

Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and Carl Soderberg also scored for Boston, who collected just their third win of the young season.

Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth, starting for the second consecutive night, put in an admirable effort, stopping 32 shots and falling victim to some traffic in front of him. Unfortunately, the admirable effort

“Everybody’s frustrated when you lose,” said forward Cody Hodgson.

Buffalo extends their scoreless streak to 142:06, having last scored a goal Tuesday in Carolina. They now head west, with their next game in Anaheim on Wednesday.

  • Losing isn’t a bad thing, considering the endgame of this season, but it’d be cool to see some competent offense once in a while.
  • Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson were on the ice for three goals against. Gionta has been highly ineffective to this point and he’s wearing a big letter on his chest. It’s still only six games in, but it’s becoming disconcerting.
  • The Sabres are going to end up being slumpbusters for a lot of teams this season. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 79 to go: Quack Attack smacks Sabres

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With all the children off for Columbus Day, and a hastily organized “Kids Day” set for the Sabres’ matinee matchup against the visiting Anaheim Ducks, one might expect a light, fun atmosphere.

Yeah, not so much.

With the announced crowd of 18,912 watching, the Sabres were thoroughly and completely hammered by the Ducks, with Anaheim handing Buffalo a 5-1 loss in a game that was never close.

Starting with Andre Benoit’s penalty 18 seconds into the game, the Ducks rolled, outshooting the Sabres 17-3 in the opening period and 44-12 in the game. Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth, making his season debut and looking sharp early, never really had a chance, making 39 saves.

“Five goals against, that’s a lot,” said Neuvirth. “That’s too much. Tomorrow’s a new day, and we all gotta be better tomorrow.”

The Ducks got goals from Corey Perry, Matt Beleskey and Ryan Kesler, as well as the first two of William Karlsson’s NHL career.

Tyler Ennis scored in the third period to make it 5-1, his second goal of the season after tallying in Saturday’s loss to Chicago. Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford picked up assists on that goal, while the rest of the team was pointless, some in more ways then one.

Buffalo heads to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

  • I think it’s pretty damn awesome that the Pegulas shelled out the cash to buy 90,000 t-shirts to give out between yesterday’s Bills game and today’s Sabres game. Giveaways are cool. Giveaways that are unsponsored are an effort. Great gesture. Shame that there were a couple thousand unclaimed shirts draped all over the seating bowl.
  • Usually Ted Nolan seems very positive after games. He’ll say some things to show he’s not happy, but in the end he’ll have an optimistic spin on it. After the game, he was as pissed and upset as I’ve seen him since he came in last November. He claimed there would be lineup changes, but there’s only so many moves he can make. Marcus Foligno was scratched with an injury, so there are no spare forwards, and Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Strachan are your spare defensemen. Is that an improvement?
  • Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth will both get hurt in the next month or two. They will not be able to handle this workload all season.  Read the rest of this entry

Preseason Overreactions: Sabres crush Capitals in final home exhibition

With the Washington Capitals leaving their stars out of the lineup, it looked pretty easy for the Sabres. 201410012104758804558-p5.jpgUnfortunately, every team they play this season won’t be doing that, so they’re still pretty screwed.

On a brisk Wednesday night in Buffalo, the Sabres jumped ahead early and rolled to a 6-1 victory over the visiting Capitals, wrapping up their home preseason slate.

Buffalo got two goals from Matt Moulson, as well as markers from Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Sam Reinhart, who all scored their first of the preseason. The Sabres led 5-0 before Washington got on the board in the third on a goal by Jason Chimera.

“It was a good game all around,” said Ennis. “It was nice to see Reinhart get his first goal. Everyone contributed.”

Jhonas Enroth was a stud in net again, making 22 saves and solidifying himself as the likely starter for the season opener. Coach Ted Nolan wouldn’t confirm that after the game, but he acknowledged that Enroth is in a good position to be the team’s top goalie.

Buffalo wraps up their preseason on Friday in Carolina.

  • This was by far the best game Sam Reinhart has played this fall. I commented early how he looked like he belonged, and he followed that up with a goal in the third period. Before I wasn’t sure he deserved a look once the season starts, but he does now.
  • Marcus Foligno had a nice game. His goal was good work, as he basically got a free pass to the goal crease and walked it around Washington’s Braden Holtby. It’s good that he’s contributing. He’s going to need to do that regularly at some point.
  • Jhonas Enroth might end up getting 60 games this year if he plays this well. Hard for Nolan to turn elsewhere when he’s getting strong performances like this.
    Read the rest of this entry