Category Archives: Sabres/NHL

Overreactions: CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (featuring bonus Instigator Podcast)

HKO CHL ProspectsThursday night, the hockey world converged on nearby St. Catharines, Ontario for the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. The brand new Meridian Centre, home of the Niagara Ice Dogs, was the site of the yearly showcase for the best draft-eligible junior players in the Canadian Hockey League.

Team Orr (coached by Bobby) defeated Team Cherry (coached by Don) by a 6-0 score. But the score doesn’t matter. Everything Connor McDavid did does. It’s a chance for young players to stand out among their peers with NHL scouts filling the building.

Some quick thoughts, including a podcast with my esteemed colleague Chris Ostrander from the Two In the Box:

  • Connor McDavid was the best player on the ice. He wasn’t the leading scorer, he wasn’t most valuable player, he’s just clearly the most skilled guy there. I wonder if he “jumped off the screen” to those watching at home.
  • When the CSS rankings got released this week, there was some chatter/outrage over Lawson Crouse being ranked ahead of Mitch Marner, who’s been putting up ridiculous numbers in London. Getting a chance to see them together, I’m coming around to seeing why Crouse is ranked higher. He’s not the type of player who’s going to rack up points, but he can generate offense and be a force in all facets of the game.
  • Former Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was in the house. He was sitting four rows in front of me. He makes an appearance in the podcast below.
  • Also spotted: Sabres legend Donald Audette. Audette is now an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Paul Bittner was really good for most of the game. He’s ranked 19th among North American skaters and might be in play for a late-1st/early-2nd. I’d be cool with it.
  • It’s a shame Ivan Provorov won’t be available in a position the Sabres will be picking. He’ll go around 10-15. He’s gonna be a stud.
  • It’s a shame that the Sabres as an organization don’t do more with the IceDogs. They’re in their market. They should be playing a preseason game in St. Catharines each year. But then again, hard to sell Sabres to Canada when #WeAreBuffalo.
  • Still not sure I know how to say Travis Konecny’s name, but I really liked him. Him and Timo Meier were good, despite their linemate (McDav-something?) not really being all that generational.
  • Guy I liked: Nathan Noel. Scored a goal late, but just has that indescribable that-guy-looks-like-an-NHL-player quality about him. Not super impressive, just seems to have it.

Here’s a quick podcast we did during the second intermission:

Overreactions with 36 to go: We’ve reached the bottom

461692462_slideIt finally happened.

After an incredible run through November and December, just over a month removed from a streak where the Sabres improbably won 10 of 13 games, they have parachuted to dead last. And despite an improved effort Saturday night against the visiting Flyers, the 4-3 loss, combined with Edmonton’s shootout win over Florida puts the Sabres in 30th place.

Buffalo scored late in the opening period to take a 1-0 lead on a goal by Zemgus Girgensons, but the Flyers would take over in the second and controlled the game from there. Power play goals from R.J. Umberger and Mark Streit gave Philadelphia a lead, and they wouldn’t trail again.

Tyler Ennis would score his 10th of the season late in the second, but the Flyers would add two more in the third. A late marker by Girgensons, his second of the night and 13th of the season wouldn’t be enough.

Michal Neuvirth was solid in net for the Sabres, stopping 28 of 32 Flyers shots in the loss. Rob Zepp made 24 saves for the Flyers.

It’s been three weeks since the Sabres’ last win, and it may be much longer until the next.

  • Maybe Tyler Myers’ best game in a long time. He was good. Logged a lot of minutes (27:33).
  • Very, very quietly, Chris Stewart is racking up points. His two assists tonight gave him 14 points on the year. It was his first multi-point game of the season and he has four points in his last five games.
  • Cody Hodgson played 5:57 tonight. Drew Stafford? 9:05. Who needs offense when you’ve lost 10 in a row? Read the rest of this entry

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 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

Overreactions with 39 to go: Sabres fall to Lightning and don’t blame Neuvirth

461248060_slideThere’s a baseball term called “run support,” referring to how much offense a team produces when a certain pitcher is on the mound, and usually it helps a pitcher’s win-loss record when the team can give him some wiggle room. Michal Neuvirth pitched a gem Friday night, and he had no wiggle room.

Steven Stamkos’ goal with 5:14 remaining proved to be the winner, as the Lightning defeated Buffalo 2-1 in Tampa.

Neuvirth was the star of the night, stopping 45 of the 47 shots he faced, including all 27 (yes, twenty-seven) Tampa Bay threw at him, a Lightning franchise record, in the second period.

“It’s tough to swallow right now, but I thought we gave it our best,” Neuvirth said, per NHL.com. “It was a tough start, and after that I made a couple of saves and settled down.”

Cody McCormick scored Buffalo’s only goal, his first of the season and first career shorthanded goal. McCormick tied the game, beating Bishop after being sprung in alone after Patrick Kaleta collected a turnover in the Lightning zone.

Valteri Filppula scored the first Tampa goal in the opening minutes, but that would be the only offense Tampa could muster thanks to Neuvirth, who’s now lost his last six starts and is 3-11-1 on the year despite a solid .909 save percentage.

Buffalo has lost seven in a row and have won just one of their last 12 games (1-10-1). How about that miraculous playoff run we were talking about a month ago?

  • The difference between this game and every game the Sabres won during that batshit crazy stretch in November-December is puck luck. They didn’t have quite enough. You saw it on the McCormick goal, where a little mistake by Tampa’s defense handed a Sabre a breakaway that they converted. But there was always one other instance where they got a redirect or deflection that turned into another goal, enough to ride the goaltending. Didn’t happen on this night. Ended with a loss.
  • 27 shots against in one period? Good lord.
  • Your only even Corsi player for the Buffalo Sabres was Mikhail “Mike” Grigorenko. But he wasn’t playing with enough grit or something. Read the rest of this entry

Making a case that there’s no case for Ted Nolan

459853394_slideFor most fans, there isn’t much to like about this current Buffalo Sabres team. They’re not good. They lose. They lose a lot.

But there’s one guy who many fans embrace, longing for the days of hard-working blue-collar hockey, who seems to try real hard in spite of it all: Ted Nolan.

Ted Nolan, the beloved former coach who heroically returned to right the ship after that total nerd Darcy Regier ruined everything with his video and calculators, is continually embraced by a large segment of the Sabres fan base. Fans who remember when the team was led by players like Rob Ray, Brad May and Matt Barnaby, and pine for the days of trap-filled physical hockey. Even after a decade and a half away from the organization, the legend of Nolan lived in Western New York, that there was a coach out there who got the most of his teams and got a bad rap for it.

And despite years of dealing with “I’ll hang up and listen” calls to talk shows about bringing him back behind the bench, there he was that November day when Pegula pulled the plug on Regier and Ron Rolston. It was surreal. It still sort of is.

Now, after the dust has settled, and with Tim Murray at the helm, and with losses piling up, the question is… why is he still here and when is he leaving?

We could rehash the history of Nolan’s coaching career. Facts are facts. In 1997, after winning the Jack Adams as coach of the year and getting his GM fired, he walked away from a one-year contract extension from a new general manager. Years went by and the fallacy of him being fired stoked the flames of the blue-collar fans who felt he was given a raw deal. He disenfranchised his superstar goaltender, maybe the best player to ever wear a Sabres uniform, and divided a young team and the front office. And he walked away from a contract offer.

The new GM (Regier) and the new coach (Ruff) tweaked the roster over the next couple years and got them within two wins of a Stanley Cup. Somehow, fans still felt that it was Nolan’s team, despite key roster moves that said otherwise. It wasn’t with guys like Brad May, who was dealt for Geoff Sanderson. It wasn’t with guys like Matt Barnaby, who was dealt for Stu Barnes. Despite many of the same faces, it was a different team. It needed to be.

So years went by, he coached the Islanders for two years, he coached the Latvian national team, and he never really won anything. Then he walks in to First Niagara Center and here we are.

His trophy cabinet contains nothing more than a few junior titles. He won two OHL titles in Sault Ste. Marie and one in Moncton, and won a Memorial Cup in 1993. As far as the NHL goes, his pedigree extends as far as a division title in 1997 on the back of one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game and a seven-game series win over a seven seed that spring.

Taking that into account, what is the real case for not kicking him to the curb, be it this spring or this weekend? Read the rest of this entry

Tempering the McDavid/Eichel hype in Buffalo or Talking like an idiot

ARX_3633It’s been an interesting season in Buffalo. Regardless of how bad or horrendously bad you think the team is, there’s little reason to claim they’re uninteresting. And some of that is the debate between the merits of “tanking” and trying real hard to win games with a terrible roster.

There’s been a lot of resistance from a segment of the fan base and some of the scribes at The Buffalo News towards the idea of embracing the tank, and making the most out of this rebuild. Noted scribe Bucky Gleason dropped a whopper of a “MY COLUMN:” today, dropping a heaping serving of truth to all the tank enthusiasts who have dreams of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel dancing in their heads.

Instead of just saying how stupid it is, I’m going to point out how stupid it is.

Last year, sometimes in meetings with front-office staff and other times in casual conversations, Ted Black was telling people that everything would be fine after the 2015 draft. The master plan called for finishing last, allowing the Sabres to land either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Not even half a sentence in and Bucky’s dropping that insider knowledge to create the illusion of insight. Ted Black, Tim Murray, and just about everyone in the organization has been referencing building with high picks since before the 2014 Draft. The Sabres have been building through the draft for four years, going back the 2012 Draft when they snagged Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. At some point, you move on. Is it a huge deal to acknowledge you’ll be comfortable doing so at a certain point? Unacceptable.

Forget that the Sabres would have only a 20 percent chance of landing McDavid, considered the better of the two prospects this season. Sabres staffers and delusional fans, some of whom happen to be the same people, convinced themselves that Eichel also would answer their prayers.

Yes, the Sabres would have only a 20% chance of retaining the top pick if finishing dead last. This would be more than the 13.5% chance given to the team that finishes 29th, or the 11.5% chance given to the team that finishes 28th, as well as every other team in the lottery. It’s as if you’d have the best chance to get the best player should you finish last. What a revelation!

I know if I were a fan, the last thing I’d want is the team’s staff to be on board with whatever put the team in the best position to win. No need for that delusional fan mentality. There needs to be detachment from what the team might be able to do to improve their roster.

Bucky’s totally right. Getting Eichel would be a worthless consolation prize. It’s hard to convince yourself that Eichel could be a valuable choice when TSN’s Bob McKenzie says “both McDavid and Eichel project as bona fide franchise players, A++ prospects who will be No. 1 NHL centers” or Craig Button says “Eichel and McDavid are generational players” or any other prospect report says that it’s the case.

I’m gonna go with Bucky on this one. Then I’m going to go step in front of a bus.

Quick question: Did ownership or people in the front office, other than GM Tim Murray and his scouts, watch them play enough to make that assessment? Are they absolutely certain that either player would really save the franchise, the way Sidney Crosby supposedly saved the Penguins?

Quick question: does it matter what team staff is discussing when they ultimately cede the decision to GM Tim Murray and his scouts? Read the rest of this entry

Sabres send Larsson to Rochester, recall Schaller & Varone

schallerSunday was an off day for the Buffalo Sabres, but it didn’t come without some news.

Early Sunday evening, the team announced they have recalled forwards Tim Schaller and Phil Varone from the AHL’s Rochester Americans, while sending back center Johan Larsson.

Schaller has been having a phenomenal year, becoming a key player for the Amerks and earning multiple looks with the Sabres. On a team with more notable offensive prospects, he’s leading Rochester in goals (10) and notched his first NHL goal December 21st against Boston on his second of now three recalls.

Varone, on the other hand, gets his first recall of the season. Leading the Americans in scoring with 29 points in 35 games, the former Erie Otter collected a goal and an assist in a nine-game stint with the Sabres back in January and February 2014.

Both players are deserving of their respective recalls. Both players have shown capabilities beyond the AHL level. But the more interesting part of this roster shuffle is in regards to Johan Larsson, who’s drawn the ire of media, fans and, apparently, coaches due to his questionable play.

Larsson, 22, has one goal and one assist in 12 NHL games over two recalls this season. Apparently, that doesn’t seem to be enough output for a player whose game isn’t the type that exhibits buzzwords such as “grit” or “compete.”

In his most recent eight game stint with the Sabres, he added a goal and an assist with an even plus-minus rating as the team was outscored 36-14 and went 1-6-1. In a terrible stretch, Larsson was on the ice for as many goals for as goals against: two. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 43 to go: Ineffective Sabres shut out by Luongo, Panthers

460980928_slideIt’s hard to explain the mastery over the Sabres by Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo. Yes, the Sabres aren’t good at hockey, but this is something.

Luongo continued his dominant run over Buffalo with yet another shutout, his second this season alone against the Sabres, as Florida won by a 2-0 score.

In his last five games against Buffalo, Luongo is 5-0-0, allowed two goals and has four shutouts while stopping 130 of 132 shots (.985 sv%). The last time he gave up a goal in Buffalo was 2006. He’s been alright.

Nick Bjugstad and Sabres legend Brad Boyes scored for Florida, who moved within one point of the New York Rangers for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Their goaltender turned away all 30 shots he faced.

Michal Neuvirth stopped 31 of 33 shots for Buffalo, who have now won just one of their last eight and are thankfully dropping like a rock to the league basement.

“I’m proud of my mental toughness tonight,” said Neuvirth.

We’re all proud, Michal. All of us.

  • This game wasn’t very entertaining.
  • This stretch against the Sabres for Luongo is kinda crazy. Not absurd, because this team is doo-doo butter and doesn’t score goals much to begin with, but Robbie knows how to lock it down. The Sabres next visit the Panthers on February 28th, right before the NHL trade deadline.
  • The fact Tyson Strachan isn’t undoubtedly the worst defenseman on this team says a lot about it. He was basically signed for Rochester, and he’s getting leaned on as a key veteran. Absurd.
  • Tyler Ennis was the best player on the ice for Buffalo. Ended up with three shots, but he seemed to be the one that created most of the offense. Don’t know if it was in the game plan, but he sure spent a lot of time trying to stretch the defense and catch outlet lobs from his own zone. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 46 to go: Sabres storm back in 3rd to beat Isles

460861224_slideFor most of Saturday night’s game, the result looked inevitable. For the final 13:21 of regulation, it became nothing but a bunch of questions.

Three Sabres goals in a span of 5:12 during the third period brought Buffalo back from a 3-0 deficit before Tyler Ennis scored the shootout winner in a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders.

Nick Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart all tallied goals in the explosive comeback, with Islanders call-up Kevin Poulin, in his second start in back-to-back nights, getting shredded to force overtime.

New York had opened up a 3-0 lead thanks to an early goal by Nick Leddy and two goals from nephew-of-Buffalo-legend John Tavares. They carried that lead into the third period where it all fell apart.

Deslauriers opened the scoring by ripping a rebound past Poulin at 6:39. After Drew Stafford took a dubious goaltender interference penalty, Deslauriers rifled a pass from inside his own blueline to a streaking Girgensons, who made it 3-2 with his second shorthanded goal.

“We always believed, but we got lucky,” Deslauriers said. “The puck just popped out at me. I took a shot and it went in. From there, we built momentum and Girgensons buried a nice goal.”

Less than two minutes later, the lead was officially gone, as Stafford fed Stewart, who cut in front of Poulin and tucked it home to tie the game.

Ennis scored the only goal of the shootout, and Jhonas Enroth stopped all three Islanders attempts after making 33 saves in 65 minutes of play.

Buffalo now heads to Ottawa for a game with the Senators on Monday night.

  • The Sabres lost defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen during the game, as he apparently caught the bug that has been sidelining guys for the last couple weeks. Nolan said after the game there would be a recall coming. (UPDATE: Sabres have recalled Mark Pysyk from Rochester)
  • I don’t see the benefit of having Johan Larsson playing 9:23 on the wing with Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta rather than 18-20 in all situations with the Americans. This team isn’t very good. Pick up a plug off waivers or call up Matt Ellis, let Larsson keep developing with more minutes. Read the rest of this entry
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