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Chris Stewart: the paradox of the expendable, ideal Sabre

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Sabres fans always seem to be sort of conflicted about who they’re supposed to like. Who fan favorites are supposed to be. Who should be part of the core and who’s ripe to be run out of town. It seems like it’s a case-by-case basis.

There’s one guy on this current Sabres team that fits the bill for what Buffalo sports fans seem to love.

459847500_slideWorks hard? Check.

Fights guys? Check.

Scores goals? Check.

Hits people? Check.

Seems like he’s the full package. Except that no one’s really embracing him, regardless of the fact that he’s likely out the door at some point in the near future.

Since the Sabres acquired him in the deal that sent captain Steve Ott and franchise cornerstone Ryan Miller to St. Louis before last year’s trade deadline, Chris Stewart‘s shown he has the tools. The production has been underwhelming (as it is with just about everyone else on the roster), as he’s notably been cold with just three goals in 25 games, good for a tie for fifth most goals on the team. But he’s not someone who doesn’t have a track record.

Stewart broke into the NHL in 2008, scoring 11 goals in 53 games with Colorado in 2008-09. He followed that up with consecutive 28 goal seasons, one with the Avs and the other split with Colorado and St. Louis. He’s posted double-digit goal totals every season in the NHL, never less than 15 in a season since his rookie year, and he’s still on pace to break 10 despite his well-below-average shooting percentage this season (5.5%). Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 15/48 Edition: Well, how about that.

20130215 millerHard to say anyone had reason to expect much out of the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.

They’ve been performing at levels that can be described somewhere between “garbage” and “R. Kelly’s Doo Doo Butter” since they had their hallmark-at-the-time win over their opponent on the night, the Boston Bruins. And Boston is quite good, despite a record against the Sabres that says otherwise.

But there go the Sabres, walking away with a 4-2 victory against the team with the second best record in the conference.

Drew Stafford gave Buffalo an early lead with his first goal of the season. That lead would disappear as Boston climbed out to a 2-1 advantage mere minutes into the second period. But thanks to some fantastic goaltending, they never extended it. Ryan Miller was sensational when he had to be, keeping the Sabres in it when they probably shouldn’t have been. He made 30 saves and got the help from the posts as well to keep Boston from pulling away.

“He’s the backbone of this team,” said Stafford. “It’s up to us to put the puck in the net and win some games for him.”

Buffalo would steal the game in the third period with goals from Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Hodgson. Boston registered just three shots on goal in the final 20 minutes.

“As much as they outplayed us in the first couple periods, we came out and played our game and turned the game around,” said Ehrhoff.

  • Congrats to Boston’s Dougie Hamilton on his first NHL goal. Wish the Sabres would’ve shown some respect and announced that with the goal like they would if it was a Buffalo rookie. It’s a milestone achievement, it’d be a nice acknowledgement. The kid played junior hockey in what you consider your market, people would’ve appreciated it.
  • Steve Ott ended up with 11 hits, the most since Paul Gaustad had 10 in the Winter Classic over five years ago. Honestly, I didn’t expect to see that number that high. He was definitely throwing the body around, but that’s crazy. Boston’s Milan Lucic had a physical game and he finished with 5. Read the rest of this entry

The day of reckoning is upon us

As soon as the schedule came out, you looked for it. You looked for the opener, and it was home. Then you looked to see when the first game against Boston was.

Tonight, the demons await.

Ever since Milan Lucic brazenly ran over Ryan Miller in TD Garden, the cloud hanging over the franchise still has yet to dissipate. It’s not just they haven’t won there since that 6-2 loss, including two late season losses by scores of 3-1 and 4-3 that surely could’ve improved the Sabres’ playoff chances. It’s not just that they’re in the midst of a four game losing skid in a shortened season right now.

It’s that this franchise had all their faults exposed in one night and have yet to prove that they’re past it.

That game showed a lack of strength amongst the Sabres, not only to stand up for each other, but to avoid being rattled by it. Ryan Miller wasn’t the same for months. The skid the team went on was a major factor towards another year outside the top eight in the East.

And most notably, the changes to the roster since have all been with that game in mind.

It wasn’t long until they decided it was time for alleged-Lucic-in-waiting prospect Zack Kassian to fill that role in the NHL. They brought him up and saw what few had been trying to point out all along, that he wasn’t that guy. And then Marcus Foligno came up and filled the role better, so Kassian was dealt while his stock was still high.

And they traded Paul Gaustad, who was supposed to be the leader on the ice that night, but stood by idly by. He was gone at the deadline. It was clear that whatever toughness the Sabres thought they had, wasn’t enough. Or at least wasn’t the kind they needed.

It continued over the summer, with Steve Ott being acquired for talented center Derek Roy, and the “enforcer” John Scott being signed as a UFA.

There was no skirting around what this was supposed to be. This was supposed to make the team a group that didn’t allow things like the Lucic hit from ever happening.

So far, that hasn’t worked out well. Read the rest of this entry

Delayed Overreactions, 21st Edition: Sabres make their point against Bruins

The goal in each game is to win. Those two points are what the teams play for.

On Wednesday night, the Buffalo Sabres got one point, but still walked away with somewhat of a victory.

With the hockey world watching to see how the Sabres would respond in their first matchup with the Boston Bruins after the Milan Lucic hit on the still-sidelined Ryan Miller, the team succeeded in showing their mettle, albeit losing in a shootout by a score of 4-3.

Paul Gaustad got the business out of the way early, challenging Lucic in an early scrap, despite it happening 11 days after many argue it should have. Buffalo used the energy to jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Christian Ehrhoff and Thomas Vanek.

“It was an unfortunate incident in Boston, and I give credit to Milan for fighting,” Gaustad said. “It’s something where guys don’t have to, and he did. I wanted to step up after I thought I could have done more in the (earlier) Boston game.”

Boston climbed back within one early in the second, only to be answered by T.J. Brennan’s first NHL goal in his first NHL game. The Bruins continued to press, and tied the game at three early in the third on a powerplay goal by Zdeno Chara.

It went to a shootout, where Tim Thomas stopped all five Sabres shooters and Benoit Pouliot ended it after Jhonas Enroth had stopped the four previous Bruins to shoot.

Enroth finished with 36 saves on the night.

Sure, they didn’t win the game, but arguably, they won some respect.

  • A very nice debut for T.J. Brennan. He didn’t get a regular shift early on, as Lindy surely wanted to ease him into such an intense atmosphere. He converted the chance he got, and played a very simple game. A great step forward for a kid who is likely gonna stick around a while.
  • By the way, kudos to the game presentation for stepping up and doing a new intro. The environment was much better, and the crowd responded. Unfortunately, they still don’t have it quite right, as the heavy start faded after the first period and the crowd was pretty lifeless in the second and thirds. The music is so crucial, and you can tell what an effect playing more appropriate music. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to beat people over the head with “go run through that brick wall” music the whole night.
  • Not having Brad Boyes available for the shootout may have been the difference. Jhonas Enroth made the saves he needed to, but the skaters need to score. Unfortunate that they failed to take advantage of the situation.
  • I’ve never seen a player jump into hits more than Brad Marchand did Wednesday night. Even when trying to lay out Nathan Gerbe, who’s even smaller than he is, Marchand feels the need to leave his feet. Total scumbag. Read the rest of this entry

Ryan Miller out indefinitely with concussion

The injury that knocked Ryan Miller out of Saturday night’s loss to Boston seems to be more than a sore neck.

As the Buffalo News reports, Miller is out for the forseeable future with a concussion.

The illegal hit by Boston’s Milan Lucic that caused the injury will be reviewed by the league, as Lucic has a hearing scheduled with Brendan Shanahan at 1 pm on Monday afternoon.

“If this hit and other types of hits like this are not suspended, we are opening up the possibility of losing goaltenders to injury. And not just injury, but concussion,” Regier said. “… When I look at the position of goaltending, in a lot of ways it’s not unlike quarterback in football. I feel very strongly the protection has to be provided and players committing these types of action should be punished.”

The Sabres have recalled Drew MacIntyre from Rochester to backup Jhonas Enroth. MacIntyre is 3-4-1 on the season with the Amerks, and he will surely look to take advantage of the opportunity.

As the goaltending debate has raged over the last few weeks, unfortunately we’re going to get an extended look at Enroth. The undefeated rookie will start against Montreal on Monday night, and will be the horse for the time being. With four games in the next six days, it’s entirely possible MacIntyre may get a start Friday night in Carolina.

The story now will be how Enroth responds. The young Swede who is 12-0-1 in his last 13 decisions will get another chance to be the guy. His stellar play at the end of last season earned Buffalo a playoff spot, and has done nothing but perform at the highest level this season. Another extended stretch of good play with Miller on the sidelines may start pushing the team to reevaluate the future plans the team has in goal.

The Sabres as a group were unhappy with the way they responded to the hit Saturday night, so it’s a good bet that they’re going to come out and play with passion in Montreal. A loss on the heels of the massacre in Boston could be devastating to the team’s self-confidence.

Faceoff is at 7:00 Monday night.

Overreactions, 16th Edition: Hi! You know Toe Blake? No?

A loss to end a four game win streak is usually considered a minor setback.

Hard to imagine an effort this demoralizing can be classified in that manner.

After taking a 1-0 lead early in the first, Buffalo got run over by Boston… literally. A “gutless” first period hit on Ryan Miller by Boston’s Milan Lucic set the tone as the Bruins scored the next six en route to handing the Sabres a 6-2 loss.

Miller eventually left the game at the end of the second period after allowing three goals and being bowled over twice by Bruins players. Jhonas Enroth finished the third, allowing three goals in a game that was decided before he even stepped in.

“I thought it was a major,” Ruff said. “I thought if it was open season on goalies then let’s get at it.”

The story for Boston was the offensive explosion, but the story for Buffalo was the emotional implosion. The complete lack of response to the Lucic hit on Miller.

The postgame reaction from the players revealed nothing but frustration over the hit and the aftermath.

“I’m not really going to get into that,” Miller said in TD Garden. “I just stuck around because I wanted to say what a piece of shit I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that? It’s unbelievable. Everyone in this city see him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he plays. That was gutless. Gutless. Piece of shit.”

Paul Gaustad wasn’t happy with the reaction.

“I can do more. I’m embarrassed that we didn’t respond the way we should have. It falls on myself. I look at myself first, and I wasn’t good enough.

“We didn’t push back. There’s no reason to be scared. We had to go after it, and we didn’t.”

When asked about Gaustad’s comments, Ruff responded with possibly the quote of the night.

“Paul was on the ice.”

Thomas Vanek and Marc-Andre Gragnani scored for Buffalo.

  • Tyler Myers’ pathetic play of late needs to be addressed. Lindy seemed to indicate after the game that he was going to let Myers play through it, but that’s not working. Myers was -3 again, and looked absolutely awful throughout. Somehow, he remains on the top powerplay unit and can’t play his way out of the lineup. An outbreak is becoming an epidemic. He’s singlehandedly ruined Andrej Sekera’s strong start to the season.
  • Before the whole mess from the Lucic hit, the Sabres took a quick lead on the road on a goal. Thomas Vanek from Jason Pominville. The guys keep producing. Both have 20 points through 16 games. That’s tied for fourth in the league, Pominville is fourth in assists. and Vanek is tied for second in goals. Read the rest of this entry
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