Category: News

 

The Buffalo Bills: What Went Right?

Something good must have happened this year, right? Actually, surprisingly little, but let’s review anyway.

Offense:

Tackle Jason Peters went from an undrafted free agent, to a tight end on the practice squad, to the starting right tackle. He is by far the Bills most gifted lineman and has tremendous athletic ability. Can he play left tackle? I think we will find out, as it will be easier to sign a right tackle rather than a left tackle in free agency. He will be the Bills best lineman next year, and I would think the Bills will be actively trying to get him a long-term deal.

Wide receiver Lee Evans avoided the sophomore slump and scored seven TD’s. Roscoe Parrish overcame a broken wrist (we think) and got valuable playing time in the last three weeks. Receiver is not a position of concern for the Bills next year.

Yep, that’s about it for the offense.

Defense:

Turns out LB Angelo Crowell can play. After Takeo Spikes went down in week three, Crowell filled in and ended up second on the team in tackles, trailing only London Fletcher. If Spikes come back healthy next year (a big if, but if anyone can do it…) perhaps Crowell can replace the very mediocre Jeff Posey.

London Fletcher was a madman, leading the team with 158 total tackles. A year ago we were thinking he was a problem, this year he was a leader.

CB Terrence McGee is solid, and signed long-term.

DE Aaron Schobel had another season of quiet effectiveness, leading the team with 12 sacks. That’s not a misprint. He needs help on the other end or up the middle, however.

Some of our youngsters, like safeties Rashad Baker and Jim Leonhard were very pleasant surprises, and may make either Lawyer Milloy or Troy Vincent expendable to save some cap space.

Special Teams:

How about everybody? Despite the TD return in the finale, they were the best in the league this year, in all facets. By the way, I love how all the wrapup shows said that special teams cost them a victory yesterday. Like Holcomb’s four interceptions don’t count?

Brian Moorman is the best punter in the league, and Terrence McGee is the best return man. The second best may well be Roscoe Parrish.

Rian Lindell made 82.9% of his kicks this year and ranked fourth in the league in field goals made. He went three for three from beyond 50 yards, which was supposedly the knock against him. I know Buffalo fans never let facts get in the way of their feelings, but Lindell was a top-five kicker in the league this year and ranks as the most accurate kicker in Bills history.

Not a long list, is it? Feel free to submit your own as I’m sure I missed something.

 

A Tale of Two Children

Yesterday was the first Sabres game for SonTwo and Me, and all in all things went pretty well. Now, SonTwo is a little squirt, a mere four-years-old, and is really too young to appreciate or understand what is happening at a hockey game. But anyone out there who is the parent of multiple children understands the importance of sibling rivalries, and not even a full day at Chuck E. Cheese would be an acceptable substitute for the equalizing trip to HSBC.

The most important thing to SonTwo was that he be allowed to do exactly what his brother did. When I asked him if he wanted to drive down or take the train, his answer was “what did brother do?” Train, I repsonded. “Then let’s take the train.” When we got to the arena, I asked what he would like to eat. “What did brother eat?” A hot dog. “Then I’ll have a hot dog.” I think you get the point. In fact, the only time I could dissuade him from his brother’s course of action was when he wanted cotton candy and I managed to con him into those frozen ice cream dots instead (you try dealing with the sticky mess of cotton candy when you’re trying to watch a Sabres game).

The best part of the trip was absolutely watching the wonder on his face as various events occurred. The entry into the arena, stopping by our seats to put our coats down, which offered him the first glimpse of the players on the ice, the first trip to the concession stand, the intro with Sabretooth, etc, etc. You read all the events that a kid enjoys previously, but with SonTwo’s age the sense of wonder was so much more palpable. So while the game may not have resonated as much with the little one the sheer magnitude of the events meant so much more to him.

Also Check: Wrapping up the Bills

I was both surprised and proud that he made it through the first period without us having to get out of our seats. He’s more free-spirited than his brother, so he would dance and clap to the music. And with a very young crowd on hand, I didn’t try to dissuade him as it seemed to be the thing to do. Despite the fact that we had to take a lap or two around the arena while the game was going on, we managed to not miss any goals, which wasmore luck than skill. I realized as the third period went on that he just wasn’t going to make it through the entire third period and linger the necessary amount of time for the crowd to thin out, so we bolted with about five minutes left in the game (hey, it was a school night).

No signature moments when we got home, no great quotes of him proclaiming his love for me and the Sabres. None of that really matters, of course, because what happened last night was important in exposing him to hockey and starting what hopefully is a lifelong love of the game. It’s what Dads do.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1

After some lackluster starts in recent games the Buffalo Sabres came out firing tonight in the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Buffalo was all over Tampa in the first five minutes of the period and with the exception of one or two shifts midway through the period they dominated the entire period and out-shot the Lightning 14-3.

Buffalo got the first goal of the game with just 19 seconds remaining in the first period while Darryl Sydor was in the penalty box for the Lightning after being called for tripping. Tim Connolly fed the puck back to Brian Campbell at the left point and Campbell one-timed a shot towards the net. Jochen Hecht was screening Tampa goalie Sean Burke and managed to deflect the puck past him.

Tampa Bay started to get their legs in the second period and had some excellent scoring chances in the first seven minutes of the period but Ryan Miller was solid in net for Buffalo. Buffalo regained the momentum at the 10:10 mark with another power play goal. Jochen Hecht worked the puck down low in the Tampa zone and fed a cross-ice pass to Chris Drury who was alone at the left face off circle. Drury roofed the puck high into the short side to put Buffalo ahead 2-0.

Buffalo was able to score both of their power play goals because Tampa was not aggressive on the penalty kill. They sat back and let the Sabres cycle the puck and control play in the offensive zone. In Buffalo’s last game, the Florida Panthers attacked on the penalty kill and held the Sabres scoreless on seven power play chances. Tampa Bay must not watch a lot of game film or they would have seen that.

Tampa did get back in the game on a fluky goal at the 12:23 mark of the second period. There was a bit of a scrum in front of the Buffalo net and a bouncing puck was knocked out of the air past Miller by Martin St. Louis. Miller could have used some more help in front of him, especially from Tim Connolly, who failed to tie up his man.

Their goal really brought Tampa to life and they continued to stay aggressive and press the attack against Buffalo. This caused the Sabres to take two penalties with less than five minutes left in the period (Connolly for holding and Teppo Numminen for tripping). However, the Sabres killed off the nearly four straight minutes of penalties to keep their 2-1 lead heading into the third period.

Early in the third period Henrik Tallinder gave the Sabres a two goal cushion when he scored on an odd man rush just 2:15 into the period. Paul Gaustad started the rush in the Sabres zone and carried the puck up the right boards into Tampa territory. He passed it to Adam Mair and Mair found Tallinder crashing towards the net to the right of Burke. Tallinder tipped the pass high into the top right corner of the net. The goal was Tallinder’s fourth in the last six games and fifth of the season. Prior to this season Tallinder had only scored four goals in 120 games.

Ryan Miller had to make two heads-up plays on back-to-back Sabres power plays mid-way through the third period. As each power play expired the penalized Lightning player had a full or partial breakaway that Miller stopped. Both Pavel Kubina and then Vaclav Prospal stepped out of the box just as the puck was being cleared into the neutral zone. Miller continues to play well against breakaways and turned both chances aside.

Buffalo could have blown the game wide open in the third but they failed to capitalize on the three Tampa penalties. Luckily for Buffalo, Tampa proved inept on the power play and ended the night 0-4 with the man advantage, including an opportunity at the 17:21 mark of the third period. Buffalo was 2-7 on the power play for the night.

Quick Notes:

  • According to Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, Chris Drury suffered a “light groin strain” that is “day to day” and “not too serious”.
  • Ryan Miller is 5-1 since returning from his broken thumb injury and has a 1.48 Goals Against Average and .944 Save Percentage in those six games.
  • Buffalo is 27-12-3 with 56 points at the official halfway point of their season (having played their 41st game tonight). The Sabres are currently three points behind the Ottawa Senators for first place in the Northeast Division.
  • Buffalo is off until Saturday night when they face the New Jersey Devils at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
 

Buffalo Sabres defeat Colorado Avalanche 6-4

The Buffalo Sabres got back into the win column after a nail-biter that came down to the final minute in tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. After a lackluster performance on Friday night at home versus the San Jose Sharks, head coach Lindy Ruff gave the team some much needed rest on Saturday. Instead of their normal morning skate he took the team bowling instead. Decisions like that separate Ruff from many other coaches in the league. The team was tired from a busy schedule and overnight travel and needed some R-and-R. The decision paid off for Ruff as the Sabres came out flying in the first period tonight.

Gaustad got the Sabres ahead just 2:45 into the game. Thorburn got his first NHL point with the assist. Thorburn was actually trying to pass the puck cross-ice to Mair but it hit a Colorado stick and ended up on Gaustad’s stick in front of the net and he buried it. Gaustad’s first NHL point was immediately followed up by his first NHL fight as he dropped the gloves with McCormick on the ensuing face-off. Mair and Hinote also dropped the gloves within the first five minutes. For two teams who haven’t faced each other in over a year there seemed to be a lot of animosity between them.

Colorado tied it at 1-1 when Sakic found Skrastins in front for a one-timer that he put past Biron. Biron was too slow in getting square to the shooter and the puck went between his pads.

The Sabres would then score three unanswered goals starting with a short-handed tally by Hecht. Hecht broke down the right wing with Kalinin on his left. Aebischer was looking for Hecht to pass it across to Kalinin and he stayed back in the net. By not cutting down the angle, Aebischer gave Hecht enough room on the far side and he buried it.

Pominville put the Sabres up 3-1 when he gained control of the puck at center ice and skated down the right wing. When he got to the top of the face-off circle in the Avalanche zone he fired a knuckler into the top, short side corner that caught Aebischer by surprise.

After Aebischer misplayed the puck and was out of position, Hecht fed the puck out to Grier who was all alone in front of the net and had the whole net to shoot at. Before Aebischer could get back into position, Grier buried the puck to put Buffalo ahead 4-1.

After giving up 4 goals on 16 shots, Aebischer gave way to Peter Budaj in net for the Avalanche at the start of the second period. Budaj has a better goals against average and save percentage than Aebischer and the change seemed to give Colorado new life. They dominated large portions of the second and third periods and roared back into the game.

Colorado got a power play goal from Rob Blake to make it 4-2 in the second. Blake took a shot from the center of the blue line that found the back of the net. Biron had traffic in front of him and never saw the puck.

 

Buffalo Sabres bounce back in Florida to defeat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1

After having their road winning streak ended at nine games by the Florida Panthers last night, the Buffalo Sabres put together a solid team effort to defeat the Lightning tonight in Tampa Bay by the score of 4-1.

Tampa Bay got an early goal just 2:17 into the first period when the Sabres suffered a defensive breakdown. Jay McKee could not stop a pass by Ruslan Fedotenko to Vaclav Prospal who was rushing across the Sabres’ blue line. Rory Fitzpatrick failed to slow him down and Prospal fired a shot over Miller’s right shoulder.

Buffalo tied the game at 1-1 just four minutes later on the power play. Henrik Tallinder took a shot from the point into traffic in front of the net. Tampa goalie, John Grahame, stopped the initial shot but left the rebound in the crease. Thomas Vanek pounced on the puck and slid it between Grahame’s legs.

One knock that has been on the Sabres for the past month is that they tend to start slow and sluggish in the first period. Tonight they came out skating hard early on and took the attack to the Lightning. Both Buffalo and Tampa took ten shots on net in the first period in a back and forth game. Buffalo took control of the game in the second period and scored 2 goals on 13 shots. Ryan Miller was strong in net for Buffalo, stopping all 13 of the shots that Tampa fired on him in the second.

Chris Drury put the Sabres up 2-1 at the 6:41 mark of the second period. Jochen Hecht broke down the right wing and passed a backhand pass to Drury along the goal line and through the crease. Grahame was unable to get over in time to make the save and Drury took the pass on his backhand and flipped it into the open net.

Henrik Tallinder increased the Sabres’ lead to 3-1 less than four minutes later. Daniel Paille made an excellent move in front of the Tampa net by using his body to block out the Lightning defender from getting the puck and then he passed it to Tallinder who was crashing down from the point. Tallinder fired the puck over a sprawling John Grahame for the goal. This was a huge goal for Buffalo who had just had a scoring opportunity by Max Afinogenov denied. Max was in front of the net and rang a shot off of both goal posts that then came out and ended up under Grahame. It could have been a momentum turner for Tampa but Tallinder’s goal put that momentum back on Buffalo’s side.

Buffalo continued to press the attack in the second period, especially the final five minutes of the period. Paille and Afinogenov both had back-to-back opportunities on Grahame but missed. Grahame was down and out in front of the net but neither Sabre could get the puck in the net.

The Sabres started to play back on their heels in the third period as Tampa got desperate and started pinching their defense and taking chances. With just under three minutes left in the third period and down by two goals, Tampa pulled Grahame in favor of the extra attacker. Buffalo won the ensuing face off in the Buffalo zone and broke out into the neutral zone. Paul Gaustad found Ales Kotalik streaking through center ice and fed him the pass. Kotalik skated in and shot the puck in the empty net to put the Sabres up 4-1. That would be the final score of the game.

In addition to getting an important win to avoid going 0 for 2 in Florida, Buffalo got a great game from Ryan Miller. Miller has won both of his starts this week after being out with an injury. Miller played strong tonight and made many difficult saves off of deflections in front of the net. Miller stopped 30 of 31 shots and held off Tampa on all seven of their power plays which totaled 11 minutes and 28 seconds. As long as both Miller and Marty Biron are on the team head coach Lindy Ruff is going to have a difficult time dividing up their playing time. It was nice to note that Biron was one of the first players off the bench to congratulate Miller after the game. The two appear to get along well but both need playing time in order to stay sharp and that could eventually lead to friction – something the Sabres are hoping to avoid.

Both Buffalo and Ottawa won their games tonight so they remain numbers 1 and 2 in points in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa now has 51 points and Buffalo has 49. The Flyers and Hurricanes also kept pace by winning their games tonight and moving to 47 and 48 points respectively. The Sabres have the weekend off and will skate again on Monday night in Buffalo against the New York Islanders at 7:00 PM.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres Earn Shootout Win Over Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1

The Buffalo Sabres won their seventh straight game and ninth straight on the road with a shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. In his first game back in a Sabres uniform since suffering a thumb injury in November, goalie Ryan Miller stopped 33 of 34 shots in regulation and overtime and then stopped 3 of 4 shooters in the shootout.

The Sabres were outworked physically by the bigger Flyers throughout the first two periods but they started to wear down the Flyers defense in the third period. The first period was highlighted by two fights, with Philadelphia’s Josh Gratton involved in both of them. Gratton fought Andrew Peters first and then Adam Mair in the first period but neither fight was that eventful. The anticipated match up between Peters and Donald Brashear never took place.

The Flyers got on the board first when Mike Knuble scored on the power play. Knuble was camped out on the goal line to Miller’s right when Peter Forsberg fed him a pass through the crease. Buffalo’s Chris Drury failed to clear Knuble out of the crease after his first shot was stopped by Miller. Knuble was then able to bang in his own rebound.

Buffalo tied the game at 1-1 on a give-and-go between Paul Gaustad and Max Afinogenov. Gaustad started the play from center ice with a pass to Afinogenov who broke across the blue line and down the left side boards. Both Flyers defensemen moved towards Afinogenov who had the puck down at the goal line. Gaustad was left all alone breaking towards the net and Afinogenov fed him a perfect pass. Gaustad wasted no time firing the puck past backup goalie Antero Nittymaki.

With Buffalo’s Rory Fitzpatrick in the penalty box for tripping for two of the final 2:07 of the third period, Philadelphia had a chance to go ahead on the power play. Miller made two key saves with less than 30 seconds on the clock to send the game into overtime. During the overtime period Buffalo had the man advantage but failed to score. While on that power play, Teppo Numminen hit the Flyer’s post with less than one minute remaining in OT. The Sabres ended the night 0-4 with the man advantage while Philadelphia went 1-6. Still tied at 1-1 the teams headed to the shootout.

The Sabres sent out Ales Kotalik as their first shooter. Kotalik took his shot to the backhand but missed.

The Flyer’s Jeff Carter fired a shot into Miller’s pads to keep it 0-0.

Thomas Vanek made a nifty move to confuse Nittymaki but ended up hitting the corner of the crossbar.

Peter Forsberg put the Flyers up 1-0 with a backhand that he slid along the ice between Miller’s pads. Miller got a piece of the puck that slowed it down but not enough to keep it out of the net.

Tim Connolly kept the Sabres hopes alive when he roofed a backhand over Nittymaki.

With the score even at 1-1 after Round 1 of the shootout the teams began sudden death shootout where one goal can win it.

The Sabres sent out Max Afinogenov who put two different moves on Nittymaki and finally scored on a backhand shot that went in low on the stick side.

Mike Knuble needed to score the keep the shootout going but Miller came out and poke-checked Knuble which sent the puck high over the net.

The good news for the Sabres was the strong play of Ryan Miller in his first game back. Not only did he look sharp during regulation and overtime but he was poised and in control while stopping three of four breakaways in the shootout. Miller has very good fundamentals in net. If you watch him instead of the puck you will see that he is very aware of his position on the ice in relation to both the net and the puck. He doesn’t get out of position by overreacting to shots and he plays a very calm style of hockey. You can almost sense his confidence. Sabres GM Darcy Regier must have been happy to see how well Miller performed tonight. Regier can be confident that Miller is still his number one goalie which gives Regier a position of strength when other teams call to talk about a trade for Marty Biron.

The Sabres now have two nights off before a mini road trip to Florida to play the Panthers and the Lightening on back-to-back nights Thursday and Friday.

 

 

All the Words Have Been Written

On the Bills, what else can be said? They are what they are, and while that sentence may be trite, we have watched and listened and read and typed enough about all their issues. It’s a soft team, with little mental toughness, and doesn’t reflect what this city and it’s season ticket holders deserve.

Those whose job it is to jibber-jabber for a living are doing what they have done for years, it’s just that they have a more receptive audience upon which to spew their venom. I was very pleased to see that Howard Simon’s childish plea for Bills fans to wear Denver Bronco orange to the game fell upon deaf ears. And I was also pleased that his prediction of chaos at the game fell far short. All week he had been saying that the Bills fans would literally riot over the poor management of the team. There would be protests, and fights, and chants; none of which happened. But that’s the type of shoddy reporting that comes from someone who watches the games on television and isn’t from Buffalo to begin with. And I’m not saying you have to be from Buffalo to be a good reporter journalist media hack, but I do find it odd that the two biggest examples of those who love to go negative while failing to understand the Buffalo fanbase are from New York and Boston.

Simon has impressed me, however. Once known around these parts as Captain Milquetoast for his colorless views, his idiotic but strong stance on wearing the other teams colors to Bills games means he is no longer the uber-bland purveyor of mediocre opinion. By taking the third-grade stance that he did, he shall be known henceforth in this space as “Simple Simon.”

It is a rare occasion when I can honestly say that I have no idea where the Bills are headed and what they are thinking, but that’s where I stand. If it were me, and I was in the situation that Ralph Wilson was in, I would demand that Tom Donahoe either change his course or relieve him of his duties. I do not know what sort of financial constraints that Mr. Wilson has put on Donahoe. I do not know what sort of budget he was given to find a head coach. Everyone knows that Mr. Wilson is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying coaches, so I do not wish to hang Donahoe out for his hirings of Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey, who turned out to be coaches who lacked the will or ability to create a disciplined and tough football team. Absent that knowledge, it makes it impossible to know if those coaches were hired out of budget constraints or due to Donahoe’s fear of hiring a strong coach, lest the incident where he was dismissed in Pittsburgh over disagreements with Bill Cowher would arise again.

I truly feel that Ralph Wislon doesn’t want to fire Tom Donahoe. Donahoe has done great things in terms of operating the Bills. Customer service actually seems to care about the customer today, which (if we clear out our biases) frankly sucked for the decades of the 70’s, 80’s and most of the 90’s. The Bills have expanded their marketing into Rochester and Southern Ontario, and have seen huge success at the gate (when was the last time the Bills sold out every game? 1993?). And, despite the failure of Mike Williams, the Bills have drafted quite well when compared with the rest of the NFL.

But ultimately, the Bills are judged by wins and losses, and there is no escaping the fact that the Bills have been losers under Tom Donahoe’s tenure. So what Mr. Wilson must decide, and only he has the facts upon which to base a decision because only he knows how much authority Donahoe has been given, is if he stays status quo, or changes Donahoe’s role, or cuts ties entirely. I can envision scenarios where Donahoe stays if the state of the Bills has been dictated by the owner. If Mr. Wilson said “hire cheap coaches,” (in so many words) then it’s hard to lay the blame on Donahoe, and only Wilson knows if that’s the case. If Wilson likes the success of the Bills in the areas other than the football field, he could easily tell Donahoe to recuse himself from the day-to-day running of the team and hire a VP of Football Operations while leaving Donahoe as President. Or, he could choose to wipe the slate clean, figuring the well with the fans has been poisoned. Clean out the whole staff, hire Marv Levy as a consultant, and rebuild the organization again.

I find it hard to believe Wilson will maintain the status quo, and I also find it hard to believe Wilson, at his age, has the fire in his belly to rebuild the entire organization. Which is why I think some sort of organizational changes will occur, but not on the grand scale that Sour Sullivan or Simple Simon would prefer. Frankly, at this point, I’m numb to the whole thing. Just give me a coach who can instill some discipline and make this a tough team; the sort of team that embodies my city and restores some pride.

I don’t envy Mr. Wilson and the issues he will struggle with in the next few weeeks. As I have written before, it’s always easy to say “blow it up” when you are not the person who has to do the blowing up and deal with the repurcussions.

 

Sabres Worst Jersey Numbers

It all started innocently enough, while we were heading to the Bills game and listening to “Roll the Highlight Film,” a CD of Sabres play-by-playman Rick Jeanerette’s best calls. One clip refenced a player with the last name “Patrick,” and based on the era, we knew it wasn’t James Patrick. So we started trying to figure out the first name, and while we didn’t come up with it for a while, I did say I didn’t know the name, but that he wore no. 26. It turns out it was Steve Patrick (thanks to BfloBlog commenter “Jerome’s” brother) and he did, indeed, wear sweater 26.

So all that hard research led me to looking over all the jersey numbers in the Sabres media guide, and as I was reminiscing a bit, it occurred to me that there are some numbers that have never seen a good hockey player don them. So I promptly set about creating: The Sabres Top-Five Worst Jersey Numbers.

The rules were pretty simple. The jersey had to have been worn by at least five players. Obviously, any retired jersey is exempt, so no matter how badly I wanted Mikael Anderson’s number to be represented, no. 14 was exempt because of Rene Robert. Also, a legendary Sabre had the ability to “power up” a sweater, meaning Mike Foligno more than made up for Pat Hughes wearing no. 17. In addition, the ability to “power up” also works in reverse, meaning if you are one of those Sabres that was mocked for the majority of your career, you definitely added to the negative side. So, without further ado:

Fifth Worst
– Number 21. In reviewing the Sabres number landscape, number 21 is a barren wasteland of names. Despite having one-time All-Star Christian Ruuttu (he made the team in the late eighties back when every team had to have a representative) and his 101 career goals, the rest of the 21’s are a weak bunch. Brian “Spinner” Spencer gives the number a bit of an edge, as he was wacked out and was killed at a fairly young age after either a bad drug deal or just plain bad luck, depending on who you believe. Other than that, it’s guys like Mark Astley, Mike Hurlbut, Scott Thomas and Claude Verret.

Fourth Worst – Number 26. I know my buddy Scott would agree that the power of Pat Hughes alone is enough to propel this legendary number into the top 5, but when you are able to add Dean Kennedy, Mal Davis, Keith Carney, and Darrin Shannon then it’s place is secure. Even the legendary Derek Plante and his 91 career goals (yes, thanks for the one against Ottawa in the playoffs) added to the numbers legacy, as the soft Plante helped “power down” number 26. Add to it that former goon, Eric Boulton, wore 26 on the rare occasion he got to don the sweater and it just gets sweeter.

Third Worst – Number 33. True story. A friend of mines mother once asked us when we signed a Chinese player. After we looked at her with vacant gazes, she replied “You know, Ben-wa Ho,” or as those of us who followed hockey spelled it, Benoit Hogue. Sadly, that story is the best things that number 33 has going for it, as the bearers of 33 through the years truly could form a bad AHL line. Hogue, Mark Astley (again), Doug Janik, Jody Gage (briefly, I think his main number was 12), Jim Hofford, Phil Myer, and Scott Pearson. Yeech!

Second Worst – Number 15. People often ask, how can a number make up for it’s mediocrity? It’s easy. Volume. The sheer overpowering number of awful players who have donned number 15 in the Sabres 35 years staggers the mind. With 17 players having worn it, you know there haven’t been any long-time Sabres in there. When the best players to have worn it are Randy Wood, Gerry Meehan, and Dixon Ward it’s real hard to make up for Lou Franceschetti, Chris Langevin, and Sergei Petrenko.

Worst Sabre Number in History – Number 34. I know…I too was initially shocked since I never realized anyone ever wore 34. But the brief list for that number reads like a who’s who list of busts that played for the Sabres, starting with the Grand-daddy of them all, Mike Wilson. Picked up in 1995 in the trade that shipped Alex Mogilny out of town for Mike Peca and the draft pick that became Jay McKee, Wilson underwhelmed right away. (Incidentally, that series of trades stemming from the Mogilny deal is fascinating. We later traded Peca away for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, and we traded Wilson away for Rhett Warrener and a draft pick that became Ryan Miller. Then we traded Warrener for Drury. So from Alex Mogilny we now have Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt, Chris Drury, Jay McKee and Ryan Miller. Not too shabby) Anyway, other not-so-famous 34’s include goalies David Littman and Darren Eliot, Adam Creighton (again), stereotypical Canadian Gord Donnelly, current loser Jeff Jillson, and last, but not least, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, who may or may not have more hyphens in his name than points while with the Sabres (hint: the answer is “may.”)

My apologies go out to some of the runners-up, especially the number 24. Bill Hajt’s steady play over 14 years was enough to overcome Ed Hospodar, Randy Wyrozub, and Ron Busniuk.

 

Buffalo Sabres defeat Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in OT

The Buffalo Sabres spoiled Michel Therrien’s debut as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins by beating the Pens in overtime by the score of 4-3. Pittsburgh played inspired hockey throughout the game but couldn’t put an end to the eleven game win streak that Sabres goaltender Martin Biron brought into the game.

The first period was more noteworthy for the number of penalties called than anything else. A total of seven minor penalties were assessed during the first period with five going to Pittsburgh. Buffalo’s power play unit could not capitalize on their chances in the first period but they would make up for it later in the game. The period ended tied at 0-0.

Scoring picked up in the second period when the teams combined for five goals. Buffalo got the scoring started on the power play with a goal by Danny Briere just 1:26 into the period. Buffalo had started the period with a 5 on 3 advantage but the first penalty expired with no goal. While Pittsburgh was still down by one man Briere got the puck down low and fought his way through three Penguin defenders and slipped the puck just inside the post to Fleury’s stick side.

Pittsburgh tied the game at 1 just two minutes later with a power play goal by Michel Ouellet – his first NHL goal. Biron stopped the first shot by Recchi but left the rebound in the crease where Ouellet was waiting to fire it home.

Jochen Hecht put the Sabres back in the lead 2-1 with a goal at the 8:05 mark. After a scrum in front of the Pittsburgh net the puck ended up back at the point on Jay McKee’s stick. McKee found Hecht at the top of the right face off circle and passed him the puck. Hecht used a Penguin defender as a screen and fired the puck past Fleury.

The Penguins battled back and tied the game at 2 on a power play goal at the 17:11 mark. Ryan Malone was all alone to Biron’s left and scored through the open five-hole. It was a bad goal by Biron who wasn’t screened and had time to get square to the shooter. He just didn’t get his pads together in time.

The power play goals continued when Ales Kotalik put the Sabres ahead 3-2 with under a minute left in the second period. Brian Campbell faked a slap shot from the left point and instead fired a pass across the ice to Kotalik who was down low in the zone. Kotalik roofed it into the net over a sprawling Fleury.

After more than 17 minutes of chippy play in the third period that was filled with hits and cheap shots from both sides, Pittsburgh tied the game at 3 on a controversial goal by Ziggy Palffy. Sidney Crosby found Palffy alone on the goal line with the entire net to shoot at. Biron stretched out his glove hand and snagged the puck as it went across the goal line. The refs signaled no goal but went upstairs to review it. The camera angles that the Buffalo broadcast had proved inconclusive but after at least five minutes or more the goal was awarded by the video replay officials. Unless they had other camera angles to view that were more conclusive it was a bad call. The third period ended tied at 3-3.

Buffalo had a chance to end the game early in the OT session when Briere broke in on Fleury. Briere was being checked from behind and just as he went to shoot the puck it flipped up on end and ended up going high over the net. Shortly after that missed shot Josef Melichar was called for hooking and Buffalo’s potent power play got an opportunity to earn the “W”. The Sabres would only need 31 seconds on the power play. With a 4 on 3 man advantage Briere got the puck at the left point and fired a high slap shot on net that Fleury knocked down. Chris Drury battled for the rebound while getting knocked down to his knees and poked the puck over the goal line to give the Sabres the win, 4-3.

This was a hard fought game by both teams that could have gone either way. With 27 shots on net by both teams neither goalie had to work too hard yet they both made some spectacular saves. The game did get chippy in the second and third periods and that will probably spill over into the second part of the home-and-home series between the two teams tomorrow night in Buffalo. That game will begin at 5:00 PM so the teams only have 19 hours between the end of the first game and the start of the second game. Both teams have to fly into Buffalo tonight where they could face weather delays getting to their homes or hotel. All of this should factor into the game. The big question heading into tomorrow’s game will be whether or not Marty Biron can extend his 12 game winning streak to 13 games. Stay tuned to find out.

 

 

Penguins at Sabres Tonight

Pittsburgh is one of about six teams that figure to be in the mix for the last couple playoff spots this season. Like Washington, they feature one superstar, one or two players who may well end up being superstars, and a whole bunch of young players. As such, they are streaky, often dependent on one player or one line, and often lose games they should probably win. The upside, however, is incredible.

Considering all the turmoil surrounding the franchise in terms of ownership issues, the possible sale of the team, and the threat of relocation, I can’t help but think the team is doing fairly well. Maybe they’re too young to notice, but there is much uncertainty surrounding the players and their futures. Or at least their future location, anyway. Currently, the Pens are 11th in the East, but they trail eigth place Toronto (yuck) by just two points, and have three games in hand. With a 5-4-1 record in their last ten games they are kind of treading water. The streakiness I alluded to earlier has been on display of late, with recent runs of four losses, followed by four wins, followed by five straight losses. The Sabres best beware because the Pens have won two straight and are coming off a 3-0 victory over Carolina.

Sidney Crosby shows no signs of a sophomore slump, and if he isn’t the best player in hockey right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in two years. His presence alone should be selling out buildings for years to come as people realize what they are watching. With 61 points he leads Marian Hossa by five in the NHL scoring race, and his league-leading 42 assists attest to the completeness of his game. But Crosby is not the lone talent on this Pittsburgh squad. His winger, Evgeni Malkin, has 18 goals and is leading the rookie scoring race. Another center, Jordan Staal, already has 11 goals on the year. What Pittsburgh lacks is depth, as those three players are the only Pens in double digits in goals this season. In net the Penguins have yet another young talent in Marc-Andre Fleury. With 16 wins and a .903 save percentage the 22-year-old netminder is progressing nicely after debuting at the tender age of 20. He comes into this game on a hot streak, stopping 61 of his last 62 shots.

The Sabres won the first meeting between these teams in Buffalo in November when they beat backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault 4-2. Despite the fact that Fleury has gotten the last five starts, I would expect to see him in net tonight as the Pens are coming off a three day break. The Penguins are 0-3-1 in since 2003 in the HSBC. Pittsburgh will be without winger Nils Ekman tonight as he is out with a dislocated elbow. We will get to see ex-Sabre Chris Thorburn, however. With three goals and two assists he plays on Pittsburgh’s fourth line and manages to see his fair share of time in the penalty box.

It’s not clear who will start in net tonight for the Sabres as Lindy Ruff announced that Martin Biron will play in one game this weekend. Only three of his ten starts this year have been at home, and he has yet to start in the HSBC when Ryan Miller is healthy. One of those starts when Miller was out was for the Sabres victory over Pittsburgh in November.

Other than Tallinder, the Sabres have a full crew tonight. Henrik will be missed, but Nathan Paetsch filled in admirably for him earlier this season.

It’s another late-night Friday start, which should allow for proper pre-game lubrication at Coulter Bay. Mark and I will be there, along with BfloBlog contributor Trevor, who is making the trip up from Maryland to visit an old college buddy. Anybody who feels like buying me drinks is more than welcome to join us.

 

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