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.

 

 

Sens Pound Sabres 6-3

The Buffalo Sabres came out like lions in their game against the Ottawa Senators tonight, but ended up leaving like lambs as they were demolished 6-3.

The Sabres started the first period on fire, pouring nine shots on Ottawa goaltender Ray Emery before Ottawa managed to get their first. Emery stood tall however, and did so through the entire first period as Buffalo outshot Ottawa 19-7. The only real excitement (other than the bombardment of Emery) was when Patrick Eaves hit Pominville with what appeared to be an elbow to the chin. Pommer had a nice hit later in the period to extract his revenge, and all was well with the world. The Sabres failure to score after completely dominating the period would soon come back to haunt them, however.

Early in the second the Sabres got two straight powerplays. After looking horrific on the first one, the Sabres decided to outdo themselves on the second. After a giveaway in the Ottawa zone, Chris Phillps found Dany Heatley with a long pass down the left wing. Heatley went in on Miller, and Campbell swatted the puck. The puck flipped up, and Heatley managed to swat it out of the air past a stunned Ryan Miller, who was actually well-positioned but probably didn’t expect the old swat-it-out-of-midair trick. The shortie gave Ottawa the lead just 4:53 into the second period.

Later in the period the Sabres futility on the powerplay continued. Seconds after another failed powerplay a Kotalik shot from the point got deflected onto the half-wall. Ottawa won the battle for the puck, and Patrick Eaves came away with it in an odd-man rush. Hustling to get back, Derek Roy committed to the free man in the two-on-one, so Eaves dropped the puck back to Meszaros in the slot. Meszaros let it go and Miller made the save, but he was out of position for the rebound and Heatley tapped the dancing puck past him for a 2-0 lead at the 10:12 mark.

As if to add insult to special teams injury, Tom Preissing scored a pretty tap-in powerplay goal from Heatley a mere two minutes later, followed by another Heatley goal on the powerplay when he banked a puck of Teppo Numminen. Heatley’s third of the night at the 16:30 mark gave Ottawa a 4-0 lead, and that was how the period ended. Ottawa outshot the Sabres 17-8 in the second, which almost evened up the shots on the game.

A Paul Gaustad goal early in the third cut it to 4-1 as Gaustad beat Emery on a forehand to the top of the net off a nice pass from Kotalik. But Peter Schaefer scored on a breakaway less than two minutes later to restore the four goal-lead. Just to finish the Sabres off, Ottawa added yet another powerplay goal after a Redding shot was deflected in off Dmitri Kalinin’s stick with 6:45 to go in the game. Afinogenov and Pominville scored meaningless goals later to make the final score 6-3, but the last two periods were undoubtedly all Ottawa.

Snapshots:

– Buffalo should be absolutely embarassed by their performance in the second and third periods. This team, for whatever reason, was looking for a reason to pack it in after totally dominating the first period. After Heatley scored his flukey/incredible goal it seemed as if Buffalo just stopped skating. The loose pucks they were getting were suddenly being hauled in by Ottawa, and to add to the embarassment they got beat physically as well.

-After Ottawa’s third goal it was apparent Miller was off his game. Yet even when Ottawa made it 4-0 Miller remained in net. I know that Lindy knows that pulling a goalie is not a punishment, and it certainly appeared that the Sabres needed something to change the momentum. After the fifth Ottawa goal I couldn’t help but think that maybe Biron makes that save (even though he isn’t the best on breakaways) and that maybe the outcome could have been different. Doubtful, I know, as it was a 100-1 chance, but I always think the impossible is possible with this team.

– I don’t think words can properly express how lost the Sabres powerplay is right now. Scott Arniel and his creativity are truly missed.

– Chris Neil’s couple of extra shots on Gaustad after the linesmen were in on their fight will be remembered. Real heavyweights don’t do that; that’s for lightweights like Afinogenov who don’t know the rules. Although the officials did hit him up with an extra ten-minute misconduct, whatever that’s worth.

– BuffaloGeek wrote an alternate wrap-up for me, as he was concerned about my delicate fingers growing tired tonight. I’ll share, but the language isn’t to our usual postgame standards:

Sabres played like shit, Miller was off his game, the Senators punched them in the mouth, the Sabres curled up like a spiritless dog, the power play sucked for the 15th straight game, they scored a few pointless goals at the end of the game, and it’s all (frequent commenter) Trevor’s fault. The end.

Seems like a good enough note to leave on.

 

 

Feeling the NFL Playoffs

Cheering for other football teams is different than cheering for other hockey teams. As in, I can have two or three non-Buffalo teams in the NHL I can root for, or hope do well, without feeling like a traitor to the Sabres. Not so with the NFL. In football, the best I can feel about a team is ambivolent, especially if they’re from the same conference. When you think about how many AFC teams make the playoffs, and how often you face some of them, it’s almost not possible to like any of them.

So with that in mind, I will make my selections in upcoming games based on my level of dislike for the teams:

Kansas City at Indianapolis: I figured it best to lead off with the game that kind of ruins my hypothesis. While I used to dislike Kansas City in the early nineties, I never really hated them. And while I used to really dislike Indianapolis back when they were in the Bills division, they were always pretty benign. And now I kinda’ feel for them. Then I looked at the individual rosters: no ex-Bills to root against (or for), no ex-Dolphins, both coaches seem to be swell fellas’. Bill Polian is far enough removed from my thoughts that he doesn’t influence my rooting interest. So it comes down to this: I feel for Indy and their fans because they have been so close so many times and never gotten to the Super Bowl. As a Bills fan, I can feel that pain (except we actually DID get to the Super Bowl). So I’m pulling for Indy.

New Jersey at New England: Man, do I hate these teams. Know what it comes down to? I hate the J-E-T-S chant so fucking much, that I will actually root against them and their fans just because of that. I’m not happy to be typing it, but I guess I’ll pull for New England.

Dallas at Seattle: Most people who read this site are, I imagine, Buffalo Bills fans. I really shouldn’t need to type any further then, should I? Besides, Jim Zorn and Steve Largent used to play for Seattle; I still think Seattle’s cool because of that. Oh, okay, a quick reminder: Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Leon Lett, Alvin Harper, Nate Newton, Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas, and Jimmie God-Damned Johnson. Oh, yeah: Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells too. Alright? Go ‘hawks!

New Jersey Giants at Philadelphia:
Setting aside the fact I was almost killed by Philadelphia fans one year for daring to cheer for the Bills, I hold their organization no ill will. They have always been a fun team to watch, from the Ron Jaworski-Harold Carmichael years, to Randall Cunningham, to Donovan McNabb. As for New Jersey, I guess i can just type the letters “XXV” and you would all pretty much know where I am coming from.

So there you have it, Kevin’s picks from the heart. i would definitely not use these for betting purposes.

 

 

Wrapping up the Bills

Lots of subjects to touch on in regards to the Bills, so let’s get to it. We’ll start with the easy ones first.

– The Bills will have the 12th pick in the draft this year. So I guess there is something to be said for losing those last two games.

– The Bills get visits from Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, and the Giants next year. It’s the rustbelt roadtrip as they travel to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, and Jacksonville. Hmmm, I’ve never been to J’Ville before, but the proximity of those road games makes for some tempting trips as well.

– I think in looking at the inactive list for the Bills against the Ravens we got a glimpse at who may very well not be a Bill next season. Defensive tackle Tim Anderson was inactive, which just goes to show you what wrestling Tim Krumrie really means. Two offseason free agent signees, Matt Bowen and Tutan Reyes, were inactive as well. Something tells me that both are gone next year and I know that Bowen had signed a two-year deal. Shaud Williams was also inactive, and I don’t see how he fits in on this team.

– Jeepers, Jerry Sullivan really hammered Willis, didn’t he? He’s right that his performance doesn’t warrant the sort of extension we suspect he’s looking for. He’s also right that you could at least wait until after the final game to go whining about your contract, but Willis hasn’t been known historically for his common sense and his nuanced approach. The sycophantic Jeremy White took up his defense for Willis this morning, unfurling the flag of “Mac Nation.” As painful as it is to listen to White when he gets on his self-rightous rants, brushing aside all legitimate criticism because it intereferes with his singular point, he did make a valid arguement when he asked who replaces Willis if you give him the boot. You could hear the air moving in the background from the vigorous nodding of Howard Simon’s head as he gave himself whiplash in an attempt to agree with White. My response is, frankly, just about anybody.

It’s so easy to want to fall in love with the players on your own teams, but if you look at McGahee’s performance objectively you need some serious beer-goggles to defend him. McGahee finished 24th in the league in rushing yards, but we’ll be kind and bump him up to 23rd because one of those ahead of him was quaterback Mike Vick. So 22 running backs had more yards than he did, as McGahee came up just shy of 1,000 yards on the season. The reasons I heard on the radio this morning as to why he didn’t do better? Injuries: bologna. Half the running backs ahead of him didn’t play in all 16 games this season, and Willis started 14 games. Granted, the top-six rushers played every game, but you have to in order to rack up 1,500 yards. We’re not asking for 1,500 however. Shoot, Ronnie Brown from Miami finished ahead of him and he started two fewer games than Willis. The Line: Yep, the Bills OL had some issues for much of the year. They were awful in the first half of the year and became serviceable in the second half. You know who else had pretty bad lines? Miami (Brown), Green Bay (Green), and Arizona (James), to name three. Those backs all outgained Willis. Who is really elite these days? That’s what Captain Milquetoast asked today, and their response was that there is only one elite back in football and that is Tomlinson. And that’s OK if you want to carve out a class of his own for LT, so let’s just make a category of near-elite backs consisting of Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Frank Gore, Tiki Barber and Stephen Jackson. No arguements about Willis not making that list, right? Let’s try another level called, oh, backs we really like. It would include Willie Parker, Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Ladell Betts, Joseph Addai, and Maurice Jones-Drew. Anybody on there you wouldn’t trade McGahee for straight-up? So where does McGahee belong? How about in the group with Travis Henry, Fred Taylor, Warrick Dunn, Julius Jones, and the like. All are decent backs, and all are interchangeable.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to face reality and admit that there isn’t anything special about McGahee. Yes, he is a decent running back, but the league is filled with decent running backs. When the Bills drafted him I loved the move. It showed courage but we knew it came with a high risk/reward factor. It turns out it wasn’t that big of a risk, nor was it that big of a reward. Simply put, we got rid of one decent running back in Travis Henry and replaced him with another in Willis McGahee. That doesn’t make Willis bad, nor does it mean he shouldn’t be the starting running back next year. But when he comes in and asks for a long-term extension at premier running back rates, that’s when the Bills have to politely decline. And obviously, if a player who can replace him is out there in the draft this year, you take him.

– London Fletcher is a classy guy. At least he kept his mouth shut for the good of the team when he could have been bitching about not getting an extension. Now that the season is over, though, he’s letting it all hang out. I’m fine with that. He says he was unhappy all year, but it sure didn’t show up in his play. The Bills have a difficult decision to make with Fletcher. He will be 32 next year, and a four-year deal may not be in the Bills best interest. Also, Angelo Crowell will be back from season-ending surgery next year, and the Bills have to be thrilled with the play of Keith Ellison. However, the Bills are a young team, and Fletcher has a great work ethic and provides solid leadership. Also, the only other player we have who can play the middle in the 4-3 is John DiGiorgio.

– As for the biggest story of the year, I still have my doubts about JP Losman. He certainly did play well enough after the bye week to establish himself as the starting quarterback, and there is no doubt it is his team headed into next season. But we all know the flaws, and make no mistake; Losman has plenty of flaws. The question becomes if he can continue the learning process and become above average, or will he remain “serviceable”? Oh, and correct me if I am wrong but isn’t next year the last year of his contract as well? Now that’s going to be a difficult contract to figure out.

– Other Bills free agents (after the “Big” three of Fletcher, Clements and Kelsay) include Andre Davis, Kiwaukee Thomas, Anthony Thomas, Daimon Shelton, Mike Gandy, and Coy Wire. Wire is a very interesting case now that he can play linebacker in the Bills new defensive scheme. Davis brings huge value to special teams, Thomas is a good backup corner who may be needed for depth if Clements goes, and Thomas was a solid second back. Everyone knows the interior of the Bills line needs to take a jump up in quality, so Gandy may well lose his spot there and Daimon Shelton was fairly useless all season and could likely be replaced on the cheap.

– All in all, it was an acceptable season for the Bills. While nobody is ever going to be happy with 7-9, I think a 7-9 record for this team is an improvement. With a core group of young players, some of whom are signed long-term (Peters, Crowell, McGee), the Bills have something going into this season that they haven’t had in three years: stability. Marv Levy is the GM, Dick Jauron is the head coach, and there should be very few changes at the positional coach level. That will allow them to continue to build an organizational philosophy. They also have hope and optimism, which haven’t been seen around these parts in a while.

 

 

So What’s a Fan, Anyway?

Sometimes I get so fed up with some members of the local media that I want to scream.

Listening to WGR on Friday was painful. The topic on Schopp and The Bulldog (He’s Ferociuos!) was “Are you rooting for the Bills to lose on Sunday, and if you are, are you a fan?”

This is beyond my comprehension. How can someone cheer for their team to lose and call themselves a fan? Simply put, you can’t. If you are a Bills fan, you root for the Bills, plain and simple. It doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to the teams flaws. It doesn’t mean you can’t intelligently discuss the pros and cons of the coaches, the players, and the front office. It doesn’t even mean that you can’t call for someone to be cut or fired. But it does mean that you want your team to win; week in and week out.

I hear and can understand the arguement I heard on the radio yesterday as expressed by Stuttering Chris: “If the Bills lose, and lose big, it will prove how bad the coaches are and the GM is, and will get them fired.” Like I said, I understand the arguement, but it doesn’t make it right. If Tom Donohoe is a bad GM for this team, he will be fired. If Mike Mularkey is a bad coach for this team, he will be fired. Look around the NFL and find how many coaches or GM’s are employed that are failing after having been given a reasonable amount of time to prove themselves. Other than Matt Millen in Detroit, none sprang immediately to mind. You know why? Because owners want to win football games. They own a team for one reason, ego, and nobody wants to own a team and then have that team be a loser. Now, I will grant that some owners are in over their head in building a winning team (Arizona springs to mind), but I don’t put Ralph Wilson in that category.

It’s come to the point where it seems that unless you are railing about the Bills you seem to have no credibility. Like so much in the media today, unless you are constantly pointing out the negative you are seen as some kind of pollyanna. And as I have seen from Captain Milquetoast (Howard Simon), Stuttering Chris (The Bulldog) and Jerry Sullivan, there is no room for discussion. There is no room to point out the pros as well as the cons. There is no room to stop and ask, “what are our options.” There is only rip and ream, and root against your team.

Well, I can’t do it. You can call me a homer,which I am. It’s why this blog exists. To cheer for my teams and let others have a community in which to do so. You can also call me naive, which I most assuredly am not. I see the flaws as well as anyone else. I question if Mike Mularkey is mature enough to be a head football coach right now. I question if a man I hold a tremendous amount of respect for, Tom Donahoe, has lost it, or isn’t the right fit for this team. And when you question such things, you sit down with the good and the bad and try to come to a conclusion that has some level of maturity to it. Stuttering Chris going on the air and proclaiming “I want them to lose, and lose bigtime,” is hardly a mature response.

I think it’s because it’s the easy way out. It requires no critical thinking, no measure of nuance. Just “screw ‘em all.” Well, rarely in real life is “screw ‘em all” the way businesses are run. It’s fun to be the “screw ‘em all!” guy, shouting from the rooftops in an effort to show how much you know, but in reality those people know the least

So stand up and be counted Bills fans. There is NO shame in cheering for your team, despite what some may tell you. The shame is when you choose not to cheer for them, then, when times are good, decide they are “worthy” of your affection and you start cheering again. That’s the definition of a fair-weather fan, and those aren’t people whose opinions I hold in much regard.

 

Buffalo Sabres lose 4-3 to Toronto Maple Leafs in Shootout

After winning ten straight games that were decided by one goal the Buffalo Sabres finally lost a one goal game in Toronto tonight. The Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3 in a game that was decided in a shootout. The Leafs were the dominant team during the first period and a half and the Sabres were sloppy with the puck for much of the game. Those were two contributing factors to the Sabres loss.

Buffalo started Marty Biron in net and he was tested early in the game. After fourteen minutes of scoreless play Toronto got the lead on a short-handed goal by Ponikarovsky. Thomas Vanek attempted a pass inside the Leaf’s blue line that deflected off a Toronto skate into the neutral zone. The Buffalo defense, especially Teppo Numminen, could not control the rush and Ponikarovsky went five-hole on Biron for the goal.

Less than two minutes later, all three Buffalo forwards (rookies Paille, Gaustad, and Pominville) got caught down low in the Toronto zone during a four on two break by the Leafs. Domi left a drop pass for McCabe inside the Sabres blue line and McCabe one-timed a shot past Biron to put the Leafs up 2-0. Marty was screened on the play by at least two players and didn’t have much of a chance to make the save.

Buffalo disrupted the Toronto momentum late in the first period when Thomas Vanek put a wrap-around shot on Belfour from behind the net. Belfour left the rebound in the crease and Tim Connolly flipped the rebound high into the top corner of the net to cut the Leaf’s lead to 2-1.

Buffalo would avenge the short-handed goal that they allowed by getting their own at 4:37 of the second period. Connolly got control of the puck in Buffalo’s zone after a face-off and skated down the left side boards with it. After crossing the Toronto blue line he cut to the middle of the ice and took a shot on Belfour. Belfour made the save but Henrik Tallinder rushed in from the left point to pick up the rebound. Belfour was out of position and Tallinder’s shot from just above the goal line found the inside of the far post and went in. That goal tied the game at 2-2.

Toronto would get their third goal on that same penalty to regain the lead 3-2. Toronto was cycling the puck inside the Buffalo zone when Wellwood spotted Tucker alone to the left of Biron. Wellwood put a perfect pas on Tucker’s stick and Tucker fired it into the open net.

The second period ended with the Leafs up 3-2 and threatening to blow it open in the third. Buffalo continued to play loose with the puck which caused multiple turnovers leading to Toronto scoring chances. The Sabres were also having trouble clearing the puck out of their zone all night which allowed the Leafs to sustain pressure in the attacking zone. Even Marty Biron had trouble handling the puck outside of the crease tonight. Biron generally does not handle the puck well but he was worse than normal tonight. I would look for more teams to dump the puck in the Sabres zone and force Biron to play the puck behind the net. Odds are that he will turn it over sooner than later.

The Sabres’ power play would get them back in the game at the 8:07 mark of the third period. Toronto got caught with all four of their defenders on one side of the ice and Brian Campbell passed the puck to Jason Pominville, who was all alone at the point on the other side of the ice. Pominville dropped down from the point and fired a slap shot from Belfour’s left side that went right through Eddie’s legs. Belfour wasn’t screened and should have made the save but it was too hard of a shot and he didn’t get his legs closed in time.

With the game tied at 3-3 both teams really opened up the attack, both physically and with the puck. Bodies were flying as both teams finally started to throw checks and give up the body for the puck. Regulation ended tied at three and the teams continued the wide open play in four-on-four overtime. There were only three total shots in the OT period but both teams had numerous scoring chances as the players went all out for the win. The game was still tied at the end of OT and teams picked their shooters for the deciding shootout.

Kotalik started things for Buffalo and fired a shot over the top of the Toronto net from in close.

Sundin fired a shot glove high past Biron after Marty moved too far back in the net and left Sundin too much room to shoot at.

Vanek failed on his chance to even the score when he put his shot right into Belfour. Vanek never made a move with the puck. It looked like he was either aiming five-hole or glove high but he missed both.

Ponikarovsky sealed the win for Toronto when Biron went down on the ice and tried to poke-check the puck away from him. Biron missed the puck and Ponikarovsky put his backhand past the goalie for the win.

The OT loss was just the second OT loss of the season for Buffalo, who dropped to 7-2 in OT. Buffalo did pick up a point and they were lucky to get it. Although they played well in the third period and the OT their poor play early on cost them the game. The Sabres head home to Buffalo to face the Atlanta Thrashers tomorrow night at the HSBC Arena at 8:00 PM. Atlanta should be the fresher team after having tonight off. They lost to Philadelphia 4-3 in OT on Wednesday night and are currently 16-16-6 for 38 points. After tonight’s loss, Buffalo stands at 25-11-2 for 52 points.

 

Moulds Suspended

I was out of town when the poop hit the fan in regards to Eric Moulds, and believe me, listening to WGR’s hyperbolic reaction for four hours in the car was certainly a tough way to be brought up to date.

Here’s what I think I know. Moulds was being a tool during the Miami game, tanking some routes and urging quarterback JP Losman to change plays. He got into an arguement with the receivers coach, Tyke Tolbert, and then Moulds took himself out of the game and refused to go back in when asked. After the game, Mularkey wanted to suspend Moulds, but he had to wait for approval from Donahoe and owner Ralph Wilson. All the parties met today, and Moulds has indeed been suspended for the New England game.

The relevance of Moulds’ complaints aside, Moulds got what was coming to him, and probably got off easier than what Mularkey wanted thanks to Wilson. As much as you may wish to tee off on what appears to many of us to be poor play calling, you can’t do it in the manner in which Moulds did. Period. It undermines the coaches authority and hurts the team. So let’s please dismiss the talk of Eric Moulds as a “leader,” because a leader doesn’t present his case in such a manner, nor does a real leader attempt to undermine those in positions above him. Most importantly, a leader doesn’t run away and pout. It is incredibly disappointing to me that Moulds refused to re-enter the game, and as a ten-year veteran I expected better.

In terms of Moulds’ complaints, he’s right. The playcalling was incredibly bizarre on Sunday, and showed a lack of in-game savvy. The noose is tightening around Mularkey’s neck, and I am not sure he has the ability to survive this episode in light of everything else happening within the organization.

And may I just add that listening to Schopp and The Bulldog (He’s Ferocious!) on WGR radio get opinion from the lowest form of sportsfan life, the talk-radio caller, was particularly painful. At one point Bulldog stammered and stuttered so badly I thought he may have stuttered himself into unconsciousnes (ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhhhh-ahhhhhh-ahhhhhhh-ahhhhhhhhhh-ahhhhhhhhh. (Dead Air)………….Ahhhhh! Phew, he’s back.) At this point I am ready to suggest he change his name from “The Bulldog” to “Stuttering Chris.” The suggestions ran the gamut from something close to resonable debate (rare, but they were there) to the old “community buying the team from Ralph Wilson” plan. I think the capper was when Schopp was complaining (validly) about how closed-off this Bills management team is. He then said how it wasn’t like that in the old days, how “Polian and Butler welcomed the discussion.”

‘Scuse me? Bill Polian “welcomed” discussion and debate? Are we just completely revising history here? Did Bill Polian not let loose his famous tirade at the media (Art Wander in specific): “Jim Kelly is still the quarterback, I’m still the general manager, and Marv Levy is still the head coach. And if you don’t like it, you can get out of town!”

It does, however, illustrate the long tradition of the Buffalo media calling for coaches to be fired quickly after they arrive. Good to see some things never change.

 

 

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

Who’s the best team of them all?

Barry Melrose says that the best team in the NHL right now is the Montreal Canadiens. Yeppers. He said it the other day. He said the Sabres were struggling, and that Montreal was the better team. Now, I may be groggy from too much holiday cheer and egg nog, but I think that a quick look at the facts can quickly disprove that notion.

It’s a funny thing about being the annointed team. You know the team; the team that the media props up and lavishes with glowing praise? Well that same media is ready and waiting for a sign of weakness so that they can find the next hot team, and be the first ones to identify that team as such. It seems to me that there are a half-dozen or so elite teams right now, and that the Sabres are among them. Other teams will get on hot streaks and look to be approaching that elite level, but a contrasting cold snap usually sends them back to the realm of just another good team.

Let’s look at some numbers. The Sabres won their first ten games and didn’t lose in regulation until their 12th game. Since that first regulation loss, the Sabres have still earned a point in 20 of those 26 games. That’s six losses in twenty-six games, which is a damn good number. I think the reason some people are down on the Sabres is that they had what I would term three “weak” losses in a ten game stretch, falling 7-4 in Washington, 3-1 at Florida, and losing 3-2 in overtime in St. Louis. All road games, which happen to be make up three of the Sabres four road losses this season.

Also Read: A Tale of Two Children

Some more numbers, and let’s deal with the biggest one first. The Sabres lead the Canadiens by 12 points, although I will be nice and grant Montreal the game in hand and just call it ten. The best team in hockey does not trail their division leader by ten points. Period.

Instead of making the arguement that Montreal is the best team in hockey (and no offense to Montreal, by the way, as they are the Sabres biggest competition this year) we should be making the arguement that the Sabres are the best team in hockey. To me, the case can be made…intelligent minds can disagree. Their competition:

Anaheim: The formerly mighty Ducks lead the NHL with 62 points. The Sabres have 61, and have two games in hand. Something tells me they might manage to win one of two games, since they have only lost two straight on one occasion this year. I know the East and West are different, and they play different styles, but but since all we have to go on is records I’ll say they’re even until they meet on the ice. Here’s the problem, though. Buffalo went through a rough patch of injuries, with six starters out of the lineup at one point, and they went three weeks while missing four different starters each game. Anaheim has been amazingly healthy, until recently. Suddenly, they have lost both their starting goalies, and defenseman Francois Beauchemin is out at least a month with a lacerated spleen. Then the other night Chris Pronger took a shot off his foot and it appears he may be gone until February at the earliest. Guess what? They aren’t going to match Buffalo’s production when the Sabres lost thirty percent of their team.

That’s the whole list of teams the Sabres trail, now let’s look at who might be coming up behind them. Nashville’s next with 55 points, trailing the Sabres by six. And Buffalo has a game in hand plus a 7-2 win two weeks ago against the Preds.

Atlanta trails Buffalo by seven points, and Buffalo has two games in hand. The season series is tied at one each, with Buffalo losing a 5-4 shootout early in the year, then getting revenge witha 4-1 victory on Saturday night.

Next up, Detroit. Eight points back, the Wings with one game in hand, and a Sabres 3-2 shootout victory in October in Detroit. San Jose follows at nine points behind with no head-to-head matchup.

We have already discussed Montreal’s 12-point deficit, although I feel compelled to mention that the season series stands at 3-1-1 in favor of the Sabres. Next.

So those are the six closest teams to Buffalo. There’s no way I am saying that the Sabres are definitively better than most of those teams, and there’s no way I think that the road to the Stanley Cup is as easy as I just made it appear to be. Everything changes come playoff time when the regular season is forgotten. My point is that in the process of guestimating the best team in hockey the Sabres have done a fine job of making the case for themselves.

By the way, I am happy to announce that the Caps are officially in a tailspin as since the Danny Briere revenge game the Caps have lost four more. Sure, they’ve been all banged up with injuries and various illnesses that produce fluids emitting from the wrong orifices. But still, that’s five straight, a 3-7 record in their last ten, and a loss at home to Phoenix last night. It must be Karma.

 

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