Category: Sports

 

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.

 

 

Sabres Free Agent Troubles

But I suppose we can now insert the term “officially” into Sabres GM Darcy Regier’s statement that he intended to retain the rights to Briere. In fact, Regier stated the Sabres would retain the rights to all their RFA’s (he must have forgotten that Andrew Peters still played for them), and in a radio interview this morning Sabres winger Jason Pominville indicated he received his offer yesterday. That tells me the Sabres have made their decisions, but we will know for sure Monday at 5:00, which is the deadline for qualifying offers to be received.

At that point, the Sabres have the right of first refusal on their RFA’s, which means other teams can make the players offers, but the Sabres would always be able to match. If they chose not to match, they would be eligible for draft-pick compensation based on the amount of money the RFA was offered by the other team. This is important, because I think the Sabres could be vulnerable despite the fact that offer sheets to RFA’s are fairly rare.

The formula for compensation is based on the amount offered and is as follows:

Under $660,000 = no compenastion
$660,000-$1 million = Third Round
Over $1 million-$2 million = Second Round
Over $2 million-$3 million = First Round and Third Round
Over $3 million-$4 million = First, second and third round
Over $4 million-$5 million = Two First Round, one Second, one Third
Over $5 million = Four First Round Picks

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Do you see where the Sabres are vulnerable? If other teams make offer sheets for four or five years at a mere $2 million per season to a few of our younger guys we might just lose them with little compensation. We all know Darcy Regier’s aversion to long-term contracts, and if that offer got tossed out to a Brian Campbell (RFA qualifying offer of $459,800) or Henrik Tallinder ($591,800) he might just back away and end up with nothing but a third-round pick. Heck, if the offer escalated a bit he definitely wouldn’t touch it, and if you’re a team like the Rangers or Leafs locking up a good, young player for $3 mil per isn’t such a bad plan.

The other area where the Sabres could be impacted adversely is player-elected salary arbitration. The players have until July 5 to decide if they would like to go to arbitration, and for some Sabres it could be a big winner. Let’s take Max Afinogenov as an example. His qualifying offer will be $1,086,000. He led the Sabres in scoring and can easily make the statistical case that he deserves similar compensation to Chris Drury, who made just shy of $3 million last year. To make things even scarier, he had statistically superior seasons to Todd Bertuzzi (salary: $5,269,333), Jarome Iginla ($7,000,000) and Miro Satan ($4,015,000). Afinogenov could be a huge winner in arbitration, and the Sabres might be forced to decide if they want Max making $3 million based on an arbitrators decision. The only other option is to “walk away” from the arbitration ruling, which would make Max a free agent. Another player who could cash big in arbitration is Ales Kotalik, who finished third on the Sabres in scoring and whose tender will be for $837,900. How about JP Dumont, who will be offered $1,598,000. Think he couldn’t angle for an additional million?

Iis there any doubt that Darcy Regier is keenly aware of the potential arbitration problem with Afinogenov? When you tie that to his statements that he wants to deal some forwards, I think he is laying the groundwork for a bigger-named, arbitration eligible player to be moved. One salary getting out of line with the Sabres formula could adversely impact the teams ability to sign their RFA’s at levels they are comfortable with, plus cause problems with team chemistry.

I don’t envy Regier for the position he is in as he works to keep his core together for the next couple years while keeping salaries reasonable.

 

 

Sabres Take 1-0 Series Lead With 3-2 Victory Over Canes

The Buffalo Sabres took a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Carolina Hurricanes with a 3-2 win on the road. Although Buffalo was outplayed by Carolina for large stretches of the game the Sabres got spectacular goaltending from Ryan Miller and goals from Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Briere, and Jay McKee to earn the win.

Buffalo got off to another good start by scoring the first goal of the game. Buffalo has now scored first in 11 of 12 playoff games this year. The play started in the Buffalo zone when Toni Lydman broke up the right wing and banked a pass off the glass to Jason Pominville in the neutral zone. Pominville flipped a pass over to Jochen Hecht in the slot for a one timer but Hecht wasn’t in a good position and the pass ricocheted off of him and went wide of the net. The puck ended up back on Pominville’s stick as he spotted Tallinder crashing to the front of the net. Pominville flipped the puck out to Tallinder who then one timed the pass into the top of the open net over Cam Ward’s right arm. The goal came just 2:56 into the game.

Carolina tied the game at 1-1 on a goal by Rod Brind’Amour at 12:11 of the first. The goal was the result of a turnover by Rory Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was attempting a pass from inside the Buffalo zone out over the red line and it was intercepted by Cory Stillman. As Stillman carried the puck in over the blue line Fitzpatrick laid him out with a hit but not before Stillman fed the puck up to Brind’Amour along the left wing. As Brind’Amour got ready to take his shot on Miller from the left face off circle, Brian Campbell backed away from him instead of trying to block the shot. Campbell may have been trying to get out of Miller’s way but the correct move would have been to try to get in Brind’Amour’s way. Miller dropped down to stop the shot but it went in high on the glove side over his left shoulder. Miller definitely got a piece of the puck but could not get his glove on it in time.

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Buffalo was outplayed by Carolina in the first period and they spent most of the period in their own zone withstanding the aggressive fore check of the Canes. The Sabres were out shot 10-6 and they were not as physical as the Canes. Buffalo got out of the period with a 1-1 tie due to two or three clutch saves by Miller and good penalty killing. The Canes were 0-for-2 on the power play during the period. Buffalo finished the first with only 22 seconds of power play time to finish the period.

Buffalo found their legs in the second period and started to take the attack to Carolina. Chris Drury hit a post early in the period while Buffalo was on the power play and the Sabres had numerous other scoring chances throughout the period. Teppo Numminen left the Sabres bench during the second period with what may be a leg injury (although the Sabres aren’t saying yet). Buffalo was forced to play the rest of the game with only five defensemen.

Briere broke the tie halfway through the second with a beautiful back hand shot up under the crossbar. The goal was set up by two great passes from Taylor Pyatt to Jason Pominville and then Pominville to Briere. Pyatt got the puck up near the blue line along the left boards and passed the puck over to Pominville in the neutral zone. Pominville got the puck at center ice and immediately fed the puck up to his left to Briere as Briere was crossing the blue line. Briere had a step on Bret Hedican but Hedican was forcing Briere to the outside. Briere was still able to get a backhand shot off from about twelve feet away. The shot went up over Ward’s left (glove) hand into the top of the net at 9:41 of the second.

The teams went to their dressing rooms with Buffalo leading 2-1 after forty minutes. Buffalo was definitely the better team in the second period. They out shot Carolina 13-4, took the one goal lead, and killed off another Canes power play. The key to the Sabres second period success was that they skated hard and pressed the attack in the Canes zone. Buffalo could have had a larger lead if Mike Commodore hadn’t blocked a shot that JP Dumont had on an open net and if Thomas Vanek would have shot the puck from the top of the slot on a Sabres power play instead of passing it away.

Buffalo had another opportunity to take a two goal lead early in the third period but a shot by Hecht hit the crossbar and bounced out. Carolina was starting to get desperate and get scoring chances when Jay McKee was called for Holding at 11:32. Not only did Buffalo kill the penalty, but when McKee stepped back on the ice he was in perfect position to accept a pass from Hecht and score the eventual game-winner. McKee took the puck and moved halfway into the Canes zone along the right boards and hesitated with the shot to allow time for traffic to get in front of Ward. After pausing, McKee moved to his left and used Niclas Wallin and Mike Commodore as screens before taking his shot from 25 feet and beating Ward low through the five hole. Buffalo’s lead was now 3-1 with 6:20 remaining.

It looked like Buffalo would be able to put the game away when Aaron Ward took a Holding penalty with less than five minutes remaining. Instead of scoring an insurance goal on the power play, however, Buffalo gave up a shorthanded goal to Mike Commodore at 17:07 that cut the lead to 3-2. Buffalo was playing soft on the power play and allowed the Canes to gain possession of the puck in the Buffalo zone. Hedican took a shot from the point while Lydman, Campbell, and Staal were in Miller’s way causing traffic. Commodore got a piece of Hedican’s shot and deflected it past Miller.

Carolina spent the next three minutes desperately trying to score the tying goal. Ward was pulled with almost 1:30 left and the Canes went with five forwards and one defenseman as they pressured Buffalo the entire time. Miller was sensational, making save after save until Buffalo was finally able to clear the puck down the ice as time expired.

The key to this game was the stellar play of Ryan Miller. Other than the Brind’Amour goal, Miller was on top of his game. He was moving well, never out of position, handling the puck when needed, and smothering rebounds. Buffalo also owes a lot of credit to McKee and Tallinder. Both defensemen scored goals (2), blocked shots (7), and gave out hits (3) while logging 22:01 (McKee) and 26:51 (Tallinder) of ice time.

Even with McKee and Tallinder’s great play, Buffalo’s defense is a concern heading into Game Two. Campbell was a minus-2 on the night after being on the ice for both Canes goals. If Numminen is out for Game Two he will be the second top-6 defenseman out of the series for Buffalo, including Dmitri Kalinin. Buffalo may have to dress one of their young defenseman from the AHL Rochester Americans in Numminen’s place (either Nathan Paetsch or Doug Janik). This is after Buffalo’s D had their hands full with Carolina for most of the game. Four of Buffalo’s five penalties went to their defensemen for Holding and Interference. That’s not a great sign and Buffalo will need to work on that in Game Two.

The good news is that Buffalo has the 1-0 series lead and now they can play Game Two with less tension knowing that they are guaranteed a split on the road before heading home. Prior to the game I felt that a victory in Game One was important but not essential to winning the series and I still believe that is the case. Both teams had a lot of time off before this game and were a little rusty which makes it hard to judge their performance. I’m glad that Buffalo got the first win out of the way though. These two teams seem to match up well and it looks like it could be a long six or seven game series.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres Outlast NY Islanders in Shootout to Win 4-3

Two different games on two different nights against two different New York teams both end up in an overtime shootout for the Buffalo Sabres. Last night Buffalo lost to the Rangers in a shootout, tonight they beat the Islanders in another shootout.

Once again the Sabres got off to a very sluggish start and were out shot 15-5 in the first period. Martin Biron made some key saves to keep the Sabres in it early on. Its possible that the Sabres were adjusting to new line combinations which were needed when Danny Briere was held out with an injury. Even if that is the excuse the players use it is not acceptable. They’re professionals – they should be able to handle changes to the lineup.

The Islanders got the first goal of the game when York deflected a shot from the point by Campoli. York was left alone in front of the net by both Tallinder and Kalinin. Either defensemen could have picked him up and prevented the goal. Instead, he was allowed to camp out in front of the net and deflect the shot. The Sabres responded with a power play goal by Chris Drury two and a half minutes later to tie the game 1-1. Buffalo cycled the puck around the outside for over a minute before Brian Campbell found a lane and took a shot from the point. Drury was in front of the net and fired the rebound home. Marty Biron made a clutch save on Yashin with under five seconds left in the period to keep it tied going into the intermission.

The Islanders regained the lead early in the second period on a power play goal by Sopel. The shot was a deflection that Biron had no chance on. Less than a minute later, Jason Blake put the Islanders up 3-1. Weinhandl passed the puck from behind the net out to Blake who was all alone. Two things went wrong for the Sabres on the Blake goal. First, three Sabres players were crowded together in front of the net and not playing their positions, which left Blake alone in front. Second, Biron sat back in the net and did not come out to challenge Blake. By sitting back Biron left a lot of net open for Blake to take advantage of.

Jochen Hecht scored the Sabres second goal when he tipped a shot from Teppo Numinen past DiPietro. Ales Kotalik tied the game at 3-3 when he scored with under three minutes remaining in the third. The goal was the result of excellent individual effort. Kotalik broke down the left wing and fought off the Islander defenseman. He then went strong to the net along the goal line and flipped the puck past DiPietro. That goal seemed to give the Sabres the energy that they had been missing all night. They woke up in the four-on-four overtime and dominated the Islanders. Buffalo out shot New York 4-0 in OT but DiPietro forced the shootout.

For the second time in two nights the Sabres sent their three shooters out to try to win a shootout. Kotalik, Vanek, and Connolly were picked to face Yashin, Blake, and Satan.

– Kotalik scored on a backhand that went “top shelf” to put the Sabres up 1-0.

– Biron got his stick on Yashin’s shot to keep it 1-0.

– Vanek tried too many moves and ran out of ice which kept it 1-0.

– Blake seemed to lose control of the puck and Biron poke-checked it away to keep it 1-0.

– Connolly sealed the win for the Sabres when DiPietro slid too far back into the net with the puck under his pad.

– Satan never had a chance to shoot because the Sabres were already up by two goals.

Next up for the Sabres will be the Montreal Canadiens in Buffalo on Friday night.

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