Sabres Senators HockeyHang your heads low Sabres fans. Really low.

The Buffalo Sabres were once again defeated by a team ranked well below them in the standings, and this time it was the Ottawa Senators. Buffalo lost to their division rivals at Scotiabank Place Tuesday night by a score of 4-2. The Sabres amassed a mere 13 shots on goal the entire game. That’s not a joke; 13 shots on goal through 60 minutes of play were all the Buffalo Sabres could accomplish offensively. This mark nearly ties the franchise record of 11 shots on goal, set in 1981 against the Boston Bruins. With the loss, Buffalo falls to 34-28-8 and further decreases their playoff chances. 

Game Summary

Mikael Tellqvist started his first game in net as a Buffalo Sabre, and it was anything but a memorable occasion for the third string goaltender. Tellqvist stood tall, facing 36 shots in the game, compared to Brian Elliot who was only hit with 13. Two of those shots went in for the Sabres, and both goals came in the first period. Defenceman Toni Lydman scored his 2nd of the year on a delayed penalty call to put the Sabres up 1-0. Jason Pominville added another tally (his 15th), shoveling in a return pass from Thomas Vanek, giving the Sabres a 2-0 lead at the end of the opening period. 

Once the second period began, however, it was like watching a completely different game as it was all Ottawa. The Senators got on the board about a minute and a half in when Dany Heatley picked Tellqvist’s pocket, as poor coverage by Jaroslav Spacek left him untouched in front of the net. A little over 4 minutes later, Brendan Bell tied the game while Henrik Tallinder was serving an interference penalty. Early in the third period, Drew Stafford was in the box for elbowing when Daniel Alfredsson scored the go ahead goal. He received a pass from Jason Spezza in a 2 on 1 situation, and a poor read by Buffalo defenceman Andrej Sekera made Alfredsson’s job easy as he caught Tellqvist out of position (at no fault of his own), putting his team up 3-2. As if to punctuate Ottawa’s dominance of the Sabres this season, with 8:34 left to play, Brendan Bell got his second of the night with the man advantage, making the final score 4-2.

Game Analysis

There so many atrocities to point out in this game from the viewpoint of a Sabres fan, that it’s tough to only pick a few. Actually, only a few will be pointed out as hopefully this game can quickly become a distant memory. To begin, the Sabres amassed 9 penalties in the game for a total of 18 short handed minutes. Three of those penalties Sabres Senators Hockeywent to Henrik Tallinder for two hooking calls and an interference call. At one point, the Sabres had 7 straight penalties before they’d get a power play chance of their own. Some people blame biased refs, when they should really blame lazy hockey players.

Despite the poor play and sloppy penalties, the biggest frustration of the night is how the Sabres didn’t fight for their new goalie, Mikael Tellqvist. Imagine how he feels, being the new guy on the team, wanting to make a statement and help the club advance in the standings. Tellqvist makes 32 saves, keeping his team in the game while his fellows managed to only put 13 shots on the the opponent’s goalie. The Sabres should have just spat in Tellqvist’s face as it would’ve been equally insulting to their teammate as their performance last night. The effort put forth in this game proves the theory that the Sabres don’t show up when Ryan Miller isn’t in net. Save a few plays here and there,other backup goalie, Patrick Lalime, has been solid in his nine outings in place of Ryan Miller. All he has to show for it though, is a 3-4-2 record. Without speaking any words, the Sabres have repeatedly shown if anyone besides Ryan Miller isn’t stopping pucks, than they don’t feel like playing hockey.

The rest of the world be damned.

To frustrate Sabres fans even further, Ottawa is 5-1 against Buffalo on the year and has owned the Sabres since being knocked out of the 2005-2006 post season by Buffalo. Add this to the fact that Ottawa is ranked 24th in the league, and it becomes clear that the Sabres can’t win close games against good teams, and can’t win period against bad teams. Buffalo’s chances for a post season birth aren’t over numerically, but after watching this club play last night, the realization that no lead is safe forces fans to accept the fact that this team isn’t very good.

Fast Facts

-Buffalo failed to score on 4 power play opportunities compared to Ottawa’s 3 scores on 9 chances.

-The Sabres had 1 shot on goal in the entire second period. The Senators had 13.

-In their last 7 losses, the Sabres have totaled 13 goals. 

-The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, losing to the Senators (twice), Atlanta Thrashers, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Anaheim Ducks. Only two of those teams are higher than Buffalo in the standings. The three victories were against the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and the Montreal Canadiens, of which only the Coyotes are below them in the standings.

Sabres Senators Hockey-Since the start of the 2005-2006 season, Ottawa is 20-6-4 against Buffalo. Ouch.

-The Sabres started the season 6-0-1, but since then they’ve gone 28-28-7.

-Jason Pominville is a -6 in his last 8 games.

The Final Word

It may be too early to panic about missing the post season as the Sabres are only 3 points out of 8th place, but they keep making it harder on themselves and for their fans to keep the faith. Here is how the Eastern Conference looks:

  1. Boston Bruins (99 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (95)
  3. Washington Capitals (94)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (84)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins (84)
  6. New York Rangers (82)
  7. Montreal Canadiens (81)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (79)
  • In the hunt: Florida Panthers (78), Buffalo Sabres (76), Toronto Maple Leafs (71)

Something this team needs to do within the span of their final 12 games is to develop an identity, hold onto leads, and find consistency in their play. All of these elements are lacking right now, and it has turned them into a group of losers. After the game against the Senators, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said:

I’m very embarrassed. Embarrassed for our fans, embarrassed for how we played the last forty minutes. It’s not acceptable this time of year.

Lindy, 13 shots on goal and 9 dumb penalties are not acceptable any time of the year. On Friday the Sabres take on the Philadelphia Flyers at the HSBC Arena. Anything other than a win in this game and Buffalo’s playoff hopes become nothing more than a hope and a prayer.

Thrashers Sabres HockeyThe Sabres lost to the Atlanta Thrashers at the HSBC Arena Friday night, 4-3 in a shootout. Despite a 3 goal second period, the Sabres couldn’t hold on for a much needed extra point, losing to a club who is out of the playoff race. 

Game Summary

Despite some great shifts from the Mair/Moore/Afinogenov line, the Thrashers got on the board first while on the power play. Vyacheslav Kozlov got the puck past Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime with 25 seconds to go in the opening period. The score would remain 1-0 until a little under seven minutes left in the second when the Sabres would score 3 goals in 5:05. Danielle Paille got the Sabres on the board with his 9th of the year (and his second in the last two games) by driving hard to the net. About three minutes later, a buzzing Derek Roy netted his 25th of the season, and Maxim Afinogenov capped the scoring for the Sabres (his 4th) with a minute and a half to play in the period. Afinogenov was in the right place at the right time, finishing a perfect feed from Thomas Vanek, putting the Sabres up 3-1.

The third period would begin with Eric Perrin charging Tim Connolly for no apparent reason. Perrin went mugged Connolly immediately after the puck was dropped, and his actions earned him 10 minutes in the box and a Buffalo power play. The Sabres couldn’t capitalize though, and while they had some chances in the period, it would be the Thrashers who scored the next two goals. Buffalo had the man advantage when Jaroslav Spacek’s shot from the point was blocked, sending the puck to Colin Stuart for a 2 on 1 situation. Stuart was trailed by Marty Reasoner, and when Lalime made the initial save on him, Reasoner was there to punch in the rebound, scoring short handed, making the score 3-2. Thomas Vanek nearly scored with 5:37 to play, but Kari Lehtonen made a highlight worthy acrobatic save to keep his team down by 1. Buffalo’s bad luck continued when with only 3.5 seconds remaining in the game, Todd White knocked one in to force OT. The puck sat behind Lalime for a few beats, and as he went to cover it with his glove, White batted it in for the goal.

An exciting overtime saw some spectacular saves from the goaltenders but no goals, sending the contest to a Thrashers Sabres Hockeyshootout. For the first time since the trade deadline, the Sabres missed shootout go-to-guy Ales Kotalik as Roy, Connolly, Drew Stafford, and Vanek all failed to get the puck past Lehtonen. Brett Sterling, who was called up from the minor leagues to play in the game, scored the winning goal in his first shootout attempt; Lalime should have poked checked him. 

Game Analysis

The Sabres have played badly against bad teams this season, and except for the 6 minute onslaught in the second period, the trend continued last night. When the team doesn’t skate hard, they usually end up of losing as their speed and agility are their assets. The longer it takes for this to sink into the heads of the Sabres, the longer it will take for them to go on a successful run.

As annoying as he has been in the past, Maxim Afinogenov has upped his game significantly since returning from a groin (and neck) injury. He has scored 2 goals in 5 games and is constantly creating chances for the Sabres. He’s gotten smarter with the puck and appears to be back to his shifty self from a few seasons ago. The same can be said about new Sabre Dominic Moore who has been great on the penalty kill and isn’t afraid to hit people. Sabres fans are still awaiting his first goal in a blue and gold sweater…

Defenceman Toni Lydman is the unsung hero of this team (when he isn’t turning the puck over), and has come into his own this season. Lydman used to be a wishy-washy d-man, but this year he has stepped up his play by putting shots on net, making hits, and displaying solid leadership for his teammates. Head Coach Lindy Ruff appears to agree as Lydman logged 25:16 minutes of ice time in last night’s game, the most by any Sabre.

Fast Facts

-Patrick Lalime made 29 saves for the Sabres, compared to 34 saves by Kari Lehtonen.

-The Thrashers were 1-6 on the power play and the Sabres were 0-3.

-The Thrashers appear to have Buffalo’s number as the Sabres have gone 0-0-3 against Atlanta this season. To boot, Buffalo was 4-0 to begin the year until Atlanta handed them their first loss. The Thrashers were also the guilty party in snapping Buffalo’s 10 game win streak to start the 2006-2007 NHL season. The loss prevented the club from setting a new franchise record.

 

-Pat Kaleta has 114 hits on the season and Derek Roy has 15 multi-point games.

Thrashers Sabres Hockey-The Sabres are 7-5 in the shootout this year and have 13 games remaining (6 at the HSBC Arena). The Sabres are 10-3-1 at home in 2009.

-The players with the worst plus(-) rating for the Sabres are Jochen Hecht (-12), Jason Pominville (-11), Andrej Sekera (-11), and Maxim Afinogenov (-10). These four guys combined have 30 goals on the year. The Sabres with the best plus(-) rating are Drew Stafford (+7), Matt Ellis, Patrick Kaleta, Chris Butler, and Nathan Gerbe who are all tied with +3. These five guys combined have 28 goals. 

-In unrelated news, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Montreal Canadiens, tying Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with Patrick Roy for the most career wins in the NHL. Both players have 551.

Final World

Considering the Florida Panthers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Carolina Hurricanes also lost in a shootout last night, the Sabres only close the gap on the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers who lost in regulation. As a result, not much changed in the Eastern Conference standings:

  1.  Boston Bruins (99 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (93)
  3. Washington Capitals (92)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (84)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins (82)
  6. Montreal Canadiens (80)
  7. New York Rangers (80)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (79)
  • In the hunt: Florida Panthers (78), Buffalo Sabres (76), Toronto Maple Loafs (69)

The Sabres are obviously far from out of it, but this is the time of year where every point could mean a post season appearance or a final game in April. While the Sabres managed a point last night, they continue to back themselves into a corner. Lalime has now started 9 straight games and he is beginning to look tired. A huge demand was placed on him when Miller went down and he has risen to the challenge, playing very well as a stand in. Unfortunately, the rest of the Sabres are still struggling with consistency problems. Buffalo has been playing .500 hockey for the past month, and if they hope to cover ground in the standings they need to get into a rhythm.

The team will have that opportunity Tuesday night when they travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators, who rank 25th in the league. Like the Thrashers, however, the Sens have owned the Sabres this year as Buffalo has gone 1-3-1 against them. The Sabres cannot afford a loss as their following three games are against the Flyers, Rangers, and Panthers.

 

 

1288506This was a tragic and bizarre week for the Buffalo Sabres who went 1-2 in games at home against the Ottawa Senators, the San Jose Sharks, and the Carolina Hurricanes. Wednesday night the Sabres put on an uninspired performance, playing incredibly soft in their own end, and deservedly losing to Ottawa. Then on Thursday night, Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a Clarence residents home, killing 50. Clarence, a suburb of Buffalo, is home to many Sabres players including defenceman Teppo Numminen, back up goalie Patrick Lalime, and head coach Lindy Ruff. In the face of tragedy, the Sabres had to gather their mettle and prepare for battle on Friday night. In one of the darkest times in Western New York history, the Sabres put on a show that allowed Buffalonians a brief distraction from the crash, as they defeated the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks 6-5 in a shootout. It was an emotional game for fans and players alike. Unfortunately, that joyous performance was followed up with another lazy effort from the Sabres, as they were shut out in a loss against Carolina on Sunday.

SENATORS vs SABRES   2/11/09

With team leading scorer Thomas Vanek out a month with a fractured jaw, Lindy Ruff needed to make some moves to inspire his team offensively. At the time, Lindy was faced with some serious scoring droughts from players he needed to produce: Ales Kotalik (3 goals in 27 games), Jochen Hecht (3 goals in 27 games), Jason Pominville (0 goals in 16games), Clarke MacArthur (1 goal in 16 games), and Danielle Paille (3 goals in 39 games). As a result, Ruff shuffled the lines and benched Paille while calling up Nathan Gerbe from the Portland Pirates. The strategy was to generate more offensive opportunities against the Ottawa Senators.

His plan didn’t work as the Sabres fell 3-1 to their division rival.  

Jaroslav Spacek joylessly celebrated his 35th birthday as Ales Kotalik netted the Sabres lone goal of the game. It came on a 5 on 3 opportunity early in the 3rd period. Other than that, it was all Ottawa. Jason Spezza scored the first goal of the Senators Sabres Hockeygame, outworking Buffalo defenceman Tony Lydman, six minutes in on the power play. Ottawa nearly went up by two when Chris Kelly scored, but the goal was disallowed as an interference penalty was called on Jarkko Ruutu. It didn’t matter though as Shean Donovan got one in off the goal post to put his team up 2-0. Daniel Alfredsson ended the scoring for Ottawa about half way through the second period, making the score 3-0.

Thomas Vanek, the league leader in power play goals with 15, was severely missed in this game. The Sabres had 12 power play opportunities (the most by any team this season) but managed to score only once on 22 shots. Jason Smith of the Senators had a triple minor for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct for hitting Pat Kaleta from behind, yet his 16 minutes of box time wasn’t enough for the Sabres to take advantage. Lindy Ruff couldn’t have put it better in the post game press conference, “It’s a step back. You can’t be happy with that.”

The fans were definitely unhappy. The “Lets go Buffalo” chant couldn’t be heard until just over three minutes into the third period, and the Sabres were deservedly bombarded with boos as they made their way to the locker room. Ryan Miller looked shaky in net as he only faced 23 shots and let in 3 against the NHL’s third worst team. The Sabres put 32 shots on Ottawa goalie, Brian Elliot, who stopped 31. Rob Ray summed the Sabres play up nicely:

“They’ve been standing on the corner being pretty boys.” 

SHARKS vs SABRES   2/13/09

The Buffalo Sabres achieved their most emotional win in franchise history on Friday against the San Jose Sharks. Due to the crash of Continental Flight 3407, the NHL gave the Sabres organization an option of postponing the game to a later date. The Sabres graciously declined, deeming that the team could better serve their community by offering to take people’s minds off of Sharks Sabres Hockeythe crash, if even for only a handful of hours. The tragic event rightfully overshadowed Sabres captain, Craig Rivet’s first time squaring off against his former team since being traded to Buffalo in the off season. Rivet was vocal about the crash to the Buffalo media prior to the game:

“If we can come here tonight and just put in the work, do our best, and get that win. Hopefully it will take some discomfort off of the people involved. If we can do anything to help, we’re certainly going to try.”

Rivet indeed helped propel the Sabres to a 6-5 shootout victory over the Western Conference leading Sharks. Rivet logged the most ice time at 24:46 and had 3 assists on the night, the most important of which came with just seconds left in the game; He ripped a shot off from the point and Jason Pominville got his stick on it to tap it home with 3.9 seconds left on the clock, tying the game at 5-5. To quote Buffalo play-by-play guy, Rick Jeanneret, “Gloom and doom is now glee and joy!” The tying goal earned the Sabres a standing ovation who at one time led the game 3-0 and 4-1. The goal was the perfect time for Pominville to end a 16 game scoring draught. 

The Sabres got off to a hot start scoring three times in under fifteen minutes: Adam Mair scored his 7th of the season as he deflected in a shot from Rivet, on the power play Jaroslav Spacek got his 4th, and Derek Roy netted his 20th on a Sharks Sabres Hockeysweet wrist shot at the tail end of a power play. With under two minutes left in the first, Patrick Marleau scored with the man advantage to get the Sharks on the board, 3-1. About half way through the second, the Sabre special teams get it done again as Ales Kotalik scored his 12th of the season, putting Buffalo up 4-1. Ryan Miller stopped former Sabre, Mike Grier on a breakaway chance before things started to go San Jose’s way. The Sharks scored three in a row: Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle in the second, and a power play goal in the third from Devin Setoguchi tied the  game at 4-4. With just under ten minutes left in the third period, Craig Rivet was called for a bogus high sticking penalty. The penalty cost the Sabres a goal as Andrej Sekera lost his stick and Joe Pavelski punched it by Miller to give San Jose the lead, 5-4. With 3.9 seconds left to play in the third, Rivet made up for it with his clutch shot from the point that Pominville tipped home, sending the game to OT. 

The Sabres and Sharks managed to each get 35 shots on goal in regulation and OT. Ryan Miller and Evgeni Nabokov Sharks Sabres Hockeystood tall in the shootout as both goalies stopped their first three shooters. Jason Pominville scored first to put Buffalo ahead, but Miller couldn’t get the win quite yet, as he let in a shot from Patrick Marleau (again) to tie up the shootout. Derek Roy then scored the go ahead shootout goal, and Miller stuffed Milan Michalek for the emotional Sabre win! HSBC Arena went nuts. To quote WGR550 reporter, Paul Hamilton:

“It seemed like that building was maybe the loudest I’ve heard it since the playoffs.”

Indeed it was, as 19,000 plus people witnessed their team put forth a gutsy effort, giving Buffalonians something to cheer about in the face of tragedy.

HURRICANES vs SABRES   2/15/09

After such an exciting game the Sabres were unable to respond, putting forth another lazy effort in front of their home crowd as they lost 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The game was an opportunity for Buffalo to gain some distance in the standings between themselves and the teams looking for a playoff spot. That didn’t happen, as the Sabres offense was shut down for the second time in three games. 

Essentially, the Sabres stuck it to their goalies with their weak play. Eric Staal got the ball rolling for Carolina, scoring with just over nine minutes into the game on the power play. Staal then earned the assist off of a Chad LaRose goal who punched in his own rebound, putting his team up 2-0. As a mercy move, Sabre head coach Lindy Ruff pulled Ryan Miller from net after Hurricanes Sabres Hockeythe first period. He let in 2 goals on 18 shots. Patrick Lalime stepped in to replace him, and had a solid outing. He stopped 26 shots before Sergei Samsonov knocked in his own rebound with just over two minutes left to play, putting the Hurricanes up 3-0. The score wouldn’t change again as Cam Ward stopped all 36 Buffalo shots. The Hurricanes managed a total of 47 shots on goal, and Lalime made 28 saves in his relief performance. 

“It’s a tough situation for our goaltenders when we’re leaving them out to dry like that. It’s disrespectful to those guys behind us,” said Sabre team captain Craig Rivet. He’s right, it is disrespectful to the goalies to play sloppy and make lazy plays. It’s even more disrespectful to the fans, forcing them to watch a pathetic performance from their hockey club against a rival squad.

Pathetic. 

Quick Hits

  • Top Duelers of the Week:     #1 Craig Rivet    #2 Ryan Miller    #3 Derek Roy
  • Dull Sabre of the Week: Tim Connolly. After scoring 5 goals and 9 assists in 12 games, Connolly has had 1 assist and 0 goals in the last three.
  • Sabres that Need Sharpening: Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht. While Kotalik is a clutch shootout scorer and a decent special teamer, he needs to improve his defensive play. Silly penalties and lazy stick checks result in goals for the other team. Jochen Hecht had 22 goals last season, but finds himself with only 6 this year. The fewest goals he has ever scored was 0 in the 98-99 season (Oilers), but he only played in three games. Since then his worst season was in 02-03 (Sabres) where he managed to score only 10 goals. He is on pace to have the worst season of his NHL career. 
  • Broken Blades: Thomas Vanek/fractured jaw/3-4 weeks, Paul Gaustad/upper body/day to day, Henrik Tallinder/right shoulder/day to day, Maxim Afinogenov/groin/day to day.Hurricanes Sabres Hockey
  • The Sabres are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.
  • Derek Roy has 100 career goals and Drew Stafford has 100 career points.
  • Ales Kotalik has 6 shootout goals this season, and is the first NHL player to obtain 10 game winning shootout goals in his career. For the time being it’s an NHL record.
  • Andrej Sekera returned from injury against San Jose, so Mike Weber was sent back to Portland.
  • The Sabres organization has announced that ticket prices will go up an average of 5% next year for non- season ticket holders.
  • The Sabres are 19-1-4 when leading after two.
  • Miller is 7-2 this year in shootouts.
  • The plane that crashed into Clarence happened one day after the year anniversary of Florida Panther’s player, Richard Zednik, slitting his throat open in a game at Buffalo.
  • For the San Jose game, defenceman/makeshift forward, Nathan Paetsch was scratched in favor of Danielle Paille.
  • San Jose is now 10-2-3 against the East this season.

The Final Word

The Sabres lost ground this week as they slip to 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 64 points. Here are the Eastern Conference standings:

  1. Boston Bruins (86 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (77)
  3. Washington Capitals (77)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (69)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (66)
  6. New York Rangers (66)
  7. Florida Panthers (64)
  8. Buffalo Sabres (64)

On the outside looking in for that final playoff spot are the Carolina Hurricanes (61), Pittsburgh Penguins (59), and Toronto Maple Leafs (52).

45059401Buffalo has a tough week coming up playing three  games in five nights. Next, the Sabres travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Tuesday,  and then go to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers on Thursday. The Sabres close out the week against the New York Rangers at HSBC Arena on Saturday. Buffalo needs to come away at with at least four points in these games, or they will find themselves out of playoff contention. 

For Sabre interviews following the crash of Continental Flight 3407, click here.

For more info on the crash visit www.buffalonews.com.

Thanks to NHL.com and WGR550.com for providing statistics.

Welcome to the first installment of my new weekly column, Sabre Tactics! Every weekend I will review and summarize the Buffalo Sabres games from the past week, provide highlights and stats on the progress of the team, and preview the games of the upcoming week. For easy reference, I have attached video links to key plays performed by Buffalo players.

This past week the Sabres attained 5 points out of a possible 8, going 2-1-1.  The two wins were at home, the regulation loss in Anaheim, and the shootout loss was in Ottawa. The hard earned points allow for the Sabres to claim the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. The club received some phenomenal goal-tending by Ryan Miller and witnessed a natural hat trick from Thomas Vanek.

Recap of this week’s action:

Sabres Ducks HockeySABRES vs DUCKS  2/2/09

For the Sabres, this game closed out a West Coast road trip that began before the All-Star break. Buffalo went 3-3 on the trip, dropping their final game to the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 3-2.

In his first game back from injury, Pat Kaleta scored the first goal of the contest, his 3rd of the season. The Sabres would be kept off the score board until the third period when team captain, Craig Rivet, finally got his first goal of the season. Backup Patrick Lalime had the start in net for Buffalo and played a solid game, stopping 34 shots. His best performance was in the second period when he faced 20 shots and only let in 1 goal, compliments of Chris Pronger. Across the ice, the Sabres offense only managed 23 shots on goal (a mere 6 in the second period), giving Duck’s goalie Jonas Miller an easy night. Buffalo had a power play opportunity and some chances in the closing minutes, but couldn’t get it done.

This game took place amidst lead color guy, Rick Jeanneret’s vacation. Without a doubt, it’s weird hearing a Sabres game called without his voice. I rue the day that he retires from calling Sabres games.

LEAFS vs SABRES  2/4/09

The Sabres rebounded in their first game home at HSBC Arena since January 17, blanking the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0. Thomas Vanek stole the show with his 4th career natural hat trick (his 5th career hat trick), and Ryan Miller shined for Buffalo, getting his 5th shutout of the season and his 2nd in two games (2-0 against the Phoenix Coyotes). Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyTeppo Numminen also returned to the ice from a broken jaw injury.

The last time the Sabres played the Leafs in Buffalo, I was there with my dad. The Sabres lost 2-1 and the Loafs fans stuck it to us all the way to our cars. This time around I’m happy that lots of Leafs fans wasted their gas money to see their team get shredded. 

Toronto lost to the Florida Panthers the night before in OT, and their fatigue showed in this game. Tim Connolly got the scoring started in the first period with his 10th of season, and Drew Stafford put the Sabres up by two with his 14th. Stafford had a great night, also having an assist and a +3 rating. Thomas Vanek scored his 30th, 31st, and 32nd goal of the season, starting in the second period on the power play. He then he put the Sabres up 4-0 when Drew Stafford found him on the breakaway early in the third period. Less than four minutes later Vanek continued to dominate, earning his natural hat trick when Buffalo had the two man advantage. True to his style, he was camped out in front of the net, easily getting the puck by rookie goalie, Justin Pogge (who was playing in his 3rd NHL game). Buffalo hit him with 32 shots in the game, while Ryan Miller only had to turn aside 16 in the victory. 

Sabres color guy, Harry Neale, had the quote of the night while trying to remember the name of our goal tender: “Ryan Murray, Ryan Miller, Murray.” Hilarious. At this point, Vanek was 7th in the NHL in shooting percentage. Out of 164 shots on goal, he connected on 19.5% of them.

CANADIENS vs SABRES 2/6/09

Ryan Miller critics can no longer claim that the Buffalo goaltender hasn’t stolen one for his team. In the first period, Miller was blasted with 15 shots and didn’t let one of them in as the Buffalo Sabres went on to beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2.

Miller carried his team to the victory as the offense sputtered in this match-up (two of the Sabre goals came from defencemen). He stopped 35 shots and his shut out streak of 157:13 was ruined by Saku Koivu halfway through the second period. Miller’s previous streak was 149:12 earlier this season, and his great play hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates:

Canadiens Sabres Hockey“Ryan kept us in the game. It would have been two or three-nothing, and it would be tough to come back against a team like the Canadiens. … every night, he gives us a chance.” – Defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek

Spacek got things going for the Sabres, scoring just 27 seconds into the second period to put Buffalo up 1-0. This was his first game back after missing the previous two with a hip injury. The Candiens would respond with a goal from Saku Koivu, but less than three minutes later defenceman playing forward for the evening, Nathan Paetsch, scored his second of the year to put the Sabres back out in front 2-1. In 59 games last season Paetsch scored a mere 2 goals, but this season he has that many in only 19 games. Paetsch’s play has come under fire from head coach Lindy Ruff and the Buffalo fan base, as he took a demotion earlier in the year. Due to the teams defensive injuries, he’s back on the ice and it’s nice to see him respond in a positive way. In the third period, the red hot Tim Connolly scored the game winning goal, his 11th of the season, in dramatic fashion; While on his knees, he shot the puck off the backhand, putting away an opportunity off of a bad Montreal pass. 

Carey Price had a mediocre night as the Sabres put only 25 shots on him. Pat Kaleta had a replay worthy hit on defenceman Ryan O’Byrne. This was a huge win for the Sabres, as they currently trail the 4th place Canadiens by 2 points.

SABRES vs SENATORS  2/7/09

The Sabres played three games in four nights and it showed against the Ottawa Senators as they lost 3-2 in a shootout. Coming into this game, Ottawa ranked last in the league with 2.36 goals per game, and third last in the league overall. This victory was the first for their new head coach, Cory Clouston.

weber_0207091Despite overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the third and a decent turn out by Sabre fans, the club didn’t have enough gas in the tank for a win. Except for Ryan Miller (who stopped 26 shots before letting one in), Buffalo looked the worst in the second period, giving up 18 shots on goal and only managing 7 for themselves. Less than two minutes into the third period Adam Mair scored first for Buffalo, closing the gap to 2-1. Mair also had a nice hit on Jarkko Ruutu. Ruutu is a marked man to the Sabres after biting Buffalo tough guy, Andrew Peters on the thumb earlier this season. About five minutes later, Drew Stafford tied it up at 2 on the power play, his 15th of the season. The game went to a shootout, where Miller let in three off of the backhand. Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly scored for Buffalo, while Drew Stafford was stopped. Derek Roy missed the net to lose it for the Sabres.

Once again, Miller kept the Sabres in the game making 40 saves to Elliot’s 28 saves for Ottawa. Miller made spectacular saves on Dany Heatley (Save 1Save 2) and Daniel Alfredsson. In the past, Jason Spezza has been a thorn in the Miller’s side, scoring 14 goals and 10 assist in 17 games since the 2006-2007 season, but Ryan stuffed him in the shootout.

Quick Hits

  • Top Duelers of the Week : #1 Ryan Miller   #2 Thomas Vanek   #3 Tim Connolly   Honorable Mention: Drew Stafford. See above.
  • Dull Sabre of the Week: Maxim Afinogenov. He’s been out 15 games and the Sabres have gone 9-5-1 in that span and Miller has had two shut outs. 
  • Sabres That Need Sharpening: Nathan Paetsch, Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville. Hecht and Pominville are a combined -11. 
  • Broken Blades: Thomas Vanek/jaw/3-4 weeks, Paul Gaustad/upper body/day to day, Maxim Afinogenov/groin/IR, Henrik Tallinder/shoulder/IR, Andrej Sekera/ankle/IR.
  • In his last 15 games Ryan Miller is 11-3-1, and has allowed 2 or fewer goals ten times in that stretch.
  • Maple Leafs Sabres HockeyTim Connolly and Drew Stafford’s trade stock has never been higher. Connolly is injury prone and Stafford is prone to cool off for long stretches. Trading one of them now for a worthy goal scoring defenceman could prove to be beneficial for the club in the long run.
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani has been sent back down to the Portland Pirates.
  • A poll on espn.com asked if fighting should be banned in the NHL. Out of 23,975 votes 10% of the world says yes while an overwhelming 90% says no. The entire poll map was the color red, which represented ‘no’. Not a single state, country, or region on the planet had a majority vote that favors fighting being banned in the NHL. Kick. Ass.
  • ESPN gave a survey to NHL players, with one of the questions being, ‘Which team has the most disruptive fans?’ Buffalo and Chicago were tied at 4th with 4% of the player vote. Montreal was first with 13%, San Jose was second at 8%, and Calgary was third at 7%. Having 3% or less of the vote was Detroit, New York (Rangers), Edmonton, L.A., Vancouver, Minnesota, and Toronto. Five other teams had one vote.
  • The Sabres are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and have won 10 straight home games. 

The Final Word

The worst news of the week happened in the Ottawa game, and it isn’t that the Sabres lost. The news is far worse; Thomas Vanek is out 3-4 weeks after taking a puck to the face early in the game. The Sabres All-Star fractured his jaw and had successful surgery in Buffalo the following day. This happens at the worst time for Vanek as he has 52 points in 54 games, and is tied for 2nd in the league for goals scored.

This also happens at the worst time for his team.

The Sabres are clinging to 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points. The New York Rangers are in 6th with 63 points, the Montreal Canadiens in 5th place with 64 points, and the Philadelphia Flyers have 65 points which puts them in 4th place. The New Jersey Devils (69 points), Washington Capitals (72), and Boston Bruins (85) occupy 3rd-1st place. In 8th place sit the Carolina Hurricanes (59) with the Florida Panthers (58 ) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (57) hungrily lurking on the outside looking in.  

Buffalo needs to find consistency in their play this week as they (again) face the Ottawa Senators and the San Jose Sharks. Ottawa is still in third last place in the league, where San Jose and ex-Sabre Mike Grier are the #1 team in the Western Conference.

Lets Go Buffalo!

Special thanks to nhl.com, espn.com, and wgr550.com for stats and facts.