Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyThe Buffalo Sabres live to fight another day as they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs last night 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre. Ryan Miller stood tall in the win and Thomas Vanek scored the game winner as Buffalo prepares to face off against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in Raleigh. While they still need the stars to align to obtain a post season birth, the win improves Buffalo’s season record to 39-32-9.

Game Summary

Long time veteran Curtis Joseph was given the start in net for Toronto. This was a surprising move considering the last time Joseph faced Buffalo he let in 4 goals on 9 shots. To boot, Toronto’s other goalie, Martin Gerber is 4-0-2 in his last 6 starts against the Sabres. Regardless, Joseph got the nod and looked good to begin the game as he held Buffalo scoreless throughout the first period. The same can’t be said for Sabres goalie, Ryan Miller, who was the victim of his teams inability to clear the puck out of their own end as Jeff Finger got Toronto on the board first, 1-0.

Tim Connolly got the Sabres off to a hot start to open the second period with two great chances, but was denied by Joseph. Then the Sabres went on the power play and Jason Pominville found the back of the net (his 18th) while Joseph was being screened by Paul Gaustad. 

The Sabres would continue their scoring ways with 11:52 to play in the third period as Thomas Vanek netted his 38th of the year, freezing Joseph and sliding the puck in behind him. 26 seconds later, Gaustad made a nifty move to give the Sabres insurance on their lead (his 12th), making the final score 3-1 Buffalo.

Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyRyan Miller made 32 saves while Joseph made only 26. Buffalo went 1 for 2 on the power play, while the Maple Loafs went 0 for 6.

Game Analysis

Ryan Miller needs to be credited for keeping his team in this game. Both the Sabres and the Leafs were waiting for the other club to take control, as neither went on a consistent attack during the contest. This was frustrating from the viewpoint of a Sabres fan, considering the Loafs had played the night before in New Jersey. Reminiscent of how the Sabres failed to take advantage of this against Detroit, the post game discussion would have been different if not for Miller’s strong play between the pipes. 

Thomas Vanek had a breakaway chance about half way through the second period, but he failed to pull the trigger and got checked. He seems to do this a lot. Just shoot the puck Vanek!

The match up marked ex-Buffalo Sabre turned Maple Loaf, Brad May‘s 1,000th career NHL game. Before the game, a drawn out ceremony was held in his honor and to be blunt, it was really weird. To begin the ceremony, a video was played of May’s first game as a Sabre. Then Buffalo color guy, Rick Jeanerette’s voice boomed throughout the Air Canada Centre as a video clip was shown of the famous ‘May Day!’ goal. This was followed by a video of him hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The weirdness continued as Rob Ray walked onto the ice and presented his former teammate with a framed photo of the ‘May Day’ goal, wearing an expression that screamed “I don’t want to be doing this right now.” Considering the fact that this whole thing went down in Toronto, and May has played 425 games with the Sabres and only 37 with the Loafs, made the Sabres Maple Leafs Hockeyentire ceremony seem out of place and lacking energy. How excited can Loaf fans get for a guy who hasn’t played half a season with Toronto and spent most of his career with the enemy? Anyway, May becomes the 21st Toronto Maple Loaf to play in 1,000 games. Good for Brad May… the turncoat. 

Another Toronto player reached an NHL milestone last night, as Curtis Joseph tied Gump Worsley for the most losses in NHL history with 352. Said Joseph after the game, “I’ve got lots of memories. Playoffs mostly. Playoffs are the ultimate. That’s where everything is on the line. A lot of playoff games with the Maple Leafs. A lot of chances and a lot of almosts.” To be fair, he is also fourth on the NHL all time victory list with 454. In the end though, Joseph is just one big loser.

Fast Facts

-The Sabres have outscored the Loafs 21-6 in 6 games this season. Buffalo has racked up 5 straight wins against the Loafs, since dropping their first contest of the year against them on December 12. Buffalo has also won 10 of their last 12 games at the Air Canada Centre. Take that Toronto.

-Ryan Miller is 5-1-0 with a 1.40 GAA and a shutout against Toronto this year. 

-Curtis Joseph is 16-8-4 against Buffalo in his career.

-Against the Loafs this season, Jason Pominville has 9 points, Drew Stafford has 8, and Thomas Vanek has 4 goals and 3 assists. 

-The last Buffalo Sabre to play in 1,000 games was James Patrick. He is only the 9th player to do so in a Buffalo sweater. 

-This game was the 2nd in 15 where Buffalo allowed fewer than 3 goals.

The Final Word

While the Sabres aren’t out of the playoff race, their post season dreams hang by a thread. Here is what needs to happen if Sabres Maple Leafs HockeyBuffalo hopes to play hockey beyond this week:

  1. Win their remaining two games (against Carolina and Boston).
  2. The New York Rangers need to lose their remaining two games in regulation (both against Philadelphia).
  3. The Florida Panthers need to lose one of their remaining two games in regulation (against Atlanta and Washington).

Is it impossible? No, but Buffalo doesn’t control their own destiny and that is one of the worst feelings in professional sports. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look:

  1. Boston Bruins (112 points/3 games remaining/clinched the Conference)
  2. Washington Capitals (106/2/clinched division)
  3. New Jersey Devils (102/2/clinched playoff spot)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (97/3/clinched playoff spot)
  5. Carolina Hurricanes (97/2/clinched playoff spot)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (95/2/clinched playoff spot)
  7. Montreal Canadiens (92/2)
  8. New York Rangers (91/2)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (89/2), Buffalo Sabres (87/2)

The Sabres take on the red hot Carolina Hurricanes tonight who have won 9 in a row. The game is in Raleigh at the RBC Center where Buffalo has a history of being treated as less than welcomed guests. Despite losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals there in 2006, the RBC staff is known for playing mind games with the Sabres; showing footage of Buffalo Bills great, Jim Kelly saying “Let’s go Canes” even though he is referencing his alma mater, the Miami Hurricanes, and flashing such things across the jumbo-tron that read, “As part of President Obama’s stimulus plan, America has offered Buffalo to Canada. Canada politely refused,” according to The Buffalo News.

Here’s to hoping the Sabres can stick it to the Hurricanes one last time in the 2008-2009 season!

Sabres Thrashers HockeyThe Buffalo Sabres entered Wednesday night’s contest against the Atlanta Thrashers in desperate need of two points. The Sabres left the Philips Arena with only one however, keeping their already slim playoff hopes barely alive. Buffalo dropped a 1-0 lead, losing 3-2 with only seconds left in overtime. The loss marked a season sweep of the Sabres by the Thrashers, as Buffalo drops to 37-30-9 on the year.

Game Summary

Seven minutes in Buffalo scored first on a power play goal from Thomas Vanek (his 36th of the year) against an Atlanta club that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Thrashers responded a minute and a half later when Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller went down early and Zach Bogosian caught him out of position to tie the game at 1. Ex-Sabre Vyacheslav Kozlov gave Atlanta the lead 10:26 into the second period; Ryan Miller made a phenomenal save with his stick, but Dominic Moore was unable to clear the puck out of the crease and Kozlov was there to knock it in. Shortly thereafter, Vanek netted his second of the night (his 37th) when the Sabres were on a 5 on 3 man advantage, tying the game at 2. Notice how loudly the crowd cheers after Vanek scores when Atlanta is supposed to be the home team! With just over two minutes remaining in the third period, Buffalo’s shootout hero in Montreal, defenceman Toni Lydman, took a stupid hooking call to put the Thrashers on the power play for the final ticks of the game. Buffalo survived though, sending the contest into overtime, and as expected it was fast paced end-to-end hockey. While Vanek and Miller were responsible for keeping Buffalo in the game, the two leaders ultimately dropped the ball for their team as Ilya Kovalchuk robbed the club of a much needed point. With only 30 seconds remaining in OT, Vanek tried to send a pass over to Jaroslav Spacek, but the puck hit Kovalchuk’s skate giving him a breakaway and he beat Miller five-hole. The score alloted Atlanta a 3-2 victory over a desperate Buffalo club.

Ryan Miller faced 30 shots while Atlanta goaltender, Johan Hedberg was hit with 32. The Thrashers were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Sabres went 2 for 6.

Game Analysis

Buffalo didn’t look lazy in this game but they couldn’t close the door on most of their chances. Thomas Vanek felt terrible about his game-ending giveaway stating, “I gave their best player a breakaway to lose the game for us. It’s disappointing. It’s tough when you let your teammates down like that…. It was a stupid play.” It really is too bad that Vanek had to be the scapegoat for this loss considering he was the only Sabre who managed to score in the contest. Had the Sabres won, he and Miller would have been the heroes of the night. Said Miller of Kovalchuk’s goal, “I tried to cheat the five-hole. He got it up over my stick and hit me straight in the pad right above where the knee 114-57102841standaloneprod_affiliate50break is and powered it through.” Poor guys.

It was easy to tell that there were a lot of Sabres fans in attendance. The arena looked to be a little over half full, and as a result the “Lets Go Buffalo!” chant could be heard loud and clear throughout the game. Funny how the Atlanta commentators never mentioned it during the broadcast.

The loss means that the Thrashers have swept the Sabres this season, going 4-0. Buffalo dropped 2 games in OT and 2 games in a shootout against Atlanta, and the Philadelphia Flyers are the only other club the Sabres were winless against in the Eastern Conference this year.

Fast Facts

-The Thrashers  have beaten the Sabres 10 times out of their last 13 meetings at the Philips Arena, and are 12-3-3 against Buffalo at home.

 
-Buffalo’s second string goalie, Patrick Lalime was scratched in this game due to an injured hip. As a result, Mikael Tellqvist played the role of backup. Maxim Afinogenov, Andrej Sekera, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew Peters, and Matt Ellis were also scratched. Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff stated that he thought Afinogenov has been taking shifts that last too long and has reverted to his old ways of turning the puck over. Young defenceman Andrej Sekera sat the game out due to his admission to Ruff earlier in the week that he has lost his confidence. Sekera has only 3 goals in 63 games and a -16 rating.

-The loss snapped a 3 game win streak for the Sabres, and they are 4-4-2 in their last 10.

-In the previous game against the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo native and Sabres tough guy, Patrick Kaleta suffered a minor concussion when he was boarded by Maxim Lapierre. He was cleared to play against the Thrashers.

 

-Ilya Kovalchuk has 20 goals in his last 21 games for Atlanta.

-Thomas Vanek has 19 power play goals this season. He is tied for 1st in the league in that category alongside Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri. Vanek has scored 64 ppg in his young career.

-Ryan Miller is 8-3-2 in his last 13 games with a 2.52 GAA and 2 shutouts.

The Final Word

While the Sabres still have a shot to make the post season, this loss has made it a bleak shot at best. Buffalo is still Sabres Thrashers Hockeyranked 10th in the East, and the fact that they couldn’t defeat the 13th ranked Thrashers isn’t a good sign. The Sabres remaining opponents rank 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 11th in the East and 2nd in the West. Needless to say, it’s an uphill climb for Buffalo to usurp the coveted 8th seeding. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look:
  1. Boston Bruins (108 points/6 games remaining/clinched division)
  2. Washington Capitals (101/5/clinched playoff spot)
  3. New Jersey Devils (98/5/clinched playoff spot)
  4.  Philadelphia Flyers (92/6)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins (92/5)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes (91/5)
  7. New York Rangers (89/5)
  8. Montreal Canadiens (88/6)
  • In the Hunt: Florida Panther (87/5), Buffalo Sabres (83/6)

Next up the Sabres go on the road to face the Washington Capitals. Then they take on the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings at the HSBC Arena. The regular NHL season has only 11 days remaining, and the Sabres have 6 chances to gain ground in the standings. If Buffalo hopes to play hockey beyond April 11th, they’ll need the teams in front of them to lose a few games in addition to their need to probably win out the remainder of the season… Yikes.

Panthers Sabres HockeyPatrick Lalime put forth another solid effort in net for the Sabres Thursday night, and his team responded as Buffalo defeated the Florida Panthers 3-1 at the HSBC Arena. With the win, the Sabres cover some lost ground in the points race to the playoffs as they are now only 3 away from the coveted 8th seed in the Eastern Conference standings. The victory improves the Sabres record to 34-27-7 on the season.

Game Summary

Similar to the last game in Philadelphia, Buffalo got off to a hot start as Jaroslav Spacek scored his 8th of the year just over 3 minutes into the game. Michael Repik would tie it up for Florida 7 minutes later, scoring glove side on a lightning quick goal that Lalime had no chance on. With barely under 3 minutes to go in the first, Danielle Paille gets his 8th of the year, catching a pass from Andrej Sekera along the boards and taking a picture perfect shot that went in stick side, putting the Sabres up 2-1. Both teams skated hard through a scoreless second period, but it looked as if Thomas Vanek had scored as Thomas Vokoun made a glove save that appeared to be behind the goal line. Vanek shot his arms up in celebration, but the ref waved it off. No review was made of the play and the score remained 2-1 at the end of two. Unlike the last game in Philly, the Sabres kept their skating legs in the third period and the effort paid off. Jason Pominville prevented a Panther breakaway by tripping up skater and taking a penalty. Then, Henrik Tallinder took a silly penalty to put the Sabres down two men, giving Florida a 5 on 3 situation for what felt like an eternal 1:06. For the penalty kill, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff put out Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, and Toni Lydman. Those guys stood their ground by not allowing Florida to score, and a fresh squad replaced them for the 5 on 4 situation. Patrick Lalime stopped 6 shots in the near 3 minutes of penalties as the Sabres held onto their one goal lead. With under 3 minutes left to play, Thomas Vanek scored the insurance goal for Buffalo (his first tally since returning from a fractured jaw injury) on the power play. Vanek caught Vokoun out of position, easily scoring his 34th of the year and his 17th power play goal.

Game Analysis

When the Sabres actually show up to play the team is one to be reckoned with, as they swarm the opponent and are relentless with their attacks. The problem with the Sabres is that they have been unable to find any consistency since the beginning of the year, and that has resulted in their recent slide in the standings. Team Panthers Sabres Hockeycaptain Craig Rivet couldn’t have put it better, “It was the biggest game of the year. We needed this game to get us back in it. We still have a ways to go but we’re going to keep punching.” That’s what the Sabres need to do; Keep punching. Far too often this club gets down on themselves, figure skating across the ice, expecting things to happen with the flip of a switch. That strategy worked when Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were on the team, but not anymore. 

The line of new Sabre Dominic Moore, Maxim Afinogenov, and Adam Mair produced some of Buffalo’s better opportunities, despite being pointless on the night. The line has played well together the last few games, and if they can finish their chances, it would help the Buffalo scoreboard. Who isn’t eagerly awaiting Moore’s first goal as a Sabre? It was a smart move by Ruff to put Moore on the penalty kill as he isn’t afraid to hit guys, taking them off the puck. On a similar note, it’s easy to get pumped about Buffalo native Pat Kaleta. The guy is mean and tough and doesn’t take anything from opposing players. If it weren’t for Kaleta’s size, he could be the teams main enforcer instead of Andrew Peters, as he’s a better fighter and actually scores goals once in awhile.

Fast Facts

-Panther goalie Thomas Vokoun made 20 saves on the night, compared to Patrick Lalime’s 30 saves. The first period of this hockey game was penalty free.

-Lalime has started 8 games in a row in place of the injured Ryan Miller who is out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. In that span he has gone 3-4-1.

Panthers Sabres Hockey-The blooper reel highlight of the night was when Hank Tallinder was leaving the penalty box, taking a pass along the boards for a potential break away. Instead of taking a shot on net, however, Tallinder lost his balance and fell down, losing the puck. This had to be hilarious to anyone who isn’t a Buffalo fan.  

-The Sabres are 21-6-3 this season when leading after the first period, and have only given up 3 goals this year when facing a 5 on 3 situation.

-Sabre defencemen have amassed a total of 120 points so far this year.

-The Sabres have won 3 straight home games.

-This game marked Panther player Richard Zednik’s first in Buffalo since getting his throat slit open by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate 13 months prior. When the Panthers took to the ice for their morning skate yesterday, the first thing Zednik did was go to the spot where his life nearly ended. He didn’t make a big deal about the action, stating, “I was trying to not think about it, it’s just like any other game as it’s a big game for us.” 

-Whenever the Minnesota Wild score, the song that plays at the Xcel Energy Center was the same one that played when Danielle Paille scored in the first period. It felt odd and out of place hearing that tune played after a Sabre goal in the HSBC Arena.

The Final Word

This was a huge win for the Sabres as they now find themselves three points out of the final playoff spot, and still in the thick of the race to the post season. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings currently look: 

  1. Boston Bruins (97 points)
  2. New Jersey Devils (91)
  3. Washington Capitals (90)
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (82)
  5. Montreal Canadiens (80)
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins (79)
  7. New York Rangers (78)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes (78)
  • In the hunt: Florida Panthers (77), Buffalo Sabres (75), Toronto Maple Loafs (67)

On Saturday night the Atlanta Thrashers come to the HSBC Arena. This is the perfect opportunity for Buffalo to gain some momentum going into the home stretch as Atlanta is 28th in the league with only 60 points. A loss however, would be a severe blow to the team’s morale, further hindering their chances of catching up to the teams in front of them. Here’s to hoping for the former.

Go Sabres!


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.

With less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period the Buffalo Sabres were down 4-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Luckily, most Buffalo fans stuck around HSBC Arena to witness one of the best comebacks in Buffalo Sabres history. In under 15 minutes the Sabres scored 6 unanswered goals to defeat the Lightning 7-4 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

After a rocky, lethargic start, the fans helped to wake the team up by booing them off of the ice at the end of the second period. “It’s a good thing they stuck around,” Sabres Left Winger Thomas Vanek stated of the comeback who scored his third career hat trick in the game. The Sabres out shot Tampa Bay 16-4 in the third period after a dismal 2 shots on goal in the second period. The Lightning jumped on the scoreboard early when Jeff Halpern ripped a shot past Ryan Miller three minutes into the game. It was a shot Miller should have stopped, but it went in off of his stick side. A few minutes later with Tampa on the power play, Jussi Jokinen punched in a deflection after the Sabres defense failed to clear the puck out of their zone for nearly a minute. Shortly thereafter Buffalos Jason Pominville blasted a shot past Lightning goalie Karri Ramo to make the score 1-2 heading into the second period.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, the Lightning out shot them 8-2 in the second and walked away with two more goals. Ryan Miller went down far too early on a blast from the point, leaving the left side of the net wide open for Vincent Lecavalier to easily make the score 1-3. Miller wasn’t getting much help from his defense either, as the Lightning weren’t being challenged very much on the physical aspect of the game. They were able to skate into the Sabres zone without much resistance throughout the first two periods. The Sabres had a chance to cut the deficit to one when Ramo went too far behind his own net to play the puck. Buffalo stole it from him and when the puck was flung towards a wide open, goalieless net, one of Tampa’s defensemen stuck out their leg at the last instant. The puck bounced harmlessly off of the players skate, spoiling an easy goal for the Sabres. With less than two minutes left in the second, Lecavalier scored again to make the score 1-4 at the end of two.

Then the Sabres proved that they deserve to appear in the postseason. With under fifteen minutes to play in the third period, a glimpse of the Buffalo magic from the previous two seasons reappeared. Pominville scored his second of the night off of a face off, and then 16 seconds later, with traffic in front of the net, Jochen Hecht scored to make it 3-4. Thomas Vanek followed Hecht’s goal with three of his own, giving him a natural hat trick, and putting the Sabres up 6-4. On his third goal, Vanek somehow bunted the puck in past Ramo off of a shot by Derek Roy; The home crowd was going nuts! The Sabres scored these five goals within a frame of ten minutes and four seconds. Within the final two minutes of the period, and thus the game, Buffalo was penalized and Tampa pulled their goalie creating a 6 on 4 power play situation. The defense held, however, as Jochen Hecht slipped in an empty net goal with six ticks left on the clock to seal the win at 7-4. In total Thomas Vanek had three goals, Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht each had two, Ryan Miller made 15 saves, and Derek Roy had three assists.

This game and the two previous are just what the Sabres need to make a strong run at making the post season. Buffalo has now scored 20 goals in the last three games (7-1 vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 6-2 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs) and are still only one point out of the final playoff spot. The idle Philadelphia Flyers remain the 8th seed with 82 points, while Buffalo has 81. Luckily for the Sabres, they received some help in the standings as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Washington Capitals 5-0. This loss for the Capitals keeps them a point behind Buffalo with 80. The Sabres have 8 games left to play while Washington has only 7.

If the Sabres make a deep push into the playoffs, this game must be looked at as the source of the run. Maybe even as one of the greatest comebacks in Buffalo sports history alongside the Bills/Oilers game. As I stated before in a previous blog, the Sabres must have confidence in themselves and their system. With this amazing victory, it will be difficult for the players to count themselves out of any contest, no matter the situation. Let this momentum carry on because the team will need it. Even though Buffalo is only a point out of the playoffs, their remaining eight games are not going to be easy victories. They play the following four teams twice: the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Boston Bruins. All of these teams are in the Sabres division, and the Bruins, Canadiens, and Senators currently hold a playoff spot while the Maple Leafs are only five points behind the Sabres.

“By far, tonight was the best comeback, given the time of year and how important this game was,” Jason Pominville said. “This was the best comeback I’ve been a part of.”

I’m confident that all Buffalo fans agree. With these final eight games and the way the NHL works, anything can happen.