LeRoy: Post Game Reaction 1.31.12

Five things I liked about tonight’s Sabres game:

1.Paul Gaustad has a three point game. It’s been two years since that has happened.

2.The Sabres drastically outshot their opponents, which has been a rarity.

3.Ryan Miller tied Dominik Hasek with his 234th win as a Sabre, the most in franchise history.

4.Ville Leino and Brad Boyes made a huge difference. Both players have a combined 7 goals on the season. Rough for a combined $8 million plus in salaries.

5.Tyler Ennis was all over the ice in his return, playing well at center and playing physically in addition to his great speed. Lindy needs to keep him and Gerbe together.

Five things that I disliked:

1.The Sabres couldn’t score more than twice on Carey Price, despite the high quantity of shots.

2.The New York Islanders won. Therefore, the Sabres did not gain any ground in the playoff race.

3.The Tampa Bay Lightning won. See #2.

4.Arguably the best player on the roster, Thomas Vanek left the game early and will be out for some time according to Lindy Ruff.

5.The Sabres are tied for 13th after tonight’s NHL schedule. I suppose this could also be a positive, but they have a long way to go and tomorrow will be a tough test against a great New York Rangers team.

Josiah LeRoy
(Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy)

Gerbe Derby Photo Finish: Post Game Reactions from Game 50 @ Montreal

First of all, I’ve decided to call my post-game reactions Photo Finishes to go with the whole Derby theme.  Now that we have formalities out of the way…

1) At first, this one looked like another snoozer, but surely I was wrong.  I actually enjoyed watching this game.  The Sabres continued to generate pressure on the Canadiens all night, and that’s without Thomas Vanek, the Sabres’ biggest impact player.  Buffalo out-shot the Habs 40-28.  Most importantly, Buffalo scored timely goals that allowed them to gain momentum when it was necessary.  Most importantly, they didn’t get down on themselves after the Habs scored the first goal of the game.

2) Ville Leino found some space and finally got onto the score sheet after a long drought to grab his 4th of the season.  Kudos to Leino making the most of his chance on the first line with Roy and Pominville after the Vanek injury.  Vanek, by the way, left the game in the 1st period with an upper body injury, something he’s been dealing with for quite some time now.

3) Brad Boyes made a nifty play leading to Paul Gaustad’s goal that put the Sabres ahead in the 3rd period.

4) Another initial thought: the Sabres couldn’t pass the puck to save their lives, which isn’t anything all that new, but as the game went on, that aspect of their game improved.  The Ennis-Gerbe-Stafford line was extremely impressive, especially with Ennis playing a “brand new position.”  Center is Ennis’s natural position, drafted out of Medicine Hat in the WHL for that specific purpose.  He won 8 of 15 in the faceoff circle.  He chased pucks, and his speed set him apart from many Montreal players on the ice.  Why the Sabres haven’t tried slotting him in at the pivot earlier in his career is beyond me.  The kid took his new role and skated with it.

5) Ryan Miller was a rock, tonight.  He looked like the Miller of old, making spectacular save after save.  I had absolutely no complaints about his game.  I would say he kept this team in this game, which he did, but to say that implies that the team in front of him didn’t do much, and that would be lying.  His only goal against was one in which Max Pacioretty had all the time in the world to put the puck by him.

6) Finally, the Luke Adam scratch was necessary.  17 games without a point for any player is unacceptable.  The M.A. Gragnani scratch was no surprise with a near fully healthy Sabres defense.  As soon as Brayden McNabb gets back, I expect Mike Weber to be the next healthy scratch, and for T.J. Brennan to be sent back to Rochester.

The Conundrum of The Coaching Change: Food For Thought

Sabres fans have been calling for the heads of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff for the majority of this season. Coaching changes in the NHL are often viewed as a quick fix and many franchises will replace even those that have experienced playoff success. While Ruff has not won a Stanley Cup, he does have a Finals experience (’99) and has gone as far as the Eastern Conference Finals on 3 seperate occassions. He also had the most successful season in Sabres history, as the team exploded with goals, defense, talent, and heart in the 2006-2007 season, winning the only Presidents Trophy in team history. If Ruff is excused before his contract expires, he would likely receive 20 calls from teams looking to make room on their roster or front office. My opinion is as follows: Ruff is a man that can bring Buffalo a championship. I have always been a major supporter of his. This season has shaken my faith and I begin to wonder myself if he should stay or go. If you’re in the same boat as me, here is a look at the 7 NHL coaching changes thus far this season:

St. Louis – Nov. 6 – Ken Hitchcock in, Davis Payne out. The Blues were 6-7-0 under Payne and have since gone 24-6-7 under former champion Ken Hitchcock. Nobody saw the success of the Blues coming, especially after they sold off most of their players late last season. Bringing in Cup-winning vets Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are not a coincidence. Current Standings: 4th in the Western Conference, 2nd in the Central Division (just two points behind Detroit and with one game in hand).

Carolina – Nov. 28 – Kirk Muller in, Paul Maurice out. The Hurricanes have said goodbye to Maurice for the second and likely the last time. The team was 8-13-4 under Maurice and has not experienced much of a turnaround (going 10-11-5), as they are battling in the Eastern Conference basement with the Sabres and Islanders. Current Standings: 15th in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the Southeast Division (18 wins in 51 games).

Washington – Nov. 28 – Dale Hunter in, Bruce Boudreau out. Here come the Capitals! While Hunter had a slow start with the team that absolutely quit playing under Boudreau, they are trending upwards and gaining momentum. Ovechkin has yet to snap out of his funk (for lack of a better term). Boudreau had the team at 12-8-1 before the Sabres destroyed them in late November and are 14-11-2 under Hunter. Current Standings: 3rd in the East, 1st in the Southeast (the Capitals and Panthers have the same amount of points at 55, but the Caps have the tiebreaker).

Anaheim – Dec. 1 – Bruce Boudreau in, Randy Carlyle out. The Ducks are currently red hot and look like the team that not only won the Stanley Cup a few years ago, but the one that finished last season on a tear. Things didn’t look up for the first month of Boudreau’s reign, but January was good to the Ducks. They are 11-10-3 since the change. Seeing that Boudreau received a job (and perhaps other offers) just after getting fired, I would expect the same for Lindy Ruff. Oh, and the Ducks were 7-13-4 before Boudreau came in. The playoffs are a long shot, but never say never on a team that has Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Current Standings: 13th in the West, 5th in the Pacific.

Los Angeles – Dec. 12 – Darryl Sutter in, Terry Murray out. Much like the Sabres, the Kings had high expectations coming into the season. After an average start, the Kings hired interim coach John Stevens (2-2-0) and then brought Sutter in. Under Murray, the team was 13-12-4. Since Stevens came in, Sutter has the team in the top 8, going 9-2-6. This is perhaps the biggest turnaround. Current Standings: 7th in the West, 2nd in the Pacific.

Montreal – Dec. 17 – Randy Cunneyworth in, Jacques Martin out. Longtime Rochester Americans coach and former Sabre Randy Cunneyworth replaces the former Ottawa coach. There is a big controversery over the fact that Cunneyworth cannot speak French, as he is the first coach in Montreal history to not be bilingual. I think this is a ridiculous distraction, and Montreal’s season isn’t going anywhere. The 13-12-7 team under Martin has gone 6-9-2 under Cunneyworth.
Current Standings: 11th in the East, 4th in the Northeast.

Columbus – Jan. 9 – Todd Richards in, Scott Arniel out. 11-25-5 through January 9. Can you say “2012 First Overall Draft Pick?” The Blue Jackets are a mess and in the middle of a season in which I saw this team battling for a playoff spot. Poor Rick Nash. At least the All-Star game will be played in Columbus in 2013. Look for them to rebuild. Again. Even after grabbing stars Jeff Carter and James Wisnieswki, the team is in no better shape. Philadelphia is laughing at the fact that they were able to dump Carter’s decade-long contract. 2-5-1 is the record under Richards. Current Standings: 15th in the West, 5th in the Central.

The summary is this: of the 7 teams that changed coaches, 3 are in playoff position, 3 have improved their records (the other 4 either have continued at the same pace or gotten worse), and 4 are 23rd or worse in the overall standings. Food for thought.

The Sabres playoff push begins tonight against Montreal.

Josiah LeRoy
(Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy)

Lucky Bounces 1.30.12: Sabres 2nd Half Preview

Josiah: With just over 30 games left for the Sabres, can they make the playoffs and if so, what has to be done?

TJ: Absolutely not.  While they mathematically have a chance being only 10 points out of 8th, this team doesn’t seem to have the man power to make it to the big dance.  The Sabres of this year remind me of the Flyers in 2006-07, the year after Buffalo beat them in the 1st round and they had a completely terrible year.  Unfortunately, Ted Black and Terry Pegula seem to be enamored by the fiction that the current collection of players can actually win something.

Josiah: I am with you on that. There doesn’t appear to be any urgency within the players or the front office. Clearly this group has won before, but the hole they’re in this year is too deep to get out of. Because they believe they can go somewhere, I don’t see any major moves happening with regards to starting over. No one is going to take Roy/Stafford/Leino/Boyes right now. I am all for this team rebuilding around a select few players.

TJ: Exactly, and it starts with Vanek, Myers, and Pominville.  Outside of that, the Sabres have to figure out what to do and who to get.  I’ve been saying all season that they need a seasoned vet who has experience winning something: a gold medal, a world junior championship, or a Stanley Cup.  Guys like Ryan Smyth, Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott are all UFAs next year and could probably all be had for under $2M on a one-year deal.

Josiah: Someone that can take this team under their arm and guide them would be a huge asset. I would rather see a guy like Arnott come here than another highly-priced free agent (isn’t that weird to say as a Buffalo sports fan?). I believe Miller is still their guy in net, and I believe Ehrhoff is beginning to hit his stride in Buffalo. Couple that with Kassian and McNabb and you have a good “core.” Outside of those players mentioned, clean house (I’m looking at you, Darcy). Good news is that Jochen Hecht (roughly $3.5 million cap hit), Brad Boyes ($4 million) and Ales Kotalik ($3 million) will all be unrestricted free agents. This will give the Sabres an opportunity to attract an experienced veteran.

TJ: Well, Kotalik’s cap hit is clear from this team anyway, since they sent him to Europe, his cap hit doesn’t count against the Sabres’s cap space.  Still, according to CapGeek.com, the Sabres have 18 players signed for next season with just $7.3M in cap space under the current salary cap ($64.3M).  Assuming the cap will likely go up about $3-5M, Buffalo has only $10-12M to play with in free agency.  If Pegula wants his GM (whoever that may be) to be a big spender, there’s going to have to be some movement at the deadline.

Josiah: If Roy heats up for any stretch, he must be traded. Even if the Sabres can only get a third round draft pick for him, the cap space is worth 1-2 solid veterans. I’m doubtful of Langenbrunner or Arnott moving anywhere but St. Louis with the Blues’ incredible success. The Sabres could sweeten a deal with Andrej Sekera too, as they have many options on Defense. Final thought, do the Sabres make a move that helps their playoff push, or do they dump salary? I think it’s clear what we both want, but lets be realistic.

TJ: Realistically, I honestly think the entire organization truly believes this bunch can make the playoffs, and not only that, but go far.  I think they’ll take a few more weeks evaluating where they stand.  If they’re still only 10 or less points out, I think they try to make a deadline addition.  Anything more, and they’ll be sellers or just stand pat.

Josiah: I think that they believe they’re in the hunt and won’t begin to evaluate the team until they’ve played as a healthy lineup for 5-10 games. Still, I think it’s all too late. It’s the general manager’s job to keep a team in contention, even through injuries. I see a deadline move but I am praying that it’s not another Boyes/Torres/Zubrus (though Boyes had a great finish after last year’s trade).

 

Follow Josiah (@JosiahDLeRoy) & TJ on Twitter (@TJLuckman) for all of the latest on the Sabres & the NHL.

Sabres/Devils Game Reaction 1.24.12

All is well in Sabreland. For now.

The Buffalo Sabres ended their franchise record 12 game losing streak on the road. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but often times these streak breaking games are not. Ryan Miller was Ryan Miller. Captain Pominville was Captain Clutch. The future core of this team scored the decisive goal.

As the game went to a shootout, the same feelings that I have experienced over the past two months resurfaced. “Here we go again!” Ilya Kovalchuk breaks Ryan Miller’s near perfect game, followed by a rare Thomas Vanek miss. My stomach turns. Captain Zach Parise takes his turn, but is turned aside. Brad Boyes was next to shoot for Buffalo. Boyes had never been denied on a shootout attempt while wearing the blue and gold. Brodeur makes the save. I begin to freak out, as Patrick Elias takes the ice for New Jersey. Ryan Miller stops the ultra-skilled forward with a literal game-saving save. Up comes Mr. Pominville, the Sabres’ only consistent producer and on ice leader. He beats the legend that is Martin Brodeur to send the game to extra rounds. A glimmer of hope is born. Miller makes the save. I’m beginning to feel better. Kevin Sylvester announces Nathan Gerbe as the next shooter. Gerbe walks in on Brodeur. My heart pounds. “SCOOOOOOREEEEE!” Sylvester screams in relief. Joy is evident in his voice. The Sabres end the terror that was this losing streak. An enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders. I smiled ear to ear.

Now I am not letting my delight get in the way of my writing, but recently I made a “no trade” list that consisted of players on the current Buffalo roster that could not be traded for any player or draft pick. I posted on Twitter. Many disagreed, as it consisted of:
1.Tyler Myers
2.Brayden McNabb
3.Thomas Vanek
4.Jason Pominville
5.Nathan Gerbe
I fully believe that Nathan Gerbe will one day be the franchise’s captain. A pure heart guy that has the skills and potential to pot 35 goals, the Sabres cannot go wrong if they form this team around the likes of Gerbe, Myers, and McNabb. Zach Kassian is likely my sixth guy on that list, but if you can sweeten a deal and grab a star, go for it. Gerbe is everything I want in a hockey player. When he scores, there is no one that I am happier for. How could I pass up the opportunity to write about Gerbe? TJ and I just named our blog after him.

The Sabres now have exactly one week to reflect on this win, figure out how to fix this team, and attempt to mount what would be an historic playoff drive in the remaining 30+ games.

Oh, and they are now in a four way tie for 11th. Or 15th. However you want to look at it. Last place is much less lonely than it was yesterday.

Josiah LeRoy
The Gerbe Derby
Twitter – @JosiahDLeRoy

The Inaugural Gerbe Derby Post-Game Reaction: Game 49 @ New Jersey Devils

While we won’t post full-game recaps, at the end of each game, Josiah or I will try to post our immediate reactions to the game that was.  

1) That was one of the ugliest games of hockey I ever watched, and that’s saying something for a Sabres-Devils game.

2) The Sabres had no business winning that game.  Ryan Miller thought otherwise, saving 27 of 28 shots.  It was the return of the Ryan Miller show after a few ugly performances.  Marty Brodeur, meanwhile, could have taken a nap for half the game and not had to worry about anything getting past him.  Brodeur stopped 13 of the Sabres’ minuscule 14 shots.

3) Lindy Ruff seemed to take a page out of the Jacques LeMaire book of coaching.  The Sabres scored a quick goal and played prevent for the entirety of the game after that point, even after the Devils tied it.

4) Derek Roy was a sieve tonight.  He took two bad penalties right in a row that led to the Devils’ tying goal, and he made a bad giveaway behind the net that almost led to a goal by Adam Henrique of New Jersey. Thankfully, Ryan Miller was in Miller Time mode tonight.

5) Thomas Vanek has now gone six straight games without a point.  What’s worse, he couldn’t even get the goal in the shootout that wouldn’t count.

6) Nathan Gerbe was a boss tonight.  He threw the puck at the net whenever he saw fit.  Clearly, it worked.  It directly resulted in Jordan Leopold’s goal, and it earned him a chance in the shootout, where he eventually buried it.

So…This Is What Rock Bottom Feels Like

If someone asked me back in November, when Bruins forward Milan Lucic barreled over Ryan Miller, causing the Vezina Trophy winning goalie to sit out some time with a concussion, if the Sabres would have suffered such adverse effects because of the incident, I would have told that person to stop being ridiculous.  The Sabres were 11-6 after that fateful day, and it didn’t seem like a 6-2 loss to the Bruins would be as demoralizing as it was.

However, that’s what happened.  The Sabres were exposed as a fraud team that could easily be beaten by showing a small amount of toughness that most of the players on the team just don’t have.  Outside of Robyn Regehr, who’s had an awful first season in Buffalo, by the way, the Sabres are barely a physical team.  There are only a handful of players that one could call tough, and even that’s questionable at best.

Regehr’s toughness should not be questioned.  We’ve all seen his ability to knock a player out at will.  Cody McCormick has shown that he’s never afraid to drop the gloves and get into the dirty areas.

Most of the other “tough players” leave more to be desired, though.  Paul Gaustad disappears at times, most prominently shown against the Bruins when absolutely nothing happened to Milan Lucic after he took out Miller.  Tyler Myers was almost invisible until playing the New Jersey Devils in November, scoring two goals and absolutely destroying former Sabre Dainius Zubrus along the boards, causing the league’s chief player disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to get in touch with Myers to let him know where the line is drawn for illegal hits.

Selective toughness isn’t winning games though.  It’s causing the Sabres to doubt themselves, as shown by their inability to get back into one-goal games, something they used to be able to do on a routine basis.  No player on this team is willing to cause a spark, not that they’d know a spark if they saw one.  Momentum seems to mean nothing.  Scoring the first goal of a game?  Not even three-goal leads are safe with this team.

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek can only do so much for this team.  Pominville leads the team with 47 points in 48 games and continues to be the Sabres’ only source of consistency, and has performed valiantly on the ice in his first full season as Buffalo’s captain.  Whether or not he leaves more to be desired off the ice and in the locker room is another story entirely, and not something that should be commented on.  Thomas Vanek’s play has tailed off recently.  Vanek is pointless in five games, with a -7 rating.  He has just two points in the month of January, allowing Pominville to take a commanding team lead in scoring.  Vanek has 41 points on the season.

The secondary scoring is non-existent.  Derek Roy has turned into an albatross for this team.  Sure, he’s third on the team in scoring, but there’s a big drop-off between second and third, as Roy has just 25 points in 46, a pace well off what he’s normally at, which is usually closer to just under a point-per-game.  Drew Stafford can’t find the back of the net to save his life, which is a problem considering  he signed a 4-year $16 million deal over the summer.  Luke Adam’s production has trailed off and finds himself on the fourth-line, which could only be ruining his confidence even more than it should be.

The Sabres haven’t gone on any sort of winning streak going since that Bruins game in November.  It’s not the winning streaks they should be worried about at this point.  The Sabres have lost five games in a row, not to mention 12 in a row on the road, all in regulation.

There’s still room for some slight optimism.  The Sabres remain just ten points out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference.  Ten points is very surmountable, but the likelihood of this team pulling themselves out of the hole they’ve dug themselves sees bleak for not just the team, but for the fans, as well.

What To Expect From The Gerbe Derby

Inspired by our frequent arguments about the Buffalo Sabres over Twitter, it was Josiah who asked me if we should expand from our normal 140 character bouts and move on to the blogosphere.  It made too much sense not to do it.

I’ve been a hockey fan ever since I was very little boy, when I started to actually play the game when I was 4-years-old, playing novice level ice hockey with the Buffalo Hornets organization of Cheektowaga, New York.  My first exposure to Sabres hockey was in around that same time, when they were still wearing the good old blue and gold, but being as young as I was, I don’t remember much about those teams.  My love for the Sabres never actually began until the 1997 playoffs, specifically Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators, when Derek Plante buried a heavy shot by goalie Ron Tugnutt, and the voice of Rick Jeanneret rang through my speakers:

“Scooooooooorees!  Are you ready legion of doom?  Here come the Buffalo Sabres!”

The crowd erupted, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I’ve seen the highs, like the underdog 1999 team carried on the small, but flexible shoulders of Dominik Hasek.  I’ve seen the lows, like the dreadful 2002-03 season where it seemed like the Sabres could never win a game along some stretches.

In reality, while I am a huge Sabres supporter, I am extremely critical of them.  While I’m not a season ticket holder, I still consider myself a guy that knows what’s going on, and I feel as though I’ve sunk enough money into the team where I am able to make judgments about whether or not they’re doing things right or not.

I plan on posting as much as possible, and not just about the Sabres.  I watch as much hockey as I possibly can, thanks to the nifty NHL Gamecenter Live service from NHL.com.

One thing you should not expect from this blog: game previews, recaps, or anything that you’d find on an official website.  That’s not what blogs are for.   I’ll use this space as something to share my thoughts on certain situations revolving mostly around the Sabres, and I’ll also share my thoughts on certain things around the NHL, as well.  Each week, I’ll try to post five things about the NHL that I find interesting, that tick me off, or maybe things I think people should know.

Finally, one thing I’ve come to find out is that you can expect mine and Josiah’s opinions to differ.  It won’t be all the time, but most of the time when it comes to the Sabres, we view things slightly different, which is fine.  If you follow us on Twitter (@JosiahDLeRoy and @TJLuckman), you already know that we talk about hockey with each other.  A lot.  The only thing different about here is that we have a lot more space to put our thoughts than just 140 characters.

Now that we’ve got our formalities out of the way, let’s talk some hockey.

TJ Luckman
The Gerbe Derby

Welcome to The Gerbe Derby

Hello hockey fans, welcome to the Gerbe Derby. The Gerbe Derby is a hockey blog/column that my friend and partner TJ Luckman decided to start in order to debate and discuss all of the latest NHL news, namely that of the Buffalo Sabres. Inspired by our constant interaction on Twitter with columnists, the Buffalo sports media, and our opinionated posts, we are excited and ready to write.

I have been an avid Sabres fan since age 8. The ’99 Stanley Cup Finals was my first bout with hockey and ever since has been an obsession and a passion of mine. I remember exactly where I was when the most infamous goal in Sabres history occured. “No Goal” was just the beginning, and since then I have witnessed all of the highs and lows. It’s tough being a Sabres fan, isn’t it? I must note that my other favorite team is the Anaheim Ducks, with the New York Rangers not terribly far behind. Martin Biron is my favorite player of all time.

With expectations higher than ever, the 2011-2012 NHL season has not been very good to Buffalo. After starting 10-5, the team has vastly fallen off of that pace. At the end of tonight, they could be dead last in the Eastern Conference. Not very comforting for a team that was projected to challenge for the Northeast Division (which the Bruins are running away with). They have gone 9-24 since the first 15 games (5 losses came in overtime/shootout). Are injuries to blame? A little. Should a move have been made with regards to trades? Maybe. If so, it’s likely too late to climb back into the playoff race. Should Lindy Ruff be fired? I don’t believe so, but look at Anaheim’s turnaround under Bruce Boudreau, or the Blues’ stampede to President’s Trophy contention under Ken Hitchcock.

There’s nothing more exciting than the NHL and I cannot wait to discuss it with you. Follow me on Twitter (@JosiahDLeRoy) and TJ (@TJLuckman) and send us a tweet if you want to discuss anything Sabres!

Josiah LeRoy
The Gerbe Derby