Reaction to Canucks/Sabres 3.4.12

Positives:

– Ville Leino played his best game as a Buffalo Sabre in the team’s 5-3 victory over the NHL’s number one overall team, the Vancouver Canucks. Not only did he notch two goals (his first multi-goal game in nearly one year), he looked incredibly comfortable at the center position. He won faceoffs and made all the “little” plays. Most important, he has found chemistry with Nathan Gerbe and Pat Kaleta, which leads me to my next point:

– Patrick Kaleta has found a way to be more than relevant again in the NHL. He is often penalized for otherwise legal play, with a large target on his back in the eyes of the NHL. He has found new life, playing more like Nathan Gerbe and making things happen in the offensive zone. His two assists were well deserved. Not to mention, he is playing well without friend and linemate Paul Gaustad (who had an assist in his debut as a Predator tonight).

– Ryan Miller looked great again. The goals against were not a result of poor play by any means.

– Matt Ellis, Corey Tropp, Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, and Alexander Sulzer all had very solid games.

– The Sabres played incredibly well in the third period, despite giving up a few goals. Their work ethic was top notch and enabled the team to get a win. Short shifts were the key.

– Christian Ehrhoff scored in his return to Vancouver after last season’s Stanley Cup Finals run.

Negatives:

– Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani decided to show up. Interesting, given their play was next to useless in Buffalo earlier this year.

– The Sabres almost blew an early 3-0 lead, but almost doesn’t count. They escaped this time.

– The officiating by tonight’s referees was brutal. Three debateable calls included two high-sticking penalties in which the sticks did not even touch the opposing player (very good acting on Vancouver’s part) and a penalty to Pat Kaleta in which his head was rammed into the crossbar by Alex Edler of the Canucks. This cost Ryan Miller his shutout streak in the second period.

– Kassian and Gragnani again. I’ve never seen two players play further from their regular games in order to prove a point to their old team. Vancouver fans will be severly disappointed if they expect to see the pair play that way every night.

Summary:

The Sabres are now just two points behind eighth place Winnipeg. This is incredible, considering this team was dead and in last place one month ago. They are 11-3-3 and have points in 8 straight games. Are we seeing a repeat of last year? Time will tell. Buffalo fans should be rooting for Philadelphia tomorrow (actually later today), as a Capitals win would place Buffalo three points out. The Sabres face the Jets monday in the most pivotal matchup of the season to date.

Follow Josiah LeRoy on Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy

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LeRoy: Reaction to Buffalo vs. Anaheim 2.29.12

Let me just start off by saying…really? That was one of the oddest finishes to a Buffalo Sabres game that I have witnessed in recent memory. The Anaheim Ducks clearly are a frustrated team, with stars Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan vastly underperforming this season. Ryan Miller likely was a factor as well, making 43 saves in perfectly played game in the crease. Miller performed in a manor similar to what we saw in his Vezina winning season in 2010.

The end of the game was just absurd. In the words of Sabres Commentator Kevin Sylvester, “This is just stupid.” Many of you know that the Ducks are my other favorite team, my Western Conference Buffalo Sabres, if you will. As a Ducks fan, the ending was just embarassing. In the waning minutes of the game, Ryan Getzlaf nudged Ryan Miller. Mike Weber immediately came to his teammate’s side and began throwing punches with Getzlaf (would Gaustad have done the same?). Though Getzlaf is not a fighter, this one makes the most sense of all the random fights in the end. Getzlaf has just 8 goals this season. Shortly after, Corey Perry fights Robyn Regehr. Seriously? That’s a road you don’t want to go down, Mr. Perry. Perry hacked Regehr repeatedly, and Regehr had enough. Odd. Then Patrick Kaleta comes onto the ice for the final seconds of the night. Oh boy. Kaleta skated away as the buzzer sounds, but Sheldon Brookbanks wanted more, and so did…Bobby Ryan? Yep. That happened. Bobby Ryan began throwing punches with Patrick Kaleta. Just about every player on the ice had a partner to team up with, including Tyler Myers. The Ducks should be embarassed. I think it’s ridiculous that team captain Ryan Getzlaf decides to fight with approximately one minute to go because he was frustrated. Be the bigger man (though he did bump Miller) and stay on the ice to try to give your team a chance. Some might say that after seeing the Ducks’ top 3 scorers go at it, they metaphorically threw in the towel. But enough about that.

Cody Hodgson made his Sabres debut and did not disappoint. His faceoff percentage was very close to that of Paul Gaustad’s average, he played on the power play and penalty killing units, and also had a bunch of scoring chances that included a 2 on 1. Hodgson played like a calm veteran, showing off his patience, defensive prowess, and smooth passing ability. If this is any indication of Hodgson’s future, the Sabres stole away a talent from British Columbia.

Ryan Miller was absolutely outstanding, as this was his season-high in terms of saves. He stole a win for a team that needs every point it can get (Toronto lost earlier in regulation). Derek Roy looked solid all night and has begun to come around for the team, netting his fourteenth goal of the season. Brad Boyes also had a good night, tipping home Christian Ehrhoff’s blast from the point, snapping a 22 game scoring drought.

The Sabres travel to San Jose to take on the Sharks later tonight.

Ryan Miller Isn’t Exactly Thrilled Paul Gaustad Was Traded

When word got out that Paul Gaustad was traded to the Nashville Predators for a 1st-round pick in 2012, fans rejoiced.  A 1st-round pick for Paul Gaustad?  Who would have thought Darcy Regier would be able to swing that?

If Ryan Miller was GM, Paul Gaustad would still be a Buffalo Sabre

Regardless of what Buffalo got for the penalty-killing center, goalie Ryan Miller isn’t pleased.

“It was a pretty tough day,” Miller said Tuesday to the Buffalo News. “I’m not going to lie. I’m not real happy about the way it all turned out. But that’s the business of hockey.”

Of course what Miller had to say was over-analyzed by the Buffalo media, like anything the former Vezina-Trophy winning goaltender says.

Buffalo News sports reporter Mike Harrington tweeted “Until the last 15 games or so, Ryan Miller has had enough trouble stopping the puck that he shouldn’t be trying to play GM too.”

While he’s right in saying what he had to say, it should be noted that if that’s how he, and the media in general, truly felt, then they wouldn’t put players in the position to try to “play GM” by asking players to give their thoughts about player movement.  Of course, it wasn’t Harrington that asked Miller the question, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t doubt that a News sports reporter would do.

Miller has developed a crybaby image this year that many fans have pointed out to when things go bad for the goalie.  It’s been fairly prevalent since Miller was barreled over by Boston’s Milan Lucic.  Miller, of course, had a few choice words to say about Lucic in the locker room later.

Miller has never been afraid to voice his opinion on something, which is why this really shouldn’t be a big deal.  He’s the same guy that told us weeks ago in Detroit that there was nothing the Sabres could do this season to right the ship and save the season.  He’s the same guy that reiterated this same sentiment a day before the NHL’s trading deadline.

Besides, Miller brings up a great point about his former teammate.

“He does the things that are not easy to do every night,” Miller said. “It’s just too important for a hockey team, and it is a little frustrating in that regard”

Miller and Gaustad are really close.  In fact, when Miller signed his long-term deal with the Sabres almost four years ago, he cited the Sabres signing Gaustad to a long-term deal as a significant move that furthered his belief that the Sabres were making the right moves to win a Stanley Cup championship.

While Gaustad’s defensive play will be missed, Ryan Miller may have gone a little overboard on this one.  Sure, a player like Gaustad is the type of player teams look for at the trading deadline to help them win championships (see: Sammy Pahlsson).  At the same time, did Miller truly believe that the Sabres could win the Cup this season?

From the way he’s talked lately, that’s unlikely.

Referring to the 2011-12 season, “There’s not ever going to be a trade in the history of the NHL that’s going to change something like this,” Miller said.

So something doesn’t quite add up.  Sure, that’s how Miller felt about a month ago, and a lot can change in a month, but if we assume that Miller still thinks the Sabres can’t be fixed, then shouldn’t he be happy for his friend that he gets to go to a championship contender?  Of course he should, but Miller more than likely wants to be there with the Goose when that moment happens.

Besides, the big thing Ryan Miller is missing is that Gaustad is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, free to sign with any team in the NHL.  Who’s to say Gaustad doesn’t sign back with the Sabres over the summer?

Of course, if that’s what actually happens, the Sabres may as well have pulled off armed robbery.

The Buffalo Sabres: Deadline Dealers

Paul Gaustad was traded to the Predators for a 1st-round pick

For the hours leading up to 3:00 PM eastern time, it was eerily quiet.  There was one move made in the morning, with the Predators acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens, and there were sporadic deals here and there between the hours of 12:00 and 2:00.  The Wild slowly told Nick Schultz that he was traded to the Oilers, and the Lighting began Carter Ashton’s quest to become just like his dad, Brent, who called eight different cities his home in the NHL.

Then things got going.

Sammy Pahlsson was dealt out of Columbus to the Cup contending Canucks, giving them a solid defensive center.  Ottawa sent Brian Lee to Tampa Bay for Matt Gilroy.  Jamie McGinn went to the Avalanche for T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik.  The Jets sent Johnny Oduya to the Blackhawks for a 2nd- and 3rd-round pick.

But between 2:00 and 3:00 PM, it seemed the Sabres did nothing, or so we thought.

At 3:00 PM, the exact time of the trading deadline, Sabres fans gave their last honk for the Goose, as it was reported that Paul Gaustad had just been traded to the Nashville Predators.  Twitter erupted, with everyone wondering what the Sabres possibly could have gotten for the defensively sound center.

Sammy Pahlsson, a player very similar to Gaustad, had been traded the hour before for two fourth round picks in 2012 and a defensive prospect, so it was only safe to assume that Darcy Regier traded Gaustad for a seemingly similar package.

Not a single person expected Paul Gaustad to go for a first-round pick, except for maybe Darcy Regier, who stuck to his guns on his market price for the Goose.  David Poille, fresh off his new extension as G.M. of the Predators, gave in to Regier on his demands, while Regier threw in a 4th-round pick in the 2013 draft.  The Sabres scored the Preds first-rounder in 2012.  The only way this trade could have gone better for the Sabres is if the Predators gave up a 2013 first-round pick instead, as the Predators are seemingly going all in this year not knowing what the future might bring them, but I’m not going to berate Regier for turning his 7th round pick from the 2000 draft into a first-round pick 12 years later.

Still, the day left a dry taste in the mouths of Sabres fans.  All these weeks, begging Darcy to do something, and yet all anyone can say about him is that he dealt Paul Gaustad for a 1st-round pick.

Oh wait, there was that one surprise.

Zack Kassian’s name got out somehow, being sent to the Vancouver Canucks, but no one knew who the Canucks were sending back in return.  Sabreland erupted.  Zack Kassian?  The Sabres’ version of Milan Lucic (laughable, by the way)?  What did they possibly trade him for?

Probably one of the most intriguing prospects the Canucks had on their roster.

It’s hard not to like Cody Hodgson.  There’s not much you can find not to like about him.  The 10th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Hodgson played in 63 games, grabbing 33 points, 16 of them goals.  While this may not seem astonishing, this is while logging a small amount of minutes as a 3rd liner on a team that boasts Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler as their 1st- and 2nd-line centers, respectively.

Hodgson will be given every chance to succeed with the Sabres with the amount of ice time he deserves.  He has brilliant hands and a magnificent shot to go along with it, not to mention he’s solid in his defensive zone.  He is one hell of a complete player, and could be the 1st- or 2nd-line center the Sabres have been waiting for.  It’s easier to find toughness than it is to find a potential top-line center, and that’s what we’re dealing with here: potential.

The Canucks also took defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani off the Sabres hands, which many outlets are saying is the wild-card of this deal, citing Gragnani’s +10 as a positive for the young defenseman.  If only the NHL kept official stats of giveaways…

The Sabres also picked up defenseman Alexander Sulzer, but he probably doesn’t figure into the Sabres future plans, as Sulzer is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year.  The Sabres could look into signing him for the Rochester Americans next year, but that’s the best-case scenario for Sulzer.

All-in-all, this deadline was a win for the Sabres, and their fans, whether they’re ready to admit it or not.

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