Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sabres continue to beat on the Southeast

The Buffalo Sabres continued their winning with their third straight victory in a 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers. Ryan Miller earned the shutout in net for the Sabres, and despite the game's low score, it was a high paced back and forth type of game.

After a scoreless first period, Thomas Vanek scored early in the second with the man advantage for the game's only goal. The Sabres powerplay and penalty kill looked rather decent in this game, and eventually did determine the outcome. The Sabres powerplay scored on one of it's three chances, and that included one in the final minutes of the game when Buffalo was just more worried about holding the lead. Then the Sabres only had to go shorthanded twice, and killed off both of those opportunities for the Panthers.

The downside to the game is that Drew Stafford got injured, and looks to be out for some time. Hopefully Connolly can get better quick enough to take his place. The Sabres next game is on Friday against Atlanta, which the team against which Miller got his first shutout of the year, and the Sabres last beat 10-1. That said Buffalo lost it's other matchup against this team, and can not afford any mistakes, especially in games that they are supposed to win.

Official Three Stars
  • Ryan Miller
  • Tomas Vokoun
  • Thomas Vanek

  • My Three Stars
  • Ryan Miller (allowed zero goals to get by him)
  • Thomas Vanek (games only goal, nine shots on net)
  • Jochen Hecht (lead the team in ice time, had five shots, and 62% of faceoffs)
  • Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Sabres win second straight

    The Buffalo Sabres won two games in a row for the first time in 2008 after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2. The Hecht, Pominville, MacArthur line was dominate in this game, and was responsible for three of the Sabres four points. The other goal went to Derek Roy, who also picked up an assist.

    The Sabres got out to an early lead thanks to good passing and shooting by Pominville and MacArthur in the first who picked up primary assists each others goals. Ryan Miller was also very solid in net the first two periods, only allowing one goal, and that was a five on three situation with under a minute left in the second.

    The Sabres goals in the second were rather odd, but they count any way that they go in, and gave Buffalo a comfortable lead. Tampa Bay came back with two points in the third period, but never really came close to retaking the lead.

    Official Three Stars
  • Jason Pominville
  • Ryan Miller
  • Jochen Hecht

  • My Three Stars
  • Jason Pominville (one goal, three points, plus three)
  • Clarke MacArthur (one goal, one assist)
  • Jochen Hecht (two assists, plus three)
  • Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Ovechkin steals the Show

    This past all star weekend presented a problem to the networks, as they had to figure out how to promote this big time event without the media's favorite player Sidney Crosby being present. Fortunately they saw Ovechkin come in with enough excitement and flash to steal the show.

    Even without Crosby there I had assumed that they would spend all their time talking about him anyhow. Instead they actually did a good job talking instead about the players that were there like DiPietro, Chara, and Atalanta's favorite Ilya Kovalchuk. The big name they were able to latch unto however was Ovechkin. The Russian forward was by all appearances the most happy to be there, and the most understanding that the whole weekend was about having fun and a good time.

    He scored two goals in the shootout, and along with Getzlaf was the only player who realized that the goal of scoring the shootout was all about being over the top and crazy. Granted he didn't even manage to hit his shots towards the net, let alone score, but at least he went for something. Had he gotten a goal off of that move it would have been awesome, but even as it was he gets more respect then the players who failed doing boring stuff like trying to just quickly switch sides and wrist it through the corner.

    In other news Selanne decided to return for the Ducks (like Niedermayer). However in a strange twist, unlike Niedermayer Selanne did not make the all star game despite missing most of the season.

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    East beats the West

    In the 2008 edition of the NHL all star game the east beat the west in what turned out to be a very close game. The All Star game as usual was light on defense, and players actually caring, but given the relatively even score towards the end, it was interesting enough.

    Rick Nash was probably had the best game of the night, scoring just 12 seconds into the game on the way to a hat-trick. Nash and second period goalie Evgeni Nabokov were the best players for the West. In the end they lost the game, but nobody really cares who wins this thing anyhow.

    Alexander Ovechkin was having the most fun of anybody at the all star events this weekend. Of all the players he understood most that the entire weekend was simply about having fun, and that the game was secondary to celebrating hockey and just having a good time. That said he did fairly well in the game and scored two goals.

    Buffalo's lone representative did rather well for himself in the game as well. Brian Campbell managed to pick up a goal midway through the first and got assists in the game to earn himself three points, including the assist on Marc Savard's game winner with just twenty seconds left on the clock.

    The All Star game MVP (and a truck) went to Eric Stall (perhaps becoming dad's favorite). He earned the award after scoring two goals and an assist in the game. In fact between Ovechkin and Stall the southeast division almost looked respectable.

    The NHL all star game brought nothing spectacularly exciting, but was as expected, and is a fun little tradition. The real hockey gets back up and running on Tuesday when the Sabres face Tampa Bay and try to put together their first win streak of the year.

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    All Star Skills Competion

    The NHL Skills competition was nothing unexpected, and surprisingly enjoyable. There was little to no attempt to take the event too seriously and that really helped the atmosphere. The youngstars game which was so bad last year was helped by having such odd rules this year, that it couldn't even be considered to be a hockey game which actually made it more enjoyable.

    The real highlights of the night were the shootout and the shot placement competition. In the accuracy contest Tomas Kaberle of Toronto shot four for four on his first try and was four for five on a second chance. In the shootout Ovechkin stole the show as he was the only player who seemed to understand that it was designed to be over the top more than anything else. The judges didn't really do a good job, but nobody was really all that interested in keeping track of the score anyhow.

    I didn't see Buffalo's representative take part in any of the competetions (although I missed the first few), but he was there and is more likely to make a difference in the actual game, which is tomorrow night.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    Buffalo enters the all star break on a high note

    The Sabres won a close game against the Dallas Stars with a score of 2-1. Derek Roy got both of the goals for Buffalo, while former Sabre Stu Barnes scored the lone point for Dallas.

    It was a close game throughout, and both teams had plenty of opportunities to get the win, but the goalies on both ends played well. Although both goalies were not named for any of the games three stars, both were deserving and played exceptionally well. This would have been a radically different game is both teams had played their backups. Along with the Islanders' DiPietro, Marty Turco is one of the best stick handling goalies in the league. As an aside, ten percent of the league's starting goaltenders are named Marty (Biron and Brodour), what are the odds of that?

    The problem that both of the teams had in this game was special teams. Both the Sabres and the Stars were very poor in this regard, many times not even coming close. In a combined twenty minutes of five on four play the teams combined for a grand total of seven shots on goal. Only one of those shots was by the Sabres. In four powerplay oppertnities the Sabres had zero goals and one shot. Having an extra man on the ice is supposed to be an advantage.

    The good news is the Sabres have finally won a close game. This is still only their second win since Christams. Lets hope that following the All Star break, this is the team that we see, and that the effort and the ability to win is still there. The Sabres are back at .500 but that doesn't get you into the playoffs anymore...

    Official Three Stars
  • Derek Roy
  • Thomas Vanek
  • Stu Barnes

  • My Three Stars
  • Derek Roy (two goals)
  • Drew Stafford (two assists, plus one)
  • Stu Barnes (only goal for the Stars)
  • Thursday, January 24, 2008

    The All Star game nobody cares about

    The All Star game is setting itself up to be quite a disappointment. A few selected (including the leagues best goalie Roberto Lunongo) have chosen not to attend, and many others will be missing the game due to injury (Sidney Crosby). Without a number of star players there, plus the NHL's odd "every team gets to send somebody" philosophy there doesn't seem to be much incentive to watch the game this year.

    The pre-all star game events should be improved as the league has apparently realized that it is best to begin writing out the young stars game, and I think the entire thing is going to be something like ten minutes with a running clock or something. It would be awesome if one of the players finds a way to last through the entire game without taking a single shift. More importantly the shootout will include style points, so hopefully that will be fun to watch. Hopefully the stick handling and skating parts of the skills competition will be removed (none of the fastest skaters are there anyhow), and the league sticks to the funner ones such as hardest shot, and picking off the plates in the corners of the net.

    Without Crosby in the game I'm not sure what the national television people will have to talk about. Lets hope that they don't wind up getting Crosby in the booth for the game, and actually talk about some of the others there instead. Wishful thinking, but it just might happen. More likely is that Versus will not bring back the nauseating "rail-cam" that they used last year, which was too slow to really track the puck.

    Before the all star break the Sabres have one more game that counts, when the play the Dallas Stars tonight. They didn't play the Stars last season, and to be honest I can't remember any of the sparse games Buffalo has had against this team since Hull had his foot in the crease...

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Long road to the playoffs

    The Sabres really need to pick up their game if they want to make the post season. Currently they have only won one of the last thirteen games, and were barely on pace to make the post season before that.

    On the assumption that 95 points are needed to make the playoffs the Sabres need to go 24-10-1 for the rest of the season to get there. Given the possibility that in the east only 90 points would be needed to make the post season a 22-13-0 record would do, but even then these are both only assuming what is needed to squeak by into eighth place. After wrapping up the top spot in the conference early last season, it would be cive to see them do better this year.

    Given the above numbers the Sabres need to win better than two out of three games for the rest of the season needing in the range of 63% to 69% victories over the rest of the season. In their past ten games they have only won 10%. Even when you count each OTL as half a win they are only at 30% which is still less then half of what they need.

    The positive side is that the experts say that yesterday was the most depressing day of the year and that things can only get better from here. Additionally the Sabres tend to be a streaky team (the last 20 games have shown both a six game win streak and a ten game non-winning streak). The possibility for the Sabres to suddenly get going again does exist. The bad news is that over the last 20 games the Sabres have only gotten seven wins and only 19 points. There is no way that less than a point per game was ever going to cut it. Seeing the winless streak come crashing down in a ten goal victory seemed to indicate a change in fortune, but that is starting to look more like the exception then the rule...

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Buffalo can't even beat Phoenix

    The Buffalo Sabres lost big to the Phoenix Coyotes 6-2 in a rare afternoon game. The offense looked okay at times, but on the defensive side of things the Sabres played very poorly.

    Sometimes it's easy just to blame the backup goaltender for the loss, but that would seem to be accurate here. Thibault did not play well at all in net for the Sabres giving up a number of easy goals. Phoenix honestly deserved only one or two of those. Two goals if often still not enough to win most of the time, but the team had to worry about what was very shaky goaltending.

    The best players for Buffalo were Stafford, and Gaustad who not only got Buffalo's only two goals of the game, but also were the most aggressive on the team. No body really played bad, but there was a noticeable lack of effort from the Buffalo side in general at times.

    Official Three Stars
  • Shane Doan
  • Derek Morris
  • Peter Mueller

  • My Three Stars
  • Peter Mueller (two points, plus two)
  • Shane Doan (two points, plus two)
  • Ed Jovanovski (one goal, plus one)
  • Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Sabres win streak ends short as they lose to the Leafs

    The Sabres dropped yet another game this year as they lost to the leafs 4-2. The Sabres got off to a slow start giving up two early powerplay goals and could never make it back into the game.

    Official Three Stars
  • Alexander Steen
  • Jochen Hecht
  • Jason Blake

  • My Three Stars
  • Jason Blake (goal to seal the win)
  • Hall Gill (one assist, plus two)
  • Jochen Hecht (one goal, plus one)
  • Saturday, January 19, 2008

    Sabres finally win, and they do it big

    The Sabres snapped their ten game losing streak by scoring ten goals in a huge win over the Atlanta Thrashers. Both Stafford and Roy picked up hat-tricks in the game, and the Sabres had five different players who earned three or more points.

    The Sabres started out the game rather well, with Paille scroing within the first two minutes to give the Sabres the early lead. A few minutes later on the powerplay, a shoot in took a funny boucne and left Stafford at the top of the crease with the puck and the goalie behind the net. Than to prove that it wasn't just a fluke Roy scored 23 seconds later from Stafford and Vanek. Roy scored yet again from Stafford and Vanek just three and a half minutes later.

    There was nothing that Atlanta could do to slow down the Sabres. They tried changing goalies, and when that didn't work they switched back goalies again (still didn't work). Pratt got into a bit of an unispired fight, which later in the third led to Atlanta giving up a five on three for four minutes. Due to an error on the scoring sheet for a while it looked as if Paille, Stafford, and Roy all had two goals, and the crowd was just waiting for a hat-trick to celebrate. Stafford picked one up, but it turned out that one of Paille's goals was actually Roy's third so he got one as well. Towards the end the crowd couldn't even keep up with the cheers because the numbers were so big, and decided to simply things to just chanting "we want ten!" (they got it).

    This was Roy's first game in two weeks and he played very well picking up three goals and an assist to go plus four on the night. Interestingly Peters was scratched to make room for Roy meaning that for the first time ever the team kept Kaleta and MacArthur up instead of Peters which is something that they should have been doing all along.

    Thrashers defenceman number 39 Tobias Enstrom was really bad. Looking at the stats after the game he doesn't look so bad as he was third on his team in ice time, and was amazingly plus one (the only one on his team). Yet given repeated chances to shoot at the net on some rather good oppertunities he choose to pass time and time again. He ended the game with zero shots and it was almost comincal with the chances that he was giving up. Even when Atlanta got a five on three, he would sit at the point with the puck, not covered at all, and then he would pass it. It was almost as if the defence had realized that he wasn't going to shoot and just decided not to bother covering him at times.

    Despite the blow out the Sabres powerplay was really bad. The Sabres got a powerplay goal early, but that was due to a fluke bounce, and then they struggled the rest of the night. The Sabres had a four minute five on three chance, and barely managed to shoot let alone score. They did eventually get a goal five on three, but only after playing with the two man advantage for a full five minutes first. Furthermore they let the Thrashers get a short handed goal, which ruined their shutout, and in a closer game would have been a lot more devistating.

    They play against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, lets hope that they can reach double digit scores again...

    Official Three Stars
  • Drew Stafford
  • Derek Roy
  • Thomas Vanek

  • My Three Stars
  • Drew Stafford (hat-trick, five points)
  • Derek Roy (hat-trick, four points)
  • Jochan Hecht (prettiest goal of the night, three points)
  • Thursday, January 17, 2008

    In a lackluster performance, the Sabres drop their tenth straight

    The Sabres have now lost ten straight games, as they were beat by the New York Rangers 2-1. The Sabres however did not deserve to win this game, and seemed to put very little effort into their play.

    Miller should have made the easy stop on the Ranger's second goal, but the blame for the loss really goes towards Buffalo's inability to score. The puck was almost never in the Rangers end of the ice in the second and third periods, and the Sabres were outshot 25-15 during that time frame.

    Buffalo's powerplay wasn't any better as they were unable to score on five chances including 1:52 of 5v3 time. With their almost two full minutes of the two man advantage, the Sabres were only able to manage two shots on goal. As bad as that was the team did even worse when only up by one player.

    The line of Hecht, Pominville, and MacArthur were plus one in the game though, and probably put forth the teams best effort all night.

    As good as Chris Drury was last season, I expected to notice him out on the ice a little more, but he didn't register too much of a presence in this game, and so far has had a rather poor experience with the talented, but underperforming Rangers this season.

    Official Three Stars
  • Petr Prucha
  • Brandon Dubinsky
  • Blair Betts

  • My Three Stars
  • Petr Prucha (one goal, two points)
  • Brandon Dubinsky (one goal, two points)
  • Jason Pominville (a goal and plus one in the loss)
  • Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Sabres (thankfully) left out of young stars game

    The Buffalo Sabres don't have any of their rookies playing in the young stars game in Atlanta before the all star break this year, and if anything that's a good thing. Last year Thomas Vanek got dragged into the the event, which was the most pathetic event to ever try and masquerade itself as a hockey game.

    That said things may be different as this year's roster is apparently lacking goalies. Either they are planning on something different, or they have found an obvious way to increase scoring without changing the size or colour of the nets. Incidentally playing without goalies would still look more like a traditional hockey game than whatever that was going on last year. Personally I think they should add a downhill skating competition to the event. (Wouldn't that be fun?)

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Strategy for the Sabres Success in the Shootout

    The Sabres current massive losing streak is in a large part due to the team's failure to win in the shootout. The Buffalo Sabres have gotten one win six trys this season, making them the third worst team in the league in shootouts ahead of only Washington and Philadelphia (who gave Buffalo their lone win). The Sabres were the second best in the league in the shootout last season, winning ten out of fourteen, and can do better this year as well.

    First they need to do better in goal. The team's real problem is with putting them in the net, but Buffalo is currently tied for 20th in the league in save percentage in shootouts, and need Miller to steal them a game or two. The problem is that Miller personally is doing even worse saving only half of the shots he's faced (7 out of 14), while backup Thibault saved four of the six he faced last week against Ottawa. Miller needs to do much better. He was one of the best goalies in the shootout last season, and needs to return to that style. He plays great against breakaways in games, but has forgotten how to convert that into the shootout. Far too often Miller has been starting far out of his net and then attempting to poke check the puck away. While this occasionally works, he is becoming far too predictable and has seen players just dance around him lately. There is nothing wrong with making a good old fashion save, and saving the poke for when it is guaranteed.

    The big problem however is the shooters, and Ruff's inability to choose some that will actually score. Only two players have scored in a shootout this season for Buffalo, and they are Ales Kotalik (3 for 6) and Thomas Vanek (1 for 4). Connolly, Afinogenov, and MacArthur are all zero for two, while Hecht, Stafford and Pominville have all failed to score on their single attempts.

    Despite actually getting a goal, Vanek is the worst player the Sabres have been using in the shootouts. While he is a great player, he looks helplessly confused, and is way to slow in the shootouts. He is indecisive, and time and time again he fails to make any real attempt to score, and the goalies just wait him out every time. He wasn't any good last season either going two for eleven. Ruff needs to go with Stafford, Paille, and Connolly a little more.

    Ales Kotalik on the other hand is the Sabres' best player in the shootout, but he was far better last year. Every single time last season Kotalik would charge in go to his left and backhand the shot in. Every single time, and the goalies would know it was coming, but were still unable to do anything about it. Of all players with at least five shootout attempts last year, Kotalik was the second best in the entire league. The two times that he has gone with his move this season he has scored. Of the four times that he has tried something else he is only one for four, and no better than Vanek. Notably the one non-backhand shot that Kotalik did score on was against Biron, who knows Kotalik's move better than anyone else in the league after being teammates last year, and was probably cheating towards it.

    If Kotalik was consistently going to the backhand, and Miller was saving around 15% more to bring him near the league average, the Sabres would have another three points or so, and would no longer be driving towards the longest losing streak in team history.

    Full shootout stats for the current season
    Data from last season

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Pre-game peculiarities

    I had the opportunity to attend the Sabres game against the Devils last Saturday, and a few things about the teams pregame skate stuck with me.

    Most of what the team was doing consisted of running through simple drills one time each, and then moving on to the next variation of the shooting/passing pattern. Most surprising is that instead of Hecht or one of the captains running the drills, Andrew Peters was the one running the pre-game show. Not that it's a hard job to do, but it was a bit unexpected to see an often scratched player running everything.

    Some players are better in practice than others. Pominville was hitting the most beautiful shots, while Kotalik was missing everything, and Stafford was alternating between top corner and three feet wide. The most aggressive in practice (like in games) were Campbell and Gaustad. Campbell was the first onto the ice, and after knocking a puck into his own net, turned and from his own blueline nailed a shot into the top corner of the far net.

    A few players including Tallinder mostly warmed up on their own, stickhandleing and stretching in the neutral zone, rather than taking part in some of the drills. Miller did participate however, and for the drills in which he was not in net, he would take shots at the goal, just like the position players. Thibault however did not.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Sabres can't break the streak

    The Sabres posted their ninth loss in a row, dropping a game to the Devils in overtime. This was the fifth loss in the streak to come in the shootout. While it took until late December for the Sabres to get into a shootout it hasn't seemed to help them much as they have lost far more than they have won.

    The Sabres got off to a quick start with Paille netting two goals within the first 12 minutes, but played poorly in the second to allow New Jersey to come back within one goal. The Devils then tied the game with a minute remaining in the third. Both of the Devils goals came on delayed penalties, which is odd because the Sabres did a good job killing of their actual shorthanded situations.

    The real problem is the Sabres inability to win a shootout. A few things they need to do to fix it. First Miller needs to stop trying to poke check every single attempt, it makes him predictable, and unable to recover if his initial try doesn't work. Ales Kotalik has to go back to his backhand move. He has scored every time this season when he has gone to it, but is like one for seven trying other moves. Finally Thomas Vanek needs to stay on the bench. He's a good player, but should never be used in a shootout. Either Paille or Stafford need to be the go to guy instead. In fact I'd even rather see Peters take the shot, no one knows what to expect there, and that's better than knowing that Vanek is going to mess up.

    Official Three Stars
  • Danial Paille
  • Zach Parise
  • Brian Campbell

  • My Three Stars
  • Danial Paille (two goals)
  • Paul Martin (goal)
  • Paul Gaustad (an assist)
  • Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Brian Campbell selected as the lone Sabre at the all star game

    Brian Campbell will be going to his second straight all star game, but unlike last year which saw three Buffalo players in the starting line up, Campbell in the only Sabre this year.

    However, like last year the choices for the all star game come across as a little awkward, as the NHL's policy of inviting at least one player from each team leaves quite an odd mix of players in the game. Last year Thomas Vanek wasn't invited to the game despite getting the fifth highest in fan votes as a write in candidate, This year former Sabre Danny Briere who had the fourth most votes, and was the all star game MVP last year, was not named to this years team for no real reason. Also Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun made the team ahead of better goalies like Tim Thomas and Marty Biron.

    Out west things are even stranger. The Chicago Blackhawks representative is defensemen Duncan Keith. How he gets picked of Kane, Toews, Khabibulin, Byfuglien, or Ruutu is beyond me. Then in Vancouver Luongo decided to sit out of the all-star game to have a baby (technically his wife) so the league had to pick between the Swedish Twins. They picked Henrick over Daniel, despite the fact that the two have near identical stats. Henrik has 524 NHL games to Daniel's 520, while Danial has 346 points to Henrik's 344. For two identical twins on the same team to have such close numbers is so improbable.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Sabres Drop the most exciting game of 2008

    The Sabres came back from a two goal deficit to send their match against the Ottawa Senators into a shootout, but like all teams who give up a short handed goal, they eventually lost.

    Both teams came out strong, with an exciting first period that didn't have any goals. In the second the Senators got out to an early lead, and then were able to double it when Alfredsson was allowed to skate in untouched for a short handed goal. The entire Sabres powerplay was pretty bad this game, not only giving up the shorthanded point, but also frequently getting outshot, and failing to score on all of their opportunities.

    The third period was much better for the Sabres. Clarke MacArthur Scored his second goal (and third point) in his third game since being in Rochester. He's starting to look like Stafford did last season, when nobody wanted to see him go back to the Amercks. Kaleta also looked good in his second game with the Sabres this season, getting two shots on goal and a ton of big hits. 12:52 into the third Paille nailed a shot into the top shelf of the net to tie up the game.

    While the team did get one point, the Sabres can not afford to go this many straight games without a win. Last year the team hardly ever lost two straight let alone this many.

    If your looking to blame someone for the loss, choose Kotalik. I have no clue what he thought he was doing on the shorthanded goal. Just drive the other guy into the corner, and wait for all of your numbers to get back and that play wouldn't have been so bad. Then in the shootout Kotalik failed to go with his dependable backhanded move that served him well last game. While mixing it up can be useful, there is no reason to do so if no one can come close to stopping your normal move.

    Official Three Stars
  • Mike Fisher
  • Danial Alfredsson
  • Jason Pominville

  • My Three Stars
  • Danial Alfredsson (shorthanded goal)
  • Clarke MacArthur (recently the Sabres best scorer)
  • Mike Fisher (an assist and a shootout goal)
  • Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Numminen out for the season

    Teppo Numminen is likely out for the rest of the season due to complications from his surgery earlier this season. After returning to practice and being only a week or two away from being ready to play in a game it now looks as if he will be out for the rest of this season.

    His heart is fine, but he will need another few months before he is cleared for contact to allow for his sternum to heal. While that does leave the possibility of him returning midway through the playoffs it is unlikely that the Sabres will want to use him then unless the team has a number of injuries.

    Teppo however still plans on returning next season, and we would very happily welcome him back. The Sabres try yet again to get a win in 2008 as they play against the Senators tonight.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Sabres make it to overtime, still lose

    The Buffalo Sabres got yet another tie, but lost their seventh straight game. It's been a long time since the Sabres have lost this many straight (before the lockout at least), and I don't believe they ever lost more that four in a row the entirety of last season.

    While part of the reason they lost to the Devils was due to good goaltending by Brodeur, the Sabres were also outshot, and looked rather slow at times. While the Sabres did get the tie, they do so while only scoring a single goal, so the credit for that has to go more towards the defense and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

    In overtime, Buffalo played really well. If they had that same sense of urgency all game long, they would have easily won. With Brodeur the Devils are a difficult opponent in the shootout, but the Sabres started out pretty good. MacArthur looked decent, and usually is, but I'm not sure why he tried a slap shot. Kotalik was good as usual, and went back to his classic move from last year, although he didn't give it as much air as he usually does. Thomas Vanek though was as bad as he always is. There is absolutely no reason that Vanek should ever be out there for the shootout. The Sabres had an excellent shootout player in Stafford who was sitting on the bench, not to mention the above average Ryan, Hecht, Pominville, and Connelly. I even think Campbell could do better in the shootout than Vanek does (maybe even Spacek, for sure Paetsch).

    The Sabres had some lineup changes for this game. With Roy, Paille, and Afinogenov out Patrick Kaleta was brought up for his first game of the season and did his thing. I have no clue why he hasn't been up here all season instead of Peters. Also Paetsch was scratched in favour of Pratt. No clue why, because with Numminen close to returning and Sekera and Weber proving to be capable, there is no reason to even have Pratt on the team anymore.

    Official Three Stars
  • Jason Pominville
  • Martin Brodeur
  • Andrew Green

  • My Three Stars
  • Martin Brodeur (only gave up one goal)
  • Jason Pominville (Sabres only goal)
  • Patrik Elias (an assist and a shootout goal)
  • Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    The Colour of the Goal

    The NHL desperately wants to increase scoring in the league, but changes such as increasing the net size have been largely unpopular. An alternative idea would be to change the colour of the goal.

    Resistance to the idea wouldn't be that great, but the real question is if it would actually make that much of a difference. A short paper published by supports the idea. The concept behind the change is that currently the most visually striking part of the net are the bright red posts. Currently players need to move off of the part of the goal that they look to first when they shoot the puck.

    A proposed net (called the 8i goal) calls for a net with dull gray posts, and a net that is red on the inside and white on the outside. The idea is to take the focus off of the posts and onto the back of the net. Ultimately the idea is not to change the number of scoring chances in a game, but make more of those one touch chances to actually go in.

    Theoretically it is a solid idea. Red is well known to be one of the most recognizable colours, and doctors support at least the theory behind it. The concept is well known in Soccer, where goalies have long worn colours and patterns that they believed would help draw the shooters attention towards shooting towards them. Which of course draws the question, if after a season everyone gets used to shooting towards the red, would goalies start to place red patterns on their pads to try to draw potential scorers into shooting there instead?

    The NHL might be willing to check this out, at least in a preseason game or practices to start with. During the lockout the Sabres played around with the idea of playing on blue ice (with orange lines), and while that idea was not adopted this idea may be seen as being even less radical.

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    Spacek takes the reigns

    With all the excitement surrounding the Ice Bowl it went largely unnoticed that Jaroslav Spacek has since taken over the role of team captain for the month of January. Hecht will remain an alternative captain as he has done all season, along with Pominville, who I can only assume is expected to take on the role of captain for next month.

    Spacek has been playing much better this year then he did last season, but after a very good start his play has fallen off a little bit. While making Spacek captain may have made some sense when he was playing so well at the beginning of the season, at this point it almost seems as if the team is rotating the role of captain simply to do so, rather than giving it to whoever can best lead. So far under Spacek the team is 0-3 with neither of the indoor games even being close.

    Mostly I'm disappointed that the team is continuing to dance around the whole captain question as the man for the job is clearly Jochan Hecht who has already signed on to be with the team for the next four seasons. He will probably get the nod come playoffs, but there is no reason to keep up this unneeded complexity any longer.

    Spacek and the Sabres get their next chance for a win against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Defensive mistakes allow Atlanta to win

    The Buffalo Sabres played very well for parts of their game against the Atlanta thrashers, but lost 5-2 on the heals of some major defensive mistakes. If the Sabres can't even beat the teams in the southeast division then they are really going to have a hard time making the playoffs.

    There were far to many big time defensive meltdowns in this game. All of Atlanta's first three goals were unassisted, and for the first one Kalinin gave up the puck behind the net on what should have been an easy play. On Atlanta's fourth goal Hossa was able to come down the wing with the puck all by himself to score the goal.

    The Thrashers had a very good penalty kill throughout the game, and spent alot of time pressuring the Sabres, including what was a six on four advantage at the end of the game. The three best players on the ice for Buffalo were Campbell, Hecht, and MacArthur. Why MacArthur keeps getting sent down to the Amerks is beyond me. He keeps playing well every game he is up with the Sabres, and picked up another goal in the game this afternoon.

    Official Three Stars
  • Marian Hossa
  • Johan Hedberg
  • Colin Stuart

  • My Three Stars
  • Marian Hossa (first two points of the game)
  • Colin Stuart (a goal and plus three)
  • Eric Perrin (an assist and 15 for 20 on faceoffs)
  • Saturday, January 5, 2008

    Sabres drop fifth straight

    The Sabres lost their fifth straight game of the season in a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres are now 1-3 on the season against Ottawa, and desperately need to turn their season around.

    The Senators got out to a sizable lead as they looked to be the better team in the first. Following the third Ottawa goal, Ruff pulled Miller despite the fact that he was playing relatively well, and couldn't really be blamed for any of the goals against him. However the magical goalie change had the intended effect, and the Sabres got a goal within the next minute, and then came back to tie the game midway through the third. However the Sabres then gave up two soft goals to Heatley and Alfredson.

    Stafford was back after being out for a few games and really played hard. I get the feeling that he was rather disappointed about having to have sat out of the Ice Bowl and was looking to make up for it. He took the place of Afinogenov who sat out of the game with a groin injury.

    Lindy Ruff moved around the lines for this game, and the player that seemed to benefit the most from this was Ryan, whose greatest asset is his speed. He was able to use it to his advantage much better on a line with Stafford and Gaustad than he was on the fourth line.

    Official Three Stars
  • Dany Heatley
  • Thomas Vanek
  • Andrej Meszaros

  • My Three Stars
  • Andrej Meszaros (first two points of the game)
  • Daniel Alfredson (two points, plus two)
  • Drew Stafford (only Sabres plus one)
  • Friday, January 4, 2008

    Sabres to play their 38th indoor game of the season

    The Sabres move back indoors tonight in their game against Ottawa. This is an important game for Buffalo and one that they must win.

    Buffalo has lost four straight games now. This fact was mostly lost in the fact that all of the games were close (all by one goal not counting empty netters) and that the Sabres did manage to pick up two points over this span, by losing in a shootout instead of regulation. And with all of the excitement of the winter classic it is easy to overlook a few close losses. Buffalo won the six games before this streak, so they are still doing ok, but need to do better.

    The Sabres are 1-2 against Ottawa so far this season, and need to establish that they can compete with the Senators. To do so they might want to look to the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have learned how to put up big points on the Senators, beating them last Saturday 8-6, and then coming back from down two goals to beat them 6-3 on New Years. Washington has been one of the weaker teams in the league this year, but if they can find a way to beat the Senators, then the Sabres should be able to as well.

    One last note on the Ice Bowl, In two starts in outdoor games Ryan Miller has gotten a tie in both of them. With Michigan State, Miller tied Michigan 3-3 in 2000 and then with the Sabres tied Pittsburgh last week before losing in the shootout.

    The NHL was kept quiet about any future plans for outdoor games, but is expected to do something for next season.

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    The Future of the Ice Bowl

    With the reports that the Ice Bowl had the best tv ratings for a regular season NHL game in over ten years the league is bound to repeat their experiment. The main questions of course being how, when, and most importantly where?

    The Best option of course would be keeping the game in Buffalo on New Years Day and building it up as an traditional event similar to the NFL's Cowboys playing at home every year on Thanksgiving. However my guess is that the NHL is reluctant to do this so this is a look on all the possibilities the league has.

    The first issue is the when, and that is unlikely to change. The league planned well on scheduling the first game on new years day when television viewership is high. The simple fact that it is a day off of work for many people, and yet lacks the traditional and family activities of a day like Christmas is enough to give any television broadcast a boost. Given the NHL's driving desire for ratings success and the event's cry to be renamed the "ice bowl" it is not likely to be moved.

    Where is a more difficult question. While their are thirty NHL teams as many either lack the passion for their NHL teams (Boston), are not in ideal climates for an outdoor game (Dallas), or lack a significantly large outdoor venue to make the event worth doing (Toronto). Here is a look at all stadiums capable of handling such an event.

    Soldier Field (Chicago) - With a capacity of 61,500 it is large enough to hold the event, and snow would be no problem in Chicago either. The downside is that the team is hardly able to sell out it's home games in a much lower capacity arena. The other side is that Kane and Towes are both very good and that hockey will be regaining popularity in Chicago, and that the franchise doesn't look much different then the Sabres did five years ago.

    TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota) - As far as outdoor venues go it is slightly on the small side with seating for only 50,000 but would sell out with no problem in hockey mad Minnesota. The NHL won't push this though as currently the Wild lack the star power that the Sabres and Penguins have, but if the team keeps making the playoffs every year that could change.

    Ohio Stadium (Columbus, Ohio) - One of the largest venues in the Northeast it is not an ideal location for the game at all. While Ohio has enough fans to support the Blue Jackets, they don't have many more and an outdoor game would be unlikely to attract more than 40,000 or so, not even filling up half the capacity of the stadium. Additionally given the success of the Ohio State football program, fans in the area may be slightly more interested in the bowl games.

    McMahon Stadium (Calgary) - While Calgary can easily get behind hockey, the question is to the stadium's size. Naturally the stadium only seats 35,650 which is hardly impressive. That said the stadium is capable of accommodating temporary seating. If capacity can be brought up to the sixty to seventy thousand range then it could work, otherwise it just wouldn't be worth it.

    Invesco Field at Mile High (Denver) - One of the few American markets capable of supporting the game Denver wouldn't be ideal but could pull the event off. The popularity of the team has fallen slightly in Colorado, but that probably has more to do with the success of the Rockies then any decline in the popularity of hockey. The other problem is Denver is not near any other NHL cities so the ability to draw many fans from the away team is slim.

    Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia) - The Flyers have improved enough since last year that pulling off this event isn't too unreasonable. Within driving distance of New Jersey, New York, Pittsburgh, and Washington the game would have no trouble selling out.

    Heinz Field (Pittsburgh) - An obvious place to hold the game this was actually the NHL's first choice for the Winter Classic, but was moved after ownership indicated that they were more willing to be the away team. Unlike the Bills, the Steelers actually could get a home game in the playoffs, so a match up would be dependent upon NFL scheduling.

    Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Massachusetts) - Hockey is big in Boston with an original six team, and a thriving college scene as well. However in an assessment I agree with The Boston Globe notes that this is unlikely.

    Giants Stadium (East Rutherford, New Jersey) - The Devils are not by far one of the larger draws in the league, but a game against a New York opponent such as the Rangers would guarantee a sell out. That said complications arise from the fact that both the Jets and the Giants share the facility, and finding a ten to fourteen day block to set up the rink would be near impossible.

    Olympic Stadium (Montreal) - This one could happen. Selling hockey is not a problem in Canada, and furthermore the Canadians are celebrating their 100th year as a hockey team next season. However the Stadium itself has a few problems. Currently the Stadium has a roof prevent it from being a true outdoor game. However the fire martial has forced the venue to close during the winter due to problems with the roof, and now that the Expos are gone the roof theoretically could be removed. The complexity of this facility may not make the game worth it.

    Commonwealth Stadium (Edmonton) - Was the home of the Heritage Classic, and could host an outdoor game again. Edmonton is a small town, but hockey is big there, and a game against the Flames would be even bigger.

    Ralph Wilson Stadium (Buffalo) - Just hosted the event two days ago, and is more than ready to host it again. The city of Buffalo and the fans of the Sabres are all behind maintaining the event. The question comes if the NHL is committed to moving the game elsewhere, and Buffalo is committed to hosting an event like this again. The league may or may not be willing to have two outdoor games in the same season, but it may be something that will happen. Buffalo has enjoyed the success of the first game and is up to see it happen again next year.

    Toronto - Probably the biggest hockey city in the world Toronto lacks an appropriate venue to do this. BMO field is much to small, and the Sky Dome (or whatever they are calling it nowadays) is barely outdoors, let alone a really odd configuration for hosting a hockey game.

    Beaver Stadium (State College, Pennsylvania) - Rumors about the Flyers wanting to host the Penguins here have been swirling. While not in either city, it is close enough to both of them and significantly larger than Heinz Field or Lincoln Financial Field. Given the league's love affair with Sidney Crosby this could happen. However like with Ohio State, when you hold the game in the stadium of a successful college football game, the worry that local attention may be elsewhere. Of course if the league takes the two game approach, the Sabres could have their game on New Years, while this game could be played later in the season.

    Ford Field (Detroit) - While not outside, there has also been talk about the Red Wings playing in the final game of a triple header at Ford Field following two college games. While this would allow for more seating for the Red Wings the attention would most likely be more on the college clubs than anything else.

    Another option that the NHL has is to make it a Penguins, Sabres classic with both teams in the game every year, and the event alternating cities. While this leaves out the rest of the league, it may be a nice compromise between those who want to keep the game in Buffalo, and those who want every televised game to feature Sidney Crosby.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    The Aftermath of the Ice Bowl

    One day removed from the Winter Classic the event is being remembered as a stunning success despite the Sabres loss. Everything indicates that the NHL will try to do another outdoor game next year as well.

    The official attendance mark was slightly over 71,000. While this is slightly less then the 75,000 that saw the Cold War game, it is a record for a NHL game beating out the previous attendance mark at the 2003 heritage classic outdoor game. Additionally around 12,000 fans were at the HSBC arena for the "House Party". While the house party held no appeal to me, the fact that so many people were willing to attend is a testament to how big of an even this was.

    On another note, wearing the classic jerseys was rather cool. While I understand that the Penguins want to wear yellow and black to match the other two teams in the city, there is no reason for the Sabres not to return to their classic jerseys. Since returning to the Blue and Gold last season the team has teased us with wearing the classic blues for half the home games last season, and now with wearing the whites for this outdoor game. The team and the NHL just need to admit their mistake and go back to the classic logos. It is going to happen sooner or later, and there is really no reason to put it off any longer.

    The game itself played out really slow, as the snow slowed the puck itself, and elongated timeouts were needed to repair the ice surface. However, it was well known is advance that this was likely to happen. This was probably most helpful to the Penguins who as a result could give more ice time to their top line of Crosby, Armstrong, and Malkin. That said it wasn't a bad hockey game and had a better pace then most Devils game, and the mind numbing stillness that result from the Wild playing New Jersey in the snow.

    Another touch the NHL really needed to pull off was an ice pathway from the locker room to the rink. Ignoring how far the teams had to walkout on those stupid rubber mats, how cool would it have been to have the players charge out of the tunnel on skates?

    Also why the NHL didn't have the zambonis completely redo the ice surface when they went out there mid period to scrape off the snow is beyond me. It's not how things are typically done, but as the league showed with splitting the third period, special circumstances should lead themselves to reasonable changes.

    Splitting the overtime seemed a bit obsessive, but ultimately it was the only way to be fair. Thanks to a powerplay the Sabres outshot Pittsburgh 7-0 in the OT, but failed to score anything. Perhaps outdoor games should proceed straight to a shootout?

    Props to NBC for covering the game fairly. While I would have rather listened to Jeanneret or CBC's feed, the announcers didn't feel compelled to explain the rules of the game as if no one has ever seen hockey before. Traditionally network television has always carried hockey games as if they needed to explain what a faceoff is. That didn't prevent them from talking about Crosby ad infinum, but that was almost expected from the moment the game was first announced. The only thing that bothered me was that they kept showing that play of Crosby bouncing the puck off his stick a couple of times as if it were some great play, failing to realize that he was immediately bumped off the puck, giving Buffalo's defense easy possession.

    More about the future of the Ice Bowl tomorrow...

    Tuesday, January 1, 2008

    The Ice Bowl

    The Ice Bowl has finally come. In the end the Penguins got the win in a shootout. Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong scored a goal within the first minute, while the Sabres came back to tie it up in a second period that they dominated.

    Watching on TV the game didn't have too much of a different feel despite the specialness of the game. The actual impact on the game was minimal, although the puck visibly did not slide as well whenever the snow would pick up.

    The weather seemed to favour the penguins, as they seemed better prepared and conditioned to the ice differences, especially in the first period when it was the most pronounced. The second period in which the weather had the least influence was also the Sabres best.

    Conklin played great in goal again, allowing only one shot to get by and then stopping a great chance by Afinogenov to seal the win in the shootout.

    Buffalo actually outshot the Penguins 37 to 25, including 7 to nothing in overtime. Miller played great all game long, but really should have had the two he let by in the shootout.

    The Sabres have now been in three shootouts in the past two weeks, after having none for the entire season before that...

    Official Three Stars
  • Sidney Crosby
  • Ty Conklin
  • Ryan Miller

  • My Three Stars
  • Ty Conklin (only gave up one goal in last two games)
  • Tyler Kennedy (played great all game long)
  • Sidney Crosby (one assist and a goal in the shootout)