Things I Think: Did You Hear Sidney Crosby’s Back?

(This is a weekly segment at Hockey Heaven, New York. It features TJ Luckman’s thoughts on the Sabres, the NHL and other things that tickle his fancy.)

1) The Sabres have called up the Chosen One, Zack Kassian, due to Brad Boyes’ injury against Boston on Wednesday night. John Vogl of the Buffalo News picked up some tweets from Kassian’s teammates indicating Kassian was on his way to play in the Sabres’ next game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Sabres later confirmed that news through their website. While many fans have been calling for this move to be made since the Sabres’ debacle in Boston nearly two weeks ago, I don’t think this is the right move for Buffalo. WGR 550’s Matthew Coller says that Kassian hasn’t exactly been the physical force the Sabres might be looking for, but he’s certainly helping in the points department, leading the AHL’s Rochester Americans with 14 points in 18 games.

Speaking of call-ups, T.J. Brennan had a memorable debut in his first NHL game, scoring in his first NHL game to put the Sabres ahead 3-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday night. Of course, the Sabres couldn’t hold on, losing 4-3 in a shootout, which Puck Daddy’s Harrison Mooney finds pretty ironic.

2) You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. All the while, I kept telling myself that hockey was fine without Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are still good with Malkin, and Dan Bylsma is one Hell of a coach. I wasn’t looking at this past Monday with as much fanfare as NBC Sports was when they decided that Crosby’s return was much more important than the rivalry game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

And then it happened.

Sid the Kid (is he ever going to be the Man? We need a new idiom for when he finally grows up, if he ever does) exploded on the scene against the New York Islanders, collecting four points in a 6-0 beat down on the Island. As much as I can’t stand the guy, everything he does is pure magic. He instantly transforms the Pens into a Stanley Cup contender. Of course, Sid was held scoreless against the St. Louis Blues the following game, so maybe he just took advantage of a cake matchup…

3) Since Jeff Carter’s return from injury to the Blue Jackets, Columbus has grabbed points in five of the last six games (3-1-2). Depending on what you think about overtime losses, that’s not bad. Perhaps he’s more important to the BJ’s success than anyone actually realized. Or maybe that’s just good timing. Who knows.

4) Thanksgiving is a bad day for a hockey fan. I can’t wait for Christmas.

5) Movember is the coolest thing ever. As a participant in the more laid-back (read: lazier) “No-Shave November”, I’m jealous of the mustaches that NHL players can grow. I never saw Thomas Vanek as a facial hair grower, but his mustache is very impressive. George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks always shaves his epic mustache for the month in order to grow it back for charity. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas created a new goalie mask design to show his support for the month, not to mention show off his great ‘stache. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller did the same, only his design is slightly more creepy.

Movember benefits those who suffer from prostrate cancer, or other problems in men’s health. Go to the website here to donate to the cause, if you can.


Things I Think: Week 1

(This is going to be a weekly piece on my thoughts about the Sabres and the rest of the NHL. Expect one of these every Monday morning.)

1) Either the Boston Bruins showed why they were the Stanley Cup Champions last year (physicality, toughness, cheapness, etc.) or the Sabres pulled up lame this past Saturday night when push came to shove over who the better team in the Northeast Division is. Or both. Probably both. Lucic hit or not, this team showed that if they’re bullied, they don’t have an answer for it. It wasn’t just the lack of effort answer for Lucic’s brutal hit on Miller, it was everything else that happened after that. The Sabres looked as if their heart wasn’t into it. The defense was non-existant, and Andrej Sekera showed why being 2-on-1 with him as the lone defender is really like having a 2-on-0 with just the goalie in front of you. Keep in mind, Sekera is under contract for the next 4 years.

2) I don’t know if it’s just me, but scoring seems to be way up this year compared to years past. Between that thrilling 9-8 Jets-Flyers game, or even the 6-5 OT win the other night when Winnipeg came to Buffalo, the speed of the game seems to have shifted in favor of more offense. (The Philadelphia Flyers respectfully disagree with that statement and will sit back and wait for me to attack some more.) In all seriousness, of all the players who have played in 15 or more games, 28 of them have averaged a point or more per game. Considering both Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are both averaging 1.25 points-per-game, I’m not sure to think if this will continue, or just work itself out.

3) Is Phil Kessel for real? He leads the NHL in goals and points, and has the Leafs in first place in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference. Will this continue, or is he just this year’s version of Clarke MacArthur? I’m not comparing the two players based on talent, but it’s interesting that the Leafs usually have that one player who has a hot start, and then trickles off as the season goes off. In his last five games, Kessel has two goals and four points and his +/- is 0. Another thing: Kessel’s career high is 64 points last season, so perhaps the only way to go for the 24-year-old is up. At the very least, he won’t be the last guy picked at the All-Star Game this year. Alexander Ovechkin eagerly awaits who he can point, laugh, and take a picture of with his phone next.

4) Pittsburgh is a great team with a great coach. Even without Sid the Kid, they’re first in the East with 23 points. Evgeni Malkin has missed seven games for the team, and still, in his absence, the Pens have found ways to win. By the time it’s all over, Bylsma could be one of the NHL’s greatest coaches with the productivity Pittsburgh has without its star players.

5) If you have the money, purchase NHL Gamecenter Live for $20.99 a month. It’s well worth it. Not only do you get access to all the NHL hockey you could ask for (except for local market games, because you can get those on your TV anyways), you also get access to the NHL Vault, a nifty little feature that allows you to view games from the NHL’s history, such as Game 1 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals between the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. I spent a good portion of my week exploring this awesome service that the NHL puts out, and I’m telling you, it’s well worth the money you would be paying for it. Sure, you can look up your silly little illegal feeds, but do they allow you to put live action into slow motion? Nope. Didn’t think so.

That’s it for me this week. I should be starting to get slightly more active here as the semester ends and winter commences. I’m definitely going to try to get one of these out every week, though. It allows me to blow off steam and share my thoughts over the week.


The Road to Redemption

There is no better may to combat a tough game than to comeback in the next and make everyone forget that last one ever happened.  Tonight the Sabres will try and do just that with the visiting Calgary Flames in town.  The team will look to rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth to steady the ship tonight.  Coming off a game where he held the Philadelphia Flyers scoreless for roughly 53 minuets.

Its no surprise that Lindy Ruff is giving Enroth the nod for tonight.  Even though he might just be sticking to the schedule like he says, when a goaltender puts up a shutout the majority of the time the coach will ride that goalie.  In my eyes this is the right decision to make for several reason.  The first being is that in protects Ryan Miller for the time being.  It is well advertised that Miller plays an emotional game, just look at his reactions when there is a missed call or something he disagrees with.  Even though Miller would like to make you think otherwise I for one believe that the boos get to him, and not in a good way.  Having Miller most likely go on Saturday night in Ottawa at this point is the better scenario to put Miller into to get his confidence built back up and return him to that passionate goalie we all at some point have loved.  With that all being said the other reason i support this as i stated above Enroth is the hot hand, during his relief stint he was a perfect 15 for 15 against the Flyers bringing him to a .955 save percentage in his three appearances on the young season.

Missing from the Sabres lineup tonight will be Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta.  Kaleta was suspended 4 games by Brendan Shanahan and the NHL for a headbutt he landed on Flyers foward Jakub Voracek.  While at the game I initially did no see the headbutt, upon watching the reply of the incident I have to say the NHL made the right call on this one.  Don’t get me wrong I love a Kaleta hit has much as the next Sabres fan, but there is a difference between a nice clean hit and ramming your helmet into the jaw of an opponent.  If this was a first time offender the NHL most likely would of let the player off with a warning, but since Kaleta is a repeat offender of the offense the 4 game suspension is a fair ruling in my eyes.

Taking the spot of Kaleta in tonight’s lineup will be Sabres prospect Corey Tropp, who will be making his NHL debut.  This call makes sense since Tropp plays a physical game much like Kaleta.  During his 2011-2012 campaign so far  Tropp has notched 4 goals and 3 assist while compiling 16 penalty minuets in 10 games played, while playing for the Rochester Americans, the Sabres farm team.If I had to guess where Tropp will be inserted into the lineup, it would be on the 4th line with veterans Matt Ellis and Cody Mccormick.  This would move Brad Boyes onto a line with Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe and leave the top two lines alone.

Despite what people might think the Sabres besides the first seven minuets of the game played a solid game.  The Lenio-Roy-Stafford showed some sign of chemistry and where creating chances and pressure throughout the rest of the game.  Even though they didn’t find the score sheet I think if you keep this line together for some more time then 1 game you could see some great things from them down the line.  The top line up Vanek-Adam-Pominville continued there hot start of the season and will be looked at to continue it while the rest of the team has yet to hit there stride.

Players to Watch

Buffalo Sabres:

Robyn Regehr:  Regehr will get the chance to play his former team tonight for the first time.  Like most players he is probably excited to get out there and play against the team he spent his whole 11 year NHL career with before being traded over to the Sabres this past summer.  While Regehr has yet to find the score sheet as a Sabres he has brought something much more important to this team, and that is grit and determination.  Ask any player who has tried to squick past Regehr while entering the offensive zone, and they will tell you how hard he hits.

Calgary Flames:

Olli Jokinen/Jarome Iginla: Both Jokinen and Iginla are entering tonight game on high points.  In there last 4 games both Iginla(2G, 2A) and Jokinen(2G, 2A) have 4 points during this stretch.  Look for these line mates to try and continue there game from last night against Detroit today against the Sabres.  Combined the two forwards tallied 3 goals and 2 assists in the Flames 4-1 win.

Between the Pipes:

Tonight’s match up will feature two goalie seeing there 4th appearance of the season.  The Sabres will send out rookie Jhonas Enroth(2-0-0), while the Flames will feature Henrik Karlsson(0-1-1).  The advantage tonight has to go to Enroth who is posting a .955 save percentage in his 3 appearances thus far, while Karlsson has struggled posting a measly .881 save percentage to date.  If Enroth can continue his solid play the Sabres should skate away with the W aginst a less talented Flames Squad.


Here we go Again

Tonight the Sabres will take on the conference rival, Philadelphia Flyers.  This game has importance for several reason, mainly showing that they can indeed play at home.  Since i last wrote (sorry got busy)  the Sabres have returned home for a stretch that has them play 7 out of 8 games inside the confines of  the First Niagara Center.  On the season the Sabres are a abysmal 1-3 at home, not only losing but looking terrible in doing so.

The Sabres will be looking to come out strong and put this behind them.  The Flyers are not in anyway a give me game, but the players should have the motivation to come out and beat the team that ousted them from the postseason last year.  An added bonus will be the abscencse of Daniel Briere from the Flyers lineup as he is out with an Upper-Body injury.  Briere has generally been the biggest problem for the Sabres since hes relocation to the Philadelphia, so this should help the Sabres in defending the Flyers offense.

Beyond the Flyers the Sabres should be looking to make a statement to the home crowd that will attend the game tonight.  The fans are not asking the team to win every game at home, we are just asking that you put the effort out there and play the game we know your capable of.  This is the earliest I can remember the team being booed at home in a long time.If the effort is put in and the team does not try to over do it on the flashiness there is no reason this team shouldn’t be winning at home like they are on the road.  Granted this has been a same sampling of the season thus far, but as everyone knows every singal point out there is important when it comes to the end of the season.

With all this in mind Lindy Ruff made some much needed changes to the lineup in hopes of creating a new spark in this team.  Marc-Andre Gragnani will take to the press box tonight and Mike Weber will take over for him on the blueline.  I have been asking for Weber to get his chance from the start, going back to last years playoffs he has been one of out better defense man.  From what i understand Weber will be pairing with Robyn Regehr.  All i can say is Philly forwards i hope you wear some extra padding tonight, this pair should hit everything in site and look for Weber to come out hungry after sitting in the press box since the start of the year.

Up front Ruff will be moving Ville Leino back to pivot where he will join the top line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.  Not to say Luke Adam was doing a bad job on this line,  this move is clearly just trying to get Lenio going and no better way then to put him on a line with your two highest scorers this season.  When asked about Lenio, Ruff had this to say:

“We’re trying to be patient, let him try to make some plays and it doesn’t mean he’s going to fit right where I’ve got him, right now, but I know he’ll fit. It’s no different from when Danny Briere got here and Danny didn’t want to play center, he felt wing would be his best spot and I thought it would be center and eventually he ended up and center and that would be his position so I’ve got lots of experience to rely on.”

Look for the rest of the lineup to stay pretty much the same, except for the powerplay which will now be sans Gragnani and see Derek Roy take over the point on one of the units.

Players to Watch

Buffalo:

Matt Ellis: During his 3 games with the Sabres thus far,Ellis has been one of the Sabres few bright spots during that stint.  Hes hard work earned him a spot on a line with Roy and Drew Stafford midway through the Panthers game.  While registering 1 assist this season Ellis wont dazzle you with his point production, but will with ability to play Ruffs system almost to a tee.

Philadelphia:

Scott Hartnell:  Hartnell is on a real hot streak as of late, During his last 4 games he has amassed 9 points( 4G, 5A).  Hartnell is not afraid to play the body physical in both the offensive and defensive zone.  He is well know as being one of those players you love on your team and hate on the other team.  Defenseman should be on the look out and ready whenever Hartnell is on the ice because he is as much a physical threat as he is a offensive threat.

Between the Pipes:

Tonight’s Goaltending  matchup will find Ryan Miller(4-4-0) vs. Ilya Bryzgalov(4-4-1).  Both former Vezina finalist will be looking to get there season back on track after facing early struggles.  How these goalies play tonight will go a long way in determining which of there teams will be leaving the First Niagara Center tonight with the W and the important 2 points.


No Rest From the Roadie

During this upcoming week, the Sabres will continue on what seems to be like an endless road trip.  While they did just have their home opener Friday night against Carolina, 6 out of 7 games to start the season will be played outside the confines of the First Niagara Center.  Within the coming week, the Sabres will head to Montreal, Florida, and Tampa Bay.  Having these kind of extended road trips to start the season is something that no team wishes for, but it is a natural part of the season, and the players adapt to it.  With that being said, this is not entirely a bad thing for the Sabres.  Last season, the Sabres were able to amass a record of 22-13-6 on the road, earning them 50 out of their eventual 96 points.

Often, it is pointed out that the Sabres try and play too fancy in front of the home crowd and put on a show rather than win a hockey game.  Only one game has been played inside the FNC this year, and the Sabres have a lot of time to prove they are a different team this season.  In the games played outside the FNC so far the team has looked great,  They have been able to combine scoring, defense, and outstanding goal-tending into solid games and leave the games with the two points they came for.

These road games could be just the thing the Sabres need for them to be able to be the same team at home that they are on the road.  If the Sabres are able to put together a successful string of games to their current road trip and take 4 out of 6 points, they should return home ready to prove this isn’t the same team of the past.  The road trip should help them because it will build confidence and show them that if they play there game and follow the system they will be successful.  This should hopefully give the players the attitude that if they do well on the road, the Sabres should be able to apply this at home and get the wins for the home crowd.  The Sabres seemingly play a different game at home where expectations are higher and the pressure to produce is greater.  With all the expectations and new improvements around them, they might just be a little nervous about the whole situation. (Editor’s Note: They shouldn’t be. They’re professionals, for crying out loud.)

If you ask any player, each one will tell you for this team to win the Cup, they will have to play well both on the road as well as at home, and if you’re looking for excuses, you won’t find them on this team. You’re looking at a team willing to man up and admit to their short comings.


Game Recap: Hurricanes Hand Sabres Their First Loss

: 4
: 3

The Carolina Hurricanes scored plenty of goals on the power play tonight, scoring one of their own and adding two with the Sabres up a man. As the Sabres weren’t able to capitalize on any of their power play chances, the Hurricanes scored two short-handed goals on their way to a win over the Sabres, handing Buffalo their first loss of the season.

The Sabres had plenty of chances to score on the powerplay, and took all the shots they could throw (13) on Cam Ward during those chances, but Ward denied them every step of the way. The Sabres could not get anything by him.

Scoring started early at the First Niagara Center. Jordan Leopold fired a shot at the net. Thomas Vanek was able to deflect it and the puck trickled by Cam Ward to put the Sabres up 1-0. Carolina immediately came back, as Jay Harrison snapped a shot from the hashmarks and put one right by Ryan Miller to tie the game at one.

Less than two minutes later, the Sabres came roaring back. Drew Stafford fired a shot on Ward, only to be directed right toward the stick of a wide-open Derek Roy, making it 2-1 Buffalo.

Then trouble started.

Hurricanes defensman Bryan Allen came across center ice, and his shoulder met the head of Jason Pominville, who wasn’t carrying the puck. The crowd erupted into a chorus of boos as Jason Pominville sat at center ice trying to get up. Bryan Allen was handed only a two minute penalty for interference, and Pominville went off to the dressing room. The crowd continued its unison chant of boos.

Shortly after the power play began, the Hurricanes were able to capitalize on a missed pass by Thomas Vanek, as Brandon Sutter shot up the ice 2-on-1 to tie the game with the Hurricanes’ first shorthanded goal of the night.

The craziness didn’t end there. On a Sabres powerplay in the second period, Vanek sent a poor pass up the middle that was intercepted, leaving Christian Ehrhoff all alone to defend a 2-on-1 from Tim Brent and Jiri Tlusty. The former Leafs’ castoffs were able to take advantage of their opportunity, giving the Hurricanes their first lead of the game.

Carolina didn’t score on any more Sabres power plays, but they got plenty of chances to do so. Eric Staal had a breakaway that he failed to score on after Tyler Ennis fumbled the puck in the Sabres zone, with no defenders dropping back. Staal was left wide open, but Miller was able to make the big save.

Carolina sat back and allowed Buffalo to pressure them in the third period, yet nothing was happening. The Sabres generated 11 shots, many of which were lackluster. However, Drew Stafford was able to make something happen after Tyler Myers rushed to the net, as Cam Ward poke checked the puck away, leaving the puck back at the top of the crease for Stafford to backhand it under the Hurricanes’ goaltender.

The Sabres had the momentum going in their favor until Hurricanes defensman Tim Gleason got his legs stuck between the stick of Thomas Vanek as he was trying to go for a loose puck in the Carolina zone, earning Vanek a two-minute tripping penalty. Unfortunately, that penalty didn’t last the entire two minutes as 2011 Calder Trophy winner was able to rocket a one-timer past Ryan Miller to put the Hurricanes up for good with under two minutes to go in the 3rd period.

The Sabres pulled Miller with about a minute to go, generating a good amount of pressure in the Carolina zone, but that lasted about 30 seconds or so until Christian Ehrhoff had to get in the way of Eric Staal and an empty net, putting Ehrhoff in the box for the remainder of the game and killing any chance the Sabres had of tying the game in its dying seconds.

It was a good effort by the team, taking 42 shots on a stellar Cam Ward, who hadn’t been performing all that well up until the second period of tonight’s game. The Sabres lackluster special teams cost them a winnable game, and now, they hurry off to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins tomorrow after giving their all just to try to send the game to overtime tonight.

They almost succeeded, but Carolina did something the Sabres couldn’t do tonight: score on the power play.


Game 3: Sabres Return Home to Face Hurricanes

(2-0-0) VS.
(1-2-1)

The Sabres successfully swept the NHL Premiere Series, leading the team to a 2-0 record. Thomas Vanek has come out of the gate on fire, which isn’t all that surprising. What is surprising is the performance of Luke Adam, who has four points in two games. The Sabres hope to carry their success over from Europe into tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes have gotten off to a rocky start, winning only one of their first four games. They got their first win Wednesday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins. The Hurricanes will try to capitalize on their success against Boston and the fatigue that the Sabres may be suffering because of jet lag from traveling across the country.

Offense: Offensively, the Sabres are averaging four goals a game. While that’s good, we can’t expect that to continue. The Sabres will run into good defensive teams, and Carolina is certainly one of them. Cam Ward is one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL, and the Sabres might have trouble getting puck by him. However, the defense for Carolina is rather unimpressive. Look for continued success of the Pominville-Adam-Vanek line (aptly named the Adam’s Family line, recently) until teams figure out a way to stop them. Drew Stafford seems to be getting more and more comfortable with his linemates, Derek Roy and Nathan Gerbe. We can’t expect the lines to always stay the same, though, as Lindy Ruff stated the other day that he’d like to shift some lines around to see if he can get any more scoring from lines other than the first.

Carolina brings in a team that is scoring 2.25 goals per game over four games. Scoring goals seems to be troubling for them, scoring no more than three in any game this season. Eric Staal has three points in his four games, while Jeff Skinner is continuing upon the success of his rookie season with five points. Carolina has a big challenge ahead of them to score any goals against a revamped Buffalo defense that is living up to the hype.

Defense: The Sabres defense is looking just as good on the ice as it did on paper. Christian Ehrhoff contributed offensively with an assist in Europe, while Robyn Regehr has lived up to his storied physicality, registering seven hits and four penalty minutes, while blocking nine shots. Marc-Andre Gragnani, thought to be on the bubble and the defensman who would be sitting out to start the season behind Mike Weber, has played well enough to keep Weber out of the lineup. That’s not to say Weber deserves to be out, but the defense is playing very solid right now, and it would be foolish to take anyone out of the lineup. Ryan Miller is looking like a world beater in front of this defense, posting a .952 save percentage to go along with a 1.50 goals against average in his two starts.

The Carolina defense, again, isn’t all that talented. They signed Tomas Kaberle over the summer, who so far has registered just one assist and is a -3 for the Hurricanes in four games. Kaberle isn’t looked at as a defensive defensman, so he’ll have to pick up his production sooner or later to earn his spot on the team. Bryan Allen has two points on the season, and has blocked a team-leading 15 shots and is a +3. Tim Gleason is arguably the Hurricanes’ best defenseman. He leads the team in +/- with a +5 at the moment to go along with 3 assists. The Sabres shouldn’t have a hard time generating offensive chances against this defense, though. While Cam Ward is underrated, his stats tell the story that he might be overvalued. In three games, Ward has a horrific .885 save percentage along with a 3.35 goals against average. Backup goalie Brian Boucher allowed four goals in an overtime loss to the Capitals last Saturday. Considering his history against the Sabres, there’s a chance he could start.

Special Teams: The Sabres’ power play looks to be in good shape, as they’re currently second in the league, converting 37.5% of their powerplay attempts, going scoring three goals on eight attempts. The penalty kill isn’t as good, killing off 6-7 penalties for just an 85.7% kill rate, although that is on a paltry amount of chances for the opposition.

Carolina’s power play also has produced three goals, but it took them 18 attempts to do that. They’re converting 16.7% of their attempts, good for 13th in the league. The penalty killing unit, on the other hand, is horrendous, killing only 16 of 21 penalties, 76.2%. Carolina’s penalty kills ranks 25th in the league.


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