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NHL Premiere – Sabres in Europe October 12, 2011

Posted by calvin in Uncategorized.
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The dust has settled on the Sabres first trip to Europe and with the team firmly ensconced back in their newly-refurbished digs in the heart of the FN Centre, it’s a good time to look back at their European conquest last weekend. The locker room looks even better than advertised (click here for pictures), with close to $10 million already spent on it and still counting. It’s all going towards the master plan of making Buffalo a ‘Hockey Heaven’, and nothing contributes more to that than results on ice. The Sabres went unbeaten on their travels across the pond, beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 in Finland and then hopping over to Germany and beating the LA Kings 4-2 the next day.

A quick review of the Sabres performance in these two games shows lots of positives. Often teams struggle with early season cohesion when new players are brought into the system, but defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr have stepped right in and fit into their expected roles. Third newcomer Ville Leino hasn’t looked very convincing yet, but two games is not a large enough sample size to pass judgement either.

The goaltending has been solid so far. Ryan Miller played both games and looked like his usual unflustered self in goal. He made all the timely saves that Sabres fans have become used to, and kept the team in the game until the offense caught fire and started scoring, especially against the Kings. After a long flight from Helsinki to Berlin that only landed at 5am local time on game day, many had thought that Lindy Ruff would give Miller the night off and get an early look at Jhonas Enroth. Miller also noted that the German fans really lifted the team with their cheering, and the Sabres were serenaded off the ice after the win by the capacity crowd. Of the three goals he allowed, Miller was screened on two while a defensive gaffe let Anze Kopitar receive a pass in the slot unchallenged and that accounted for the third.

As expected (and hoped), the revamped defense held strong and looked good. Coming out of the lockout, the Sabres management have made it a priority to build a defense that is an integral part of the offense. Ruff used Ehrhoff & Jordan Leopold and Regehr & Tyler Myers as the top two pairs, and Andrej Sekera & Marc-Andre Gragnani together, with Mike Weber the surprise healthy scratch. The top four got the bulk of the ice time, especially with Ruff using two d-men on the points for the powerplays. As a unit, the defense did a good job keeping most of the shots at Miller to the perimeter, and they looked especially competent on the penalty kill. Some issues still remain though, especially with clearing the zone. Too often the Sabres attempt to play the puck out of their own end instead of making it a priority to get the puck out. Against teams with a more concerted forecheck, this is dangerous and will lead to turnovers if not corrected. Not surprisingly, Regehr leads the team with 7 hits and 9 blocked shots so far.

Ruff rolled out a very balanced attack distributed amongst three scoring lines, with rookie Luke Adam the surprise find of the early season. Skating on the top line between Thomas Vanek and new captain Jason Pominville, last season’s AHL Rookie of the Year Adam has discovered his scoring touch with two goals and two assists, as well as getting some powerplay time. This line is off to a flyer accounting for 5 goals and 8 assists and going +8. The Sabres seem like they are finally taking to heart the mantra of shooting and going to the net as most of the goals scored have been a result of hard work behind the goal and around the blue ice.

Derek Roy centered Nathan Gerbe and Drew Stafford on a line that seems to have all the elements for success, but hasn’t gotten there yet. Fans will be glad to see Roy is back to full fitness, but are still waiting on the sum of the three to be greater than the whole. On the 2A line, Ville Leino hasn’t fully integrated with linemates Tyler Ennis and Brad Boyes either. The idea of having two nifty stickhandlers and a finisher in Boyes is again a hit on paper, but yet to fully materialize on ice. Ruff has made a career as a tinkerer of lines, so expect changes if this remains the case after this coming weekend.

With Jochen Hecht still ailed by post-concussion symptoms, Cody McCormick, Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta have been forming the fourth line. Gaustad and Kaleta have also been getting the bulk of the penalty killing time, while McCormick hasn’t had to drop the gloves as yet. It will be interesting to see if Hecht will skate right back into the starting lineup once he is healthy, and who will then be demoted to the press box.

The Sabres have their home opener this Friday against familiar foe Carolina Hurricanes, who will be only too happy to ruin the day in the house that Terry is building. However, with each Sabre having an action picture of himself hanging over his locker for inspiration, we hope there won’t be a letdown after their flying start in Europe.

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1. calvin - October 12, 2011

Dave Davis on Kukla’s Korner has some more pics of the fantastic new facilities at FN Center – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.271781682855570.73412.191163127584093&type=1


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