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Momentum Shift December 27, 2011

Posted by calvin in Uncategorized.
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That was a game last night to whet the post-Christmas appetite, and more importantly, to wake the Sabres from their slumber. With injury after injury piling on, the Sabres seemed to have gone into a deadly tailspin and finally pulled themselves out of it with a dominating first period performance. November was a rough month with injuries, and December has been miserable on the scoreboard too. Playing against the Washington Capitals this season seems to be the panacea for the Sabres, and last night was no different either.

Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes returned from injury and their experience has been sorely lacking. Make no mistake, the kids have done more than alright in their time up here, but we need the steadying hand that some of the veterans provide as well. The forward lines are starting to look NHL-calibre once again, and played like it too last night. Four quick goals in the first period had the Sabres comfortably in the lead and they cruised for most of the game, short of some time in the third period as the Caps attempted to mount a comeback (Sabres Capitals highlights).

The next couple of games – Devils and Caps on the road will provide an accurate barometer of whether the Sabres are well and truly playing better, or yesterday was just another flash of potential with the team mired in inconsistency.

NB: Love how physical the Sabres have been.. and really enjoyed Robyn Regehr bodyslamming Alex Ovechkin into the boards behind the goal!

Faded Rivalry December 14, 2011

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When I moved to Buffalo, it was the first season after the NHL lockout and it was the era of the fast & the furious Sabres. Ruff rolled out line after line of young skaters who whizzed up and down the ice and scored with relative impunity. The current core of Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and the others were not even among the top six forwards! It was easy to fall in love with that team, with co-captains Chris ‘Mr. Clutch’ Drury & Danny Briere leading the charge.

Anyways, back to the point of the conversation.. back then the Ottawa Senators were the Sabres’ most hated enemies. Even before Chris Neil’s dirty hit on Drury and the subsequent mass brawl (who can ever forget Lindy Ruff standing at the bench hurling profanities at Sens coach Bryan Murray), there was a lot of bad blood and fervent rivalry with the Sens. Eight games a season between division rivals tended to get the fanbases quite riled up.

Ever since the Sens broke up their ‘pizza’ line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, it seems the team has fallen from contention and has gone to full rebuilding mode. The downside from the Sabres’ fans perspective is the ending of a very heated rivalry, which is a bit of a shame as it made for some very good hockey games and water cooler fodder.

Last night’s game, while not in the same category as some of the legendary games we’d seen in years past was chippy and competitive nonetheless. And had an ending that we’re becoming all too familiar with. Sabres unable to hold a 2-1 lead going into the third period at home and losing. They actually got a point out of the game which might have been lucky, considering how they were overrun in the third period.

I hate when the Sabres lose. I hate it twice as much when they lose after leading. I hate it twice as much more than that when it’s a division rival. Grr.

The Realignment Fiasco December 6, 2011

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Just by my usage of the word ‘fiasco’ should tell you how I feel about the decision made by the NHL’s Board of Governors. Andy Boron has an excellent summary of what the realignment looks like, and what it means for the Buffalo Sabres. While looking at all the changes, just remember that all the steps taken were approved by at least two-thirds of the GMs.

So, here’s a look at the teams that will comprise the four conferences. Yes, that is not a typo, we will have four conferences – two in the East comprising seven teams each, and two in the West comprising eight teams each. One assumes they will also have some better names than the generic A-D they have right now. I sincerely hope they do not go with naming them after past ‘great’ players, that always opens up a six-pack can of worms. So basically instead of moving either Detroit or Nashville or even Columbus to the East to fill the spot vacated by Winnipeg/Atlanta, the GMs opted to go with a completely different format for the league.

As far as how the 82-game season breaks down – each team will play the other teams in the conference six times (3H, 3A), and every other team in the league twice (1H, 1A). You can bet there is going to be a lot more travel fatigue involved. That also means your team is going to see a lot less of teams that were in your conference in the current alignment.

And then there is the playoffs, where it really gets murky. The top four teams in each conference will qualify for the playoffs, and the first two rounds will be held on an intra-conference basis, i.e the winners between A1-A4 and A2-A3 will face off for the conference title, and the four conference champions will then be reseeded for the Stanley Cup semi-finals. How they will be reseeded no one knows. Personally I can’t believe that setting up a fair and reasonable system for the playoffs wasn’t a higher priority for the thinktank of the league.

How it’s fair that the two eight-team divisions in the West have four teams qualify for the playoffs while the East has four each from the two seven-team divisions go through is also another mystery. At the very least the East should have had one eight-team conference and one seven-team conference, so that there are 15 teams in each ‘region’. But then the GMs voted this in, so evidently the smaller teams in the West either think they’re fine, or else they were badly outnumbered.. I expect details on the voting will eventually leak out, especially when some teams miss out on playoffs by the skin of their teeth.

Now, how do these changes affect the Sabres? First of all the boys will get to work on their tans a bit more with an additional pair of games in the Sunshine State added to the schedule. Sabres fans from the Carolinas north to NYC though will be shorted one game. Personally I don’t mind playing the Flyers and Penguins less, but I get the feeling we’re seeing years of history slipping away. And then come the playoffs. Back between 1982-93, the NHL used to have intra-divisional playoffs, and these were discontinued because of the lack of diversity this posed. Read this article by Dave Davis on how the Sabres struggled to get past the first rounds of the playoffs thanks to this.  With the Bruins looking as dominant as they have the last couple of years, we can expect that this quickly-simmering rivalry to kick up a few more notches into a furiously-boiling feud in no time at all.

What are your thoughts on the realignment?

Farewell Miserable November December 2, 2011

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With the month of November in the rear-view mirror, the Sabres will be hoping Santa doesn’t have lumps of coal waiting for them in the bottoms of their stockings. Between the calamitous injury situation, the collective turtling in the face of the big bad Bruins and the simultaneous initiation of half-a-dozen rookies into the senior ranks, the Sabres actually didn’t do too badly, finishing 7-6-1 (15 out of a possible 28 points). Yes I know, my glass of Blue Light is half-full, but I do have a six-pack of PBR tallboys chilling in the fridge if things had been more miserable. Player A could have been out for the season, Player B could have broken more bones, Player C could have missed more games, etc etc (I am not naming names lest even more Sabres find their way onto the injury report). In fact, we could have gone 0-14-0 and where would we be then?!

So with that in mind, here are some things to look forward to in this festive month –

  • Ryan Miller will be back very soon. Hopefully refreshed from an early season break. And hopefully in a better frame of mind than the time he got injured when he was quite dreadful at times, no thanks to the vanishing act by the supporting cast in front of him.
  • Tyler Ennis gets to try again. ‘Enzo’ needs to be better during Take Two. In the first go-around of seven games prior to his injury, he looked nothing like his 2010-11 avatar that scored 49 points. It might help that Leino is settling in and has been playing better, but all signs point to Ennis getting first dibs on the line with Roy and Stafford as soon as he is back.
  • Tyler Myers continues his comeback. After a pretty rough start culminated in his benching for a game, Myers had a couple of solid efforts and it looked like he was back to form again. However, an innocuous-looking collision resulted in a broken bone and he has been sidelined until the middle of this month.
  • Thomas Vanek and team captain Jason Pominville have both been playing like elite wingers, and have combined to drag the Sabres out of their proclivity to slump to long losing streaks. We would love to see this pair keep scoring and lead from the front.
  • Zack Kassian is here. The fan-proclaimed future of the Sabres finally made his way up to the senior team, and promptly went about earning his keep as a physical forward with an eye for goal. If he can continue to combine his feisty approach with some timely scoring, the Sabres will be vindicated in spending the 13th overall pick on him in the 2009 Entry Draft.
  • Big Joe Finley getting a stint with the Sabres. I propose that the moniker ‘Big’ be permanently prefixed to Finley’s name – the 6’8″, 260lb behemoth is not only big, he plays big too, laying crushing hits and gleefully dropping the gloves. And in his spare time he tosses around lawnmowers and kitchen tables, and slashes team mascots too. Read all about him here.
  • The rise of Brayden McNabb. Another one of the big-bodies that is expected to form the new Sabres core, he has settled in very well, fighting for the puck in the corners, clearing the blue ice of foreign matter (and players) and distributing the puck effectively up the ice too.
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