24 Cups on the Sabres

Steve Kerley’s latest scouting report on tonight’s opponent:

The Buffalo Sabres were the first small market team in the NHL. They have scratched and clawed their way from year to year ever since their inception in 1970.

Nothing characterizes the franchise’s history more than the infamous “No Goal” by Brett Hull in 1999.  To add insult to injury, the Sabres then became victims of the new salary cap which led to the loss of star players such as Daniel Brière, Chris Drury, and Brian Campbell.

This season sees them resting their hopes on the stellar play of goalie, Ryan Miller, as they battle Montreal for one of the playoff seeds in the eastern conference.

•  Marion Gaborik is presently the best performing forward in the NHL.  Chris Pronger, in all likelihood, is the best defenseman.  In terms of goaltending, few would argue with the choice of  Ryan Miller as this year’s top netminder.  Miller’s record (21/15-4-2/1.84/.940) not only has him at the top of the stats chart, but also has his team well positioned in the eastern conference standings.  Miller was out with an ankle injury last year which meant that the Hab were able to gain the 8th seed instead of Buffalo.  He certainly has made amends so far this season as he is playing a very consistent, even keeled type of game.  Miller seems to be in the zone as he is well positioned to the shooters and is always ready to read the play.  He’s a bit like a chess player in that his instincts allow him to anticipate what is coming next.  He has only allowed 5 goals in his  last four games and gained a shutout against Toronto on Tuesday by stopping 38 shots.  Patrick Lalime is his back-up but is basically on his last legs.  Undersized, Jhonas Enroth, is getting ready to take on the 2nd string duties.

• Who’s the second most important Buffalo Sabre? I would have to say that honour belongs to coach,  Lindy Ruff.  A former draft pick and captain of the Sabres, Ruff has been the leader for 12 years. In fact, he is  the longest tenured head coach presently working in the NHL.  Ruff made his mark based on character and hard work.  He’s a blunt, straight shooter who has the respect of his players.  He also will be helping out Team Canada as an associate coach at the Olympics in Vancouver.

• The one drawback that the Sabres have is their lack of goal scoring. The team ranks 24th in the NHL and doesn’t even have a player at the ten goal mark yet.  The Sabres 5 highest paid forwards are earning 22.7M in cap space.  There are lots of decent players here, but none of them is a gamebreaker.  Tim Connolly (6/15/21/30 and Derek Roy (5/14/19/3) are the centres while Thomas Vanek (8/7/15/4) and Jason Pominville (5/11/16/2) are the main snipers.  Drew Stafford (7/4/11/3), Clark MacArthur )7/6/132), and Jochen Hecht (4/3/1) are all adequate wingers who could do more to help contribute to this well-balanced attack.  (Not to mention that Maxim Afinogenov is on fire this year.)  If there’s any good news, it’s probably the fact that most of Buffalo’s forwards are still underachieving so there is some room for improvement.  The Sabres are attempting to become more of a puck possession team which is also reflected by their extra emphasis on winning face-offs  this year.

• Paul Gaustad (injured), Mike Grier (defensive specialist), and Patrick Kaleta (antagonist/cheap shot artist) are great role players who help out in the grit and agitation department.  Kaleta is just coming off a two-game suspension.  Buffalo is in dire need of size which prompted them to draft Zack Kassian (6’3″/210)  this summer.  Tyler Ennis (5’9″/160), Tim Kennedy (5’9″/175), and Nathan Gerbe (5’5″/170) are all talented scoring threats who face an up hill battle due to their lack of size.  Gerbe oozes talent and skill and could be the next Theo Fleury.

• Buffalo has a decent, but nondescript defense that is a blend of veteran players and promising hopefuls.  Everyone is familiar with Craig Rivet (35), a reliable, steady team player who is also captain of the Sabres.  Henrik Tallinder (30) and Toni Lydman (32) are a serviceable tandem who log lots of minutes.  Steve Montador (29) provides toughness and can also play on RW.  All steady guys but nothing to get excited about.  The real news on defense belongs to two young, promising players.  Chris Butler (22) has been logging over 20 minutes a game and is a nice blend of offense and defense.  My player to watch is 19-year-old, Tyler Myers.  I saw this guy play live and he even looks bigger than his 6’7″ frame would suggest.  He needs to fill out a bit but he has really come into his own this year and has already become #1 on the Sabre depth chart.  Myers skated for three years in the WHL and has played in the Memorial Cup and the World Juniors.  He’s a good skater with lots of offensive upside as well as an ability to be a tower of strength in front of his own net.  He shoots R and could be a dynamic partner for the left shooting Butler in a few years down the road.  He also really helps address Buffalo’s need for size.  Wears sweater #57.

• Stat Pack (I’ve included Montreal’s stats in brackets for the sake of comparison,
due to the fact that Buffalo is a divisional rival): GF: 24th (24th), GA: 2nd (19th) , GD: +11 (-13), GAA: 2.29 (2.85), PP: 18th (24th), PK:2nd (17th), FO: 50.8% (49.5), SC: $1.9M (5.6)  (I’ve included Montreal’s stats in brackets for the sake of comparison, due to the fact that Buffalo is in direct competition with us)

* Injury Report – Paul Gaustad (leg), Craig Rivet (leg).  Adam Mair and Andrei Sekera should take their spots.

Buffalo has just won three in a row and have a solid record at home (8-3-2) which ranks 5th best in the NHL.  Their objective this year just isn’t to make the playoffs but to win the division title which would place them in one of the top three seeds for the playoffs.  Playing on the road against a team doesn’t give up many goals will be a tall order for the Canadians, especially seeing that they play the next night against arch rival, Boston. 

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