What Went Wrong: Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres headed into the playoffs on a hot streak as well as having had to fight tooth and nail to make the postseason. Would they have a let down or not? Turns out they did when matching up against the Philadelphia Flyers as they lacked a killer instinct as well as the ability to find someone to keep an eye on Daniel Briere. Sure they pushed Philadelphia to seven games and made a valiant effort, but ultimately things failed for Buffalo and Game 7 incorporated a lot of those shortcomings.

1. Ryan Miller was far too average
Let’s look at a pair of stats from the playoffs:

Goalie A: 2.10 goals against average with a .934 save percentage
Goalie B: 2.93 goals against average with a .917 save percentage

Goalie A was Brian Boucher against Buffalo while Goalie B was Ryan Miller. You’re confused now aren’t you? You should be especially considering that Miller had two shutouts.

In four losses, Miller was very much average. With a team as banged up and shorthanded as the Sabres were, having Ryan Miller be very middle of the road killed them. It’s stunning to see that Boucher’s numbers look incredible in comparison but considering the problems the Flyers had in goal all series long, that should give you a good idea for how Miller actually played.

2. No defensive presence
Take a look at who the Sabres defensemen are and tell me if you can spot a guy that you’d refer to as a shut-down defenseman. Steve Montador? No. Jordan Leopold? Nuh uh. Tyler Myers? Not yet. Any of the guys you could pull off that roster on defense is not a guy most teams would find confident in putting out on the ice in a situation where you need to stop the other team or else. A lot of those guys are very useful and productive… But they don’t come with that physical means of play or the kind of snarl it takes to win in the playofs.

3. Not enough talent
It makes sense for a 2 seed vs. 7 seed match up to have a big discrepancy in talent and that was the case here. While the Flyers could run three pretty steady and useful lines at you to score along with a full army of quality defensemen, the Sabres had no ability to really keep up with that. Factoring in injuries to Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, things were that much more desperate even with getting Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy back for Game 7. There’s little chance either player was a full 100% and those are battles the Sabres cannot win.

4. Just couldn’t finish
In both Games 5 and 6, the Sabres held sizable leads and couldn’t finish things off in regulation. The inability to put the Flyers away once they were down and seemingly out of it was an obvious bad sign for them. Getting up by two or three goals and holding the lead has been a major issue all over the playoffs but for Buffalo, their failure to keep the lead in Game 6 was their ultimate undoing in the series. When it’s a game where you can wrap up a series, there’s no good excuse for allowing the opponent to dominate you to win the game. The combination of poor defense and a not very Ryan Miller-like Ryan Miller made this all possible. Getting sub-par performances from Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly made things even more difficult on the other side of the puck.

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The Sabres can build off this defeat in a lot of ways. While their team will no doubt look a little different next season, the Sabres have hope. With new ownership in place they’ll be active in free agency and looking for forward help, most likely up the middle at center. They’ll be back at it next year and with Ryan Miller getting a bit more time off to breathe the Sabres should be that much more dangerous.

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.

 

Report: Defenseman Viktor Antipin expected to join Sabres next week

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Earlier this month it was reported that defenseman Viktor Antipin was on the verge of joining the Buffalo Sabres after terminating his contract in the KHL.

Following the IIHF World Hockey Championships on Sunday, where Antipin was a key player for the Russian team that won the Bronze Medal, Antipin told a Russian news outlet (via the Buffalo News) that he will be leaving for Buffalo on May 29th so that he can join the Sabres.

The 24-year-old Antipin spent the past six years playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL.

In 59 games this past season he scored six goals and added 18 assists.

He had a really strong showing at the recent World Championship tournament, playing close to 18 minutes per game and recording four assists to go with a plus-five rating.

The Sabres defense was a major sore spot this season as the team took a pretty significant step backward in its ongoing rebuild, resulting in the firing of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. As a team the Sabres allowed more than 34 shots on goal per game (the worst mark in the league) and 2.82 goals per game (20th in the league).

The only defensemen the Sabres have under contract for the 2017-18 season at the moment are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk so Antipin should get a pretty good opportunity to get a significant role right from the start.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.