Ville Leino, Jiri Tlusty

2011-12 season preview: Buffalo Sabres

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2011-12 record: 43-29-10, 96 points; 3rd in Northeast, 7th in East

Playoffs: Lost to Philadelphia 4-3 in Eastern quarterfinals

After scratching and clawing through the final stages to make the playoffs last season, new owner Terry Pegula’s summer of spending raises expectations considerably. Buffalo beefed up on offense and defense, but the question is: will it be worth it? That’s yet to be determined, but it should be fun to find out.

Offense

The Sabres scored the third most goals (245) in the East, yet they still decided to tweak their offense. Buffalo jettisoned gritty veterans Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer, along with frequently-injured (but remarkably-gifted) center Tom Connolly to make room for their youngsters and their splashy new toy Ville Leino.

Buffalo might bring some fans back to the Chris Drury-Danny Briere Era, a short-term smash success that sent wave after wave of offensive threats at opponents before free agency tore it all apart. Sliding Leino into the second center spot is worrisome, as is the Sabres’ thin group of forwards who can excel at killing penalties. (It’s also hard to imagine Leino helping the team improve its ugly 47.7 percent mark on faceoffs from last season, although that couldn’t get too much worse.)

Still, this Sabres squad should light up the scoreboard thanks to rising young guns such as Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe along with a dizzying array of wingers in their primes (including Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford). Even much-ridiculed sniper Brad Boyes could bring a Michael Ryder-like hot-and-cold element to the team if injuries and slumps hit their bigger names.

Defense

Time and time again, the Sabres’ porous defense left goalie Ryan Miller on an island during the last few seasons. As troubling as some of the moves made during Pegulamania might be, their blue line looks significantly improved.

The Sabres essentially scuttled Chris Butler and Steve Montador for two remarkably different blueliners: Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Ehrhoff played big minutes and employed an erratic but howling slap shot on the Vancouver blue line while Regehr served as a rugged shutdown guy in Calgary for several years. Even if critics are right about Regehr’s skills diminishing a bit since he was once considered a world-class guy in his own zone, he’s still likely to represent a massive upgrade against the league’s most dangerous scoring threats.

Those additions ease the pressure on the team’s nearly Zdeno Chara-sized Myers, who probably buckled under excessive minutes last season instead of being guilty of a true ‘sophomore slump’. Jordan Leopold is an economical and useful depth guy while Marc-Andre Gragnani ranks as an intriguing wild card of an offensive threat.

Goalies

After a 2009-10 season that only the 2010-11 version of Tim Thomas wouldn’t envy, Miller caved under the pressure of too many starts and a steady stream of defensive lapses. That’s not to say that Miller was horrible, but he dropped quite a bit from a .929 save percentage in his Vezina season to .916.

One of the issues for Miller was the lack of a dependable backup to help him out for the first half of last season; Patrick Lalime seemed like a glorified goalie coach for most of that time (0-5-0 in 7 GP with an ugly .890 save percentage). Miller should get more breathing room with Jhonas Enroth as his full-fledged backup, especially after Enroth saved the day late last season when Miller struggled with concussion issues.

The Sabres would be wise to lean on Enroth more frequently this season, too, since they’ll deal with a league-leading 21 back-to-back games in 2011-12.

Coaching

In a sports climate in which two-time World Series champion managers can get reflexively canned and NHL bench bosses have the shelf lives of NFL running backs, Lindy Ruff ranks as a stark outlier. Ruff will enter his 14th season behind the bench in Buffalo, where he’s amassed 526 regular-season wins. This season ranks as a rare test for Ruff, however, because his defenders can’t lean on the time-honored ‘low-budget roster’ excuse if things go sour. His track record indicates that he’ll find a way to make a lot of moving parts run together smoothly, although it almost seems inevitable that Leino might end up in Ruff’s doghouse a few times during the life of his risky contract.

Best-case scenario

The Sabres improve on the power play with Ehrhoff’s blistering slap shots, Leino proves to be an even bigger hit in Buffalo than in Philly and Miller takes advantage of an improved defense to win another Vezina Trophy. Finally suited with a truly competitive roster, Ruff guides the Sabres to the Stanley Cup finals where … well, let’s not jinx it for perennially jilted Buffalo sports fans.

Reality

The Sabres have strengths in every area: top-end scoring, offensive depth, defensive defensemen, scoring blueliners and an elite goalie. This team’s relative weaknesses is on the penalty kill, unless Regehr can camouflage a dearth of quality checking forwards beyond Paul Gaustad.

For that reason, the Sabres might struggle a bit in the playoffs. That being said, their depth and talent will prompt many to predict that they’ll claim their second Northeast title in three season. On paper, it’s hard to argue against that conventional wisdom, but we’ll see if the team gels amid heightened expectations.

Anxious Sabres fans shouldn’t fret, though – their team should be a joy to watch again.

Stars’ Oduya re-injures ankle, out 2-4 weeks

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Johnny Oduya #47 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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It’s been a rough year for Johnny Oduya and, in particular, a rough year for Johnny Oduya’s ankle.

On Thursday, the Stars announced that Oduya would miss the next 2-4 weeks after aggravating an ankle injury that saw him miss 10 games already this season.

The latest setback occurred in Tuesday’s wild 7-6 win over the Rangers at MSG. Oduya exited midway through the contest and didn’t return.

Oduya, 35, has only appeared in 36 of Dallas’ 47 games this season, but has been reasonably effective when in. He has a goal and seven points while averaging just over 18 minutes per night.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if Oduya actually finishes the year as a Star. If he’s able to get healthy and Dallas misses the playoffs — the Stars went into Friday’s action three points out of the wild card — he could be flipped at the deadline.

Oduya is a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $3.75 million annually. He would likely garner some interest on the open market, given his veteran experience and the fact he won a pair of Stanley Cups with Chicago.

Per CapFriendly, Oduya does have a limited no-trade clause. He can provide a list of 17 teams that he’d like to be dealt to.

Ducks nip Avalanche 2-1 after ‘weird delay’ to fix glass

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson watches as workers remove a cracked plexiglass piece during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Broken glass is a regular occurrence in the heavy-hitting, hard-shooting NHL, and shattered panes usually get replaced swiftly.

Although an uncommon 45-minute delay at Honda Center led to an unusual early intermission, the break also interrupted the Anaheim Ducks’ second-period struggles. They warmed back up in plenty of time to snag another win.

Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:02 to play, and the Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Thursday night.

John Gibson made 21 saves and Hampus Lindholm scored the tying power-play goal early in the third period of the Pacific Division-leading Ducks’ eighth victory in 10 games — but the first featuring an intermission in the middle of a period.

“I don’t think the delay did that much to us,” Lindholm said. “It was quite a weird delay, but we stuck in there. … I’ve never had one that long. I don’t think they shoot that hard in Sweden.”

The game was scoreless when Colorado defenseman Eric Gelinas‘ shot put a large starburst in a pane of glass behind Anaheim’s net with 9:48 left in the second period. The Honda Center crew tried to put up a replacement pane quickly, but soon discovered it needed to be cut to fit next to the camera that sits on a stanchion next to the pane.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen joked that he should have helped out the arena crew.

“I used to be good at school with my hands,” Vatanen said. “I wanted to go out there, but I had to focus on the game.”

Referees eventually told the teams to take their second intermission while the crew finished their work, apparently cutting one pane too short to use. After play finally resumed and the second period ended, they paused only for a dry scrape of the ice before playing the final 20 minutes of regulation.

“It helped us,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the delay. “We weren’t playing very good in the second period. They were coming at us, and it broke up the period. It gave us an opportunity to reset ourselves. It did us a favor.”

Ritchie dramatically rewarded the Ducks for a strong performance when Nikita Zadorov turned over the puck in the slot. Ondrej Kase tipped it to Anaheim’s power forward, and he fired a shot through traffic for his 11th goal.

“The final (goal) is just a bad bounce, that’s all it is,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “That one just took a bad bounce off Zadorov and ended up in the back of our net.”

Calvin Pickard stopped 34 shots for the NHL-worst Avalanche, who have lost four straight and 21 of 25.

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored a power-play goal in the second period to break a scoreless tie shortly after the delay, but the Ducks replied with two third-period goals and incredible defensive plays in the final minute by Gibson and Vatanen, who stopped Jarome Iginla from hitting an open net.

“It was a long break and a different third period,” Landeskog said. “Other than that, I thought it was pretty funny. Most of us did. We didn’t take it too seriously.”

Pickard followed up a 35-save performance in his previous start with another gem, and Landeskog scored his ninth goal shortly after the delay.

But Anaheim finally cashed in on its 2-to-1 shots advantage when Lindholm beat Pickard from the blue line with an exceptional slap shot, which was still rising when it sailed past Ritchie’s screen.

Colorado’s Tyson Barrie missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury, leaving the Avalanche to face the Ducks without arguably their top two defensemen. Erik Johnson, who missed his 20th straight game with a broken leg, is likely out until mid-February.

 

Latest concussion will sideline MacArthur for the rest of the season

MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 15:  Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 15, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Senators 4-3.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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It sounded like Clarke MacArthur was making significant progress from the concussion he suffered during training camp, but on Friday morning, Senators GM Pierre Dorion announced that MacArthur’s season was over.

The news isn’t surprising given the Sens forward’s history with concussions (it’s believed he suffered four different concussions during an 18-month span), but the fact that he had been cleared for contact in December led people to believe there was a chance he could come back.

According to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, Dorion said MacArthur is “devastated” by today’s news.

It certainly seems like the Senators are doing the right thing by shutting him down. The 31-year-old also missed all but four games in 2015-16 because of a head injury.

As of last September, MacArthur said he didn’t plan on hanging up his skates.

Dorion said he’s trying to acquire another forward via trade to replace him, but with limited teams willing to be sellers, the prices are extremely high.

In other Sens news…

Dorion told members of the media that goalie Craig Anderson will return to Ottawa’s crease in late January or early February.

Anderson has been with his wife, Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

Video: Jonathan Drouin turns on the jets, scores ‘big time’ goal vs. Sharks

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Earlier this week, Jonathan Drouin turned in an assist of the year candidate on Tyler Johnson‘s goal against the Kings.

Last night, he used his speed to score one of his own, and you’ll want to watch it over and over again.

With the Bolts trailing 1-0 in the second period, Drouin skated through the neutral zone before re-entering the Sharks’ territory and going around Marc-Edouard Vlasic like he wasn’t even there. As he got around Vlasic, he cut to the net and beat San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell (top).

The 21-year-old has carried a lot of the offensive burden with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup. He’s collected seven points in his last seven games, and he’s up to 14 goals and 30 points in 39 games this season.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, that was the only offense they could muster in this one, as they ended up losing the game 2-1.

“That’s just a big time skill play by a big time skill player,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of the goal, per the Tampa Bay Times.