Archive for January 20th, 2012

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Sabres Head To St. Louis To Take On The Best Home Team In NHL

@ 8:00 PM

Last Game:

St. Louis: Jan 19 vs. Oilers Win 1-0

Buffalo: Jan 19 at Jets Loss 4-1

Record:

St. Louis: 28-12-6

Buffalo: 19-23-5

Points:

St. Louis: 62

Buffalo: 43

Rank In Conference:

St. Louis: 4th

Buffalo: 11th

Power Play Ranking:

St. Louis: 13.3(28th)

Buffalo: 17.9(16th)

Penalty Kill Ranking:

St. Louis: 82.8(13th)

Buffalo: 82.0(19th)

Goals For:

St. Louis: 116(21st)

Buffalo: 113(T-24th)

Goals Against:

St. Louis: 89(2nd)

Buffalo: 142(26th)

Shots For:

St. Louis: 1451(11th)

Buffalo: 1363(16th)

Shots Against:

St. Louis: 1197(1st)

Buffalo: 1481(26th)

Blocked Shots:

St. Louis: 611(18th)

Buffalo: 597(22nd)

Hits:

St. Louis: 1037(14th)

Buffalo: 860(27th)

Faceoff Percentage:

St. Louis: 49.4(T-20th)

Buffalo: 49.7(17th)

Team Leaders:

Goals:

St. Louis: Backes and Oshie(14), Steen(13), Arnott(12)

Buffalo: Vanek(19), Pominville(17), Adam(10), Roy(9)

Assists:

St. Louis: Backes(19), Shattenkirk(17), Oshie(16), Pietrangelo(14)

Buffalo: Pominville(29), Vanek(22), Roy(16), Stafford(15)

Points:

St. Louis: Backes(33), Oshie(30), Steen and Arnott(24), Shattenkirk(23)

Buffalo: Pominville(46), Vanek(41), Roy(25), Stafford(23)

Plus/Minus:

St. Louis: Steen(+20), Shattenkirk(+17), Pietrangelo(+15), D’Agostini, Backes, and Jackman(+13)

Buffalo: Gragnani(+11), Hecht and Gerbe(+1), Ennis, Szczechura, and Whitmore(EV), Foligno and Kassian(-1)

Penalty Minutes:

St. Louis: Backes(63), C. Stewart(59), Reaves(55), Nichol(52)

Buffalo: Gaustad(63), Kaleta(60), Vanek and McCormick(38), Stafford(36)

Shots:

St. Louis: Backes(132), Pietrangelo(114), Steen(113), Oshie(110)

Buffalo: Pominville(132), Vanek(131), Stafford(122), Roy(104)

Blocked Shots:

St. Louis: Polak(82), Jackman(73), Pietrangelo(65), Shattenkirk(62)

Buffalo: Regehr(64), Sekera(60), Leopold(57), Ehrhoff(48)

Hits:

St. Louis: Backes(137), Polak(110), Reaves(91), Sobotka(77)

Buffalo: Regehr(110), Gaustad(84), Kaleta(67), Weber(57)

Face-Off Wins:

St. Louis: Backes(360), Berglund(325), Arnott(263), Sobotka(136)

Buffalo: Gaustad(371), Roy(367), Pominville(136), Hecht(132)

Today’s Starting Goaltender Matchup:

St. Louis: Jaroslav Halak 13-7-5 2.00 GAA .920 SV% 4 SO

Buffalo:  Ryan Miller 11-14-2 3.16 GAA .897 SV% 1 SO

Notes:

Last Meeting: Feb 18, 2011 Blues Won 3-0

Season Series: Blues Won 1-0-0

All-Time: Blues Lead 47-45-15

All-Time at STL: Blues Lead 28-15-9

Blues blank Oilers 1-0

Even when they’re not at their best, the St. Louis Blues keep finding ways to win.

On Thursday night, the Blues thought they let the Edmonton Oilers hang around just long enough to steal a rare two points at Scottrade Center.

But the Blues – a team that just doesn’t allow much defensively – allowed almost nothing, and the Blues prevailed 1-0 thanks to a decisive third-period goal from Alex Pietrangelo.

The Blues (28-12-6) momentarily jumped into first overall in the Western Conference with 62 points but were quickly bumped back to fourth place after the Detroit Red Wings’ shootout win in Phoenix, which gives the Wings 63 points.

Pietrangelo, who now has a team-best four game-winning goals and extended his career-best points streak to eight, won it when he curled around the Oilers goal and slid a shot past netminder Nikolai Khabibulin with 5:14 to play.

“I had a couple chances that shift,” Pietrangelo said. “(David Backes) made an unbelievable pass. I can’t believe he found me. Lucky enough, the puck ended up being behind the net. I was just kind of able to give it the old-fashioned wrap-around.”

Jaroslav Halak earned his second straight shutout and third in four games, extending his shutout streak to 148:25. Halak stopped 15 shots and is 10-0-3 in his last 13 starts after earning his fourth shutout of the season and 20th of his career. He was also in goal for the Blues’ last game, a 1-0 home win against Dallas on Monday.

“I feel good, but when you look at the shots, I didn’t have to stop many shots, many scoring chances tonight,” said Halak, who is 13-7-5 on the season with a 2.00 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. “Every game is a different game. The guys are playing really good hockey right now and hopefully we can at least keep doing it until the All-Star break.”

The surging Blues improved to 7-0-1 in their last eight games. They’ve earned at least a point in a franchise-best 14 straight home games (12-0-2). St. Louis became the first team to win 20 home games (20-3-3).

http://www.nhl.com/ice/recap.htm?id=2011020690&navid=sb:recap

Jets ground Sabres 4-1

The Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets both found themselves in desperate predicaments as they began play on Thursday night.

Both clubs have endured a trying month and desperately needed two points. But the Jets (22-20-5) opened the scoring, put 30 shots on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller by the second intermission and used a pair of power-play goals to beat the crumbling Sabres 4-1 before 15,004 at the MTS Centre.

Winnipeg defenseman Tobias Enstrom extended his goal-scoring streak to a career-best three games when he notched the Jets’ first power-play tally in five games to snap a 1-1 tie at 12:55 of the second period. Tim Stapleton connected for another power-play goal just under four minutes into the third period before Nik Antropov iced it by scoring with 1:20 left in regulation.

“It was big,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who scored Winnipeg’s first goal. “They’re all big right now, especially [against] a team right behind us in a game that we feel we should win.”

Buffalo (19-23-5) has lost all four games thus far on its seven-game trip and has dropped 11 in a row away from home in a season that has unraveled over the past month. The Sabres are now anchored nine points off the pace of eighth-place Florida, who has two games in hand on Buffalo.

“We knew going into tonight’s game that it might be the toughest game of the whole segment,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “It was back-to-back, and it’s five in seven, and we’re getting a little shorthanded.”

The win held the Jets, who ended a two-game skid on home ice, within striking distance of first place in the Southeast Division, three points behind the Washington Capitals. The win also sets up a crucial Saturday night date with Florida at the MTS Centre before the Jets embark on a six-game road trip that extends into February.

Picking up two points satisfied Jets coach Claude Noel, though he acknowledged that his club has a lot of areas of its game that need to be cleaned up if it is to mount a serious playoff run in the coming weeks.

“I think we were a little bit fortunate,” Noel said. “We’ve got some work to do here. We’ve got some work to do because you are not going to win a lot games that way.”

Miller finished with 29 saves in his first start since Detroit knocked him out in the second period in a 5-0 loss on Monday. Counterpart Ondrej Pavelec stopped all but one of the 26 shots that he faced.

http://www.nhl.com/ice/recap.htm?id=2011020691&navid=sb:recap

This Day In Sabres History:

January 21, 1989 Turgeon Leads Sabres Comeback over Rival Bruins to capture Sabres 6th Straight Road Win

On this date 23 years ago Pierre Turgeon Led a Sabres comeback over the Rival Boston Bruins in a Sabres 6-5 win. The Sabres found themselves down by 4 goals during the game. Turgeon scored twice on the night including the Game Winner 4 Minutes into Overtime. Sabres also got goals from Dave Andreychuk, Rick Vaive, Jeff Parker, and Doug Bodger. Jacques Cloutier got the win for the Sabres on this night in relief of Darren Puppa. The win was the Sabres 6th in a row on the road. The Sabres would stretch there streak to 9 games. The Bruins would get the last laugh however eliminating the Sabres from the playoffs for the 2nd straight season.

Injury Report:

St. Louis: MacDonald Concussion(IR/Out), Huskins Bruised Left Ankle(IR/Out), Steen Concussion-Like Symptoms(IR/Out)

Buffalo: Stuart Lower Body(IR/Out), Ennis Left Ankle(Out), Sekera Upper Body(Out), Ehrhoff Upper Body(Out), McNabb Concussion(IR/Out), Regehr Upper Body(Out), Gaustad Upper Body(Questionable), Kaleta Foot(Questionable)

Next 5 Games:

Jan 24 at New Jersey Devils 7:00 PM(MSG HD)

Jan 31 at Montreal Canadiens 7:30 PM(MSG HD)

Feb 1 vs. New York Rangers 7:30 PM(NBCS HD and TSN2 HD)

Feb 4 at New York Islanders 7:00 PM(MSG HD)

Feb 8 vs. Boston Bruins 7:30 PM(NBCS HD TSN2 HD)

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The System: What it is and why it’s Failed

Over the past few years, any time the Sabres have put together a clunker on par with any of the first three games of their current road trip, the team’s responses to fans and media have always centered on a familiar buzz-word, “the system.”  Losses are blamed on straying from it; and returning to its structure is on par with “going to the dirty areas” and “getting pucks to the net” as cliched press conference phrases on how to get the team back on track.  But what exactly is the system that Lindy Ruff has touted for the past two and a half seasons?

The answer is a blend of puck possession offense and collapsing defense.  Offensively, this strategy looks to wear down the opposition down low on the cycle, maintain zone time through an active, pinching defense corps and eventually get pucks through to the net.  On defense, the game plan is to keep the puck to the perimeter, allowing a higher-than-average number of shots, but few quality scoring chances.

Unfortunately, theory doesn’t always work out in practice, and the Sabres are struggling on both sides of the ice.  They sit twenty fourth and twenty fifth in goals for and against, and haven’t won consecutive games in two months.  Most recently, the Sabres extended their franchise record road losing streak to a shocking eleven games with a loss last night to the Winnipeg Jets.  They’re a below average puck possession team, ranking nineteenth in both shots and takeaways, and judging by their abysmal goals against average, their fifth-worst 31.5 shots allowed are juicier opportunities than their defensive scheme should allow.

The Sabres’ offensive struggles can be pinned on an inability to establish their cycle.  Part of this is because the team lacks a power forward on their top lines, but just as much blame lies at Ruff’s feet, namely, his unwillingness to emphasize pressure and physicality.  The coach prefers a positional game to a passionate one, and it’s very evident with quotes such as this:

“You want to be physical? It’s got to be puck battles, who comes up with it. You can run around and hit all you want. If you don’t get the puck back, it doesn’t do any good.”

What’s so surprising about this attitude is that Lindy has seen first hand what physicality for physicality’s sake can do.  Opposing teams have had field days sending two forwards below the goal line to rush the Sabres’ decision making.  It’s clearly been an effective strategy, because in addition to their abysmal defensive statistics, Buffalo is also top ten in giveaways.  Even Detroit and Chicago, teams not known for their physical edges, terrorized the Sabres defense with their relentless pressure this past week, with the Red Wings announcers literally laughing the Sabres off the ice.  A supposedly impartial NBC Sports telecast wasn’t much nicer.

Another reason for the Sabres’ inability to put the puck in the net is Ruff’s insistence on balancing icetime.  Only two forwards, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have exhibited any sort of offensive consistency, yet they’ve sunk to sixth and fifth in even strength TOI, behind Jochen Hecht, Derek Roy,Ville Leino and Drew Stafford, who haven’t scored more than the Sabres’ first line wingers combined.  Compared to the rest of the league, Buffalo’s overwhelmingly best forwards play significantly less than other top liners.   Even middling players like Tomas Fleischmann and enigmas like Danny Heatley play an average of over a minute and a half more at even strength.

At the other end of the ice, Buffalo’s defensive struggles are occurring because even with a healthy defense corps, Ruff simply doesn’t have the horses to play the system he has in place.  While the collapse has its merits, and namely, the Bruins use it to great effect, Boston has several attributes that allow them to play such a style of hockey.

The Bruins have an aggressive goaltender in Tim Thomas who constantly makes the first save without spitting out costly rebounds.  They have a defense littered with neaderthalic defensemen, who aren’t great in space or transition, but will maul anyone who gets too close to the crease.  They have a Selke-caliber defensive center in Patrice Bergeron.  They wear opponents down with their physicality in all three zones and have a crushing cycle game, so even when you get a shift in their zone, you’re not in the best shape to do something with it.  They also aren’t afraid to cross the line to send a message.

Buffalo, on the other hand, currently has a starting goaltender with poor rebound control and a worse save percentage.  Their defense is mostly mobile guys who defend more with positioning and sticks than with the body.  Their best defensive forward is Jochen Hecht.  They have issues establishing the cycle and as already mentioned, their coach doesn’t emphasize physical play.  They also don’t stand up for each other and would rather take the power play than retaliate in kind (a problem for another column).

This is a team that wants to spend as little time in its own end as possible, and with a stable of good passing and puck rushing defensemen, they have the personnel to play that kind of system effectively.  Their mid-season turnaround last year had a lot to do with Lindy ditching his focus on positional puck possession and transitioning to a more attacking style of hockey that resulted in a lot of goals scored in transition.  If Terry Pegula and Ted Black aren’t going to show Lindy the door after this most recent stretch of play, the least he can do is return to playing to the strengths of this roster and putting “the system” back on the shelf.

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