Archive for November, 2011:

Gilbert Perreault Retires to the Thanksgiving Table

Happy Turducken Day.

It’s November 24th, Thanksgiving, and time for reflection. This year, I am nominating one person to be thankful for in my Sabres world: Gilbert Perreault.

It was on this day – the 24th – that the greatest Sabres player retired from the game.

FC 300x210 Gilbert Perreault Retires to the Thanksgiving Tablebuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/FC.jpg 480w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Martin. Robert. Perreault.

There’s good reason Terry Pegula choked up over Perreault during his inaugural speech as Sabres owner. From “buffalo74:

 

If you have never seen Perreault in action, here’s your chance.  Be forewarned though – his skating is so effortless that upon first glance, it might not seem like he is breaking some of the principal laws of physics.

Take it away, Aram Khachaturian:

 

“Have you ever seen him skate?” asked Pegula, almost exasperated just in recounting his hero during that presser.  Goodness!  If you were watching Perreault’s feet in that video, now you know exactly why Pegula and the original fans of the Blue and Gold were so taken aback by the tap dancing blur that was lucky #11.

From BSN’s “Sabres GIFs,” here’s Perreault scoring his 250th – with one hand:

 Gilbert Perreault Retires to the Thanksgiving Table

This year, I guess I am thankful for magic.

Enjoy the day.

Go Sabres.

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Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Pole

We’re 20 games in.

Or 21 games in, depending on when you’re reading this. Either way, it’s time to check back with ol’ Finger Guns and see how our goal scorers are doing.

FingerGuns Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Pole

Finger Guns!

As we alluded to waaaay back in August, Don Cherry and his Hated Bruins still hold the record with the most players to score 20 goals in a single season, with eleven of his boys hitting the mark in the 1977-78 season. The question then and now is will the Sabres be able to break this record this season?

For the record, the answer to this question, every season, is “no,” but it is always fun to count how many of our boys that could reach Number Twenty. Remember, despite only posting four 20 goal scorers last season, the Sabres scored an Eastern Conference 4th-best 245 goals (only 1 behind Boston’s 246, 2 behind Tampa’s 247, a big ol’ 14 behind Philly). This season Buffalo’s young guns and depth of scoring should only improve.

How much have we improved? Are we shooting for more 20 goal scorers this season, or are we still leaning back towards four? It’s reassess our assessment. Here’s our initial candidates for 20 goals in 2011-12:

1. Thomas Vanek – TV has never scored less than 25 goals in a season in his entire career. Moving on.

Indeed, TV is on pace for 40 goals, or an easy 30. Moving on.

2. Drew Stafford – after a breakout campaign that saw him terrorize the NHL (actually, mainly the Bruins) with 31 goals in only 62 games, it would be shocking if Stafford failed to reach at least 20 this season.

Last season, Stafford’s key to success seemed to be scoring hat tricks against Boston. This season, he’s been looking at new linemates as much as he has been looking at his shots being blocked. On pace for 16, but could easily hit 20.

3. Jason Pominville – While he hasn’t hit 30 goals since the 2006-07 season, he also hasn’t failed to hit 20 in a season since. A lingering tendon injury may slow him down in the pre-season, but don’t expect one of the Sabres’ most consistent scorers to fail to reach the 20 goal plateau for his 6th consecutive season.

The population is on pace to go up by 30 this season, as Pommers has flourished in his new role as captain, and alongside new linemate Thomas Vanek.

4. Tyler Ennis – Besides Vanek, Stafford, and Pommers, this offensive dynamo was the 4th member of the 20 goal club last season – his rookie season the NHL. The 2009-10 AHL rookie of the year, Ennis made his transition to the NHL seamlessly. Defenses and statisticians will be watching out for this guy for years to come.

Currently sidelined with an ankle injury, and on pace for 0 goals. Call this one finger gunned.

FingerGuns Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Pole

Bang.

5. Nathan Gerbe – After a slow start, the former AHL rookie of the year of 2008-09  finally managed to break out of a transitionary slump to the NHL, registering 16 goals in 64 contests this past season.

With 3 goals and 8 assists, we can’t say that Honey Badger is off to a slow start – especially as those hard earned points were earned on the checking line. Still, 20 is going to be a long reach for him. (Of course, what isn’t?)

6. Derek Roy – With only 10 goals to his name last year in a season cut very short by injury (35 games), Roy only needs to stay healthy to hit 20. He hadn’t otherwise failed the marker since the 2005-06 campaign.

Though hampered by an early season injury, Roy is still on pace to make 20. He’s regained his swagger and is now skating on the top line with Vanek and Pominville.

7. Brad Boyes – a lack of depth at center could spell doom for our 7th selection on this list, as his goal scoring for the Blue and Gold plummeted after he was shifted from wing to center in the 2011 playoffs. If Lindy Ruff can keep him on the wing, 20 goals is certainly achieveable with enough ice time and time on the power play.

Moving him to a prime spot on the power play didn’t work. Now he’s back at center. On pace for 8 goals. Free agent at the end of the season. Hope you didn’t buy his jersey.

8. Ville Leino – the ultimate wildcard, Leino enters the 2011-12 lineup as not only a guy who can score 20 goals, but can help every other player before him on this list reach the same. The Sabres have a lot riding on this guy.

The most disappointing Sabres player of the year, hands down. Leino has failed to live up to expectations, even to a modest degree. The meager time he spends on the ice he uses to cycle the puck behind the net like a wizard, before giving the puck away on a no look pass that in his mind must always seem like an awesome idea at the time, you know, before he does look up to see the other team taking his pass on an odd man rush down the ice. Sometimes he adds a little excitement by giving the puck away on a spin-o-rama pass. I don’t think that is what Darcy Regier thought he was paying for. Can we get Tim Connolly back? Leino is on pace for 8.

Lameo 300x199 Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Polebuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Lameo.jpg 450w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Lameo.

It’s time to be frank. Those are the only real candidates currently on the roster that should hit 20 this season, but there are a few more darkhorses:

1. Luke Adam – The AHL rookie of the year for the 2010-11 season scored 3 times in 19 games with the big club last year. Adam must first earn a roster spot with the Sabres in training camp and the pre-season, but if he makes it, he’ll be throwing a lot of pucks at the net. From there, he’ll have to storm out of the gate more like Ennis and less like Gerbe did as rookies – otherwise it’s unlikely he’ll earn enough ice time to hit the back of the net 20 times.

Adam has not disappointed. He’s scoring goals, and doing it all with the calmness of a ten year veteran. Cool Hand Luke is on pace for 20.

2. Jochen Hecht – the center/left winger from Mannheim, West Germany, has hovered around the 20 goal mark for most of his career. Hecht has only hit 20 goals twice – albeit recently – in the 2007-08 (22 goals) and 2009-10 (21 goals) seasons. He was able to put in 12 goals in 67 games last season. Anything from 10-20 is possible with this guy.

Sidelined with a concussion, Hecht is on pace to score a goal this season. Eventually.

Hecht 300x180 Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Polebuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Hecht.gif 572w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

"Heeeeeecht!" This will never grow old for me.

3. Tyler Myers – 11 goals as a rookie, and then 10 as a sophomore – the sky is the limit for Myers. The addition of veteran blueliners Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff will only make him better, but reaching 20 goals is still a reach.

If there is a player that has browned his overalls more than Myers this season, I’d like to hear it. Had a quality pair of games before breaking his hand. He’ll miss a month, and is on pace for 8. (We’ll ignore the fact that his two current markers came in one game. Moving on.)

4. Christian Ehrhoff – the Buffalo power play is going to live and die on the heels of its new quarterback. Ehrhoff should help the Sabres’ special teams flourish, a point that made it tempting to keep him out of the “darkhorse” category. However, with 14 goals in 2009-10 and 2010-11 – with a very strong Vancouver team – it’s hard to see him scoring any more than that in Buffalo.

Shot! Blocked shot. Shot! Blocked shot. Welcome to the Northeast Division, Hoff. On pace for 4.

20 games in, and we’re looking at Vanek, Stafford, Pominville, Roy and Adam. Hey, five 20 goal scorers is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s not going to get us close to a whiff of Don Cherry’s Precious.

FingerGuns Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Pole

Still, isn't he precious?

Also bear in mind that the Sabres are tied for 3rd in goals for in the East right now – and that’s been achieved without the services of Ennis and Hecht. And Boyes. And Leino.

As soon as Hecht and Ennis are back, and as soon as the Sabres’ mid-season chemistry sets in, their standing in goals for should only improve. Barring further injury, the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres are looking like a goal scoring with the kind of experience and depth that can carry a team far into the playoffs.

As for Cherry, well, there’s always next year.

Go Sabres.

Our stats so far:

Sabres20201 Checking in with Don Cherry at the Quarter Pole

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The 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap Explained

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Even the most casual hockey observer has probably heard of the neutral zone trap. Most recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s brand of the neutral zone trap, the 1-3-1, gained some notoriety in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Tampa wasn’t going to attack deep into the Flyer’s zone, and the Flyers weren’t going to attack the big, bad, scary neutral zone trap. The result was about 30 seconds of nothing and then a referee stopping play. (I tend to think the onus is on the offense to do something here, but that’s not the subject of this post.)

So what exactly is the neutral zone trap? I have probably an average hockey IQ, and thanks to many versions of hockey video games over the years, I understand the basics of most of the strategies. But I’d never heard of the 1-3-1 and never had a full understanding of the neutral zone trap. So I set out on a quest of knowledge and have returned here with the results.

First off, we have to describe what the more generic term “neutral zone trap” is. Basically, it’s a defensive alignment that tries to take away passing lanes in the neutral zone and cause a turnover. The trap can have different alignments like the 1-2-2 or the 1-3-1 (more on those numbers in a moment). A trap is more of a passive defense with little risk, focused primarily on defense.

The numbers in a hockey strategy refer to the position of the players. See the diagram below:

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The Tampa Bay Lightning's version of the neutral zone trap is known as the Tampa T, because, well, that's what it looks like from above in the diagram.

The forward on the right is the first “1”. His goal is to forecheck and pressure opponents to either side of the rink, towards the boards.

If this is accomplished, the “3” gravitate to that side (i.e. puck side attack in NHL12). They further block off passing lanes and prevent the puck carrier from skating undeterred into his offensive zone. Ideally they seek to force a turnover or a dump-in. Remember that the offense needs to get to the center red line before they can dump the puck in, otherwise it’s icing. This wall of 3 moves as one and attacks the offense at or before the red line.

This leaves the last “1”, or the back defenseman as a sort of sweeper, picking up pucks or chasing down a dump-in.

Done properly, the 1-3-1 trap-style defense can smother an offense and lead to some boring-ass hockey. There are ways to beat it, however.

The problem that the 1-3-1 causes is partially because it slows down play in the neutral zone. Opponents can get stuck waiting to not go offside at the blue line; their momentum can get totally stopped. When this happens and the offense is forced to dump the puck in, it’s hard for the forwards to get back up to speed and chase down the puck. This is what happens when the 1-3-1 is working.

But here’s the flipside of the 1-3-1: with only 1 defenseman back, if you can beat him you can set up a scoring chance. So… to beat the 1-3-1, a defenseman needs to get close to the red line. He can dump it in with a forward redirecting it so the play doesn’t get called for icing. Meanwhile, the other 2 forwards should be hitting the blue line with speed… right past the 1 defenseman who has to execute a back-to-front transition and pick up speed again and who is outnumbered.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out (and give link love to) a couple of great sites where I got some of this information. Check these out for more info:

 The 411 on the 1-3-1

Idiot’s Guide To Hockey Systems (Forechecking) 

There will be arguments for and against the 1-3-1 and apparently it will be discussed at the NHL’s GM meetings.  Should the NHL legislate against it? If so, how do they do anything about it? Didn’t the post-lockout rules of 2005-2006 seek to address this (i.e. getting rid of the two-line pass)?  If I missed anything, please correct me or add to what I said in the comments.

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A Weird Start To The Sabres Season

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Well the Buffalo Sabres are nineteen games into the season and I don’t think anyone could have predicted the way things have shaken out thus far. (And if you say you predicted exactly this, let me know who your Super Bowl favorite is, because you’ve got some mad prognostication skills. Or skillz, if you prefer, yo.)

Nineteen games in and we have no idea what this team is. Fans of Stephen King may be aware of a saying that things have “gone 19“; it means things have gotten really inexplicably weird.

It may well be weird, but things rarely go according to plan for a sports team. We expected Ryan Miller to be the man with Johnas Enroth filling in admirably at times – instead Enroth has to be THE man again. So far he’s shown that he CAN be the man and the Sabres have two very good goalies. Where does that leave Miller when he returns? A 50/50 split? Do the more level-headed among us start to seriously ponder a trade of Miller and going with Enroth? Our all-star and Vezina-winning goalie doesn’t inspire confidence the way Enroth has been. It’s 19, man.

Christian Ehrhoff was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. And you may not get that saying because sliced bread doesn’t sound exciting, but have you had to put up with cutting your own bread for any length of time? HAVE YOU? It’s not fun. But all seriousness aside, Ehrhoff is a minus 4 and while he’s taken 41 shots, only has 1 goal (that’s a 2.4% shooting percentage).

Marc-Andre Gragnani (I like to pronounce his last name “Grag-nanny” because it’s fun) has been a disappointment as well. Weber lit a fire in the D for a bit but quickly got hurt. Myers has been craptastic, then benched, then superman for a game; will he continue the superman style of play or revert back? And just when you think Boyes and Leino can do nothing, their line seems the most dominant for us in a game (despite, y’know, not actually scoring).

This team is all over the map. But you know what? I love it.

We couldn’t predict this, but would we really want to? That’s part of the excitement of sports. It’s why we watch, why we oooooh and ahhh, why we cheer, why we bet on the games. Er, well, if we’re somewhere LEGAL to do so of course.

The Sabres are 3rd in the Eastern Conference and while not perfect by any stretch have different players stepping up every night. To me, it’s an amazing ride.

To be honest, I don’t want the team to win the President’s Trophy. We’ve all seen how the team that wins that does – more often than not they get ousted quickly by a “worse” team that had to work harder to get into the playoffs. I want the Sabres to do well enough to get a decent seed (say 3rd or 4th) but go into the playoffs hot.

This Sabres team is already starting to gel. It’s not how we thought it would shake out, but it’s coming together. It’s weird, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Our Applebees is Better than Your Applebees.

Ray Whitney hates Buffalo.

RayWhiney 300x224 Our Applebees is Better than Your Applebees.buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/RayWhiney.jpg 518w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Mr. Kaleta: your target for tonight.

We’ve all seen the Forbes lists where Buffalo is ranked at the bottom of the country in whatever asinine category they’ve dreamed up on their website. We’ve also seen the Forbes lists where Buffalo leads the nation in some other asinine category that they’ve dreamed up. Take a bunch of stats, and you can put a city to judgement. It can go however you want, depending on how you work over the statistics.

Oh, and it snows here. (Actually, we’re not even in the top 10 there.) I wonder if Ray Whitney ever saw this (from the link, from buffaloresearch.com):

snow1 Our Applebees is Better than Your Applebees.buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/snow1-300x89.jpg 300w" sizes="(max-width: 554px) 100vw, 554px" />

Yes it snow here. But saying Buffalo is the snow capital of the world is just plain lazy. C'mon folks, we have the internet now. Google before you argue.

And yes, we have Applebee’s here. And McDonald’s. And about a thousand other chain restaurants that you can find across the United States these days. I think it’s safe to say not many people road trip for food these days (Travel Channel specials aside).

applebees 300x225 Our Applebees is Better than Your Applebees.buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/applebees-1024x768.jpg 1024w, buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/applebees.jpg 1280w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

A wise man once said: "No matter where you go, there you are." And so is Applebee's.

Who is Ray Whitney, or Forbes trying to kid? Buffalo is a city in the United States, pretty much just like any other. Downtown is a bit vacant. The old steel plant is an eyesore. We have our problems. Then again, so does Detroit, and you don’t see players shying away from the Red Wings.

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Detroit has flowers! (Conspiracy theorists might think these are being planted throughout the city so that nature simply reclaims the dying infrastructure.)

For those of us who have logged long miles East to West and North to South on America’s highways, it’s true that every city has hidden gems, a certain personality, and a reason to be cherished. And yes, they are also full of Applebee’s. IHOP’s. Burger Kings. Motel 6’s. Lowe’s. Targets. Sears. The list goes on and on, doesn’t it?

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The Phoenix, AZ Applebee's. Sorry for the spoiler, but at least now you don't have to travel all the way there to see it.

Ray Whitney hates Buffalo. He’s not alone. But in this day and age, where the concrete jungle and urban sprawl have all but changed America’s cities into a monotony of sameness, who the hell cares anymore? Do some research. It’s not that bad here.

And our “Bourbon Street Steaks” are sublime.

All that being said. (mostly in pictures),  if you are ever stuck on the dreadful 95, speeding through the unending torment of the Carolina highways, look for about a hundred or more of these billboards:

 

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They also have fireworks.

Ahh, “South of the Border.” The Disney Land of all that is kitschy Americana. It’s a perfect example of something wonderful that exsits in a place no one usually cares to think twice about.

Buffalo is not just Applebee’s, and neither are the Carolinas, Detroit, or Phoenix. We all have our own special little somethin’ somethin’ going on. Folks just need to stop being so incredibly lazy and figure it out.

Just Google.

I’m looking at you, Ray Whitney.

Go Sabres.

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