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Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

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On February 15th, the Sabres were 15th in the East, and 10 points out of the top 8.

No team has ever come from that far back to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the lockout. (EDIT: the Sabres are looking to become the first team in NHL history to be in last place in the conference in January and make the playoffs.) Now, just over a month after dwelling at rock bottom, the Sabres have tied the Capitals for 8th place. (OK, officially they’re in 9th. Both teams have secured 82 points, but Washington holds all the tiebreakers.)

So how did we get here?

1. Ryan Miller. He’s quietly amassed 5 shutouts over his last 23 games (going back to February 1st), tying him for the NHL lead with Ilya Bryzgalov. He hasn’t lost in regulation since March 5th. Since the All Star break, he has a 14-3-5 record, a 2.02 GAA, and a .932 save%. He’s back, and he summed up his success and the team’s surge perfectly for ESPN:

Goalie reflects team. Team reflects goalie.

WaxOnWaxOff 300x273 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence. Miller is owning the Zen power, and the crease.

Once I was healthy I started building back my focus and awareness, and that took some time. … I noticed my game turning when my mind was more at ease and I settled down and allowed the play to unfold. … All of which came when we started being a more responsible team. Knowing my guys are around me allows me to read the play and commit to saves. Without them, I have to cover more options, and the odds of making a save or second save aren’t as good. Having the boys cover my back and work hard makes my job easier.

Top-seeded teams are no doubt taking notice of Miller’s play, along with the Sabres’ overall defensive revival. No one wants to face a Sabres team this focused in their own zone (see: New York Rangers, March 23rd,3rd period, unable to score as Ehrhoff and Roy played back-up netminders to Miller as the Rags could only shoot in vain.)

2. The Sabres are scoring again, in droves. Travis Turnbull became the 29th Sabre to find the back of the net this season – Columbus leads the league with 30. To put that in better perspective, Buffalo has had goals from 30 players three times in 41 seasons, most recently in the 1991-92 season. Meanwhile, there’s that red hot 82-63-21 line. In the past 7 games alone, Tyler Ennis has 5 goals for 12 points and is a +12. Drew Stafford has 4 goals for 12 points and is a +10. Marcus Foligno has 5 goals for 9 points and is a +7.

Ennis Stafford Foligno 300x204 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Too bad the name "Production Line" is already taken.

 

***

Stats aside, there’s some new intrigue emerging here, and it’s all in the quotes, which Miller started us off with. Here’s a couple lines from Tyler Ennis after tonight’s win:

I think we’re just really confident. We know what we have to do. It seems like Washington keeps winning, so we have to keep winning. But we’re a confident bunch. Every game is a new test for us. We just have to focus on the next game. We’re playing well, Millsy seems to be stopping everything and that’s giving us a lot of confidence.

It reinforces how bad we want to make the playoffs. The Rangers are the top team in the East, and they’ve played great hockey all year. We came out and played pretty sound in all areas, and I think it shows how bad we want to make the playoffs.

As for that team they’re tied for 8th with? Let’s leave it to Karl Alzner to sum up how things are in the Caps’ locker room right now, after blowing a 3-0 lead en route to an OT loss to Winnipeg:

We s*** the bed.

As for that team we’re now chasing for 7th? The Senators just allowed 3 goals in the opening 5:41 to Eric Cole and his 15th place Habs. The Sens’ shoddy goaltending has them reeling in what looks like a death spiral. They’re just 1-3-2 in their last 6 games. Here’s what coach Paul MacLean had to say about his team’s troubles before the puck dropped against the Habs:

We’re still in the top third of the league as far as goals scored are concerned. That’s something that gives us the confidence we’re going to score goals again. Something has to spark it. Usually it’s the power play that gets it going. Then somebody gets hot, and away you go, you’re scoring goals again. We believe we’re going to score goals, and it’s going to be tonight.

Oopsy.

The Sens went on to fall 5-1.

But let’s not stop there. Even the almighty Bruins are a wreck of late. Since February 1st, they are just 10-14-1. The Bruins are 5 points up and have two games in hand over Buffalo, but heck, they have to play 9 games in the next 15 days – once every two days – with their last game against  (you guessed it) the Sabres. Here’s what Tim Thomas had to say, after a 2-1 defeat in San Jose:

We’re having a hard time picking up momentum, and keeping it for long periods of time. We proved recently what kind of game we can play. If you asked me before this game, I would have thought we’d carry it over. I thought after our last game we had turned a corner.

Hopefully we still have.

Keep hoping, Tim. Boston hasn’t won 3 games in a row since a 7 game winning streak waaaaay back in December. They’ve lost four straight road games, the longest such streak in three years, and dropped five of the last six away from TD Garden.

Yeah, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of turmoil in the NE Division right now. Meanwhile, Buffalo is surging, and carries a strong 12-5-4 record in the NE.

How much of your brain is saying “Whoa there!” at all this blunderbuss? Chances are a good portion of your mind is actually saying “We have a legit shot at the division.” That’s what happens when confidence is brimming. It makes fans and players alike envision victory.  The Sabres look to have the guts and the gusto to do just that, as this division and conference stumble alongside them.

Simply put: envision it to win it.

The Sabres have 7 games left to prove that their confidence, and this heroic run, is for real. But right now, it sure feels like they’ve got the sharpest edge on the ice, and in the locker room.

“How did we get here?”

That doesn’t matter anymore, does it? All that matters now is where are we going next – be it the NE Division crown or just a spot in the Top 8. It really doesn’t matter which, so long as the Sabres just keep pace with themselves.

Go Sabres.

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A Crucial Tilt Against The Bruins

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Things are looking up, as the Sabres have gone 3-0-1 in their last 4 games, snagging 7 out of a possible 8 points – even without The Mighty Vanek. Now they’re “just” 10 points back in the Eastern Conference.

In other good news, Channel 2 even got to air an MSG game. Is this a harbinger that things have taken a change for the better?

As ScottyMCSS once said, “Healthy changes everything”. And now you’ll never see those Blue Cross/Blue Shield commercials without thinking of him and the rest of us here at BSN. Well, hopefully at least, if the subliminal code I’ve embedded in this website works as planned. </diabolical laughter>

The Sabres are pretty healthy (minus a few scratches) except for the big name of Thomas Vanek, but with the recent points the Sabres are earning, it’s hard not to be at least a little optimistic. Maybe Vanek was the problem?

When you quit chortling, I *was* being sarcastic.

Just like Madonna, The Sabres are making a comeback and looking pretty good doing it.

But hold your horses there, Charlie, as the Boston Bruins are rolling into town on Wednesday. Do I really need to recap our recent history with Boston? In short, The Lucic Incident? (It’s sort of like the String Cheese Incident.) The Sabres spiraled out of control after that game. Blame injuries if you want but that game was a turning point.

string cheese 238x300 A Crucial Tilt Against The Bruins

Seems to me that string cheese would never be an "incident" but cause for jubilation and mirth. Tasty, binding mirth.

The recent good vibes we’ve been feeling as of late could come to a crashing halt if the Sabres get destroyed by the Bruins again. And yes, I know that the Sabres took the Bruins to overtime the last time they played, but this is a huge game.

With a win, we the fanbase keep smiling and should get our F8 finger ready to refresh the NHL.com standings page several times a day come late February/March.

With a loss, we’re left reeling and back to being the Bruins’ punching bags. Read: bitch.

With 4 more games left against Boston including the tilt on Wednesday, the Buffalo Sabres have a total of 8 points at stake against them. If we can’t beat a physical team like the Bruins, we may be up the creek without a paddle this year. All hope will be lost. Throw in the towel. Give up the ghost. Insert other euphemism here.

white flag 235x300 A Crucial Tilt Against The Bruins

Let's hope we don't have to wave the white flag. Nothing funny here, just had to toss one more euphemism out there.

I’m not saying the entire season hangs in the balance on Wednesday night but… well, I guess that really is what I’m trying to say.

But maybe I’m just hopped up on green tea and overly prone to worry. Agree/disagree? Is the season lost with a loss to the B’s?

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Weathering The Storm

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What in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks happened against the Pittsburgh Penguins? How can a team completely fall apart like that? We’re not going to make the playoffs with a team like this! We should trade Miller, Stafford and Roy, fire Regier and Ruff, burn the city to the ground and start over from scratch!

Ok, I’m overdoing it a bit. But it’s still pretty chaotic with all the injuries. Heck, even Thomas Vanek didn’t practice on Monday, sending tendrils of fear all through Sabres Nation. It’s been bad, and many are calling for heads to roll, for players to be traded, for Ruff to be fired… and worse. Wow.

A big part of the problem may be that we have a lot of history and buildup with the current team. Expectations were high even before Terry Pegula bought the team. Then he came in raised the bar even higher and said, “We’re going to hit this mark”.

Yeah, these Sabres are all over the map with their play, but that’s to be expected when your entire team consists of the entire roster of your minor league team, minus perhaps a goalie. When Lindy Ruff was asked about getting back to consistency he responded thusly:

“I don’t think you can talk about that until you get your team back,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “You’re looking at a line out there of [Evgeni] Malkin and [Chris] Kunitz, and I’ve got [Zack] Kassian, [Paul] Szczechura and Luke Adam on the ice. You’re asking a lot out of the kids, and they’ve played hard for us. But we need some bodies back.” (Source – Buffalo News)

On top of the injuries, another thing that really makes it hard for us fans right now is that we don’t know what we’ve got in this team. Unlike say, the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings, we cannot unequivocally say we’re going to make the playoffs and be a real threat to go deep and win the Stanley Cup. And unlike the Columbus Bluejackets or New York Islanders we are not totally out of it and looking just to rebuild over the next year or two. No, the Sabres are… well, a pretty talented but young team with a lot of injuries.

And sure, there are a lot of negatives going on right now that we can point to as validation for hitting the panic button. For example, Ryan Miller’s stats are horrible. He has a GAA of 3.12, good for 37th in the NHL, with a save percentage of .902 (32nd in the league.) We also let a guy named Sneep score against us in his very first NHL game! Sneep! I’m sure he has a 1st name but I’d like to pretend otherwise. Sounds like a name from some children’s book. It is, you say?

 Weathering The Storm

The Sabres saw a Sneep. It lulled them to sleep. They barely even made a peep. They were in much too deep. (Dr. Seuss, I'm not.)

So with everything going crazy right now, some might point out the example of the Philadelphia Flyers who made some moves in the offseason that seemed insane at the time. But so far, trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards has turned out pretty well for them. It feels good to hit the “detonate nukes” button. (It’s such a pretty, shiny, red button.) It’s easy to place the blame on one or two guys and just get rid of them.

It’s hard to not press the button.

But I don’t think we need to do that. Nor is it time to do so … yet. Now, I’m not trying to look at things through rose-colored glasses or tell you that everything is going to be just peachy (or be preachy). I’m just saying that Ted Black and crew deserve some time before we rush into destroying things that the Sabres have taken years to build. Shouldn’t Regier and Ruff get at least one full season under the new ownership to see what they can do? Haven’t they earned that? Same goes for the players.

Like Lindy Ruff teaches, perhaps we shouldn’t get too high or too low. Maybe we should just enjoy the season as it unfolds and take the long view. We’ll have some amazing hockey and some crap games as well. As the season progresses, the Sabres will hopefully gain more chemistry and consistency.

With that should come wins and a playoff spot. And if the younger guys’ streak of nastiness can mesh with the cores scoring ability? Come playoff time they could be downright dangerous. We just need to weather this storm for a while.

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I’m Thankful For Sabres Nation

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I am thankful for a great many things, not just today, but every day. Of course today is the traditional day to really take the time to think about what we’re thankful for. Health, relative wealth (or at least not impoverishment), great family and friends – these are the things we truly have to be thankful for.

But sometimes it’s about the “little things”, the things that help get us through a hard day. The Buffalo Sabres are a source of entertainment and inspiration for a great many of us.

For instance, last night, a battle royale with the Boston Bruins. We didn’t get the full two points, but it was an amazing contest to kick off the holiday weekend.  A spirited game by the Sabres, Gaustad taking on Lucic, Regeher versus Chara, tons of heart and entertaining hockey throughout most of the game. Not to mention some bonus four on four hockey and a shootout that went into extra innings.

In the end, it’s just a game and shouldn’t really change any of our lives, but it does. We cheer, we applaud, we cringe, we scream … and many of of cuss up a storm. We may startle our pets when a goal is scored or a Carruba Collision candidate happens.

134008495 300x185 Im Thankful For Sabres Nation

I'm thankful for hockey games breaking out at fights.

I still feel lucky that the team is around after the Rigas bankruptcy. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost ten years since we came close to losing the Sabres, but I never take them for granted. Perhaps I’m just scarred by the potential loss of the team.

I’m thankful for the new Terry Pegula era and what his ownership has brought to the team and the city. It’s been truly an amazing story that’s still unfolding and perhaps the greatest reason for this site’s existence.

I’m thankful for Rick Jeanneret’s calls, the way his voice cracks a bit  sometimes when he says, “SHO-TTTT”, and continually amusing me with his homer wisecracks. A bit of love for Harry Neale and Roby Ray as well, but mostly for their comedic antics, intended or otherwise.

I’m thankful for my partner @slackin who will watch any and every hockey game with me. I’m thankful she’s a Sabres fan as well and for one of the best gifts I ever got many moons ago – a Sabres goathead jersey. (I forgive the fact that she didn’t know who Don Cherry was until last night. After all, she grew up here in the cornfields of Ohio where hockey has been unknown until recently.)

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I'd be remiss not to point out being thankful for chicken wings and other Buffalo cuisine.

I’m thankful for other Sabres fans, because it wouldn’t be much fun if it was just two people rooting for the team in their living room. It’s the shared experience that makes it really special. The chatter on Twitter is always a blast, perhaps even moreso than going to a game for me. And of course there’s the most awesome @scottyMCSS, without whose witty and insightful prose this site wouldn’t exist.

I’m thankful that the Sabres goal is to win the Stanley Cup, that they have a spot reserved for it and are doing everything they can to attain it.

I could go on and on about individual Sabres, the Sabres management or a number of other things, but I think that’s enough from me. What about you? What are you most thankful for as a Sabres fan?

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The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

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*We’re making this post “sticky” today in honor of Thomas Hockey God Vanek vs. the Habs. Man. This GIF: ALL. DAY. LONG. Go get ‘em, boys.

 

The list of 2011-12 GIFs has begun.

Thanks to Paul Gaustad, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and of course, Carey Price’s inability to contain his inertia on the ice, we have our first winner GIF of the season.

“The Vanek Set Play” will undoubtedly make our 2011-12 GIFs of the Season, but why wait? Let’s enjoy it now.
 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

It looks even better in slo-mo:
 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

It doesn’t get any easier looking than that. But bear in mind, this set play wasn’t a fluke. It was a play that the team had actually been practicing.

Meanwhile, this game-winner also set a historical marker. From the Montreal Gazette:

Montreal Canadiens haven’t started this badly at home since 1938

And that’s just the title! The Habs are in an early season struggle, and Vanek’s goal was a dagger in the heart of Montreal’s effort to get back to their winning ways. Again, from the Gazette:

The chance to end the winless-in-Montreal-since-April-26 skid comes Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The time to pounce is now, against a team that must surely be distracted planning its Stanley Cup parade.

Indeed, the Northeast Division is Bizarro World right now – the Leafs are atop everyone with a nearly flawless 4-0-1 record. Buffalo is a solid second – for now – at 4-1-0. Montreal’s 1-3-1 record has them ahead of the pitiful Senators (1-5-0) by one measly point. If that’s not enough, Boston is just one measly point atop Montreal, at 2-4-0. Sure, the Leafs have yet to play an away game, but the all-important goals for/goal against ratio tells no lies.

NEStandings 300x81 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

Remember the old adage: “You know it’s Spring when the Leafs are out of the playoff picture.” We’ll see.

It seems strange to say that Montreal is entering must-win territory just 5 games into the regular season, but with Toronto in town for a 4 point swing, it’s their best chance to start reversing this reversal of fortunes in the Northeast.

Vanek’s goal was a shocking upset for Montreal fans, but as it turns out, it wasn’t a fluke. As the GF/GA ratio shows us, neither are the Bizarro standings.

For now.

Keep practicing those set plays, boys!

Go Sabres.

See also: “Top Ten 2010-11 Sabres GIFs,” “Sabres GIFs: Back by Popular Demand

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