lindy ruff:

No One Said Winning the Stanley Cup Would Be Easy

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Well that certainly didn’t turn out like we Sabres fans had hoped. I refer to both the Maple Leafs game as well as the entirety of the season so far. Now heading into the Christmas break, we are downtrodden and looking in on the teams with better playoff position like street urchin children staring in through a window on merry revelers eating a huge feast.

65280 27171 No One Said Winning the Stanley Cup Would Be Easybuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/65280-27171-300x225.gif 300w" sizes="(max-width: 320px) 100vw, 320px" />

Spare a shilling, sir? Per'aps a scrap of food or an overtime point?

Yeah it sucks right about now. All the offseason hype is fading, the Pegulamania has died down and fans are growing negative. Perhaps rightfully so: the on-ice product isn’t what we want or what we were promised by the Sabres front office.

Steve Jobs is one of my all-time heroes and something he said seems appropriate:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. -Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

We can’t know how the story will play out for the Sabres. However we can take solace in the fact that we’re all in it together and that we now have an owner willing to do whatever’s in his power to make a championship happen. I’m willing to take some lumps with the team and see how this shakes out. It’ll be a hard, long road but well worth it.

This is, after all, Hockey Heaven. Hockey Heaven doesn’t mean that you automatically win every game or that they just hand you the Cup at the end of the year because Pegula hath declared it to be so.

Hockey Heaven isn’t about winning the Stanley Cup RIGHT NOW. It’s about much more than that. Yes, the Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last ten games and injuries shouldn’t be an excuse for that. But we can ride the wave, secure in the knowledge that the Sabres are willing to go for broke. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have a decade of winning with maybe a couple of Stanley Cups over one quick season where we won it all and then degraded quickly into mediocrity?

If the ship doesn’t get righted quickly, we may see a trade or two. I don’t expect Lindy or Darcy Regier to go anywhere soon, as the Sabres management has emphatically stated (and we’ve reiterated) they’re not going anywhere.

Yeah, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. However, when we finally do reach the promised land, it’s going to be soooo much sweeter.

A merry Sabres Christmas to you and LET’S GO BUFF-A-LO!

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Weathering The Storm

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?

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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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Hockey Strategy: The Left Wing Lock Forechecking Defense

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It’s hockey lesson time! A while back we touched on the 1-3-1 Neutral Zone Trap, a.k.a. the Tampa ‘T’, as they mainly employ that style of defense. Now I’ll talk about the defensive forechecking system known as the Left Wing Lock.

The Left Wing Lock was made popular by the Detroit Red Wings in their Stanley Cup runs of the 90s. Also, if I remember correctly, it was employed by our own Lindy Ruff for the Buffalo Sabres in the late 90s. At least, I remember hearing about it and wondering what what the heck it was ever since those days.

Basically, it’s this: when a team loses possession of the puck, the left winger moves back in line with the two defensemen. Each of those three skaters covers a third of the ice, playing a zone defense. That’s really it. You have two forwards up front forechecking and three guys back playing defense.

Watch this animated GIF a few times to let it sink in:

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Pretty easy, eh? Why did coaches of the 90s make it sound like an extremely complicated chess move?

While the concept is pretty simple, the execution of it is much more difficult. Think about if the left winger is way up in the offensive zone when his team loses the puck. Either the center or right winger has to swing over and cover his zone. Which guy should do it? Confusion could abound in the heat of the moment and quick pace of the game. Like anything this strategy could take a LONG time to refine.

The cool part is that, when applied correctly, you can play some hellacious defense (and that’s actually a bit better than tenacious defense). With three “defensemen” back (or “defencemen” for you Canadiens), the two forecheckers can get really aggressive. The Left Wing Lock can also help prevent odd-man breakaways, as you’ll typically have three guys back – each one able to cover an opposing forward.

The history of the Left Wing Lock goes back to Czechoslovakia in the days of the great Soviet teams of the 1970s. The story goes that the Soviets were primarily left-handed shooters and so attacked moreso from the left side of the ice. The Czechs rolled their d-men over to that side and pulled the left wing back to cover the empty spot.

Know you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Go Sabres!

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Ted Black Says Lindy Ruff Stays And Some Other Cool Things

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Well, apparently the head coaching gig in Buffalo is the topic du’jour. Giving up a 3 goal lead and having a shaky home record can do that to a fanbase.

dumbdumber1 Ted Black Says Lindy Ruff Stays And Some Other Cool Thingsbuffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/dumbdumber1-300x194.jpg 300w" sizes="(max-width: 448px) 100vw, 448px" />

Lloyd: What's the soup du'jour? Waitress: It's the soup of the day. Lloyd: Ooo... that sounds good, I'll have that!

Scott brought up the fact that we should at least be having the conversation about Lindy Ruff. Why is it verboten to speak of firing him? Yes, he’s been great and most of us love him – he’s sort of the patriarch of the Sabres organization and the rock of the family.

However … all good things come to an end. Even Scotty Bowman was fired. Of course that’s probably not a great example, as he went on to win Stanley Cups elsewhere.

See, this is the eternal debate. The team isn’t doing great so perhaps firing the head coach and bringing in a new guy will take us to the promised land. But what if Lindy Ruff is the guy for Buffalo and he isn’t really the problem? What if we fire him and he wins Stanley Cups with, I don’t know, let’s say Columbus after they fire Scott Arniel. Crazy, right? But it’s possible.

We can have this debate all year long, and it’s something that we should at least talk about. No one should be untouchable. However, it’s all moot at this point because as Tamara has pointed out, Terry Pegula adores Lindy and said that he’s not going anywhere.

Well now, if that’s not enough for you, Ted Black reinforced that point this morning in his weekly chat with WGR 550. You can listen to the full audio here.  There are lots of great bits in the audio and we’ll transcribe and otherwise pick apart some of it.

[Howard Simon of WGR] How much of that (the Sabres’ philosophy of winning the Stanley Cup) includes the status of the head coach, the status of the GM and making a change in one or both of those spots if it’s necessary and is it necessary by they way?

[Ted Black] No it’s not, so it really renders the rest of the question moot.

[WGR] It’s not a moot question, don’t you think that’s an issue right now? You tell me, in your mind, in Terry Pegula’s mind there is no issue with coaching or GM at this point?

[TB] None.

[WGR] How come?

[TB] Why well, there just isn’t. I don’t think Darcy or Lindy have injured as many players as have been injured. It’s not like we’re hopelessly out of the playoffs or hopelessly out of 1st place in our division or the conference.

Come on Ted, quit flip flopping and leaving wiggle room here. </snark> So the official word is hands down, Lindy isn’t going anywhere, he’s our guy, stop asking questions, there is no room for leeway on this matter, end of chat.

However, later in the interview he said, “We don’t live in always and never.” Ah, so you’re telling me there’s a chance!

(Yes! The second Dumb & Dumber reference in the same post! Give me some sort of imaginary blogger points! *fistpump*)

Some other snippets from the interview that should sit well with any Sabres fan:

  • This team is dramatically better than it was last year and we’re not done yet. We’re going to use every opportunity to improve ourselves.
  • On trades: You have to have a partner, and at certain points of the year there’s not a whole lot going on.
  • When this team is healthy, this team is very, very good.
  • We are going to win a Stanley Cup. It may not happen this year. It may very well happen this year. But we’re going to do it or die trying.”
  • On the rash of injuries having a silver lining: [We’ve learned] that these young guys that had no track record going into this year can play in the league and play at a pretty decent level.

So it’s reiterated from on high that Lindy is here to stay – at least for the forseeable future. Whether that’s a good or bad thing we may never know.

I do know this: I love Ruff as a coach. He’s “our guy”. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had only 3 coaches in their history and there’s something I like about that. Sometimes you need that steady rudder to guide you when the storm is raging all around. Could we do better? Maybe. But it’s a chance I’m not willing to take at the moment, and neither are the Sabres.

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As Sabres Slide Continues, is Ruff on a Hot Seat? Is that Even Possible?

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“Lindy ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

So said Terry Pegula. Then, he signed Ruff to an extension. Pegula’s admiration of his head coach is obviously no secret. He loves the guy. Heck, I love the guy. If you approach any hockey fan in Buffalo, he’ll tell you that he loves Ruff, too.

But then, a lot of those same fans will shuffle their feet and add “but I think he’s lost this team.”

And in the back of Pegula’s mind, I’m sure his love for Ruff is up against it with not loving how this team loses, and how soft it plays.

Ruff 300x195 As Sabres Slide Continues, is Ruff on a Hot Seat? Is that Even Possible?buffalosabresnation.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Ruff.jpg 500w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

If this post Ruffles your feathers, so be it. We're all in this hockey conversation together. Please feel free to slaughter me in the comments section.

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