1Posted by Scott Michalak on February 16, 2012 at 8:57 am
I hope we’re still Pals, Mike and Lindy.
Yesterday’s post called out the play of Mike Weber this season, and called out the handling of Weber by coach Ruff. In short, Weber emerged as a rugged leader on defense last season, and this season, well, has been a disaster for him. How Lindy has handled his ice time, in my theory, played a big role in his regression.
Today, sports hypothesis becomes fact!
From NHL.com’s preview of tonite’s Sabres/Flyers matchup:
Sabres: Less, apparently, is more for defenseman Mike Weber.
In a 13-game span from Dec. 28 to Jan. 21, Weber played at least 20 minutes 11 times, and had 1 goal and a minus-8 rating. In eight games since then, however, he’s averaged about 16:30 per game, and has 2 assists and a plus-2 rating.
More importantly, the Sabres went 2-9-2 in those 13 games with Weber playing extended minutes, and 5-2-1 since he had his ice time cut back.
“That’s been the biggest, to get back to playing the minutes he seems suited to, that he’s not trying to do too much, that when he gets out there he’s fresh,” coach Lindy Ruff told the Tonawanda News. “His game is a lot of times energy. It’s playing hard in a short period of time, and I think when we’ve overplayed him he’s just tried too much. He’s over-handled some situations. He tried to make plays into areas he doesn’t need to make plays. I think that part of his game has really cleaned up.”
Figure it out, Lindy!
Anyway, there you have it – my hard-hitting Sabres analysis, backed up a day late by real news sources. Beer: earned.
Tonight Lindy, Weber, and the rest of the beleaguered Sabres take on the Flyers in Philly. It’s the return of Leino to Philadelphia, in a game that means virtually nothing for either team. Should be fun. Oh, and there’s these people, too:
The Sabres have been on a fun run lately, and I hope they keep things fun for Sabres fans, but the mathematical reaper is coming for our boys in Blue and Gold. Well, not all of them. Some of them will likely be sold off to playoff contenders, something that the Sabres were before a couple things happened.
That 12 game home losing streak. (I said it before, but it bears repeating – just 5 wins in those 12 games and we’d be skating in the top 8.)
The Sabres were close last night. The second period came to a close before the game winner was up on the scoreboard. Then, before Buffalo could head into the locker room for an inspirational “ribbing” by Lindy Ruff, Mike Weber was being assessed a cross checking penalty.
At the 20:00 mark.
While the Sabres were already short handed.
Sure enough, the Sabres heroically survived the ensuing :47 of the 5 on 3, before giving up a goal on a deflection during the remaining 5 on 4. Weber was excused from the box, and for all intents and purposes, the Sabres were excused from the playoff race.
Then again, at least for me, one of the greater mysteries of this season happened: Lindy Ruff put him in the pressbox for the start of the season. And there he sat, and stayed, while fellow youngsters Marc-Andre Gragnani and Andrej Sekera were kept on the ice along with the other 3 offensive-minded defenders (Leopold, Ehrhoff, Myers). Weber didn’t get out onto the ice until November 2nd, and his play was terrible. He’s currently on pace to have his statistically worst career season in points per game and +/- (he’s last on the team in that latter category now – quite the reversal from last season).
He’s certainly regressed. Whatever happened up in that pressbox for the first month of the season wasn’t good. Lindy had chance to play Weber before November, to give him some ice time with Regehr, or anyone for that matter. For whatever reason, he never did.
Weber’s pro development has stalled. His play hasn’t been the same since last season, when he had found consistency and tenacity at the NHL level.
Well then, maybe it was fitting that Weber took that cross checking penalty that sunk the Sabres last night. For better or worse, it was the perfect statement play by a player who was passed over by his coach and who is now overdoing it to try to get his team and his own inconsistent self going again.
As a result, the Sabres remain mired in 14th place. The win would have put them within 6 points of 8th. Now, one bad hockey decision later, they are just 5 games away from oblivion.
There’s been a lot of talk that Weber made it onto the ice for last night’s game against the Habs because of the Lucic incident, because Myers failed to respond to what was happening at the time. Which is ridiculous. Myers should return, but Weber should stay in the lineup. Not only do the Sabres need more than one defensive defenseman (Robyn Regehr), but there’s also this issue:
(Stats from before last night's game.)
That’s pretty alarming. All three were listed in the top 25 in the NHL in the GvA department. Myers, the scratch, had at least been hitting, but Marc-Andre Gragnani has had issues all season long asserting himself along the boards. He’s an open invitation for teams to enter the Sabres’ defensive zone on his side of the ice without thinking about getting hit.
Weber is -3 on the season, but the above list of egregious giveaways and uninspired lack of hitting are the real liability on the ice so far this season. I like Gragnani and what he brings to the power play, but that specialization is only good for a few shifts a game, if that. Let Ehrhoff, Leopold, Myers and Sekera take care of the PP. The Sabres need more grit on the blueline.
If Myers returns, hope for Gragnani to take a turn in the pressbox. (This, of course, is up to Lindy Ruff. So don’t hold your breath.)
More on Weber’s season thus far:
After 2 games played, Weber is already 10th on the team in hits (9).
At his pace of 4.5 hits per game, Weber “would” have 76.5 hits after 17 games played. Regehr has 47.
The Sabres need teeth. Weber’s got them.
Click on the link above – it will take you to buffalo74, where the “Mike Weber Watch” will be ongoing throughout the season. For today, here’s a screen shot of the watch from last night.
No game in the NHL is truly a gimme, and this contest is shaping up to be a good test. The Sabres should be and are expected to outscore and skate off with a W tonight, but Buffalo’s new-found physicality and size will be pushed to the limits. Just how well the Sabres can protect the blue paint and survive a forecheck could turn this game around in just a shift or two.
Regehr’s got his mitts full tonight.
Watch for the Sabres to send a message (Thundersticks) early. When all is said and done, we should have a good idea of just how tough we are after this one.
Frankly, all we did there was point out the obvious – one of the Sabres broadcast’s “Keys of the Game” was “surviving the Columbus forecheck.”
Here comes the 1-1-3 forecheck! Looks like a three headed stick man on paper.
Well, the Sabres outlasted and bettered Columbus at their own game. They outhit the Blue Jackets 14-10. They sent that early message. They sent it with extreme prejudice.
You might say the Sabres kicked their Bass.
The Thundersticks were brought out early and eagerly. Cody Bass was no match for the onslaught. The Jackets were able to claw back to a 2-2 tie after being down 2-0, but they weren’t able to play their game. Instead, they found themselves playing catch-up on the scoreboard, and then playing catch-up to the speedy, rolling Buffalo lines.
Kaleta put the death bullet in the heart of the would-be Jackets’ rally, scoring the game winner with six minutes left. Pominville made sure the quick and talented part of the squad had a say too, driving home an easy goal off an incredibly sweet feed from Thomas Vanek. (Vanek joined 11 other Sabres players with his 400th point with the Blue and Gold on the play. Pominville now has 371 and is closing in fast.)
Thundersticks and speed. This Sabres team is loaded at both ends of the sword, from the tip of the blade to the brunt of the hilt, and they use both very well. It’s already a tough task to beat the Blue and Gold this season, and the team hasn’t completely gelled yet. Mike Weber, leader in hits on the team last season, has yet to suit up for a game.
But we'll see him soon.
The Sabres stand at 6-3. Their goal differential is an excellent 27-19. The line of Vanek, Pominville, and Adam have combined for 35 points in this 9 game span. Ryan Miller is enjoying a save percentage of .930 behind a revamped defense, which is only going to get better. Enroth: .950. Key parts of the Sabres’ core offense are becoming parts of Sabres history. All these are wonderful portents for success.
But last night, the Sabres sent the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the NHL, a message.
Try and forecheck all your want. From now on, we’re coming for you.
0Posted by Scott Michalak on October 12, 2011 at 8:47 am
You gotta’ feel bad for Mike Weber these days.
Last season, Weber tied for 2nd place in plus/minus on the Sabres with a +13, lead the team in hits (158), and was 3rd in blocked shots (99). He also added 4 goals and 13 assists, and he did this all in just 58 games. He continuously put himself between Ryan Miller and Philadelphia’s shooters in the playoffs, leading the team with 16 blocked shots. He was the star of buffalo74′s much under-heralded “Mike Weber Watch.”
All that, and the guy has to sit in the press box and watch games this year. A healthy scratch. The seventh defenseman. All the while, the 6 ahead of him are playing great, and it doesn’t look like any of them are coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon, barring injury. Top six take note: avoid Weber’s hits during practice. He’s not going to let up. Call it frustration, desperation, or pure determination, Weber must put everything into every hockey shift he has this year just to get a sniff of ice time during a real game. It’s tough times for Weber.
Ruff has gone from one of the most green defenses in the NHL to a balanced squad full of blue-chip veterans and prospects. It’s a squad so deep, that when Drew Schiestel (an AHL all star last season and the Sabres best bet for the number 8 d-man) went down for 4-6 weeks with a MCL injury, no one seemed to notice. It’s a weird twist of fate for the defense corps. With Pegula, the Sabres have the additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr eating up huge minutes of ice time. Without Pegula, Weber and Schiestel may have been battling for the 6th, maybe even the 5th defensive spot.
Meanwhile, Jochen Hecht looks to be coming back from his injury. The offense, augmented by Pegula with the likes of Brad Boyes and and Ville Leino (along with the emergence of Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe) is also out of space. Ruff will have to make a tough decision on where to place Jochen when he makes his return, and who to take out. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick seem to be the likeliest candidates to sit for Hecht, but why mess with a lineup that is 2-0-0 and has outscored its opponents 8-3?
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it. They know Mike Weber is ready, willing and more than able to take up the slack if someone gets lazy on defense. They know that Hecht, or even Matt Ellis or AHLers Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno could step in at any time to replace a forward floundering on his confidence.
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it.
Gone are the days when Lindy Ruff had to have screaming fits with enigmatic players who just didn’t play The System the way he needed them to.
Hecht is lurking. Don't screw up, forwards.
Gone are the days of that ill-fated 2005-06 playoff run, when Ruff and his Sabres ran out of serviceable and healthy defensemen in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Gone is the unhealthy sting of the injury bug: replaced with a deep and lasting dose of healthy competition.
Tough times for Mike Weber? Yes. It’s going to be tough for him, or anyone else, to crack this lineup. If anyone loses their place as a starter, it’s going to be miserable trying to get back in. These boys are going to push each other to the brink, and maybe beyond.
Coach Ruff has been to the brink before – 1999, 2006, 2007. Maybe this is the kind of push that he and the Sabres always needed to get them over it. Ruff doesn’t have to say a word. He decides who plays and who sits, and he’s got a wealth of bodies fighting for his attention.
He’s the most powerful man in Hockey Heaven right now. Finally.