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Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Bruins

Greetings from high atop HSBC Arena -- just behind the newly-hung flags of the nations in the upcoming World Junior Championships -- as we get set for the Sabres' game against the Boston Bruins. Time is already wasting in the playoff chase, believe it or not, and this is only game 31 of the season.

Tim Connolly even said after the morning skate today that "our playoffs have already started." The players can read the standings too. The Sabres already stand eight points out of the top eight and realistically don't appear to have much chance to finish any higher than fifth or sixth in the East this season without a major, major winning streak.

Bout time the Sabres beat the Bruins, don't you think? They're 0-1-1 this year coming on the heels of last year's playoff defeat.

Sabres starters: McCormick-Gaustad-Grier-Leopold-Montador. Goal: Miller.
Bruins starters: Thornton-Campbell-Marchand-Chara-Seidenberg. Goal: Rask.

Third Period

8:52 p.m.: We're under way. 

18:32 left: Connolly for tripping, again in the offensive zone. Bruins are lucky it wasn't evened up as Chara leveled Kaleta late into the boards just before the whistle.

16:30 left: The penalty is killed. Boston is 0-4 tonight.

16:04 left: Rask with back-to-back stonies of Montador and Connolly.

14:56 left: Weber for tripping Thornton. Can the PK keep holding the Bruins off?

13:39 left: They can't. Ryder cuts right between Montador and Hecht, pulls the puck around Miller and stuffs it in the empty net. Bruins lead, 2-1.

13:07 left: There's the way to answer. Roy with a beautiful backhand feed to Stafford, who slams it home for his second of the night. Game tied, 2-2. Stafford's seventh and fourth in four games, albeit spread by a month due to injuries.

12:30 left: Nice touch by the Sabres, recognizing Boston's Mark Recchi for playing in his 1,600th career game. Standing ovation from lots of Bruins fans behind the visitors bench.

11:15 left: Sekera to the dressing room tunnel after a hit along the boards. Looks like a shoulder problem.

9:17 left: A potential Boston go-ahead goal is wiped out by a goaltender interference call against Thornton. Seemed like a pretty obvious call but it also seemed like a late one too. Sabres would have had a huge argument. The entire bench was up, certainly with fresh memories of last week's overtime goal where Recchi interfered with Miller and wasn't whistled.

9:05 left: Bang. Here come the hats. Stafford puts home a Roy feed after a Pominville point shot. Two power play goals. Three for the night. Eight for the season. Sabres' first hat trick of the season. Sabres lead, 3-2.

7:12 left: Rask keeps Boston alive stopping Butler on a 2-on-1 with Ennis

6:52 left: Rask again, on Roy.

5:12 left: Sekera is back. Shots are 8-6 for Buffalo in the period, 35-32 overall. Just wondering: Sabres lead by a goal -- why are all these fans leaving? Really? That's a joke. To save, what, 10 minutes in the parking lot? Attendance: 18,197.

1:38 left: Lucic for unsportsmanlike conduct. Must have been chirping. Sabres did a good job killing 20 seconds on the delayed penalty call.

56.7 left: Myers pretty gimpy heading off after a collision along the boards. Timeout by Boston.

10.7 left: Miller corrals a tip from the point with Chara looming right in front. Faceoff to Miller's left.

It's over: A huge 3-2 win with a scrum at the end after chara poked Miller. Stupid.

Second Period

Of note: No one from either team has more than three shots. Roy, Stafford and Marchand are at three. The Sabres were charged with nine giveaways while Boston had just two

8:01 p.m: We're under way.

17:38 left: Good call by Ruff to shift the lines and put Stafford with Roy and Vanek. Niedermayer is with Pominville and Hecht. No clue what the thinking was putting him with Roy and Vanek. At this point, he looks like the forward version of Craig Rivet. As in too old to still be in the NHL. Slow, slow, slow.

13:23 left: Sabres dodge a bullet as Chara has Miller beat the shot clangs off the post.

12:01 left: Hecht for hooking deep in the offensive zone. Totally unnecessary.

10:50 left: Miller with a couple nice saves and Myers goes for delay of game for firing a rolling puck over the glass. Two-man advantage. Ouch.

8:45 left: Sabres survive as great work by Connolly-Montador-Leopold helps to kill off the 5-on-3. Shots are 8-4 for Boston in the period. Like how Montador wiped out Lucic in front during the kill.

7:14 left: Vanek right around Adam McQuaid but McQuaid appeared to just hook his stick at the last second.

3:44 left: Bergeron for hooking puts Buffalo on the PP. Myers set it up by faking the shot and going around Chara while getting a pass to Ennis.

1:36 left: Bruins kill it and Sabres survive a terrible giveaway by Miller and a worse one by Hecht to keep it tied. Miller got back in the net after his trouble behind the net with the puck and stopped Bergeron after a brutal crossice pass from Hecht, who has been mostly brutal all night.

1:10 left: Miller with the save of the night, a right pad job, on a laser from the slot by Horton. Shots are 12-9 in the second for Boston.

End-2nd: Tied at 1-1. Shots are 27-26 for Buffalo.

First Period

13:17 left: We had a few Internet issues up here in the press box that appear to be rectified now so we can return to our regularly scheduled programming. The Sabres have a 9-6 edge in shots on goal with both Miller and Rask making some good saves. Pretty loose, wide-open affair so far. Not what you expect from a visit from the Bruins.

9:10 left: The lines are what we saw this morning and yesterday in practice. That means Niedermayer is with Vanek and Roy in quite an odd combination. Stafford is with Hecht and Pominville, Connolly is centering Ennis and Kaleta and Gaustad is centering McCormick and Grier. Shots are 10-9 for Boston.

7:17 left: Ference for roughing. Pretty nasty shot to Kaleta's face as the Buffalo forward was going down. Came right after Rask stopped Kaleta on a nice Connolly feed.

6:25 left: Stafford slashing as Krejci nearly got a breakaway. The Bruins, remember, burned the Sabres for two short-handed goals here in their win last month.

4:13 left: The boxes are empty. 

2:31 left: Krejci tips in Seidenberg's shot from the point. Untouched in front. Sabres had about four chances to clear the zone, notably Hecht and Niedermayer. Bruins lead, 1-0.

2:11 left: Lucic goes for boarding. 

1:19 left: The Sabres tie it at 1-1 as Stafford backhands home a rebound. Came after Rask robbed Roy and Roy then hit the post -- sparking a brief but stunted noise from the goal horn. Turns out the sound was just a second or too premature. Shots are 18-14 for Buffalo but you wouldn't necessarily say it's a game filled with glorious chances.

End-1st: Game tied at 1-1. Shots stay at 18-14. Big to get that tying goal late.

Looks like Sabres to meet another backup

It's easy to see that opposing teams don't respect the Sabres' pop-gun offense: They keep playing their backup goalies against Buffalo. It appears Tuukka Rask will start tonight for the Boston Bruins, who are holding out ace Tim Thomas for tomorrow night's showdown in Montreal. Rask, of course, stymied the Sabres and outplayed Ryan Miller last year in the playoffs but has hardly been a world-beater this year (2-6-1, 2.51, .928).

By my count, the Sabres are a stellar 9-3-2 against backups this season. Of course, that means they're 3-11-2 when the opponents play their No. 1 guy and that's pathetic. The Sabres' only wins over starters came Nov. 6 at Toronto (beating J.S. Giguere), Dec. 4 at Ottawa (Brian Elliott) and Dec. 9 over San Jose (Antti Niemi)

Add Rask to a long line of backups that have played against Buffalo this season. This will be the 15th time in 31 games the Sabres have seen the No. 2 guy (or in the case of Washington, the No. 3). Some were injury related and some are schedule-related but most are also let's-start-the-backup-against-the-weaker-team thinking.

In addition to Rask for Thomas tonight, the Sabres have also seen Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier (instead of Jonathan Quick), Vancouver's Corey Schneider (Roberto Luongo), old friend Marty Biron of the Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist), Dallas' Andrew Raycroft (Kari Lehtinen), Columbus' Mathieu Garon (Steve Mason), Washington's Braden Holtby (Michal Neuvirth), Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson (Giguere), Atlanta's Chris Mason twice (Ondrej Pavelec), Chicago's Corey Crawford (Marty Turco), Ottawa's Pascal Leclaire (Elliott), New Jersey's Johan Hedberg twice (Martin Brodeur), and Tampa's Mike Smith (Dan Ellis).

On paper, it should be a break to not have to try to beat Thomas, who is 14-2-3 and leads the league in GAA (1.51) and save percentage (.954). We'll see.

No changes from yesterday's practice lineup for Buffalo. Nathan Gerbe and Craig Rivet will be scratches with Rob Niedermayer, Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly all in the lineup.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Kassian, Foligno coming to Buffalo

Sabres prospects Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno are returning to Buffalo this month. The duo was named to Canada's world junior team this morning, according to TSN.ca.

Kassian, the Sabres' first-round pick in 2009, has been on a point-producing run since being one of the final cuts of Buffalo's training camp. The physical forward has 15 goals and 48 points in 25 games with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.

Foligno, Buffalo's fourth-round pick in 2009, was considered a long shot to make the Canadian squad. But he's got 15 goals and 33 points in 28 games with Sudbury of the OHL and scored three times this week during Canada's camp.

"The biggest thing for me is the forecheck," the Buffalo-born forward told the Canadian Press. "I've got to skate, beat their defence to the puck and try to spend as much time as possible in the offensive zone.

"I'm here to play an energy role, to hit, backcheck and work hard at both ends and hopefully be a guy they can rely on to get the job done."

Sabres defense prospects Brayden McNabb and Mark Pysyk were cut from camp.

Hockey Canada is expected to make the announcements official today. Prospects guru and birthday boy Kris Baker has more on the selection process at SabresProspects.com.

---John Vogl

Returnees shuffle Sabres' lines

The Sabres -- and your humble reporter -- have slogged through the downtown snow and wind to practice at HSBC Arena and it's quite a different look than recent workouts because Drew Stafford, Tim Connolly and Rob Niedermayer are all on lines and ostensibly going to play Wednesday against Boston. We'll have to get Lindy Ruff's confirmation of that after practice.

Luke Adam is gone, presumably back to Portland. I'm guessing Nathan Gerbe, goalless in 20 games, will be a scratch. Here is how the Sabres are skating:

Niedermayer-Roy-Vanek (seriously)
Stafford-Hecht-Pominville
McCormick-Gaustad-Grier
Gerbe-Ennis-Connolly-Kaleta

No change on defense, with Shoane Morrissonn (concussion) not on the ice and Craig Rivet as the extra on defense.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Stafford, Connolly look set to return

Barring any setbacks Tuesday, it's looking like Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford will get the go-ahead to play Wednesday night against Boston. Rob Niedermayer is not far behind. All three practiced hard Monday and got through the team's hour-long workout in HSBC Arena.

Stafford was back on his line with Luke Adam and Jason Pominville, with Mark Mancari returned to Portland. Coach Lindy Ruff said he wanted to see more from Stafford but said he understood the winger may have been holding back after missing 14 of the last 15 games with a shoulder problem.

Connolly skated in a non-contact jersey but looked better than he has at any point since suffering his groin injury in practice Nov. 22.

"I'm right there," Connolly said. "Conditioning is there, strength is there. When they're ready for me, I'm ready to go. Wednesday is a strong possiblity to me. In the end, it comes down to a coach's decision but that's what I'm shooting for."

"Today was meant to be a physical battle day that we could do some evaluating with those guys," Ruff said. "There's parts of it I liked. Hopefully they can both answer the call."

Niedermayer, who had minor knee surgery last month, has had most of the swelling in the knee go away and Ruff said he is also close to returning. Jochen Hecht left practice after rolling his ankle but Ruff was not concerned about that issue. Shaone Morrisonn (concussion) has yet to resume exercise.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

 

Ice chips: Stafford looks ready to return

The Sabres took the ice 25 minutes later than their scheduled 11:30 a.m. time today in HSBC Arena. Here's some items flowing through my notebook at the noon hour:

--Looks like Mark Mancari is back in Portland. Drew Stafford is on a regular line in Mancari's spot for practice today with Luke Adam and Jason Pominville. No Shoane Morrisonn still. Tim Connolly and Rob Niedermayer remain in red (non-contact) jerseys.

---Sabres prospect Marcus Foligno made a good first impression for Team Canada with two goals Sunday night in an intrasquad game in Toronto. First cuts for Canada are coming Tuesday and I'm planning to check out an exhibition game next Tuesday in Toronto against Sweden.

---Former San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been released from his KHL contract  for what's being called "family circumstances." Hmm. I wonder if that means a "contract with an NHL team needing goaltending like Tampa Bay or Washington."

---Can HBO be getting two stories that are any different? The Penguins are unbeatable while the Capitals are a trainwreck. They've lost six straight for the first time under Bruce Boudreau, and you'd have to think last night's 7-0 loss to the Rangers at MSG that featured an Alex Ovechkin-Brandon Dubinsky fight would be a bottoming out point.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Miller time on MSG Plus

Ryan Miller is the featured guest in an episode of MSG Network's "The Game 365," airing on MSG Plus Monday at 11 p.m. (repeating on MSG Network 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 26.)

Miller talks with former Yankees catcher Fran Healey about his pro and Olympic careers, and growing up in a hockey family.

Healey asked Miller who has the hardest shot in the NHL. His reply: "Probably, on a consistent basis in the Eastern Conference, Zdeno Chara [Boston Bruins]. He can tee it up. But there are a lot of guys these days that can really fire the puck when they get open. But 6-foot-9, he's got a bit of leverage on the puck."

---Greg Connors

Sabres fail test

The Sabres, unbeaten in four straight, were eager to see how they stacked up against the NHL's best team. After Pittsburgh left town with a 5-2 victory -- their 12th straight -- it was clear how the Sabres did on their test.

"Obviously, it’s a fail," defenseman Mike Weber said. "We need the two points more than anything right now to get ourselves into the playoffs here. We competed great for the first and second periods and let it slip a little in the third."

The Sabres fell into a 2-0 hole in the opening 9:31, with the second goal coming after a Derek Roy turnover.

"My fault," Roy said. "It’s tough to get back, especially coming against teams that have 11 straight. ... We had to play a squeaky clean game, and we didn’t do that."

Coach Lindy Ruff was disappointed in Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, Jordan Leopold and Steve Montador, among others.

"Our big guys weren’t good enough," Ruff said. "We missed nets. We missed opportunities. We had little plays down low where if you’re going to beat that team if they’re running that good, put it away. I don’t want to hear you talk about, 'Well, it was a great opportunity, missed chance.’ You don’t win games. If you’re going to win a game like that, you’ve got to take advantage of some of the turnovers we created."

---John Vogl

Three stars: Penguins 5, Sabres 2

Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Penguins

Enough talk. I've written a ton of words already yesterday and today about this Sabres-Penguins matchup. It's time to see if the Pittsburgh winning streak gets to 12 games or if the Sabres get their signature victory of the season. The Sabres have been playing much better of late, of course, and certainly have a legitimate chance. They were the better team in the last meeting, a 1-0 win by the Pens on Nov. 24 stolen by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. 

"We understand they're on a streak, a real tear," Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold told me yesterday. "But we look at what we've done the last five or six games and we've been playing well. We dug into our system, got our chances and scored on chances. We have to continue to do that and not worry about what they've done."

Let's not forget the Sidney Crosby streak either. Seventeen games and 35 points. Amazing.

"You just have to do the best you can taking his time and space away," said Tyler Myers. "As good as he is, he's going to make plays. You're just going to have to accept that. You try to contain a guy like that more than lunge at him."

Sabres starters: Gerbe-Roy-Vanek-Sekera-Myers. Goal: Miller.
Penguins starters (total all-star version): Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis-Orpik-Letang. Goal: Fleury.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Third Period

Of note: Fleury has stopped 55 of 56 shots in two meetings with Buffalo this year. Stopped all 30 in posting shutout on Nov. 24. ... Leopold/Montador an uncharacteristic minus-2 tonight. Grier (5) and Ennis (4) lead Sabres in shots. Penguins 24-11 on faceoffs. AP's Mike Haim notes Crosby has at least one point in all nine career games in HSBC (he has 24 points in 19 career games vs. Buffalo). No points for him yet tonight -- that 17-game point streak is in jeopardy.

19:36 left: Crosby down again early on hit from Myers and Orpik goes for interference on McCormick. Pretty good elbow from behind into the glass.

17:58 left: Pominville hits Talbot, who was ducking. Slow to leave the ice. Cooke tries to engage Pominville again. No call. Could have been.

16:12 left: Pominville over passes when he had a point-blank shot. Dude has three goals. Better shoot at some point.

13:09 left: Vanek for high sticking. Shots are 3-3 in this period. Tight, tight checking.

10:30 left: Pens are oddly terrible on the PP. They're 0-4 tonight with just three shots.

10:00 left: Shots are 4-3 for Sabres. Pens seem happy to just run the clock out. Easiest prediction of the night: Crosby will have no trouble losing his streak if his team's continues.

8:57 left: Gerbe and Letang for slashing. Gerbe's a tap. Letang's a Johnny Appleseed whack. But counts the same.

7:57 left: Leopold stopped on great Vanek feed as Sabres dominate 4-on-4.

7:51 left: Dupuis tips in Goligoski's shot from the left, getting in front of Leopold to give Pens huge insurance goal at 3-1. Looked like assist from Crosby from the right boards to Goligoski. 

7:00 left: Hold on. Pominville slapper stopped but he gets his own rebound, pulls it around Fleury and flips it in to get Sabres within 3-2. Two games in a row with a goal for No. 29.

6:15 left: Pens goal goes to Goligoski. Apparently went in off Leopold, who has not had a good night. And Crosby does get an assist to put his point streak to 18.

3:17 left: Terrible weak plays on the puck along the wall by a couple Sabres, notably Kaleta and Hecht, leads to a jam-in from in front by Mike Rupp. Pens lead, 4-2. No. 12 is close at hand.

2:25 left: Shots are 9-9 in this period and 35-22 for the game. Didn't like goals two or four on Miller. Fleury has been the best player on the ice tonight.

1:26 left: Timeout by Sabres with Miller out. Shots are 37-23.

42.6 left: Cooke with the empty net makes it 5-2 Pens. The streak will go to 12 .

It's over: A 5-2 loss. Final shots were 36-24 (change in Sabres total)

Second Period

8:06 p.m.: We're under way.

19:36 left: Crosby's first shot, a backhand from slot, stopped by Miller. 

18:43 left: Vanek and Roy just fail to connect. Too much passing.

16:10 left: Nice pad save by Miller on Letang, who worked through four Sabres to get off a good shot. Looked like Daniel Alfredsson on that OT winner in the '07 playoffs. Someone take him out!

13:46 left: Fleury nailed for high sticking. Letang should have gotten something too for mugging Roy. Pens lucky there.

13:00 left: Adam flubs a one-timer as he's open in the right circle. Rolling puck. Too bad.

11:58 left: Pominville high and wide from nearly same spot as Adam. Great cross-ice feed from Vanek. 

10:26 left: Montador for slashing Crosby, who shoots high over top on a breakaway. Had LOTS of open net above Miller.

9:41 left: Letestu's tip-in hits the post on a Crosby feed.

8:47 left: Miller stops Crosby streaking through the right circle. No. 87 heating up this period.

8:13 left: Crosby, who is getting openly cranky, gets into it with Pittsburgh native Weber and Kunitz races across the ice to jump in. Looks like Weber gets and extra two minutes. Crosby gets roughing while Weber gets a double minor. I could make the case Crosby could have gotten nothing and Kunitz could have gotten two.

5:45 left: Sabres have done the job on the PK tonight. Pens not very dangerous and oddly enough they're only 15th in the NHL on the season. Shots are 7-5 for Buffalo in this period.

End-2nd: Still 2-1. Shots were 12-5 for Buffalo and 26-13 through two. Interesting scene at the end of the period as several Pens were chirping in Weber's ear for the Crosby situation. Several Sabres on the ice chirping back and neither team would leave first even as the officials were trying to make them go. Montador one of the most vocal Sabres. 

First Period

7:08 p.m.: The puck is dropped.

19:48 left: Sekera for tripping Dupuis at center ice. Not the way to start.

17:36 left: Solid job on the PK as the Pens get just one shot and have no real pressure. Kaleta killed the final 15 seconds and Montador got a good shot on Fleury just as Sekera returned.

16:10 left: Vanek fails to connect as the puck dribbles off his stick right on the edge of the crease, when it would have just been a tap-in.

15:23 left: Fleury at it again, robbing Grier with the left toe. More good work by the McCormick-Gaustad-Grier line. Shots 4-1 for Buffalo.

15:10 left: Fleury robs Hecht and then Tyler Kennedy rips one past Miller and off the crossbar. Great action.

13:15 left: Dustin Jeffrey in his first game of the season outworks Leopold in front to tap Ben Lovejoy's pass past Miller. Pens lead, 1-0. Play under review. Goal stands. Second goal of Jeffrey's career (had one in 08-09).

11:20 left: Sabres suddenly in scramble mode. Mark Letestu had Miller down on a rebound but looked like he hit the outside of the post.

10:29 left: The scramble continues. Roy with a terrible giveaway to Maxime Talbot and Arron Asham blows one by Miller off the Talbot pass to make it 2-0 Pens. And Crosby wasn't involved with either goal. Two goals on six shots.

9:07 left: Lovejoy goes for hooking. Myers and Pominville just failed to connect as the Sabres had good pressure with Miller out on the delayed penalty situation. Shots are 9-6 for Buffalo.

7:07 left: Shots still 9-6. A nothing power play.

5:50 left: A huge "Let's Go Pens" chant goes up. The boos try to take it over. Remember, Pittsburgh fans took over the building in Columbus last week.

5:15 left: Craig Adams goes for tripping after a rugged shot of Vanek near the boards that looked sort of like a bit of a lep whip. Montador didn't like that one but resisted a mugging to keep the power play.

4:37 left: Dupuis for hooking Pominville in the slot. Iffy call. Two-man advantage for 1:22. 

4:11 left: Sabres using five forwards and Ennis puts it in to make it 2-1. Own rebound shot just under the bar. Things break out as Gaustad and Orpik go at it and start wrestling and then Pominville -- yes, Pominville -- and Cooke start swinging for real. Ennis from Roy and Vanek. Penalties were two apiece for Orpik-Gaustad and five for Pominville-Cooke.

1:16 left: There's a healthy nastiness to this one. Lots of pushing and stickwork. Ennis goal huge to get Sabres back in it. Shots are 14-8 for Buffalo. Fleury has been the star of the period. Crosby a non-factor thus far. You figure, however, that won't last.

End-1st: Pens lead, 2-1. Shots remain 14-8.

Sid speaks after the morning skate

No lineup changes for the Sabres tonight and no Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins. He took the morning skate but still needs practice time on his injured knee. The Penguins have called up Dustin Jeffrey from Wilkes-Barre of the AHL, where he was his team's leading scorer, and he'll get into the lineup tonight.

Plenty of media in the Penguins locker room to get the state of the team from Sidney Crosby as the visitors go for their 12th straight win tonight. I also chatted up East Amherst native and standout defenseman Brooks Orpik.

Click below for audio from those two interviews as Crosby and Orpik talk about the Penguins' streak, the upcoming Winter Classic, HBO's reality show filming and their memories of their time at the World Junior Championships.

Disclaimer: A little tech trouble at the start of the chat with Crosby led me to miss about the first 20 seconds of my opening question on the winning streak but Crosby's answer was a simple, "Each game is tough. you try to prepare accordingly. We've been competing hard with a lot of effort and getting a lot of big plays from everybody. We just want to keep that going."

It happens sometimes. Here's the audio.

Sidney Crosby

Brooks Orpik

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Pens hold special place for Pittsburgh native Weber

Tonight is certainly a special game for Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, who grew up in suburban Pittsburgh. Weber played against his hometown team in Mellon Arena a couple years ago but certainly never with the Pens being the hottest thing on ice like they are now.

"It's pretty special playing a hometown team, especially with Pittsburgh being the No. 1 team," Weber said after today's morning skate. "Playing the No. 1 team is alwyas fun, whether it's youth hockey, the OHL or the NHL. You want to play against the best and beat the best. Right now we've dug ourselves a hole early in the season and there's no better way to dig ourselves out than against the best team."

Weber said he had a couple Mario Lemieux jerseys as a kid and also loved former Penguins forward Ron Francis. He was also thrilled to be interviewed today by ertswhile Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Dave Molinari and Mike Lange, the team's venerable radio voice. Both are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame (Molinari won the Elmer Ferguson Award for journalism in 2009, Lange the Foster Hewitt Award for broadcasting in 2001).

After they left, Weber talked about his memories of Lange, who is as popular and imitated in Pittsburgh as Rick Jeanneret is here in Buffalo. Just like Jeanneret, Lange has a cache of catch phrases and Weber quickly rolled them out to the Buffalo media.

"My grandma actually went to bingo a lot so it was, 'Get in the fast lane Grandma, bingo is ready to roll.' That was probably my No. 1 favorite," Weber said with a laugh. " ' Scratch my back with a hacksaw' and 'Elvis has just left the building.' That was another good one. I grew up listening to him when I had hockey practices and couldn't watch the game. He was on the radio and I listened to him. Just like here [with Jeanneret], he has a great following, has had a great career. The voice of the Penguins and the voice of the hockey in Pittsburgh. He's a pretty special guy."

If you're not familiar with Lange, here's a video showcasing his classic calls. I've always been partial to "He beat him like a rented mule" although it's hard to argue with "Lord Stanley, get me the brandy".

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

The Crosby Show hits town

Sidney Crosby and the red-hot Penguins are in town for tonight's game and we'll have all your pregame updates here on the Edge, with the Sabres taking the ice at HSBC Arena at 10 a.m. and the Penguins at 11:30.

The Penguins have won 11 in a row, six shy of the NHL record. It's the longest streak a visiting team has ever brought to Buffalo for a game against the Sabres.

As if they need more help, there's a chance the Penguins will get Evgeni Malkin back tonight from a knee injury. He's scheduled to take the morning skate.

The Penguins are being trailed by camera crews from HBO, filming "24/7", the reality show following the Pens and Capitals in advance of the Winter Classic. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a clip from the show, which debuts Wednesday night, and it looks slick. This is going to be some fabulous publicity for the NHL. Check it out below. 

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

Friday ice chips

The Sabres are on the ice in HSBC Arena and everyone is practicing except Shaone Morrisonn (concussion symptoms). Drew Stafford, Rob Niedermayer and Tim Connolly remain in non-contact roles, meaning Mark Mancari will play again Saturday when the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins come to town.

The Pens have won 11 straight, six shy of their NHL record set in 1992, and Sidney Crosby is on a 17-game point streak. But they're getting plenty of contributions from other sources as well. Evgeni Malkin (knee) continues to be sidelined for the Pens and is not expected to play here Saturday.

---More than a thousand fans of the old Quebec Nordiques are taking a bus ride to Nassau Coliseum for Saturday's Islanders-Thrashers game to show they'd be a better market for an NHL team than Atlanta (and they'd be better than Long Island too, for the record). They're going to hoot and holler at the 15:00 mark of each period to commemorate 15 years since the Nordiques bolted for Denver.

---The Capitals suffered their fourth straight loss as they were blanked at home by the Panthers, thanks largely to the 0-for-8 showing by the power play and continued struggles of the offense. Ted Leonsis, in as frank an analysis as you'll see from an owner these days, says his fans had every right to boo. For all of NBC's Crosby-Ovechkin promos, which guy is ruling this league right now?

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Three stars

Live from the Arena: Sabres vs. Sharks

Greetings from high atop HSBC Arena as we get set for tonight's Sabres-Sharks game. From this view, this is one the NHL schedule is gift-wrapping for the Sabres and they have to seize these two points. The Sharks are in the final game of a five-game trip and certainly are happy with three wins thus far. It's their third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back after a shootout win last night in Philly. They've only won once in Buffalo in their previous 19 NHL seasons, a bizarre stat to say the least.

And the Sabres need every point they can get. Props to them for climbing from 15th in the East to ninth in basically a month. But Tuesday's overtime loss in Boston shows how difficult getting into the top eight can be. Buffalo is seven points out with 26 points (Boston, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the New York Rangers all have 33). The Sabres were seven minutes away from a regulation win in Boston and instead suffered an overtime loss.

They could have been four points out with that regulation win (they would have had 27 points and Boston would have had 31). Instead, Buffalo got one point and Boston got two. That's a three-point swing over nine minutes of play. Huge. Shows the perils of three-point games in your conference.

Onward to tonight. Antti Niemi, Chicago's Stanley Cup hero, will start in goal for the Sharks. He's not having a great year at all (5-6-1, 3.33, .890) but he has played three of the four games on this trip. Niemi has never met Buffalo but got the call over Antero Nittymaki, last night's winner. Easy to see why: Nittymaki is 0-3-2, 4.33, .851 in his career against Buffalo.

Sabres starters: Gerbe-Roy-Vanek-Myers-Sekera. Goal: Miller
Sharks starters: Marleau-Thornton-Heatley-Murray-Boyle. Goal: Niemi

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Third Period

Of note: Gerbe leads Sabres with four shots on goal. Heatley and Thornton have just one shot for San Jose. Big guns in teal and white not the problem tonight. Vlasic's first point  of the season. Clowe and Couture have two points each. 

8:57 p.m.: We're under way.

19:29 left: THAT is how you kill momentum. Gaustad steals puck in the corner on a brutally weak play by Marleau, gets it out front to McCormick who tips it over Niemi's shoulder. Sabres lead, 4-2. And after the change on the first goal, THAT is McCormick's fourth. 

15:30 left: Shots are 31-20. Another game with 30+ shots. This team is having no trouble generating chances. Good to see four go in tonight. 

14:51 left: Miller stones Thornton on breakaway and stops Douglas Murray on a hard wrister from the point. Huge stops to keep the two-goal lead intact.

10:34 left: Jeez. Murray pounds home a sizzler past Miller's glove. A Shark crossed in front of him but you'd still like that save made. Sabres lead, 4-3.

9:25 left: Miller stops Couture from in tight. The rookie has easily been the best Shark tonight. The stars have done almost nothing.

5:44 left: Sabres holding on. Shots are 8-6 for Sharks in the third. Can Buffalo really preserve a one-goal lead for 10 1/2 minutes against this team? 

2:22 left: Sabres just did a great job of getting the puck deep in San Jose end to kill three minutes without a whistle. Hecht, Grier and Gerbe chief among those getting the puck in.

1:38 left: Niemi stops McCormick. Great shift by McCormick, Gaustad and Grier. 

26.6 left: Gaustad gets the empty-netter. Gaustad and McCormick have been the best two Sabres on the ice all night. A fitting finish. Sabres lead, 5-3. Super job over the last five minutes to protect the lead.

8.7 left: Vanek from Roy on a 2-on-1 to make it 6-3. His second of the night.

It's over: A 6-3 win. Final shots 37-29.

Second Period

Of note: John McCarthy (who?) had four shots for the Sharks in the first period. Patrick Marleau had two while Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton had none. Gerbe the only Sabre with two.

7:59 p.m: We're under way. 

18:31 left: Miller robs Ryane Clowe after stud rookie Logan Couture strips Leopold in the corner and feeds it to the slot.

17:35 left: Thornton for holding. Sabres' first power play. They're 5 for 10 the last two home games.

16:29 left: Niemi robs Mancari from the slot on the rebound of a Myers shot.

15:25 left: More great chances stopped, including one by Pominville and another that Pominville couldn't get the one-timer on his stick.

14:55 left: Niemi stops Kaleta on a 2-on-1 with Ennis. Shots suddenly 7-2 for the Sabres. Five on that power play.

13:12 left: You don't give Thomas Vanek two walk-into slapshots from the slot in about five seconds and not pay for it. The Sharks just did and Vanek didn't miss with No. 2, pounding home his 12th of the year to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead.

11:53 left: Another solid glove save by Niemi on Gerbe. Shots are 13-2 in this period. You can really see the Sharks fading fast. One more goal and this baby is over.

11:17 left: The first goal is changed to Gaustad from McCormick. Hit Gaustad's skate. He gets credit for his second of the year -- and second in the last 41 games.

7:47 left: Adam for high sticking. Second straight game he's drawn an unintentional one. Kid has to watch that. 

6:34 left: Pominville steals the puck from Jason Demers and has a breakaway from the Sabres line in. Quick snapshot, 3-0. Good night, I'm thinking. Strange thing about it was he was in the penalty box as officials incorrectly sent him there. James Patrick was the first Sabres coach to wave at officials and Lindy Ruff followed to get the call changed to Adam before the faceoff. It was clearly Adam. Second short-handed goal of the season.

4:46 left: Sabres too many men on the ice.

4:10 left: I know. I know. You're gonna blame me. Couture rips in a wrist shot past Miller for his 14th of the year to make it 3-1. Impressive rookie. 

1:50 left: Pominville off the post and then just misses a one-timer a few seconds later that would have made it 4-1.

45.0 left: Problem with this game is Sabres had exactly my thought. Couture gets it in the slot and Marc-Edouard Vlasic gets his first. Sabres lead cut to 3-2. 

End-2nd: Sabres only lead 3-2 despite 18-8 edge in shots. It's 27-20 for Buffalo through two. Sharks came back from three down last night in Philly. Can they really do it again? Now the Sharks think they're back in it. And they are. Problem.

First Period

7:08 p.m: The puck is dropped.

16:48 left: The Sabres have run out all four lines. Gaustad just had their first chance, a point-blank opportunity after a neat McCormick feed from the corner that was tipped just wide.

14:50 left: The lines are Gerbe-Roy-Vanek, Ennis-Hecht-Kaleta, Mancari-Adam-Pominville and McCormick-Gaustad-Grier. No change on defense: Sekera-Myers, Leopold-Montador-Butler-Weber.

13:30 left: Solid shift by the Roy line. Niemi made a good save on Gerbe and beat Vanek to the right post to stymie a wraparound from behind the goal. Shots are 3-2 for San Jose.

11:28 left: Weber goes for delay of game (puck over the glass). Pominville is arguing otherwise. Not a good thing to happen to Weber in the wake of Tuesday's back-breaking gaffe in Boston. Not good to give this San Jose PP a chance: Sharks are sixth overall (22.4 percent) and fifth on the road (20.8).

10:43 left: Great set play off the faceoff by the Sharks but Pavelski fires wide. Buffalo takes the miss and heads down on a 2-on-1 (Grier-Gaustad). Grier fires way high and wide. Gotta hit the net there.

8:04 left: Sabres have not shown the jump they wanted off the start of this one against what should be a tired San Jose team. And you can already see the Sharks' fatigue issues: Their forwards are not getting back at all and the Sabres have had some good 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 chances. You'd think that would multiply as the night goes on. Of course, Buffalo has to hit the net too. Shots are 6-2 for San Jose.

7:52 left: Niemi's best save, on Adam from in tight.

7:42 left: Sabres take a 1-0 lead on a fluky flutterball over Niemi's glove. McCormick gets it off Boyle's arm after Gaustad draws the faceoff back in the left circle.

5:16 left: McCormick continues to contribute both physically and on the scoresheet. He's got four goals, which is more than Hecht (3), Kaleta (3), Pominville (2), Grier (2) and Gaustad (1). No one figured that during training camp.

3:45 left: Niemi with a nice glove stop on Gerbe, who is still goalless in his 19th game. MSG replay of the goal apparently shows puck hit Gaustad's skate first bfeore hitting Boyle. So expect a change there.

End-1st: In front of a library-quiet crowd (WHAT IS UP, PEOPLE?), the Sabres have a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes as the Sharks have a 12-9 edge in shots. I really have no idea what the deal is here. This has become the quietest rink in the league, which shows the disconnect the fans have with this team just keeps growing. I couldn't hear myself think for just about the entire game Tuesday in Boston, even when the Bruins were trailing. Not the case here. And before any of you get all defensive about it, several visiting writers have brought up this topic to me this season.

Mancari back again

Mark Mancari was returned to Portland after Tuesday's game in Boston but he was back on the ice with the Sabres this morning as Drew Stafford will be out for tonight's game against San Jose. Mancari will again skate with Luke Adam and Jason Pominville on a line that was easily the Sabres' best in Beantown. Mancari assisted on Adam's first NHL goal.

"They did a very nice job," said coach Lindy Ruff. "They led our team in scoring chances. Down low, I thought they had more opportunities than any other line."

Ruff said Stafford remains day to day but acknowledged today that defenseman Shaone Morrisonn has been shut down because of "concussion-like symptoms." So he's going to be out at least another week or maybe even more.

The Sharks are in the final game of a five-game Eastern trip, are playing their third game in four nights and are on a back-to-back after last night's shootout win in Philadelphia.  It would seem the Sabres will be emphasizing a quick start.

"What they're going to try to is make sure they don't allow us to get the upper hand," Ruff said. "I've referenced trying to play a 200-foot game. Well, they're going to try to get it deep on us. We're going to try to get it above their goal line and make them work. With them playing last night, it plays into our hands a little bit."

"It's to our advantage to come out here and skate as well as we can," added winger Mike Grier, a former Shark. "We're a pretty well-rested team. We play four lines so there's no excuse for us not to have the tempo up right away and make it difficult for them."

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Sharks hit town feeling fortunate

San Jose comes to Buffalo with a 3-1 record on its five-game road trip, thanks to Wednesday's improbable comeback in Philadelphia. The Sharks scored three times in the final 13 mniutes of regulation and stunned the Flyers with a 5-4 shootout win.

"We've been on the negative side of a couple of those this year where you're comfortably in the lead and it doesn't work your way," coach Todd McLellan said. "I don't know if we had our A-game by any means, but a good win, and we'll take it."

Things figure to be tough for the Sharks tonight, too. The Sabres own a 13-1 record at home against San Jose, their best winning percentage against any existing NHL team.

Captain Craig Rivet, meanwhile, will likely watch his teammates and his former teammates from the sidelines again.

"I still care about these guys, and I'm still part of this team," Rivet told The News on Wednesday. "I have to bring a good attitude even though things are not in my favor right now. I'll be here for these guys. I'm still here to help them. If I'm not going to be playing, I'm going to be watching. It gives me the opportunity that I can help some guys with things they can get better with."

---John Vogl

Ruff empathizes with Weber

Defenseman Mike Weber is expected back on the blue line Thursday against San Jose after committing an egregious gaffe late in Tuesday’s game that allowed Boston to tie the score and eventually win in overtime. He’s on the ice because Ruff can empathize with the 22-year-old.

"I told the other coaches I still remember I did it myself as a player," Ruff said today. "I did it in Winnipeg, and I’ll never forget it. I was a young player, and I passed it right on Dale Hawerchuk’s tape, almost an identical play. The only difference was I didn’t play the rest of the game. Scotty [Bowman] was coaching," Ruff added with a grin.

"Every defenseman, I think, is going to do it sooner or later. He picked a tough time. I thought at the same time his desperation making the [shot] block late in the game helped preserve. He’s play hard, and he’s played good. He’s going to make mistakes. Everybody’s making mistakes out there. We’re just trying to get his confidence up to a level where he can be a positive influence for us."

---John Vogl

Stafford to sit again, Morrisonn shut down

Drew Stafford skated with the Sabres at practice today, but the forward won't be playing for them Thursday when the San Jose Sharks visit. Stafford still has upper-body soreness after absorbing a crushing check Friday.

"He’s better, but he’s a no-go," coach Lindy Ruff said in HSBC Arena. "We were hoping that maybe Staff would be good enough, but in the conversation I had with him he’s not ready yet."

The Sabres sent Mark Mancari back to Portland following Tuesday's loss to the Bruins, but either he or another forward will be back up to the NHL to face the Sharks.

Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who took a shot to the head Friday from Columbus' Jared Boll, was not at practice.

"Not feeling right," Ruff said. "It’s the aftereffects of that headshot he took from Boll, so we’ve had to shut him down a little bit.

"I’m not surprised. You know when you’re not feeling right, and you know when you’re feeling sick and it’s not right. You can try to get through it. He was trying to get through it and it wasn’t working out."

Center Tim Connolly will miss his seventh straight game Thursday with a groin injury.

"He’s getting closer," Ruff said. "We’re at the stage now where we really have to ramp up the work after practice. We’ve got to get into the battle stuff with him now. We’re not going to go down that road of not getting in any good practices before we play. We’ve done that before. He will take the wrath of the extra skate."

---John Vogl

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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