March 25, 2014 - 1:00 PM
March 25, 2014 - 12:45 PM
By John Vogl
MONTREAL -- Ville Leino will get another chance to score his first goal. The offensively challenged winger, who was scratched for the previous two games, will play against Montreal tonight with center Zenon Konopka out with a back injury.
"I’ll just try to make plays, work hard and try to create some offense, create some chances," Leino said in Bell Centre. "That’s my game. I can’t be anyone else."
He certainly hasn't been what Buffalo expected when it signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract in 2011. Leino has no goals and only 34 shots in 50 games this season. He has 12 assists and hasn't reached the score sheet in 10 games.
"I’m sure it weighs on me, too, but obviously there’s a lot of other guys on the team, too, that hasn’t been able to really help that much either," said Leino, who has tried to avoid thoughts of his benching. "There’s so much going on in here in the organization with how this team’s been lately. I’m just trying to stay focused and not think about it too much. When you go in, do your best."
Coach Ted Nolan benched Leino primarily because of a giveaway last Tuesday in Calgary.
"It’s not a good play," Leino said. "You don’t want to do that play, but saying that we’re not able to bail ourselves out of those situations. Nobody’s bailing you out. It’s three-on-three. It turns the other way, then we lose guys and lose battles and don’t box out. It always happens when you try to do that. When you’re not playing good, those things end up going in.
"I’ll try to stay away from that. Saying that, I’ve still got to try to make plays when there’s an opportunity. Sometimes, it involves a little bit of a risk and taking a chance. I’ll try to stay out of it because that will bite me apparently."
Because of his struggles, Leino is a candidate to be a compliance buyout this summer as the Sabres seek to get out of the final three seasons of his contract.
"I can’t really do anything about it, so I’ll accept whatever it is," Leino said. "When the season’s over, that’s time to think about that."
Leino will play alongside center Matt Ellis and left wing John Scott on the Sabres' fourth line. The other lines will be Tyler Ennis in the middle of Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, Cody Hodgson centering for Cory Conacher and Torrey Mitchell, and Brian Flynn flanked by Nicolas Deslauriers and Matt D'Agostini.
March 23, 2014 - 11:48 PM
By Mike Harrington
VANCOUVER -- I'm one of the people who likes the Cody Hodgson/Zack Kassian trade for both sides. The Sabres and Canucks each filled a need. And Hodgson has more than doubled Kassian in points (77-37) since the deal. Obviously, Vancouver got the better of the deal Sunday as Kassian assisted on all four goals in the Canucks' 4-2 win.
"I know everybody is going to focus on the four points that he gets but for me there were other things," Canucks coach John Tortorella said after the game. "He dumped the puck at the right times rather than trying to make something happen. He changed up at the right times. You could see the concentration in his game. You see it. You want to see it more."
"We want to be good with the puck down low," Kassian said. "When we come off the wall like that, we want to look to make plays. Tonight was a night where it seemed everything I passed ended up going in the net."
There was certainly the requisite frustration down the hall in the Sabres' room. Good start, not much of a finish. Click below to hear audio from around the Sabres' dressing room:
Click the file below to see Kassian's postgame interview (nice hat as player of the game)
And click the file below to see video of the Canucks' classy pregame ceremony to honor Henrik Sedin for playing in his 1,000th NHL game earlier this month.
March 23, 2014 - 6:00 PM
March 23, 2014 - 1:51 PM
By Mike Harrington
VANCOUVER -- Greetings from what has to be about the most scenic place on the Sabres' North American stops. Never been here before. Completely blown away. A reminder that tonight's game in Rogers Arena is a 5 p.m. local time start (8 p.m. in Buffalo), so there is no morning skate today.
The Sabres have played 111 meetings with their 1970 expansion cousins and have 111 points -- going 46-46-19. Odd. The Sabres' last game here was a 5-3 win over March 3, 2012. With a win tonight, the Sabres would have consecutive wins in Vancouver for the first time since they won three in a row from Oct. 9, 1996 to March 16, 2000. Tonight is former Canuck Cody Hodgson's 200th NHL game.
Read today's game preview on BC native Nathan Lieuwen starting against his once-favorite team.
Read today's Sabres notebook on the Canucks' desperation
Here's a quick Vancouver Sun preview, with some neat Canucks notes and quotes.
In other NHL news:
---Sure seems like the Sabres sent the Edmonton Oilers for a loop by winning in Rexall Place. The Oil was 10-4-3 in its previous 17 before losing to Buffalo, and then had a complete meltdown last night in an 8-1 loss to Calgary.
Star Taylor Hall and coach Dallas Eakins had an on-bench spat caught by CBC cameras after a frustrated Hall tossed a water bottle and it squirted on to Eakins. And a fan threw an Oilers jersey on the ice, prompting an enraged Edmonton native and goaltender Ben Scrivens to fling it back in the crowd with his stick. See a vine of Scrivens' jersey toss at this Edmonton Journal link.
Read more about the meltdown in the Edmonton Sun.
March 22, 2014 - 6:34 PM
By Mike Harrington
VANCOUVER -- Goaltender Michal Neuvirth is still less than 100 percent and didn't practice today in Rogers Arena after doing so at full speed Wednesday in Edmonton. So coach Ted Nolan is going to give British Columbia native Nathan Lieuwen his dream assignment: A start in goal tomorrow night against his favorite childhood team, the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's incredible. Obviously the past week has been a whirlwind for me but this is pretty special," Lieuwen said after getting the word today. "They were my team growing up so it will be cool to play in this building."
Lieuwen got his first NHL start Tuesday in Calgary and played well in a 3-1 defeat that saw him shut out the Flames for 38 minutes. He's from Abbotsford, BC, which is about 40 miles from here and had yet to speak to his family -- including three brothers -- about who will take over the ticket-seeking duties. Somebody needs to because he'll be otherwise occupied by the Sedin twins tomorrow.
"There's obviously gonna be a lot of emotions and a l ot of extra stuff that could creep into my head," Lieuwen said. "But I've got to stay focused on my process and what I need to do on the ice."
Nolan said Lieuwen, the Western Canada native, gets tomorrow's game and Easterner Matt Hackett will go Tuesday in Montreal.
"It will be great for Nathan to play in front of his family and friends and his home province," Nolan said. "He's a nice young man, well-mannered. He works on his trade. That's how you win in this game I believe. You win with good people and he seems to be one of the finest."
Nolan said the Sabres will keep the same lineup, which means Ville Leino will stay as a healthy scratch. One line shift will see Matt Ellis joining Matt D'Agostini and Brian Flynn on the third line with Nicolas Deslauriers going to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and John Scott.
The Canucks will be honoring Henrik Sedin prior to the game for playing in his 1,000th career game last week in Winnipeg. Coach John Tortorella said Daniel Sedin will return to the lineup tonight after missing nine games with a hamstring injury suffered in the March 3 Heritage Classic in BC Place. Ryan Kesler (sprained knee) said he was feeling better and could return. He has been out since March 12.
The Canucks are currently five points out of the last playoff spot in the West, pending Phoenix's game later tonight against Boston.
Click below to hear from Nolan and Lieuwen, as well as defenseman Christian Ehrhoff on his second return to Vancover since joining the Sabres in 2011.
March 21, 2014 - 5:16 PM
By Mike Harrington
VANCOUVER -- The Sabres are mired in 30th place in the NHL and the Edmonton Oilers are struggling to get out of 29th but they had been going well (10-4-3) until Buffalo's 3-1 win Thursday in Rexall Place. By the tenor of Friday's Edmonton newspapers, you'd have thought the Oil was in the thick of the playoff hunt and not washed up weeks agao.
The Oilers took a beating in their hometown media Friday, as the pictures that accompany this post show. Veteran Sun columnist Terry Jones called the game a "Grade A Large egg" in his column, pictured at left and linked above.
Oilers star Taylor Hall was left to answer whether the NHL's 29th-place team could have actually taken someone lightly. He didn't seem too pleased at getting those questions.
The win was the Sabres' 20th of the season, making them the last team in the NHL to reach that mark and ensuring they wouldn't join the 1971-72 team as the only ones in franchise history to not win 20 a season. Oddly enough, the Sabres won 22 and 21 games, respectively, in the lockout seasons of 1995 and 2013.
And the franchise record-low of 51 points from the 71-72 team that went 16-43-19 should be safe. The current Sabres have 48 points and still have 12 games to go.
In regulation, the Sabres have beaten Florida, Toronto, Winnipeg, Boston, New Jersey, Columbus, Phoenix, Carolina, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Edmonton. They've beaten Toronto, Phoenix and Boston a second time, all in overtime. And they have shootout wins over the New York Islanders, San Jose, Los Angeles, Ottawa and Washington (twice).
So two wins apiece over Boston and San Jose, as well as Toronto, Phoenix and Washington.
Hey Edmonton: Settle down.
March 21, 2014 - 6:30 AM
By Mike Harrington
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Cory Conacher got into a first-period scrum after a whistle Thursday with Edmonton goalie Ben Scrivens and drew a roughing penalty for knocking the chirping Oilers' keeper to the ice.
Conacher went to the penalty box but his helmet went to the Buffalo bench for repairs. So referee Rob Martell brought Conacher a replacement and Conacher quickly noted the No. 32 of 6-foot-7 enforcer John Scott. TSN cameras caught Conacher putting the helment on and laughing while the oversized thing stayed on his head in a scene that mde him look something like the Great Gazoo of Flintstones theme.
Conacher went on to score his first two goals as a Sabre in the 3-1 win. Some power in the magic helmet?
"If you know John Scott, he's that kind of guy," Conacher said. "He's a character guy. I wasn't surprised he was the one to give me his helmet. I'm sure I'll get a couple pictures and tweets of me with that picture three sizes too big."
"Is it really? Scott said. "Well he looked like a little kid. It was funny."
See what all the fuss is about below:
March 20, 2014 - 3:06 PM
By Mike Harrington
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Out here in the Canadian Rockies, 2,200 miles away from the bouncing balls in First Niagara Center, Ted Nolan is apparently like most of you back home: He's sick of watching Ville Leino play too.
The Buffalo Sabres' goal-less multi-millionaire is a healthy scratch for tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers and Nolan was as chafed as we've seen him all season when discussing Leino's play in Tuesday's loss in Calgary. On the Flames' first goal, Leino committed a giveaway that created the possession and then made a half-hearted effort to get to the point and stop a shot that eventually became the tying goal.
Leino didn't play in the third period.
"He has to be better," Nolan said. "Going forward here, we have to make sure the people in the lineup are giving what they can give. If they don't give what they can give, we'll make changes.
"We have a 1-on-3 two minutes left in the period and you try to stickhandle by someone. It's just not a smart thing to do at that time. He should know better. Maybe he needs a little rest and will wake up."
Leino is minus-14 on the season and minus-5 in the last four games. He doesn't have a point in his last 10 and has no shots on goal in five of those. Zenon Konopka is in for him on the fourth line with John Scott and Matt Ellis.
The Sabres have lost seven straight and tonight could be their first eight-game pointless streak in franchise history. Seriously. And that's what goaltender Matt Hackett has on his plate to try to stop in his Buffalo debut.
"You have to have pride in what you do for a living," Nolan said. "We're all professional hockey players. They have to have some pride in playing and competing."
"It's tough, one of those things where you feel like you're making progress in a game and it turns the other way and it's a loss," said Drew Stafford. "We cleaned up our neutral zone in Calgary but we couldn't hang on and put it away."
The Oilers will go with Ben Scrivens in goal tonight. Jordan Eberle, their No. 2 scorer with 53 points, is out with a knee injury and fellow former No. 1 pick Nail Yakupov is sidelined with an ankle injury. Edmonton is 10-4-3 in its last 17 games and 5-2-1 in its last eight to pretty much put the Sabres away in the battle to avoid last place overall. The Oilers have 59 points and Buffalo has just 46.
In other news, Nolan said Tyler Myers is still a week or so away from coming back from his arm injury and won't rejoin the club on the road trip. That means the earliest he'll play is March 29 against Tampa Bay.
Hear Nolan's interview below.
March 20, 2014 - 2:00 PM
March 20, 2014 - 12:34 AM
By Mike Harrington
The Chicago Blackhawks handed Ryan Miller his first loss with the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory in the United Center but it came with a big price.
Leading scorer Patrick Kane is expected to miss about three weeks -- basically the rest of the regular season -- with an ankle injury after St. Louis' Brendan Morrow fell into him. Kane has been remarkably durable in his career, playing 503 out of 515 career games heading into Wednesday.
Incredibly, it was the Blues' first regulation loss of their year in their own division; if you're looking ahead to the playoffs, they're 20-1-2 against the Central but just 8-10-3 against the Pacific.
Miller fell to 7-1-1 since joining the Blues. St. Louis is 8-1-1 since the trade with the Sabres that produced Miller and Steve Ott. Had entered the gamed with a 1.61 GAA and .933 save percentage with St. Louis
Here's a look at Kane's injury:
March 19, 2014 - 4:14 PM
By Mike Harrington
SHERWOOD PARK, Alberta -- The Sabres worked out for an hour today in the suburban practice facility that doubles as the Edmonton Oilers' part-time home and there were two main areas of news that come out of it:
Goaltending: Matt Hackett will make his Buffalo debut as the starter Thursday night in Rexall Place after Nathan Lieuwen played well in Calgary. Michal Neuvirth practiced fully and is on track to return Sunday in Vancouver. Hackett has 13 games of NHL experience with Minnesota.
Forward lines: Coach Ted Nolan juggled them and Marcus Foligno will replace Cory Conacher on the wing with red-hot Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. That trio hopes to reprise their scoring surge that was the talk of the NHL during Buffalo's 2012 playoff push that fell short.
The playoffs are a pipe dream for this edition of the Sabres, who have lost seven straight and have just six goals in those games.
"Hopefully we have luck like that again and put up some points here," Foligno said.
"They've both got their game going," Nolan said of Stafford and Ennis. "You can't ask for much more from those two so it would be unfair for us to break them up. With Conacher, he had a couple empty-net tap in goals and he missed them. Maybe it will be good for Marcus to get in that position where his confidence could rise a little bit."
The other key move up front is returning Cody Hodgson to center from the wing. He was between Conacher and Torey Mitchell. Brian Flynn was centering Matt D'Agostini and Nicolas Deslauriers while Ville Leino was dropped to the fourth line with Matt Ellis. John Scott and Zenon Konopka were splitting the time on the other wing.
As for the goaltending, Nolan said the Sabres simply want a look at Hackett. When Neuvirth returns one of the newcomers in net will return to Rochester so this could be a quick look for Hackett.
Hackett is just 13-17-2 for the Amerks with a 3.07 GAA and .898 save percentage. Not what you'd expect from a guy with the big prospect label acquired from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade. Hackett was refreshingly frank about his season today.
"I don't think I was working hard enough at the start of the year," said Hackett, who credited Amerks goalie coach and former Canisius netminder Bob Janosz for staying with him. "My work ethic had to improve and get better. As a goalie you're alwys battling with your partner. It's a healthy competition. I'm just trying to get my game back and work hard."
Click below to hear the complete conversations with the media from Nolan and Hackett.
March 19, 2014 - 8:39 AM
By Mike Harrington
CALGARY, Alberta -- The Sabres will be practicing today in suburban Edmonton at 1:30 p.m. Buffalo time (11:30 Mountain), so your daily updates will be a little later than normal.
Last night's 3-1 loss at Calgary was their seventh straight -- all in regulation. The Sabres have not gone pointless in eight straight games in their 44-year history. If they lose Thursday at Edmonton, this bunch will have reached that dubious accomplishment. Last overall is pretty much clinched, with a 13-point deficit to the Oilers. No reason not to get a win or two just for the heck of it, right?
The Sabres have six goals in the seven games, an absurdly futile offense that has no goals from anyone not named Drew Stafford or Tyler Ennis. So do you want to see some offense? Then check out below as old friend Thomas Vanek scored the hat trick last night for Montreal, his first three with the Habs.
March 19, 2014 - 1:12 AM
By Mike Harrington
CALGARY, Alberta -- The Sabres were pretty good defensively, probably as good as they've been in many games, over the first 40 minutes here Tuesday night. But what does it matter if you can't score?
Another one-goal game. Another goal by Drew Stafford. No one else scoring. And the 3-1 loss to the Flames featured a season-low 14 shots on goal -- including only 10 all night by forwards. That's six goals in the last seven games, all of them by Stafford (4) or Tyler Ennis (2).
By the time the team plays Thursday in Edmonton, it will be two weeks -- two weeks! -- since anyone other than those two has scored. Pretty easy to see how one more regulation loss sets a franchise mark of eight straight.
At least rookie Nathan Lieuwen looked sharp in goal. And the kid was bright-eyed and smiling during his postgame chat with reporters too.
Click below to hear what was said in the locker room from Lieuwen, Stafford and coach Ted Nolan.
March 18, 2014 - 6:33 PM
By Mike Harrington
CALGARY, Alberta -- I watched the morning skates today like any other game day. I was in row 11 of the Saddledome. And then I realized where the water was.
A vicious flood struck Calgary and environs in June, displacing 75,000 people from their homes and becoming the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history. And the water poured into the Saddledome -- all the way up to rows 9 and 10. Everything on the service level was destroyed. Locker rooms, jumbotron control room, kitchen, 1989 Stanley Cup champion memorabilia. Everything. The water was 9-12 feet high on the service level.
You could see today all the new walls, piping, ceiling tiles on that level. The dressing rooms have new wood lockers. But the famous mural of the 1989 Cup champions outside the Flames room -- signed by every player -- was among the irreplaceables lost. They have replaced the championship wall (right) but the old picture was the entire wall and autographed. Can't replace that. (Click on the pictures for a closer look).
Still, it was amazing to see the work and realize it was done in three months and the Flames didn't have to play in Saskatoon for a stretch like was rumored. Insurance covered much of the cost.
"It took me a little while to grasp it," Flames defenseman and ex-Sabre Chris Butler told me today. "I was in St. Louis and I have some friends up here texting me, 'Calgary is flooded.' You're thinking a foot of water on the street and everything is fine. Then you see pictures from up on the hills looking at the Saddledome and Stampede Park and you couldn't believe it.
"It was so sad because there was so much memorabilia on this level from that '89 team. You feel for those guys. Their stamp is on this city and to see a lot of that stuff get lost is heartbreaking. I never thought we'd be ready but it was unbelieveable the work those people put in to get back. The city took a lot of pride in it."
The Flames Web site put up an incredible gallery of photos from the damage. I used a couple in this post. You can see the rest here.
March 18, 2014 - 4:15 PM
By Mike Harrington
CALGARY, Alberta -- Nathan Lieuwen didn't speak to the media today at the Saddledome in advance of his first NHL start. The Sabres, like most NHL teams, make goalies off-limits on game days much like baseball teams do with starting pitchers.
But Lieuwen did speak at length about his career journey Monday in First Niagara Center and there are some interesting nuggets to share from that interview.
Lieuwen's career was nearly derailed as a 16-year-old by concussions suffered in a rollover car accident in 2008. It was in doubt for a couple of years if he should keep playing.
"That definitely took my career sideways for a while and then started to get back on track when I was 19," Lieuwen said Monday. "That’s when I got drafted here to the Sabres (in the sixth round in 2011), and things have been up ever since. I’ve been lucky. A couple close calls, but I’ve been pretty healthy, which is good.
"It was tough. There was a couple times they questioned whether I should come back and play. I wouldn’t have it, and I’m glad that I said that."
(You can read more about Lieuwen's struggles and his faith in this Yahoo story advancing his start in the Memorial Cup for Kootenay in 2011.)
March 18, 2014 - 4:00 PM
March 18, 2014 - 2:59 PM
By Mike Harrington
CALGARY, Alberta -- When training camp started in September, you could make the case that Nathan Lieuwen was fifth on the Sabres' depth chart in goal. For tonight at least, he's No. 1. Lieuwen is starting for the Sabres against the Calgary Flames.
"I just talked to him about how the progression beings and how it ends," said coach Ted Nolan, who had Lieuwen laughing during an on-ice chat during the pregame skate in the Saddledome. "You come from a real good junior background as a 17-year-old and all of sudden you're leadvng them as 19-year-old. Same thing at this level. You go down to the American League and come to this level. It's all part of progression."
Lieuwen did not speak to the media today as per team policy regarding goaltenders on game day.
"His work ethic is incredible," said defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who played in Rochester with Lieuwen. "He stays after to take extra shots, usually doesn't matter if he's starting or not. He's a really positive kid, to himself especially. Doesn't point the finger at everybody. He's got raw skill but his work ethic got him where he is now."
Lieuwen played here in junior with Kootenay of the Western League against the Calgary Hitmen, so he's not dealing with a foreign rink for his first start.
"There's a lot to like about him. He's big and athletic," said Tyler Ennis. "We haven't seen much of him but what we've seen has been impressive. He's probably comfortable in this building, playing a few games against the Hitmen but it's a little different against the Flames. I'm sure that will be fun for him."
Matt Hackett will back up Lieuwen. Michal Neuvirth took the ice near the end of prctice and Nolan said he's doing better. He will be re-evaluated to see if he will play Thursday in Edmonton.
Torrey Mitchell returns to the lineup after taking a shot to the foot two weeks ago in Tampa. He'll be on a line with Matt D'Agostini nd Ville Leino. Zenon Konopka will be a scratch.
Click below to hear Nolan on Lieuwen, the lines and last June's Alberta flood that devastated the city and rink. Read more in Wednesday's paper..
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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.
About Sabres Edge
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.
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.
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