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Hockey's hardest lead to keep: Roll call of playoff failures

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- It's hard to fathom how teams are bolting to leads during the first round of the playoffs but failing to seal the deal. When I asked Blues coach Ken Hitchcock about the trend Thursday, he simply said the first round is "chaotic." That's a pretty good description of a lot of the games we've seen so far.

There have been 12 games -- including at least one in all eight series -- where one team had a lead of at least two goals and let that slip away. In nine of the 12, the team blowing the lead lost the game. 

Stat heads say "score effects", which means teams that are ahead tend to let up and teams that are behind press. That's true, but I still say "goaltending effects." There's been terrible goalie play all over the place and it's been hard for anybody to lock a game down.

Here's the list of all the blown leads thus far in the postseason with a link to the boxscsore of each.

Columbus vs.  Pittsburgh
Game 1: Columbus led, 3-1.  Pittsburgh won, 4-2.
Game 2: Pittsburgh led, 2-0 and 3-1. Columbus won in 2OT, 4-3.
Game 3: Columbus led, 2-0 and 3-1. PIttsburgh won, 4-3.
Game 4:  Pittsburgh led, 3-0. Columbus won, 4-3, in OT.
(First series in NHL history where a lead of at least two goals was blown in each of the first four games)

Boston vs. Detroit
Game 4: Detroit led, 2-0. Boston won in OT, 3-2.

Montreal vs. Tampa Bay
Game 4: Montreal led, 2-0 and 3-1. Tampa tied it, 3-3. Montreal won, 4-3.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Game 2: NY Rangers led,  2-0. Philadelphia won, 4-2.

Chicago vs. St. Louis
Game 2: St. Louis led, 2-0. Chicago tied and led. St. Louis won, 4-3, in OT
Game 4: Chicago led, 2-0. St. Louis led, 3-2. Chicago won, 4-3,  in OT

Colorado vs. Minnesota
Game 1: Minnesota led, 4-2. Colorado won,  5-4, in OT

Anaheim vs. Dallas
Game 4: Anaheim led, 2-0. Dallas won, 4-2

Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Game 3: Los Angeles led, 2-0. San Jose won, 7-2

Numerology on tonight's visit by red-hot Lightning

By Mike Harrington

I'll resist the urge to give you 39 things about tonight's Sabres-Lightning game, which will be preceded by the Sabres Hall of Fame ceremony to induct Dominik Hasek.

---Former Ch. 7 legend Rick Azar will be at the Sabres Store from 5-7 p.m. signing copies of his new book, "Tales from Azar's Attic." The Hasek ceremony kicks off at 6:50. So for all of you constantly rushing the gates at 7 or maybe even strolling in at 7:15, get there early for once!

(I have no clue why we always have such late-arriving crowds in First Niagara Center. This isn't LA, folks. People like their pregame beers in other places too).

---The Lightning and Bruins are the only teams in the NHL to get points in each of their last 10 games. Tampa enters tonight 6-0-4 in the last 10 while the Sabres, of course, are 1-9 in the last 10. They have also dropped 10 of their last 11 since their 3-1 win over the Lightning on March 6 in the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Tampa's 10-game run is their most since an 18-game unbeaten streak in 2003-04.

---The Lightning have 37 goals in the last 10 games -- but have given up 32. In the last 11 games, the Sabres have been outscored, 34-12

---The Lightning appears pretty much locked into a first-round playoff matchup with Montreal, as the 2-3 teams in each division will meet under the new postseason format. Detroit and Toronto are both nine points back of Tampa Bay heading into their huge wild-card showdown tonight in Air Canada Centre.

Continue reading "Numerology on tonight's visit by red-hot Lightning" »

Numerology on tonight's Draft Bowl vs. Edmonton

By Mike Harrington

Some pretty interesting numbers heading into tonight's Draft Bowl, the first of two meetings this year between the 29th-place Edmonton Oilers and 30th-place Buffalo Sabres:

---The teams haven't met in more than two years, since a 4-3 Sabres win here on Jan. 3, 2012. Buffalo has won the last six meetings -- and the Oilers haven't beaten the Sabres since Oct. 16, 2003 at Rexall Place. They haven't won in Buffalo since March 4, 2002. Ryan Miller has started all six of those games, going 6-0, 1.67 and .943 but Jhonas Enroth is starting tonight against Ilya Bryzgalov.

---Matt Moulson, who is injured and won't play tonight, leads the Sabres with 33 points. The most among guys who have been in Buffalo all year is 29 by Cody Hodgson. The Oilers have four players with more points -- Taylor Hall (54), Jordan Eberle (45), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (42) and David Perron (39).

---The games features the NHL's bottom four players in plus-minus. Sabres captain Steve Ott is minus-24, defenseman Tyler Myers is minus-26 (including minus-11 in the last seven games), defenseman Mike Weber is minus-29 and Edmonton winger Nail Yakupov is minus-30. Holy moly.

---Who's leading after two periods is a key stat most nights. It seems doubly important tonight. Leading after two, Buffalo is 5-0-2 and Edmonton is 11-1-2. Trailing after two, the Sabres are 2-26-4 and the Oilers are 3-29-1. Yeesh.

---The Sabres are 5-12-1 against the West and the Oilers are 9-12-2 against the East.

---The Sabres have scored 99 goals this season (the standings show 105 because they count six shootout winners).  Florida is the next lowest at 126. Edmonton has 145.

---Despite being in last place, the Sabres are only 19th in goals against with 157 (thank you, Ryan Miller). Edmonton is dead last at 192 and the Sabres are averaging 2.8 goals over their last 10 games, a pretty good clip.

---The Oilers are 19th on the power play (17.7 percent) and 17th on the penalty kill (80.9) but they're just 28th on the road on the PP (11.6). The Sabres are 24th overall on the PP (14.7) and 15th on the PK (81.3).

---The Oilers are coming off Saturday's 4-0 loss at Boston that snapped a three-game winning streak. Prior to that run, they had been on hellacious slumps of 2-8-3 and 4-14-3.

---Edmonton was buried early, just like the Sabres. The Oilers started 1-6-1 and were 4-15-2 on Nov. 15. The Sabres were also 1-6-1 at one point en route to 1-9-1, and were 4-15-1 when Ron Rolston was fired on Nov. 13. and Ted Nolan coached his first game two days later.

With no loser points, quite a different view of the standings

By Mike Harrington

In one of the most baffling stats of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks fell to 0-6 in overtime winners and 5-13 after regulation with Tuesday's 5-4 OT loss in Calgary. The Blackhawks are now 32-10-13 and that league-high total of loser points has their total up to 77, or third overall.  Detroit and New Jersey both have 11 loser points, although the Devils are almost certain to rue their 0-8 shootout record come April unless they improve it.

Every so often, I want to NBA- or MLB-style the current NHL standings so I'm going to do it here.

You know. No loser points. You just win or you lose. Then compare the winning percentages to what the overall standing really is, given the preponderence of three-point games.

The Sabres, of course, still come out last. But it gives you an interesting gauge, especially as you look to the playoffs, about which teams might be underrated and which teams are inflated by those extra points.

Going by my theory, here's a look at how the standings go by winning percentage. Losses are added together, whether they come in regulation, OT or shootout. The number in parentheses is the overall standing in the league of the team when you count its loser points.

You can really how see how Detroit and Chicago are inflated while teams like the Rangers, Columbus and Winnipeg are a little underrated. The same might apply to Montreal, although the Habs have been mostly dreadful of late and that may not apply to them much longer.

The W-L version of the NHL
1. Anaheim 39-16, .709 (1)
2. Pittsbugh 37-16, .698 (4)
3. St. Louis 36-16, .692 (2)
4. Boston 34-18, .654 (6)
5. San Jose 34-19, .642 (5)
6. Colorado 33-19, .635 (7)
7. Tampa Bay 31-22, .585 (8)
8. Chicago 32-23, .582 (3)
9. Los Angeles 30-25, .545 (9)
10. Montreal 28-25, .528 (13)
11. Minnesota 29-26, .527 (10)
12. NY Rangers 28-26, .519 (15)
13. Toronto 28-27, .509 (12)
14. Vancouver 27-27, .500 (11)
15. Columbus 26-27, .491 (19)
16. Philadelphia 26-28, .481 (16)
17. Phoenix 25-28, .472 (14)
18. Winnipeg 25-30, .455 (25)
19. Carolina 24-29, .453 (17)
20. Dallas 24-29, .453 (20)
21. Washington 24-29, .453 (22)
22. Nashville 24-31, .436 (23)
23. Detroit 23-30, .434 (18)
24. Ottawa 23-30, .434 (21) 
25. New Jersey 22-32, .407 (24)
26. Florida 21-32, .396 (27)
27. NY Islanders 21-34, .382 (26)
28. Calgary 19-34, .358 (28)
29. Edmonton 17-38, .309 (29) 
30. BUFFALO 14-38, .269 (30)

Numerology: Stop first-goal flops

By Mike Harrington

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- So what's something to watch for tonight when the Sabres meet the red-hot Blue Jackets? Pay attention to how the Sabres respond if they score first. They've done that in four of the last five games and haven't won any of them.

And as my story in today's editions point out, NHL teams win over 68 percent of the time when they score the first goal -- but the Sabres are a league-worst 3-7-5 when scoring first, for a winning percentage of just .200.

The Sabres scored first just twice in 20 games under Ron Rolston and went 0-1-1. They've opened the scoring 13 times in 29 games under Ted Nolan but are just 3-6-4.

I went into the media stats area and copied the current chart of the teams' records when scoring first below. It shows how good teams flat-out dominate and even mediocre to bad teams (like Nashville, Dallas, Winnipeg and Calgary) have plenty of success when simply taking the 1-0 lead. The Sabres' record is downright abysmal by comparison.

Pretty interesting numbers I'd say.

Team when scoring first GP   

 L   OT Pct        
1 PITTSBURGH 51 26 2   1 .897          
2 ST LOUIS 50 29 1   3 .879          
3 COLORADO 50 26 1   3 .867          
4 NY RANGERS 53 21 4   1 .808          
5 MONTREAL 51 21 3   2 .808          
6 CHICAGO 53 25 0   6 .806          
7 TAMPA BAY 51 20 3   2 .800          
8 BOSTON 49 22 5   1 .786          
9 MINNESOTA 53 20 4   2 .769          
10 SAN JOSE 51 23 2   5 .767          
11 NASHVILLE 52 17 2   4 .739          
12 ANAHEIM 53 22 4   4 .733          
13 CAROLINA 50 13 1   4 .722          
14 TORONTO 53 20 6   3 .690          
15 LOS ANGELES 52 22 7   4 .667          
16 OTTAWA 51 14 4   3 .667          
17 COLUMBUS 50 20 7   3 .667          
18 PHILADELPHIA 52 16 5   4 .640          
19 FLORIDA 51 12 4   3 .632          
20 PHOENIX 50 17 7   3 .630          
21 NEW JERSEY 52 18 5   6 .621          
22 VANCOUVER 52 16 6   4 .615          
23 WASHINGTON 51 14 8   1 .609          
24 WINNIPEG 52 13 7   2 .591          
25 DALLAS 51 15 9   3 .556          
26 DETROIT 51 15 6   6 .556          
27 CALGARY 51 10 6   3 .526          
28 NY ISLANDERS 53 9 7   5 .429          
29 EDMONTON 52 8 9   4 .381          
30 BUFFALO 49 3 7   5 .200

In praise of Enroth: He's got every right to feel frustrated

Jhonas Enroth stymies Florida's Sean Bergenheim in the first period Thursday. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

By Mike Harrington

I'm going to give it up to Jhonas Enroth here. While watching last night's 2-1 shootout loss to Florida, you felt pangs of empathy for the guy. I still have no real idea if he can be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL -- specifically if he can be the guy if the Sabres trade Ryan Miller. His play in leading Sweden to a gold medal in last year's World Championships gives you pause to think he can but that's a short tournament, not a grueling NHL season.

Enroth has exactly one win this season in 13 starts. One. It was a 3-1 victory Oct. 25 at Florida, when he sparkled in making 44 of 45 saves.

Every other goalie in the NHL who has started at least 13 games this year has at least five wins.

Enroth has played 14 games, posting a 1-8-4 record with a 2.46 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. Frankly, with that kind of record for this kind of team, that GAA and save percentage seems pretty darn good. And the numbers are bloated by his 6-3 loss here Nov. 2 to Anaheim, where the Ducks got all of their goals in the final 31 minutes. 

Let's play the numbers game a minute and take that one away (yes, I know you can't). Now Enroth would be 1-7-4, 2.18 and .925. Quite an improvement. 

The biggest issue, of course, is the Sabres don't score for him at all. Like he said last night in a quote that's getting a lot of run today: "I'm running out of answers. It's tough to win with this team."

Sure is. The Sabres have three goals in Enroth's last four starts, when he is 0-2-2, 1.97 and .935.

Last night was the eighth time this season the Sabres have been shut out or scored just once with Enroth in goal. They've scored just 17 goals in his 13 starts, a measly 1.31 per game. But it's not like they score a lot more for Miller either, with 53 goals in 30 starts or an average of 1.77 (not counting the five shootout winners on his behalf).

Enroth is the classic starting pitcher who never gets any run support and it's got to be driving him crazy.  His quote shows that it is. But I give the guy credit. His frustration isn't affecting his play. He's active in the crease and all those goalposts the Panthers hit weren't luck. A lot of them were a product of Enroth's angles.

Enroth can't score. All he can do is stop the puck. He's doing a pretty good job of that.

The video and stats don't lie: Shootouts have been a strength

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres have decided to take today off and will fly to Ottawa this afternoon to get set to meet the Senators Thursday night in the back half of the teams' home-and-home series. Both teams could use the rest after Buffalo's 2-1 victory Tuesday night, a game that was decided in a 10-round shootout.

You can click above to see the video of the complete shootout. The Sabres won it, 4-3, and Ottawa twice scored goals to keep it alive. The 10 rounds were the most the Sabres have ever gone to win one, while the franchise record is 11 rounds, set in a 4-3 loss to Colorado in 2010. The teams combined for seven goals in that shootout as well, with the Avalanche getting four off Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime. (The NHL record is 15 rounds, set in a Rangers-Washington game in 2005).

The Sabres are an NHL-best 4-0 in shootouts this year -- which means, of course, they're 3-22-2 in all games not decided by the penalty-shot contest. Buffalo shooters are 10-19 (52.6 percent, third in the NHL), which is pretty crazy when you consider the team's path to an NHL record-low goal total. Matt Moulson is 3 for 3 for the Sabres while Tyler Ennis is the only other shooter with two goals.

Continue reading "The video and stats don't lie: Shootouts have been a strength" »

An offensive offense: Links to today's story, slideshows and a cleaner look at the crazy numbers

By Mike Harrington

Be sure to read my story in today's paper about the Sabres' astonishing lack of offense thus far this season. Buffalo is on pace for the lowest goal total in the expansion era (since 1967) and is currently on pace to be the lowest scoring NHL team since 1940!!

With a pace of just 132 goals for the season, the Sabres would finish an incredible 58 goals -- 58!! -- behind their previous worst season total of 190. Jeez. The print editions feature two pretty compelling charts that I'm told aren't translating real well to Web and mobile devices. So I'm reprinting them here (the NHL one I took out team records for a little easier read).

CHART 1: The lowest-scoring NHL teams since the 1967 expansion (excludes lockout-shortened seasons)

(Click here for our photo slideshow on some of the struggling players)

TEAM                        YEAR        GF      AVG 
Buffalo Sabres            2013-14    132*    1.61
Tampa Bay Lightning  1997-98    151     1.84
Oakland Seals             1967-68    153    2.07
Columbus Blue Jackets 2001-02  164    2.00
Los Angeles Kings        1969-70    168    2.21
Minnesota Wild            2000-01   168    2.05
Oakland Seals              1969-70    169    2.22
Atlanta Thrashers        1999-00    170    2.07
New York Islanders      1972-73    170    2.18
Carolina Hurricanes     2002-03    171    2.09
Carolina Hurricanes     2003-04    172    2.10
Philadelphia Flyers       1967-68     173    2.34
* - projected total

CHART 2: The Sabres' worst offensive seasons

(Click here for our photo slideshow on these teams)

YEAR        GF        AVG.     RECORD
2013-14     132*       1.61        6-20-2
2002-03     190         2.31      27-37-10-8
1971-72      203        2.60      16-43-19
1998-99      207        2.52       37-28-17
1997-98      211        2.57       36-29-17
2001-02      213        2.60      35-35-11-1
1999-00      213        2.60      35-32-11-4
1970-71      217        2.78       24-39-15
2000-01      218        2.66       46-30-5-1
2011-12      218        2.66       39-32-11
(* -- projected total. Records in shootout years pre-2005 are listed as W-L-T or W-L-T-OTL)

West is by far the best in heavily tilted NHL standings

By Mike Harrington

PHILADELPHIA -- When you wake up this morning and change the NHL standings into the overall mode, you're not seeing any misprints. The top eight teams -- yes, the top EIGHT -- are all from the Western Conference and are all bunched within three points of each other from 33 (Anaheim) to 30 (Colorado). The top team in the East is Boston at 29 points, leaving the Bruins ninth overall.

The West is an astounding 87-38-16 vs. the East this year after Wednesday's results, but actually lost two at home in overtime, with Calgary falling to Columbus and Anaheim getting stopped by New Jersey.

A big reason for the success of the West is its teams are dominant at home. Anaheim dropped its first point of the season and is 8-0-1 on the pond at Honda Center. In fact, the top six (ANA, CHI, MIN, STL, SJ, PHX) are an astounding 50-4-11 on their home ice and the top eight (adding LA and COL) are 67-10-11. That's all patently absurd.

Another reason, of course, is talent. The Sabres have seen the huge forwards of the West at work. Think Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and St. Louis' David Backes. Pretty hard to defend. 

Worst East teams against the West are Ottawa (1-7-2), the New York Rangers (1-6-0) and the Sabres, who are 2-9-0 -- including 0-5 against the Central Division. 

Best West teams against the East are Chicago (7-0-2), Phoenix (7-1-1), Minnesota (8-3-2), Los Angeles (8-2-1) and Colorado (8-3-0).

While the Sabres and Flyers are meeting tonight in the Wells Fargo Center, there's plenty of interconference showdowns. The full list:

St. Louis at Boston
Nashville at Toronto
NY Rangers at Dallas
Florida at Edmonton
New Jersey at Los Angeles
Tampa Bay at San Jose

Sordid stats left behind that Nolan, LaFontaine have to work with

By Mike Harrington

The Sabres are 4-15-1 heading into tonight's opener of the Ted Nolan-Pat LaFontaine era against the Leafs. Both men reiterated today this team has a clean slate and whatever has happened in the first 20 games is wiped out and everyone starts over.

That's probably a good idea.

Here are some utterly absurd numbers the Sabres compiled in one of the worst 20-game stretches you'll ever see (Nice entries for Ron Rolston's future resume, don't you think?):

Times scoring first: 2 (0-1-1)
Opponents scoring first: 18 (4-14-0)

Leading after first period: 0 (seriously)
Trailing after 1st: 17 (4-13-0)
Leading after 2nd: 2 (1-0-1)
Trailing after 2nd: 13 (0-13-0)

Shootouts: 3-0
Non-shootouts: 1-15-1

First Period Goals for-Goals against: 3-27
First Period Shots on goal for-against: 142-278

Second Period GF-GA: 17-18
Second Period SOG (F-A): 177-252

Third Period GF-GA: 13-17
Third Period SOG (F-A): 171-195

Total GF-GA: 33-63
Total SOG (F-A): 496-738

5-on-5 GF-GA: 24-45
Shots per game for-against: 24.8-36.9

40-shot games (By Sabres/Opps): 0/8
30-shot games (By Sabres/Opps): 4/15

Numbers to ponder

By Mike Harrington

We're expecting to get an update in the 1 o'clock hour from interim coach Ron Rolston regarding the Brian Flynn callup, so here's some items to ponder about today's Sabres-Devils matchup:

---The Sabres are trying to win three straight for the first time this season. 

---Buffalo is trying to avoid its first four-game winless streak at home since it went 0-3-1 from Feb. 13-20, 2011. The Sabres haven't dropped four straight here in regulation since Oct. 15-Nov. 5, 2010.

---Buffalo is just 1-4 in afternoon games thus far. The Sabres have three more after today. 

Continue reading "Numbers to ponder" »

By the numbers: Tonight's key points to start the climb out of last place in the Eastern Conference

Islanders center John Tavares has seven multi-point games this year, second in the NHL to Steven Stamkos' eight. (Getty Images)

 By Mike Harrington

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Thanks to Alex Ovechkin's hat trick and the Capitals' 5-1 win over New Jersey earlier this afternoon, the Sabres have slipped into 15th and dead last place in the Eastern Conference. 

And things could get even worse in Ron Rolston's home debut tonight against the New York Islanders: If the Sabres lose tonight in regulation and Columbus gets a point at St. Louis, the self-proclaimed "Hockey Heaven" will be dead last in the NHL. Ooof.

A few more numbers to ponder for tonight:

---Thomas Vanek is now tied for the NHL scoring lead with Sidney Crosby at 25 points and Vanek has gone pointless in five of the last six games. John Tavares of the Islanders is tied for fifth at 22 points and his 11 goals are one behind Vanek and Pittsburgh's James Neal for the NHL lead.

---Watch the second period tonight. The Islanders lead the league with 23 goals in the middle stanza -- while the Sabres' 28 goals against are the most by any team in any period. I asked Ryan Miller about the middle-period troubles Thursday night in Toronto and he attributed it to long changes, which is still because every team has that issue. Then Miller fessed up to the changes combined with the team's lack of puck possession.

"Long changes and we don't have the puck and we're not getting the puck deep. There you go," Miller said. "Start form the simplest thing to do and build from there. Guys have to execute. It's brought up, it's mentioned, it's highlighted. You got me.

"I'm trying not to be caught up in it too much. I'm trying to do my job but you guys ask me questions about the game and that's my evaluation. We're trying to figure it out. I think we got a pretty good handle on it. We've just got to execute."

Continue reading "By the numbers: Tonight's key points to start the climb out of last place in the Eastern Conference" »

Morning numbers for today's matinee vs. the Flying Crosbys

Sidney Crosby has a point in all 12 of his career games in First Niagara Center. (AP Photo)

By Mike Harrington

Greetings from high atop First Niagara Center as we get set for today's Sabres-Penguins matinee. It's a 12:30 faceoff on NBC. Will the Sabres parlay any momentum from Friday night's third period against the Bruins? Will the Penguins continue to dominate on the road, where they lead the East with seven wins? Those are my two quick questions this morning. 

Be sure to join me in a new thread on the Edge at 12:30 for our live game blog -- and have your questions and comments ready in the second intermission for another Sabres FlashChat. 

Today's game is the opener of Hockey Day in America and will be followed at 3:30 by the Kings at the Blackhawks on NBC and the Capitals at the Rangers at 6 on the NBC Sports Network.

Gord Miller, the TSN veteran renowned for his work on on the World Junior Championships, will be doing today's play-by-play and former NHL defenseman and longtime MSG analyst Joe Micheletti will be the inside-the-glass man. Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray will be doing radio only today on WGR.

Some quick numbers to ponder:

Vs. Pittsburgh: The Sabres are just 2-8-0 in their last 10 against the Pens. 

Power play: The Penguins are third overall (27.6 percent) and are fourth on the road (28.6) but lead the NHL with 10 road power-play goals. The Sabres are 26th overall (12.7) but are ninth at home (24.0) and 29th on the road (1-30, 3.3. Yikes).

Continue reading "Morning numbers for today's matinee vs. the Flying Crosbys" »

By the Numbers: Travel fatigue no issue in shortened season

Miami air
The Sabres take Miami Air charters across North America and have a much lighter travel load than most NHL teams. (Graphic from 

By Mike Harrington

OTTAWA -- The Sabres are in Scotiabank Place tonight and it's another quick jaunt for the team in a season full of them as they're playing an all-Eastern Conference schedule.

Just once in 48 games (April 9 at Winnipeg) will the Sabres play a game outside the Eastern time zone. Pretty incredible for a whole season.

On the Forecheck, an SB Nation blog that covers the Nashville Predators, has become the go-to place in recent season for what it calls the "Super Schedule" -- a calculation of the miles each NHL team travels during the season. Not surprisingly, the Sabres rate low on the list.

Continue reading "By the Numbers: Travel fatigue no issue in shortened season" »

By the numbers: Vanek's ice time

By Mike Harrington

In Saturday's paper, I take a look at Thomas Vanek's burgeoning ice time -- which is the most in his career even if it's slightly behind that of other big-name forwards in the NHL. 

If Vanek hits 20 minutes tonight on Long Island, it will mark three straight 20-minute games for just the second time in his career. The other time? October, 2005 in games 3-4-5 as a Sabre!!

The story also included a chart showing Vanek's standing compared to the league leaders. Graphic elements sometimes don't make the Web site, so I've reproduced the chart here:


Comparing Vanek’s ice time to NHL leaders among forwards

Player                     Per game    Even      PP       PK   Secs/shift Shifts

1. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ    26:02      17:47     6:15    1:59       58.0     27.0

2. John Tavares, NYI     21:52      17:13     4:29   0:10       54.0     24.3

3. M. St. Louis, TB        21:50      16:23    4:35    0:51       56.0      23.2

4. Steven Stamkos, TB   21:49     16:26    4:34    0:47       55.0      23.6

5. Travis Zajac, NJ        21:43     15:22    3:49   2:32        48.0      27.1

6. Claude Giroux, Phil    21:41     15:07    4:44   1:49       51.0       25.5

7. Alex Ovechkin, Wash  21:32     15:49    5:26    0:16       58.0      22.5

8. Alexander Semin, Car  21:31    15:39    5:33    0:18       50.0      26.0

9. Jarome Iginla, Cal       21:24    16:42    4:03   0:39        47.0      27.1

10. Eric Staal, Car          21:23     14:56   5:13    1:13        46.0     27.7

42. VANEK                    19:47     15:02   4:24   0:21       51.0     23.1

Vanek’s rankings among forwards:
Even strength ice: 41st
Power-play ice: T-21st
Penalty kill ice: T-240th
Seconds per shift: T-17th
Total shifts: T-114th

Red-hot Vanek named NHL's First Star of the Week

Vanek-FlaBy Mike Harrington

Sabres winger Thomas Vanek put together three more points Sunday against Florida and the league's white-hot leading scorer was named the NHL's First Star of the Week today (The other stars were Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo).

Vanek had five goals and five assists in just four games while compiling a plus-6 rating. For the season, he leads the league with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in eight games. Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay is next with 16.

Asked his thoughts on the honor today, Vanek said, "I don't have too many. Our line is going well but we're not producing wins so that's about it. I think I found two guys I feel real comfortable with. The passes we make and the shots that we take, a lot of them go in. But again, it doesn't matter. You do well and you lose games, it doesn't feel good."

Coach Lindy Ruff is obviously loving the way the line of Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville has combined for 41 points thus far. The problem? No other Sabre has more than two goals or five points.

"We have something special that we have a line that, as they say in Spanish, is 'en fuego,' " said Ruff. "Everybody else would be jealous of that line right now. But now we don't have the secondary so now we're jealous of the secondary around the league when the league is looking and going, 'Holy man, they got a line that's as hot as any line in the league.'

"You love having that. That line has so much confidence and makes so many plays and is playing so well together, now we've got to find the other side

Click below to hear audio from Vanek on the award -- he's not impressed -- and the current sad state of the Sabres.

Thomas Vanek

(Vanek photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Not-so-Super Sabres numbers

By Mike Harrington

We should hear an injury update from Lindy Ruff in the 1 p.m. hour as we head toward the 3 p.m. faceoff downtown between the Sabres and Florida Panthers. Can this club play any worse than it did Saturday during what John Vogl aptly called its beatdown in Montreal? Doubt it. But there's still 40 games left. 

As I went through the NHL stat pack this morning, I pondered some of these numbers:

---Thomas Vanek enters today tied for the NHL scoring lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Both have seven goals and nine assists for 16 points, although Vanek has played one less game. Frankly, Vanek needs to get on the ice more. He enters today averaging 19 minutes, 13 seconds per contest -- and that's only 58th among NHL forwards. (Stamkos is at 21:13).

Here's the leader board in that department.

Here's the second page, which pegs Vanek right between Michael Grabner of the Islanders and Joe Pavelski of San Jose.

Continue reading "Not-so-Super Sabres numbers" »

By the numbers: Faceoff follies could spell difference tonight

Mikhail Grigorenko has been a surprise in the faceoff circle. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

BOSTON -- The Sabres have to be quicker on the draw. That's become plainly obvious this season. But it could really be a major issue tonight.

Buffalo enters the game last in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 42 percent -- and the Boston Bruins are No. 1 at 60.7 percent. There's been plenty of chatter on Twitter in recent days over how significant the Sabres' troubles in the circle really are. I say it's one key problem to the season (although I would list lack of secondary scoring and poor play along the blueline as bigger trouble spots).

(*I acknowledge a decent argument can be made that six games is a small sample size, although I remind you it's already 12.5 percent of the season. And it also can be pointed out that the numbers might even out a little bit as well because 42 percent is historically bad; the last-place team in the league has never been under 44 percent since 1998.).

Let's start by comparing the two teams' numbers. The NHL lists faceoffs in wins-losses format so a team or player that's, say, 20-25 has won 20 and lost 25 and is NOT 20 OUT OF 25 (Going 20-25 essentially means 20 of 45).

Continue reading "By the numbers: Faceoff follies could spell difference tonight" »

Miller by the numbers: Strong start in the net

Ryan Miller has kept his eye on the puck. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

By Mike Harrington


Ryan Miller has gone 2-2 while playing four of the Sabres' five games and I don't think you can blame him for any of the eight goals he's given up. Some deflections (Cody Hodgson has to get out of the way of the Caps' second goal Sunday), some screens and a couple howitzers by Claude Giroux and Alexander Ovechkin that no goalie stops.

Lindy Ruff said before the season Miller would make 36-38 starts. After the way Jhonas Enroth played Thursday in Carolina, that number is almost certain to hit 40. (I say Enroth next plays here Sunday against Florida). 

A look at Miller's season to date:

Continue reading "Miller by the numbers: Strong start in the net" »

Two Russian gold medalists from Buffalo World Juniors among the dead in plane crash

In addition to the former NHLers killed Wednesday in the crash of the plane carrying KHL team Kokomotiv Yaroslavl, the victims include two members of the Russian team that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January at HSBC Arena.

Forward Daniil Sobchenko, San Jose’s sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, and defenseman Yuri Urychev are confirmed among the dead.  Sobchenko had four goals, tied for second on the team, and three assists in seven games of the tournament. Neither player registered a point during the five-goal third period that stunned Canada in the gold medal game.

One of his Sobchenko's goals, assisted by Urychev, was the tying tally late in the second period of the Russians' 6-3 preliminary-round loss to Canada. He had two more in an 8-2 win over Norway, and talked to Amy Moritz of The News after that game. His final goal came in an 8-3 win over the Czech Republic. The latter two games were played at Niagara University's Dwyer Arena.

Urychev had a goal and three assists, with his goal the first tally in a 4-3 overtime win over Finland in the quarterfinals. 

Sobchenko and Urychev were both 20 and were born 10 days apart in 1991.

---Mike Harrington

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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 |

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 |

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 |