|When Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres in February, he made one thing very clear: general manager Darcy Regier had the “green light” to ice a championship-caliber team. |
It was a sigh of relief for the Sabres and their loyal fans, who had endured years of uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise despite Buffalo’s reputation of being a competitive team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Pegula, a natural gas industry executive from Pennsylvania, was also the primary economic resource behind Penn State University’s brand-new Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey programs (his alma mater).
Regier finally had the necessary resources to upgrade his team, and this summer, he did exactly that.
The Sabres finished T-17th in goals against a year ago, yielding an average of 2.78 goals per game – and it could have been worse if not for another solid season from Ryan Miller. The 31-year-old Michigan State product started 66 games for head coach Lindy Ruff last season, posting a 2.59 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and five shutouts. Without a doubt, Miller is the backbone of the Sabres and Regier’s goal was to get him some help.
Buffalo acquired sturdy defenseman Robyn Regehr from the Calgary Flames, instantly giving the Sabres blue line a veteran presence that can play big minutes and kill penalties. And as if one big-time pickup on the back end wasn’t enough, Regier went after the No. 1 target on the free-agent market: Christian Ehrhoff. Regier traded for the rights to negotiate with Ehrhoff prior to July 1, and it didn’t take long for Ehrhoff to agree a 10-year contract ensuring he’ll be the team’s top blue-liner. Those two additions added to a blue line with names like Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold and Marc Andre-Gragnani give the Sabres one of the best “on-paper” defenses in the Eastern Conference.
Up front, the Sabres are equally scary. Regier has assembled a young and talented group of forwards that are big, strong and gritty as well as compact, skilled and fast. It’s that combination which makes game-planning for Buffalo difficult because all of Ruff’s lines have the potential to score goals. Captain Jason Pominville is a regular 20-goal scorer in the league and Thomas Vanek is one of the deadliest snipers in the game. The Sabres acquired Brad Boyes at the trading deadline last year to get secondary scoring, and he’s been able to settle nicely into that role in Buffalo.
Regier signed free-agent forward Ville Leino to a six-year contract, giving the skilled Finn an opportunity to play center for the Sabres. He joins a forward corps with sturdy Drew Stafford, center Derek Roy and young Luke Adam – the latter being one of the standout players for Buffalo in the early going. They will, however, be without one of their top playmaking threats in Tyler Ennis, who is out of the Sabres lineup with an ankle injury.
Through a lot of change in Buffalo, there has been one constant and that is Ruff. Of course, there was speculation after Pegula assumed control of the franchise that the futures of both Regier and Ruff were in question, but Pegula believed in the management staff and the head coach. Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, is now in his 13th season behind the Buffalo bench is one of the most accomplished active coaches in the game. Ruff is sixth among active coaches in total wins (438) and owns a .591 career winning percentage in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Since Ruff was hired by the Sabres on July 21, 1997, there have been 163 head coaching changes in the NHL. He is the third-longest tenured coach in the four major professional sports, behind Tony LaRussa (St. Louis Cardinals) and Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs).
| || || |
|Prospal, Nash (3) ||Vanek (7) |
|Three tied (5) ||Pominville (8) |
|Prospal, Nash (8) ||Vanek (11) |
|Dorsett (16) ||Gausted (14) |
|MacKenzie (+3) ||Sekera (+6) |
|Mason (1-7-1) |
|Miller (4-3-0) |
|Mason (3.25) ||Enroth (2.00) |
|Mason (.889) ||Enroth (.935) || |
|• This is the first of two meetings between the Blue Jackets and Sabres in the 2011-12 season, and the only game at First Niagara Center. In 12 prior games, Columbus owns a 7-4-1 record in the all-time series and holds a 4-3-0 mark in Buffalo. The Blue Jackets have won three of the last four meetings at First Niagara Center, the lone loss a 5-0 defeat last season. |
• D James Wisniewski made his Blue Jackets debut Tuesday against Detroit and had one shot on goal, a game-high four blocked shots and was +1 in a game-high 27:21 of action. Last season he set career highs in goals (10), assists (41), points (51) and power play goals (7) en route to ranking fifth among NHL defensemen in points and seventh in assists.
• Boyes became the 20th player in NHL history to dress for 500 consecutive games on Tuesday vs. TBL. Boyes notched two points (one goal, one assist) in the loss, scoring his first goal since Mar. 19 vs. ATL. Boyes leads all Sabres skaters with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 27 career games against the Blue Jackets, after spending the beginning of his career in the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues.
• The Sabres are 21-7-4 since Pegula purchased the team.
• Vanek was a streaky scorer early in his career, but he’s becoming a model of consistency of late. He’s scored seven goals in Buffalo’s first eight games, and his 11 points total are tied for fourth overall in the NHL. His 36 game-winners are fifth-most in Sabres history, two behind Dave Andreychuk for fourth-most by a Sabre all-time. Vanek has scored 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in his last 26 regular season games, dating back to Mar. 5. In those 26 games, he has not gone more than one game without recording a point.
• Aaron Johnson leads all Blue Jackets defensemen and is fourth overall in scoring with 2-2-4 in five games. In his last three games, he has notched 2-1-3 with a +1 plus/minus rating and logged 67:18 of ice time. He tallied 1-1-2 and a season-high 25:21 TOI Oct. 21 at Detroit and scored a goal and was +1 in 24:18 of action at Ottawa the following night. His goal at Detroit was his first with the club since Mar. 29, 2007 vs. Anaheim.
D - #57
• Myers is one of the top young defenseman in the NHL, and the 21-year-old from Houston, Texas has played a big role for the Sabres in his first two professional seasons. He stands 6-foot-8 and skates extremely well for a big man, allowing him to join the play and protect the puck as a “second wave” attacker.
• He has averaged between 20-22 minutes per game in the first eight contests of 2011-12, and has shown the ability to play heavy minutes as well. Myers has taken 11 shots on goal so far and is a regular on the Sabres power play. In the 2011 playoffs, Myers led all Buffalo players with an average of 23:52 TOI per game.
G Mark Dekanich (ankle); indefinitely
LW Kristian Huselius (pectoral); indefinitely
RW Jared Boll (thumb); indefinitely
C Jeff Carter (foot); week-to-week
G Curtis Sanford (groin); 2 to 4 weeks
D Marc Methot (thumb); day-to-day
D Radek Martinek (concussion); indefinitely