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Photo courtesy of flickr.com/creativecommons user rhys asplundh

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

In a season where the Buffalo Sabres’ expectations—from ownership, coaches, players and fans—are sky-high, it’s understandable when the “low points” are particularly low.  Lindy Ruff’s crew has only won one of its last four contests—a 4-2 triumph over lowly Columbus—and concerns over Ville Leino, Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller have Sabres fans bickering over beer about overpaid off-season signings, erratic blue-liners and overrated goalies. 

Poor stretches are expected, even for the NHL’s best teams.  Take the Boston Bruins, last year’s Stanley Cup winners, who’ve sputtered to a 4-7 start, “good” for last place in the Eastern Conference.  For the Sabres, though, tonight’s rematch against the Philadelphia Flyers will be a perfect measuring stick for the team’s progress since last year’s playoffs (where Buffalo fell to #2 seed Philadelphia in seven games in the first round). 

Philadelphia Flyers
2010-11 season
: 47-23-12, 106 points, second seed in Eastern Conference
Lost in second round to the Boston Bruins, 4-0
2011-12:  6-4-1, 13 points
Three-way tie for fifth place in Eastern Conference.

Last chance for Leino?:  If Ville Leino wants to bound his way out of Lindy Ruff’s doghouse, he’ll need a strong performance tonight.  WGR’s Paul Hamilton and the Buffalo News’ John Vogl drew attention to Leino’s excuses for poor early season performance—lack of ice-time and an unfamiliar position—and they’re right, but tonight offers a prime opportunity to rebound against Leino’s former team.  For us, it’s not so much Leino’s lack of production that’s aggravating; it’s his demeanor and his utter lack of intensity.  If he’s not scoring, how exactly is he contributing?

Jagr revival:  Without Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who combined for 132 points and 59 goals from 2010-11, a new top line has emerged in Philly.  Claude Giroux, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago, has meshed nicely with pesky Scott Hartnell and rejuvenated Jaromir Jagr.  The performances of the former two aren’t surprising; it’s Jagr, the 39-year-old winger that hadn’t played an NHL game since 2007, that’s acclimated quickly.  The NHL’s Third Star of the Week, Jagr potted five goals and two assists in four games—can he still be a point-per-game player?

Bryzgalov’s tumultuous start to the season:  Why exactly did the Flyers ship out Richards and Carter?  While Carter’s off-ice immaturity certainly encouraged the Flyers to move on, the fire-sale opened up salary space to address major goal-tending issues, the overarching reason why Philly was swept by the Bruins in the second round.  The Boucher/Leighton/Bobrovsky trio pales in comparison to Ilya Bryzgalov, the durable and talented former Coyote that suited up in 64 or more games in each season from 2007 to 2010.  Even though he lost four straight games in late October—allowing 18 goals in that span—Bryzgalov looked much more comfortable in Saturday’s 5-1 win over Carolina.  Has he turned the corner since that befuddling 9-8 loss to Winnipeg?

Prediction:  3-2 Philadelphia in overtime.  Goals: Vanek, Stafford; Giroux, Hartnell, Van Riemsdyk.

Updated:  Danny Briere will miss his second consecutive game tonight with an upper-body ailment.

TAGGED: buffalo sabres, ilya bryzgalov, jaromir jagr, lindy ruff, philadelphia flyers, thomas vanek, ville leino

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