With the lockout done and the schedule for this shortened season already decided, The Devils’ Den will give you an in-depth look at the team’s opponents this season. We kicked things off with a look at the Boston Bruins, and we’ll continue today with a preview of the Buffalo Sabres.
Last year was supposed to be the year in Buffalo.
New owner Terry Pegula, not afraid to open up the checkbook, brought in Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr. Doling out the cash, however, didn’t match the lofty expectations fans and analysts had for this team. They spent most of the year at the bottom of the conference, and only a late-season surge saved them from being a complete bust.
On top of their struggles, opponents exposed Buffalo’s lack of grit. In the most glaring example, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic bowled over Ryan Miller in open ice, and no one on the Sabres responded.
This offseason, Pegula added that toughness, bringing in the likes of John Scott, Steve Ott. The Sabres also kept Patrick Kaleta, re-signing their in-house enforcer.
There were no changes this season despite the failure to reach the playoffs. Will this be coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier’s last chance to bring the team deep in the playoffs?
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will preview the 2011-2012 schedule, breaking down matchups and providing in-depth analysis of their opponents. Today, we the preview this season’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres.
Usually, the Buffalo Sabres stay out of the limelight during the offseason. But since late last year, the only successful team from the Buffalo area made a ton of noise. First, billionaire Terry Pegula purchased the team, brining a wealthy owner to a usually frugal team. They made some noise in the playoffs, but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. That would be one of their only disappointments.
With Pegula backing the team, Buffalo went on an offseason spending spree. They became, for the first time in recent memory, big spenders. Nobody was surprised; Pegula promised to pay for a quality team. An already good team added some key pieces. It’ll be a different team on the ice taking on New Jersey this season.
The History Behind The Matchup
The Devils have faced the Sabres 132 times, and haven’t fared well against them. New Jersey is 47-65-3 with 17 ties, allowing 448 goals against, or 3.39 goals per game. They’ve only scored 380 goals against Buffalo, good for 2.88 goals per game.
The two teams faced off four times last season, with New Jersey compiling a 1-2-1 record. They first met on October 13 in a game that became a duel between Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller. Both goalies stood on their heads, matching each other save for save. In overtime, rookie Matt Taormina set up Ilya Kovalchuk for a game-winning one-timer deep in the Sabres zone. The puck rang off the crossbar before finding it’s way to the back of the net. That marked the first win of John MacLean’s coaching career. Too bad he wouldn’t lead the team to many more.
Buffalo evened the series just 10 days later, blowing out the Devils, 6-1, at the Prudential Center. Drew Stafford started the scoring, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead at 6:57 of the first period. Tyler Myers extended the lead to 2-0 at 16:33 of the opening frame. They poured it on in the second period, scoring three times. Tyler Ennis pushed the Sabres’ lead to 3-0 at 3:10 of the middle period. Patrick Kaleta stretched the lead to four at 8:17 of the period, chasing starter Johan Hedberg.
Brodeur couldn’t stop the bleeding. Thomas Vanek made it 5-0 at 18:12. Vanek scored again in the third period, making it 6-0. Zach Parise broke the shutout, scoring at 11:25 of the period. Miller finished with 26 saves. The game was more known for the infamous benching of Kovalchuk.
The teams played another high scoring game on November 10, with Buffalo winning, 5-4, in a shootout. Jason Arnott opened the scoring, putting the Devils ahead, 1-0, at 10:12 of the first period. That lead wouldn’t last. Jason Pominville tied the game, 1-1, at 5:22 of the second period. Derek Roy wasted no time in giving Buffalo the lead, scoring 13 seconds later to give his team a 2-1 advantage. The Devils answered right back. David Clarkson tied the game, 2-2, at 7:58 of the middle period. Arnott struck again, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead at 12:01.
The see-saw battle would continue. Myers evened the score, 3-3, at 13:50 of the second period. Jamie Langenbrunner responded, putting the Devils ahead, 4-3, at 18:01 of the second period. New Jersey once again failed to hold their lead. Ennis tied the game at four at 8:54 of the third period. Both teams moved to the shootout, where Vanek and Langenbrunner both scored. Roy put his team ahead, and set up one of the worst moments for Kovalchuk this season:
Jhonas Enroth stopped 28 shots for the win. Hedberg stopped 38 in the loss.
Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s second review, we focus on Henrik Tallinder.
When New Jersey Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello signed Henrik Tallinder last season, several fans showed surprise by the move. Tallinder, who posted point totals of 15 or more in just three of his eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, wouldn’t provide any offensive value. Tallinder didn’t fit the mold of a puck-moving defenseman the team desperately needed. But Lamoriello didn’t sign him for his offensive skill.
While in Buffalo, Tallinder helped mentor Tyler Myers, the eventual Calder Trophy-winning defenseman. The Devils’ new defenseman is also Swedish, and could help mentor the three young Swedes in the organization. Lamoriello believed that role played an integral part to the signing.
“In Tallinder, you’ve got somebody 6-4, 240, played under an outstanding coach (Lindy Ruff in Buffalo), mentored (Tyler) Myers in Buffalo this year,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “We’ve got three young Swedish players coming in (Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby and Alexander Urbom). He’s 31 years old. He’s in his prime. He’s a mature guy.”
Tallinder brought skill to the blueline, but not exactly what the Devils needed. As the season wore on, however, we saw two different Tallinders. The first half of the season he was atrocious, and the second half he became a rock on the team’s defense. His numbers in all areas display that, showing a player who played well on the Devils’ blue line this season.
Tallinder At Even Strength
Tallinder, one of only two Devils defenseman to play all 82 games, led the defense in even strength time on ice per 60 minutes with a 19.04. That number sat almost a full minute higher than Andy Greene, the next closest player. He also faced solid competition, with the opponents averaging a plus-.03 rating. He continually faced the opposing team’s top two lines (evidenced by his plus-.079 quality of team rating), a testament to his solid play and the trust both John MacLean and Jacques Lemaire placed in him.
If you’ve read some of the other previews, you’ve noticed a trend with Devils defenseman. Each carries a negative plus/minus rating per 60 minutes. With the season the team played, especially during the first three months, it’s expected. Tallinder was on the ice for 54 goals scored, most on the defense. But he also was on the ice for 64 goals scored against, once again tops on the team. His minus-0.38 rating isn’t positive, but it also isn’t terrible. The team posted lower numbers in goals scored and higher numbers in goals against, showing Tallinder’s true impact on the ice.
The positive feedback continues while looking at more data. While on the ice, the team averaged 2.46 goals, 26.9 shots and 22.7 shots against per 60 minutes. When off the ice, the numbers dipped across the board. Goals for dropped to 2.15, shots for dropped to 25.7 and shots against rose to 23.9.
Tallinder’s Corsi numbers wrap up his even-strength performance nicely. On the ice, Tallinder posted a Corsi of 9.30, helping generate offense and shutting down the opponents. Off the ice, the team’s Corsi dropped to 0.87. He clearly put those first half struggles behind him to have a solid second half.
In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Buffalo Sabres, who lead the Northeast Division and sit third in the conference with 90 points. Buffalo, a team that has flown under the radar for most of the season, sport one of the game’s best goaltenders. But can they compete with the top teams in the conference? That question remains to be answered.
The top two lines for the Sabres are very, very good. The top line of Jason Pominville – Derek Roy – Jochen Hecht combine for 59 goals, 90 assists and a plus/minus rating of 34. The second line is even more formidable. Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek control that line, with each player over 15 goals on the season. But, after those top two lines, the performance falls off a bit. Their third line only has one player with a positive plus/minus rating (Patrick Kaleta, 4), and the fourth line sports a combined -25 plus/minus rating. While the Sabres have plenty of goal scorers, they don’t have great two-way forwards. That weakness will hurt them, because good teams will take advantage of a weak backcheck or a defensive breakdown. The top two lines are scary good, but the Sabres lack of forward depth will be an issue come playoff time.
Tyler Myers highlights a relatively unknown defensive unit. Myers, a rookie, impressed several analysts with his solid play this season. The rookie has 42 points (10 G, 32 A) and a plus/minus rating of 12 for the season. While they don’t have many big-name defenseman, the Sabres have an experienced blue line. Four of their six blue-liners have playoff experience, which gives them an advantage. Myers, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman can all contribute offensively, which is an added benefit. But there are cracks in the blue-line. The collective group has a great plus/minus rating (+21), with the third defensive pairing of Steve Montador and Craig Rivet checking in at a -10. The squad has also allowed goalie Ryan Miller to face 1,878 shots, which ranks 13th in the league. Overall, the blue line is a strength for the Sabres. Sure, they have their faults, but they play a solid, responsible game night in and night out.
Miller is one of the top five goalies in the N.H.L. today. His 2.20 goals against average ranks far below the league average. He’s also collected five shutouts on his way to a 37-15-8 record. Without Miller, the Sabres wouldn’t be in the third place. Miller can steal a game or even a series for this team. During the Olympics, the world found out what we already knew: Miller is a world-class goaltender. He’s also got the right attitude as a goalie. You never see Miller get too angry or too worked up during a game. That levelheaded attitude seems to calm the entire team, and he’s the true leader of the Sabres. He’s already set a career-high in wins, and his G.A.A. is the lowest in his career. Clearly, Buffalo’s goalie advantage ranks head and shoulders above some of the teams in the conference.
Overall, the Sabres are a good young team. They have world-class goaltending and a solid blue-line corps. But the weakness comes from the lack of forward depth. After the first two lines, the production and play drops sharply. There shouldn’t be great goal scorers on the third and fourth lines, but these forwards should at least sport solid plus/minus numbers. While it doesn’t show the entire story, the plus/minus rating of the third and fourth lines can spell trouble. If the Sabres have a problem backchecking or defensively, they will be ripe for the picking. But I’d expect this team to make it to the second round, but nothing more.