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Face-off Failures

January 26, 2013, 10:18 PM ET [344 Comments]
NHL news by Garth • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Michal Neuvirth (0-1-1), not Brayden Holtby, will get the start for the Capitals against tha Sabres on Sunday afternoon. Caps coach Adam Oates made the announcement after his team practiced on Saturday.

No big deal, you say? It is if you are Holtby, who was names the starter out of training camp. Sunday's game will be Neuvirth's third start in a row. Neuvirth earned his team's only point of the season with earning an OT loss to New jersey on Friday night.

Ryan Miller (2-1) will start for Buffalo.


Sabres still dead last in NHL faceoff % with 40.6% win rate. The Caps are 23rd with 47.3%.

By way of comparison, Bruins are #1 in FO%; Lightning #2; Hurricanes #3. Sabres failures helped to pump up Canes FO %.

Leafs are ranked #13. Sabres play them Tuesday night. Bruins #1, and host Sabres Thursday. No more excuses for faceoff failures

Sabres centremen will get a reprieve from face-off specialist, Brooks Laich, Sunday afternoon. Laich, a perennial face-off wins leader, is on the IR with a groin injury.

According to Oates, Laich will be out of the lineup until further notice.



-First of three meetings between the Sabres and Capitals this season.

-Last meeting: Buffalo defeated Washington, 5-1, in Washington on March 27, 2012.

-The team meet again on St. Patty's Day ( 3/17) in Washington.

-The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Capitals; 4-5-1 on the road.

-This is the 141st game all-time between Buffalo and Washington; Buffalo leads the series with an 83-41-16 record; 39-21-10 on the road.


The last time these teams met, Buffalo left Washington with their first road win against the Capitals since April 3, 2009, clinching the season series against Washington (3-1-0) for the first time since they went 3-1-0 in 2007-08. Prior to that stretch, the Sabres beat the Capitals at least three times in their four matchups every year from 2003-04 to 2007-08.
Today is Buffalo’s second Sunday afternoon game of the season, after the Sabres opened the year with a 5-2 Sunday afternoon win vs. PHI on Jan. 20. The Sabres will play 11 Sunday games and nine afternoon games this season, up from one Sunday game and four afternoon games last season.


Christian Ehrhoff has an assist in each of the last three games… Jason Pominville has recorded at least one assist in each of the Sabres’ four games this season… Jochen Hecht leads all Sabres with 22 points (11+11) in 34 career games against the Capitals.

HOW THEY STACK UP (Sabres ranked in the top 10 before 1/26 games)

Vanek: 9 points (T-1st), 2 power play goals (T-2nd), 6 assists (T-3rd), 20 shots (T-4th), 3 goals (T-8th)

Pominville: 8 points (T-3rd), 5 assists (T-5th), 3 goals (T-8th)

Hodgson: 18 shots (T-7th), 3 goals (T-8th)

Miller: .952 SV% (5th), 1.67 GAA (6th), 2 wins (T-6th)


Thomas Vanek has been on the ice for all 11 of Buffalo’s goals this season, recording nine points (3+6); Jason Pominville has been on the ice for nine, tallying a point on eight. The pair has combined on six goals this season, tying San Jose’s Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton for most by an NHL duo entering play Saturday. They were the seventh-most prolific pair last season, combining on 39 goals.

Thanks, Ian Ott and Sabres Research team


Lindy Ruff isn't the only NHL head coach to bust out the dynamite and blow up his forward lines.

Washington Capitals rookie bench boss, Adam Oates, did the same thing to his forward trios on Friday morning. Oates had no choice. His team was winless and had just gotten spanked the night before by the Montreal Canadiens. The Caps didn't win Friday night, however, the lost in OT to the New Jersey Devils. They Caps now have one point for the season. They have a long way to go, and a short time to get there. Scrambling his forward lines seemed to work for Oates.

Here's how Oates configured his four forward units on Friday night:


Ovechkin was given no choice but to play with two grinders. Oates explained that beagle and Crabb had skated a lot of time in AHL Hershey and that they could keep the pace and tempo with Ovechkin, who spent the lockout playing with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL.

Oates doesn't have many more options. His team is tile winless in this truncated 48 game season. He needs points in order to improve his team's place in the standings. Another week of winless hockey will put his team at the bottom of the eastern standings. On Friday night, he rubbed sticks together and made a speark. He was hoping to start a fire, but the moral victory is his team didn't lose, again.

Ruff is wondering if his new combos will pay dividends too. At today's practice, Ruff blew up his bottom nine forward combinations.


The only group he spared was the wonderfully productive Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville line. Vanek missed practice due to a muscle strain in his back. Ruff's hopeful that vanek will be ready to play Sunday afternoon.

Lindy is not about to screw up a good thing. He'll, 26-19-29 have scored 9 of Buffalo's 11 goals so far this season. Breaking them apart for the sake of doing so would be ludicrous.

Oates told the media after Saturday's practice that the reason for his decision to rebuild his line combos is conditioning. The rookie coach has talked NHL game-ready conditioning every day since training camp started. Ditto Ruff.

During the lockout, NHL coaches were not able to interact with their veteran players, therefore, there was no sure way to know whether the players were putting in the work while skating shinny at the local rinks in their towns. Ruff, like Oates, was able to track the progress of players who opted to skate in Europe or in the AHL during the lockout. For example, its no wonder that Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville are flying high right now. Each players invested serious time in their respective conditioning by playing meaningful hockey during the 113 day lockout. Vanek played in 11 games in a month for his hometiwn Graz 99ers. Its no wonder why he's been playing so well in the NHL's first week of play. Hodgson was a point a game guy with the Rochester Amerks, and wer it not for losing five weeks of playing time to a broken bone in his right wrist, Hodgson would have piled up a ton more points for his team. Pominville skated with the boys at Northtown Center in Amhesrst, then he accepted an invitation to play with Jochen Hecht for Adler Mannheim in the DEL.

Oates told the media on Saturday that he's still preaching conditioning. he knows who on his team is in NHL game shape and who isn't.

“Trying to find balance and chemistry,” Oates said. “The biggest subject we’ve been talking about is conditioning and just trying to make sure that we have someone in the line that has got game shape, total game shape.”

Ruff has gotten a four game sample of his team's conditioning, too. He can see that his first unit is in tip top condition. He can also see the warts on certain forwards and defenders who are making a habit of having lazy, undisciplined mistakes during games.

Ruff is looking for wins, and he'll play who he has to, with whom ever he has to, in order to accomplish his goal of qualifying for the playoffs.

Don't take the 15th place Capital lightly. They have scored only eight goals and have given up 17 (-9 goal differential).

Sounds like the Carolina Hurricanes all over again, doesn't it?


The Caps PK has been a garage sale so far this season.

The Sabres PP should be licking its chops.

The Caps already allowed 8 PPG against (16 for 24 PK).

Whats more, they've given uo a 5-on-3 PPG against in three of their first four games.

Caps winger Joel Ward:

"It feels like we’ve been killing five-on-threes every game,” Joel Ward said. “If we could kind of prevent those and get a few on our side it’d be a big benefit for us. It’s essentially a slam dunk. You definitely hope you can stop it, but you can’t give those up all day. That will come back to bite you".


SabresBuzz1, on Flickr">LRuff
Photo courtesy Dan Hickling

Lindy Ruff addressed the Thomas Vanek injury after the team's practice at Northtowns Center.

Ruff said that he is "hopeful' that his leading scorer will play tomorrow in Washington.

Vanek skipped the on-ice skate today so that he could rest his back. He hurt himself when he took a hard fall on his lower back on Friday night.

Knowing what I know about Vanek, he'll tape a Tylenol to the pain and play through it.

Which Sabres forward is going to pick up the scoring slack of Vanek cannot play?

Vanek, Hodgson, and Pominville excluded, Steve Ott is the only other Sabre forward to score a goal this season.

Time for secondary and tertiary scoring to ante up.


grigo sabres
Photo courtesy, Dan Hickiling

Regarding Mikhail Grigorenko, Ruff said that its likely that he will sit the Russian rookie, provided Vanek is healthy. The reason is not a discipline issue. Its more of a strategic one so that the Sabres don't burn Grigo's last game of his tryout. Sitting him Sunday would mean that he would be able to stay with the Sabres and get valuable practice time with the team on Monday.

According to Bill Hoppe of Buffalo Hockey Beat, Ruff appears to be regretful that the he wasted a game of Grigo's eligibility in the 3-1 loss to Carolina on Friday night. Grigo skated only two shifts in the final forty minutes. Ruff opted to shorten his bench and to play Hecht-Kaleta-Gerbe against the Eric Staal line. Grigo skayed 6:48 TOI. For that Ruff is kicking himself.

“I like where his game has been. Even his early shifts I thought were good shifts. They had the makings of doing something good.”

Grigo told me after Friday night's game that he was ready to go once his name was called. he waited, and waited, and waited, and the opportunity never arose

Ruff explained it further:

“I got to a point he (Grigo) hadn’t played for so long I didn’t think it was fair to throw him in a tough situation,” Ruff said. “Your legs aren’t going. I burned up a game really is what I did.”

Sounds like the old coach has a regret about his handling of Grigo.

Doesn't exactly sound like a coach who is eager to send the kid back to Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts.

Mikhail Grigorenko


Lindy also said that against Washington, "every puck is going deep. No more of this pond hockey (bleep). In the two losses to Carolina, Ruff said that his team tried to squeeze pucks where they didn't belong, and that his forwards were trying to do way too much. Lindy stresses a north-south game, and it sounds like he's sick of the east-west crap that his forwards have been trying and failing with.
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