When you find to many similarities between Sabres players from this year and last, a non-playoff year, that could be an indication we are in for more of the same.

Last year, the Sabres had long scoring droughts, players who took mental vacations, and players struggling to live up to big contracts.  Sound familiar?

Sabre fans were treated to the spectacle of the once reliable and promising Dmitri Kalinin bumbling around the ice and mixing in the occasional head-scratching penalty.

Fast forward to this year and Tony Lydman is exhibiting these same tendencies.  Lydman was a once reliable puck-moving defenseman, it seems that once he began to struggle in that area, his positioning and composure followed suit.

The scoring drought piece of the puzzle is quite evident this week, as the offense has one goal in the last six periods of play.  And folks, nobody fears the mighty New York Islander defense and the brick wall that is Yan Danis.

Next is players living up to heightened expectations brought on by big money contracts.  Jason Pominville is look mighty Thomas Vanek-like in this regard.  Much like Vanek, Pominville produces points but anyone who watches a game knows that they struggle to be a factor. 

Vanek obviously turned his fortunes around this year; hopefully we won't have to wait for next year for Pominville to do the same.

There is still time left, so Sabre fans cannot immediately reach for the panic button.  There have been some recent bright spots.

Chris Butler has came out of virtually nowhere to become an above-average NHL defender in his rookie year.  Andre Sekera also continues to improve.

This allows us to save money by parting ways with some of our aging blue-liners on March 4 or after the season.

Also Patrick Lalime has been more than adequate in the absence of Ryan Miller.  His record reflects earlier struggles but recently it has been the team in front of Lalime that has come up short.

Hopefully, these factors coupled with normally reliable players bearing down will prevent Sabre fans from a nauseating case of deja vu at season's end.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off of four straight Overtime/Shootout wins. Playing strong in the last month. Jason Blake is playing his best hockey as a Maple Leaf in the last two months, and Dominic Moore is playing his best hockey in his whole career.

Most of the team is also playing better, and Kaberle is finally back from his injury that kept him away for more then a month.

Everything is starting to click, Vesa Toskala and yes even Curtis Joseph are playing much better in between the pipes. The teams Defence is almost 100 percent healthy, which hasn't been seen since the beginning of the season when they had over 10 qualified defencemen fighting for a spot.

Even Jamal Mayers has had a two-goal week.

The Leafs at this point are sitting just seven points out of the playoffs. What will Brian Burke do?

We know that JFJ and management were buyers for the first two years, while still sitting out of the playoffs, but trying to make it. Then last year decided to be sellers while still in the same conundrum.

Though last year we had captain Mats Sundin leading the Muskoka five with a no trade front. Choosing to stay with team, and trying to decide their own fate, which was just barely missing the playoffs once again.

The goal from the beginning of the year was to rebuild, everyone knew what the goal was, play the younger players, let the Mitchell's, the Schenn's, the Grabovski's and the Kulemin's play more ice time in the NHL.

Well the Leafs are falling into the same problem this year. Playing like a team, working hard, on a really nice streak, looking into the playoffs.

As I sit here, yelling at the top of my lungs, "NOT AGAIN, NOT AGAIN !!!" I've cheered for this team for 28 years, wanting them to win, and only watching them lose, the last three hard years, and never reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in my lifetime.

I want them to achieve the only real dream, the Cup. I've been cheering with Tank Nation since day one this whole season, and pulling my hair out when they win.

It's the same thing their captain chose to do last season,  what they are doing now, playing hard to win games. At most moments in the season, their did look at many times that they were intentionally losing games on purpose, leading in games and falling apart in the end. Was this the team as well with Tank Nation?

Or just playing the usual roller coaster of a season.

I leave now, as we stay tuned to Brian Burke to see how he sorts this mess out, as he goes into the trade deadline with the same problem that they've had before.

P.S. SELL SELL SELL

I, like many from the Western, New York area, love the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bills. Now, living away from the area, I realize how much people like us are disrespected.

People laugh at our heartbreak.  "Boy, I Love Losing Super Bowls" is an old classic among my harassers. They laugh when they see, "Wide Right." The "Music City Miracle" never fails to entertain. "No Goal" cements in their mind that our city is cursed.

People here in "Steeler Nation" don't understand how I can follow teams that constantly break my heart.  Watching them nonchalantly collect another world title brought me to ponder that subject.

Quite honestly, the answer is that being a Buffalo sports fan in my era is something I would not want any other way. There are many reasons I feel this way.

Growing up in Hamburg, Buffalo sports were inherited. I'm told the Buffalo Sabres were the only thing that could quiet me down when I was little.

My first Buffalo sports memories were the Bills 1989 AFC Championship game, and going down to the Aud with my dad to my first Sabres game, which was against the Canucks. 

I was hooked after that. I couldn't wait to watch the Bills or Sabres with my parents. I knew all the players and collected all of their sports cards.

Shortly after the previously-mentioned games, my parents separated and I moved out of the area. It was weird seeing Penguin and Steelers memorabilia in the places I was accustomed to seeing my own teams'.

This was around the time I suffered the first heartbreak, "Wide Right."  I believe many people, now in their 20s and 30s, shared that moment with me.

Who knew at that point it would come three more times? Reaching the "Big Game" and falling just short. But each time, the Buffalo faithful loyally followed the team despite national ridicule.

We are a loyal bunch. Our reward came on the ice five years later.  Our Sabres were in the Stanley Cup finals. We were back and everyone laughed, but with Dominik Hasek it was finally our time.

Game one's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" cemented it in our hearts that we were going to be champions. Downtown Buffalo was decorated in Sabre emblems as we waited for our time.

Watching game six go into overtime, I was on the phone with my father after every overtime period discussing the action.  He was the one who hooked me on the team. We were in agreement, it was our time.

But Brett Hull put an end to our hopes again with a little help from what we believe was an intentional disregard of the rules. Another runner-up parade downtown was scheduled.

The list goes on with things such as the Bills' Tennessee debacle, and Carolina taking advantage of a depleted Sabres defense.

The reason it means so much to us is that the disappointment has gone on so long that our lives have drastically changed. 

Myself, I've since lost my father and have moved into a career. Something that I'm sure has happened to many. A long way from when my obsession started, living in Hamburg with both parents.

So, at this point in this multi-generational dark cloud, our sports become more about what they mean to us as individuals. Most of you out there whose family, throughout the decades, have supported these teams.  Some have grown old, some have passed on, and none of us have yet seen the payoff for our devotion.

We're still faithful that our day will come. That's why we march into Orchard Park in our Bills jerseys. That's why we slide on our Sabres apparel and make the trip to HSBC.

When our day arrives, it will be well-deserved.  After all, we were all there for the heartbreaks.

At that moment, when the Lombardi or Lord Stanley's Cup is lifted, the first thing I will think about are those, like my father, who supported the teams through thick and thin, but never saw the payoff.

I don't think I will be the only one who has these sentiments. So, is it worth it for us to continue to believe in our teams, given our history?

Absolutely.

Picture this, in a few years there is a man between the pipes for the Buffalo Sabres. He is wearing No. 31, stand about 5'10", and weighs about 175 pounds.

This is starting to become more and more a reality for Buffalo Sabres prospect Jhonas Enroth. While many fans still do not know him, he's been making big saves in hockey for many years.

Many fans got a short look at Enroth in the 2008 World Junior Championships, where he played in five games, won four, posted a 2.33 goals against average and posted a .904 save percentage.

His success isn't limited to the world stage either, he was a runner up for the Rookie of the year Award last year in Elitserien, also known as the Swedish Elite league. He lead the league in save percentage, and goals against average. He also posted 2 shutouts.

He has continued to succeed in the AHL where he has posted an 18-17-5 record to an injury riddled Portland Pirates team. Enroth has knotted three shutouts, and has recorded a .915 save percentage.

This young kid has a lot of potential, and is considered amongst the best hockey products out of Sweden in recent years. His agility and quickness have many scouts saying he will be a great NHL level net-minder.

There is some speculation that he will see his first NHL action against the New York Islanders, tonight in New York.

Tune in to the game, you may be witnessing the first game of a brilliant and long NHL career for Jhonas Enroth.

Most of the discussion recently regarding the Sabres is the key injuries to Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek and all the rumors going around as the trade deadline creeps closer and closer. Names that are appearing most frequent are Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov, and Daniel Paille...and Jochen Hecht.

But wait just a minute. This is Jochen Hecht. This guy wears an A on the front of his jersey. Isn't this the guy who re-signed in the offseason for four years at $14.1 million?

Jochen Hecht, where art thou?

Hecht has just 19 points this season (7G, 12A) and has a minus-13 rating. Last season, he had 49 points and a plus-1 rating. At times this season, he has been put on the fourth line by Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. Even after the slap in the face, has he responded? NO!

Hecht has been the guy this season that can't clear the puck in the defensive zone. That doesn't look very impressive when he's killing penalties either. He's been the guy who gets open but doesn't expect the pass to come his way.

He never looks set to make a play. It's hard to tell what style of play fits Hecht the best. He definitely hasn't been a sniper this season, he's an average play-maker at best and he's not the most physical guy to be considered a grinder.

So the question is what do you do with this guy? The Sabres' organization has not been known to let guys who are signed long-term just go, either by trade or waivers. The Sabres are a "wait it out and see theory" organization. They will obviously be looking at dealing the free agents before anything is done with Hecht.

So for now, Hecht is a Sabre and will most likely remain a Sabre, but he needs to step up his game soon or more squawking is going to continue about him. And it won't be the squawking coming from the Pidgeon Award that the Sabres' players have going inside the team.

 

These are difficult times. And I'm not just talking about the economy.  

The Sabres are missing their two best players in Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. The Sabres are hovering on the borderline of the playoffs.  

And the bounces are not going their way.

Tonight in Raleigh, the Sabres lost 2-1 to the Hurricanes in a shoot-out. It was a close game. The Sabres fought hard. They fired at least three shots off the post.  

But in the end, Carolina got two points, and the Sabres just one.

You can't blame Pat Lalime, the Sabres back-up goalie, for this one. Lalime came down with the flu two days ago and wasn't even sure if was going to be able to play 24 hours before the puck dropped. But he sucked it up and stopped 31 out of 32 shots.

So who do you blame?

First, the forwards. They just can't seem to finish their scoring chances. Derek Roy passed the puck on a rush when he had a clear shot in the slot. Clarke MacArthur had two or three opportunities on scrums in front of the net with a loose puck at his feet, but couldn't outfight the Carolina defenseman with an open goal beckoning.

Second, the D. Toni Lydman just makes too many bad plays and never takes the body. How many times are we going to see a Sabre defenseman with what appears to be an easy exit from the Buffalo zone lose the puck and see the opponents go the other way with a dangerous chance? 

Henrik Tallinder jumped into a rush and earned a glorious chance to win the game only to fire a weak shot directly into Ward's pads.

Third, the refs. Buffalo was called for six penalties; Carolina for just one. The Sabres Pat Kaleta got a penalty for having the temerity to check Rob Brindamour, one of the bigger crybabies in the league, but the refs have to protect the player with the history.

Hate to say it, but even if this Sabre team does make the playoffs, they're going nowhere. Hockey is ultimately a game of battles.  

Two men going into the corner vying for the puck and one emerges. In most cases, plain and simple, that player is not a Sabre.

Two men confronting each other in the face-off circle. The games that the Sabres win the most face-offs are few and far between. In this game, they lost 39, and won just 25.

Tonight the Sabres seemed to give the effort. They out-shot the Hurricanes in the first two periods 24-13, but only had one goal to show for it. When the Hurricanes came out storming in the third, Buffalo couldn't get the puck out of their own end. They were out-shot 18-9 and were lucky to go to overtime.

In overtime, they actually had the best chance—a three-on-one that amazingly resulted in no shot as the scoring challenged Jochen Hecht elected to pass rather than shoot from point-blank range.

Then came the shoot-out. Lalime made the first save on Tuomo Ruutu'a attempt at the five-hole. Ales Kotalik tried his patented move to the backhand, but Hurricane goalie Cam Ward has been watching tape and had it covered.  

Jussi Jokinen rang his shot into the net off the far post to beat Lalime. Jason Pominville had Ward beat, but his shot deflected high off the crossbar. In the game of inches, the Sabres always seem to come out on the short end.

Matt Cullen had the game on his stick but Lalime snuffed him. It all came down to Tim Connolly. The man has amazing skills, but his move against Ward was nothing distinguished, and the Hurricanes skated away with a 2-1 win, sweeping the home-and-home series with the Sabres.

Buffalo has to make a decision soon on whether to keep Connolly or trade him. The smart move would probably to trade him as even with him the Sabres aren't hoisting the Cup, but the politics of wanting to just make the playoffs will probably mean the Sabres will hang on to him even if it means he walks with no compensation during free agency.

At the end of the night, Buffalo stands tied with Carolina for eighth place with 69 points. The Rangers and Florida are just ahead tied for sixth with 70 points, and Pittsburgh lurks behind in 10th place with 66 points.  

Two of these five teams are not making the playoffs. The Sabres may have lost arguably their best defenseman, Jaro Spacek, with an injury tonight.  

Without their best forward, Vanek, best d-man, Spacek, best goalie (Miller), and no reinforcements promised by the skinflint tight Buffalo GM Darcy Regier, I'm sorry to say I would not bet on the Sabres being one of the three that do.

It is not a secret that the Buffalo Sabres are in a tough spot come March 4. The NHL trade deadline is when teams make or break their season, especially for a team like Buffalo that is clinging to that last playoff spot in the East.

I think it is obvious to everyone in the front office they need to make a move or two to make sure this team is competitive. But it isn’t just about being competitive this year, the team must look long term.

The first player on the agenda must be Tim Connolly. Here are the facts on Connolly; he is a talented player that has great potential, but has yet to put up more than 55 points in any of his NHL seasons. He is a fairly injury prone player, but not all of his injuries are preventable injuries. He is a minus-48 for his career, but is a great special teams player.

The biggest factor with Connolly is he is an unrestricted free agent come June 1. Another well known fact is, he has value on the market, and that makes him movable. The Buffalo Sabres have made a contract offer to him, but if it isn’t signed by March 4, they have to get something in return for Connolly, a man they spent over $9 million on over the past three years.

Another player the Sabres have got to be concerned with is Maxim Afinogenov. He’s not played most of the season, but is a fairly dynamic player when he is playing with open ice. A great place for him to land at the deadline would be a team with strong powerful forwards, that would give him that open ice. Colorado and Calgary are both ideal places for him to play. In return the Sabres would probably be looking for little more than an average prospect, or a mid-round draft pick.

Other players that should be shopped are Jochen Hecht; a great penalty killing, and defensive forward, but he isn’t a big point producer, and the Sabres need to put up some goals to win games. Especially with Miller being out, and Vanek slowly recovering from an injury to his jaw. This list should also include Daniel Paille, and Henrik Tallinder. Both ample NHL players, but not putting up production in their respective areas of the ice.   

Ideally the Sabres would work out a deal for a second line kind of guy. A good scoring winger that can provide 25 to 30 goals a season, and still help on the back check. Players mentioned to be traded that fit this mold are, Jordan Staal from the Penguins, Mike Cammalleri from Calgary, and Petr Prucha from the Rangers.

Some more help on the defensive side of the ice would be welcomed as well. Although it may be harder to trade for defensive men this year, especially due to the vast amount of injuries that many teams have seen on their blue line. Realistic candidates here would be Jordan Leopold from Colorado, Rostislav Klesla from Columbus, and a stretch, but Adrian Aucoin from Calgary.

It is quite obvious that the Buffalo Sabres with their current roster may not go far in the playoffs, but with a few additions, and their stars getting healthy, who knows? Anything is possible once you reach the playoffs.

The key for the Buffalo Sabres is to look long term, and ensure they put a team on the ice that is a quality product for several years to come. Rental players will not do that for the Sabres, they must stay the course, and make viable moves for the future come March 4.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Embarrassment provided Eric Staal all the motivation he needed to reinvigorate the Carolina Hurricanes’ late-season playoff push.

With Carolina fighting to get back into position for an Eastern Conference playoff spot after two dreadful losses, Staal had a goal and two assists and Cam Ward stopped 36 shots in a 3-0 win over the flat-footed Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night.

“The bottom line is we had to respond,” said Staal, noting how Carolina had been outscored 10-1 in its past two games, including a 5-1 loss at home to Columbus on Saturday. “Any time you have embarrassing home losses, you remember that. And I thought everybody did tonight and responded well.”

Ward was equally impressed by how the Hurricanes thoroughly dominated the Sabres in a game that would’ve been more lopsided if not for the play of Buffalo’s two goalies.

“The guys were skating extremely hard and it seemed like we had the jump on them everywhere,” Ward said. “It was huge.”

Chad LaRose and Sergei Samsonov also scored for the Hurricanes, who outshot the Sabres 34-21 through two periods and 47-36 overall. Aside from winning a season-best third straight road game, the Hurricanes (28-24-5) gained ground in the Eastern Conference standings. With 61 points, the ninth-place Hurricanes moved within three points of Buffalo (29-22-6) and Florida, who hold down the final two playoff spots.

It was the Sabres’ turn to be embarrassed.

“I don’t even know what to say right now. It’s unacceptable,” Sabres captain Craig Rivet said. “They had more desperation. They worked harder. They beat us tonight in every aspect.”

What especially hurt more was how the Sabres let down their goalies. Ryan Miller was mercifully pulled after allowing two goals on 18 shots in the first period. Patrick Lalime then kept the game close, stopping the first 26 shots he faced before Sergei Samsonov converted his own rebound with 2:12 left.

The Sabres’ frustrations were exemplified by Lalime, who smashed his stick on the bench on his way to the locker room.

“It’s a tough situation on our goaltenders when we’re leaving them out to dry like that,” Rivet said. “It’s disrespectful to those guys behind us.”

The Hurricanes had the jump on the Sabres from the beginning, with Staal leading the way.

He opened the scoring with a power-play goal 9:20 in, when he gloved down Jochen Hecht’s weak clearing attempt and snapped a shot from the right circle that appeared to deflect in off someone in front.

Staal was unstoppable 4 minutes later in helping the Hurricanes go up 2-0 while a delayed penalty was called against Adam Mair. Skating through the middle, Staal avoided Ales Kotalik’s weak stick check, then deked around Teppo Numminen to get a shot off.

Miller made the initial stop, but couldn’t control the rebound, which LaRose stuffed into the open left side.

The Hurricanes’ aggressive forecheck and constant pressure demoralized the Sabres, who didn’t show any life until the start of the third period.

Trouble was, Ward wasn’t going to let Buffalo back into the game.

In the opening minute, he stopped Derek Roy’s shot from the right circle and then recovered in time to foil Drew Stafford’s attempt to convert the rebound from the slot. Ward’s best save came with 13 minutes left, when he got his glove up to snag Tim Connolly’s snap shot from the right circle.

“Our best players were our best players and that hadn’t happened the last game,” Hurricanes’ coach Paul Maurice said. “Eric Staal breaks the game open and his line was fantastic. Cam Ward slams the door at the back end, and that was the difference for us.”

Notes

Hurricanes RW Justin Williams did not return after being struck in the arm by teammate Anton Babchuk’s point shot late in the first period. The Hurricanes declined comment on the severity of the injury. … Hurricanes D Tim Gleason did not play after sustaining what the team described as an upper-body injury on Saturday. … Sabres C Paul Gaustad (shoulder) could be ready to return by Thursday, when Buffalo plays at Philadelphia, coach Lindy Ruff said. Gaustad missed his fifth game Sunday.

Well, we’ve had our share of bad news here in Buffalo recently. Vanek, the third-leading goal scorer in hockey, and just the second player in NHL history to have four consecutive natural hat tricks, officially had his face halfway removed by Anton Volchenkov’s Senatorial slap shot. Talk about your bad luck–Vanek’s also one of the most durable of the Sabres, having until now missed only one regular season game in four years. The Sabres do seem to have problems with their players’ jaws–remember when Teppo Numminem was out because of a small bone fracture in his jaw a few weeks ago?

And of course this is happening just when we’re catching fire at last, having just moved into the 7th playoff seed position on the energy of an 11-5-1 run. Now the guy that largely brought us here is going to be gone for up to a whole month.

I know, Derek Roy’s been having a solid season as Center, too. But of late his productivity has been tailing off some, and now the line that took over from his as the top gun line on the Sabres has been marred by this luckless slap shot incident. Roy, Jason Pominville, and Ale Kotalik are going to have to kick it up a notch if we’re going to hold on to a playoff seed. The Eastern Conference is not the conference for losing momentum late in the season and still making it; there is too much talent coming at ya.

And we don’t have that floppy puppet guy in goal anymore to save us like he did in bygone seasons. We really need to step up the defense a little and start putting that puck in the net some more to sustain this run for the post-season. Our scoring isn’t poor by any means, but there’s too much parity between scoring and getting scored on as far as the season goes. Maybe we can step it up, though!