The Buffalo Sabres 2008-2009 NHL season came to a disappointing end as for the second straight year the Sabres closed out the NHL season without earning a berth in the NHL's Stanley Cup Finals, making them the first team in league history to win the Presidents Trophy, then miss the playoffs the next two seasons.
The word that could be said the most about the Buffalo Sabres season was inconsistency. The team was never able to identify themselves, playing multiple brands of hockey many different nights.
Buffalo faces an off-season with many players' contracts expiring.
Among that group is Maxin Afinogenov, who said at locker room clean out day, he thinks he needs a change after 10 years playing in Buffalo.
Leading scoring defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who finished the season with a career-high 45 points, is set to become a free agent this off-season.
Dominic Moore, who was traded to Buffalo from Toronto at the deadline, had a disappointing end to his stay in Buffalo, amassing a whopping four points.
Drew Stafford, who had a career-high 45 points, is an RFA at the end of this season, and could attract other teams being only 23 years old with a ton of potential.
Andrej Sekera, Mikael Tellqvist, Patrick Kaleta, and Clarke MacArthur, along with 2007 AHL All-Star MVP Mark Mancari are among the others who have no contracts coming into the 2009-2010 NHL Season.
First thing I would do if I was in the Sabres Hockey Department is step back and look at the roster, games, and say "What went wrong? What did we lack?"
Easy. Team toughness. As I sit back and watch teams like Philadelphia and Vancouver in the playoffs, I see a roster made up of hockey players.
Not pretty goal scorers who look to make the cute pass, but players like Ryan Kesler, Scottie Hartnell, Mike Knuble and Kevin Bieksa, who are in your face, hitting anything that moves, and that is something this Buffalo team lacks severely.
Long ago was the days the Buffalo Sabres came flying out of the lockout, skating circles around the slower, bigger teams.
In this NHL, teams need to have speed, which Buffalo does have, but you also need strong defense, and puck-carriers on the back end who can make the outlet pass. Buffalo doesn't have any of that.
Another situation that could arise is the goaltending issue. Ryan Miller turned in another All-Star season despite the injury, all thanks to Scott Gomez. Behind him, it was a mess.
Lalime played well in Miller's absence, but when he had to come in every 11th game, he was brutal. At the deadline, Buffalo acquired Mikael Tellqvist, who, on the other hand, played phenomenally when he came in.
The problem is Lalime is signed on for next year, but had a mysterious hip injury at the end of the season. Some wonder if it could be career-ending. Buffalo would be smart to buy out his contract and sign Tellqvist.
Buffalo also got little play out of their big money players. Jochen Hecht, who is making $4 million a year, had a terrible year. Known for his two-way hockey, Hecht made minimal effort on back checks and in the corners. He failed to create any offense, and was very inconsistent.
Fan-favorite Jason Pominville, who is set to earn $5 million, had a monumental drop off year. Pominville finished this season with 66 points, 14 points less from the previous year.
Perhaps the most disturbing stat on Pominville's resume is his -4 rating. Pominville had a +25, and +16 in his previous two years before this season. A negative stat, for No. 29, was he led the team in shots. To the casual hockey fan, that does not sound like a bad stat. But to the people that watched it closely, many times Pominville would take his team out of a scoring situation with a simple slap-shot into the goaltender's body, without looking to create any scoring opportunity.
Buffalo's back-end was hardly a defense at all. They failed to give any protection to Ryan Miller whatsoever. Chris Butler stood out amongst the group putting up a stellar rookie season.
Look for Buffalo to make changes, possibly trading Henrik Tallinder, along with other moves, to get more of the young guys, Mike Weber, Chris Butler, and prospect T.J. Brennan some time in Buffalo next year.
They have a stud waiting in the wings, 6-foot-7 Tyler Myers, who displayed terrific athleticism in the World Juniors this past year in Ottawa.
This team has the talent to win games. They displayed they don't have the grit or determination, and that is what needs to be looked at the most.
For all you Sabres fans who were calling for the heads of either Lindy Ruff or Darcy Regier (or both) after the Sabres failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year, you'll have to wait at least another season.
Paul Hamilton, at WGR 550 sports radio in Buffalo just confirmed that both will be back for the 2009-2010 season for the Sabres.
The two started in 1997 and are the longest tenured general manager and head coach in all of professional sports. Ruff by far is also the longest tenured coach in the NHL. He has a 438-334-78-52 coaching record and has led the Sabres to four Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.
Ruff will be the bench boss for Team Canada at the World Championships this spring. He is also a likely candidate to be an assistant on the Vancouver 2010 Olympic team.
Last week after the Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs, managing partner, Larry Quinn told the media that the front office will conduct a thorough evaluation of the team from top to bottom. Obviously it did not take long for the "top" to be evaluated.
I now expect the team to make a lot of roster changes. Guys like Henrik Tallinder, Jochen Hecht, and Clarke MacArthur may be on the move (all were Hamilton's top picks to be on the move). The three players are just a few of the many disappointments for the Sabres this season.
Drew Stafford will also be a restricted free agent this summer.
As a life-long, diehard Buffalo Sabres fan, I have struggled with my loyalty for more than a decade. I was not a fan of Larry Quinn during his first stint with the team, and when he was brought on board when Tom Golisano bought the team, I became even more disheartened.
Quinn hired a general manager named Darcy Regier during his first tour of duty with the Sabres. I was not pleased with this choice, and my confidence with the direction this team has taken has diminished over the years. I am at the point where I am more a casual fan of this team than a diehard, devoted fan.
Regier was unproven and untested while inheriting a very talented team. He was the general manager when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999—a team that he did not build. After that season, he slowly dismantled the team and stocked up on draft choices and prospects. The Cup runner-up was no more and very little was heard of the Sabres until after the lockout.
Again Regier did nothing to improve the team but the Sabres benefited from the lockout with a young talented team that had the benefit of playing the year before in Rochester of the AHL. The league had changed its ways and improved the game.
Unfortunately, that style of play only lasted two seasons and the league went back to its old ways. During that span the Sabres lost several leaders, including Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Jay McKee, Brian Campbell, and Mike Grier.
Reiger and Quinn had dismantled the scouting department and will rely on video to assess future talent from now on. The drafts since then have been loaded with good local talent, but are they missing out on the sleeper picks this organization used to pull out of a hat on draft day? Only time will tell.
Regier is finishing his 11th season as the Sabres' general manager. I started looking at general managers who have been with the same team as long as or longer than Regier and found it even more disturbing that he is still with the Sabres.
Jim Rutherford (Carolina), Lou Lamoriello (New Jersey), and Ken Holland (Detroit) have been in the position for the same amount of time or longer than Regier. They have won seven Stanley Cups between them.
Holland became GM of the Red Wings two weeks after Regier was hired by the Sabres. His name is engraved on the world's most coveted trophy three times during 11 seasons.
Holland has consistently put one of the best teams in the league on the ice every year. He does it with a few key free agents, excellent drafting, and good trades at the deadline to bring the missing pieces together just in time for a long playoff run. His teams have won over 100 more games than the Sabres. They have also won 17 playoff series compared to the 10 wins for Regier's Sabres.
Heading into the final weekend of the 2008-09 regular season, Holland's team is poised to make yet another run for the Cup, while Regier and his team readies for the golf course for the second season in a row and the fifth season out of seven.
Another offseason of "wait till next year" for me and my fellow Sabres fans. I think I will hang my Sabres hat in the corner for a long time to come. When the dawn arises on a Regier-Ruff free day in Sabres land, I will proudly wear my hat again and hope for future greatness.
As the playoffs come closer and closer, the Detroit Red Wings seem to finally be getting it together. They battled the Buffalo Sabres Monday night with another victory, 4-1.
Both teams came out strong in the first period. Buffalo showed some great chances, but it was Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood who started out the strongest, and in the end it all paid off.
Detroit seemed to get shaky for a bit but pulled it together as Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen both had chances.
Tensions flared after a high stick to Franzen drew blood, but no penalty was called.
Later in the second period, Jonathon Ericsson got into a scrum after a clean hit from Valterri Filppula didn't settle well with the Sabers players.
Brad Stuart got the Wings on the board with a powerplay goal, giving his team a 1-0 lead.
Marian Hossa scored his 39th goal of the season early in the third period on a rebound shot from Nick Lidstrom, making it 2-0 Detroit.
It didnt take long before he made his 39th goal of the season his 40th, sending a rocket shot into the net to give Detroit a 3-0 advantage.
As Buffalo finally got chances, the puck couldn't be settled down, and with rebound after rebound, Paul Gaustad finally got one past Osgood to get his team on the board, for a score of 3-1.
Buffalo pulled goaltender Ryan Miller for the extra man at the end of the third, but Lidstrom scored an empty-net goal to give Detroit a 4-1 lead and the victory.
Thursday night as Detroit battled Nashville, in a must need win for Nashville to be apart in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they did just that as the won in a shoot-out.
Fighting for their playoff lives in the middle of March, the Carolina Hurricanes knew if they were going to qualify for the postseason, they’d need a strong finish.
They’re two wins away from making it a perfect one.
The red-hot Hurricanes are now eyeing home-ice advantage in the first round. They’ll try to take a big step toward that Thursday night when they look for their franchise-record 10th consecutive win overall and 13th straight at the RBC Center in their regular-season home finale against the Buffalo Sabres.
Those nine wins in a row have Carolina (45-28-7) in the mix for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and home-ice would be a big plus for coach Paul Maurice’s club. The Hurricanes have won a franchise-record 12 straight in their own building, and set a few records in their latest home game.
Eric Staal had three goals and an assist Tuesday—his team-record fourth hat trick of the season—against the New York Islanders to lead Carolina’s 9-0 romp, the worst loss in New York’s history and a win that tied the Hurricanes with Philadelphia for fourth place.
“We’re playing the right way. We’re playing at a high, competitive level, and we’re playing like a well-oiled machine,” Staal said after scoring for the third straight game. “When you’re confident and when you’re doing the right things, you’re going to get good results and nights like tonight.”
The nine-game streak matched the mark reached twice by the 2005-2006 team who won the Stanley Cup, and Tuesday goaltender Cam Ward notched his team-record 39th win, breaking the mark for victories set by that season’s starter, Martin Gerber, before Ward supplanted him on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Ward’s sixth shutout also matched a Hurricanes record.
“It’s great, but the most important thing is that we’re playing some good hockey right now,” said Ward, who had a 1.28 goals-against average in winning his last seven starts. “We want to be peaking when we go into the playoffs, and now with two games left, it’s important that we bear down and have a similar effort like we did tonight.”
The Flyers have a game in hand on Carolina in the race for home-ice, but Buffalo (39-32-9) would settle for simply entering the East’s top eight.
That looked rather unlikely heading into a game Wednesday at Toronto, as the Sabres trailed the eighth-place New York Rangers by six points with three games to play. Buffalo, though, pulled two points closer and stayed in contention for the final spot with a 3-1 win.
“That’s what we wanted, just to stay alive, stay in this and put the pressure on the other teams,” said right winger Jason Pominville, who had a goal and an assist. “We have to look at our side of things and that’s winning games, and it starts with one and we’ve got to build off this.”
Buffalo will have to beat the red-hot Hurricanes and also East-best Boston to have a chance to sneak in, but they’ll also need help from Philadelphia.
The Rangers play the Flyers twice to close their season, and the Sabres will need two regulation victories from Philadelphia to stay alive.
On their own end, they could also use a standout effort from Ryan Miller. The veteran goaltender, who missed 13 games with a high ankle sprain, had allowed at least three goals in all six games since his return.
Miller was pulled in his latest start against Carolina after allowing two goals in the first period in a 3-0 loss in Buffalo on Feb. 15. Staal had a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes.
Carolina has beaten the Sabres three straight times at the RBC Center, including a 2-1 shootout win on Feb. 26. Ward stopped 36 shots in that victory, the same number he had in his shutout 11 days earlier.
After defeating the 2nd seeded Washington Capitals 5-4 in overtime, and then losing to the 3rd place New Jersey Devils 3-2 at home, the Buffalo Sabres left themselves no margin for error when they took on the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings last night. The Sabres however, decided to become musicians, writing the first verse of their 2008-2009 swan song, losing 4-1. The loss has put Buffalo’s post season hopes in serious jeopardy as they slip to 38-32-9 on the year.
The Sabres hoped that playing a “must win” game in front of their home fans would give them an extra jump in their step against Detroit, and for the first 13 minutes of play it did. Buffalo pelted Red Wing’s goalie Chris Osgood with 13 shots compared to the five Ryan Miller turned away in the same time span. Then, the Sabres went on the power play and stopped skating, opting to glide around a very patient Detroit club. Not surprisingly, Buffalo failed to capitalize and at the end of one, the score remained 0-0.
With five minutes gone by in the second period, the Sabres began to lose their patience as Detroit’s strong defensive play began to give them momentum. With 1:19 remaining in the frame, Brad Stuart scored with the man advantage to get the Red Wings on the board first. Seconds later, the Sabres were granted a power play of their own, but Tim Connolly stupidly chopped a Red Wing’s stick, breaking it in half and getting a penalty himself to force 4 on 4 hockey for 1:58. The penalty bled into the beginning of the final frame…
36 seconds into the third period, Marian Hossa cashed in on Connolly’s idiotic play, scoring to put Detroit up 2-0. 9 minutes later, Hossa got his second of the night, freezing Buffalo defenceman Henrik Tallinder and getting the puck past Ryan Miller. Paul Gaustad, one of the few Sabres still playing with heart, got Buffalo on the board 38 seconds later (his 11th on the year and a career high), finding the puck in a scramble in front of the net. In the end though, it didn’t matter as Nicklas Lidstrom scored an empty netter, making the final score 4-1, Red Wings.
Ryan Miller faced 31 shots while Osgood was blasted with 33. The Sabres were 0-4 on the man advantage while the Red Wings were 1-2. The desperate Sabres only managed to score once on a Detroit team who played the night before against the Minnesota Wild. Pathetic.
-Chris Osgood is that good. His victory last night was the 389th of his career, which ties Dominik Hasek for 10th on the NHL all time wins list. Buffalo was the town that groomed Hasek and Detroit was the town where he won a Stanley Cup (which he failed to do in Buffalo). Osgood said after the win, “I don’t know a lot of things, but I knew that today I could tie Dom here, so that’s pretty cool. It’s a great honor for me to be mentioned with a goalie of his stature. To do it here [in Buffalo] is a little more special.” This should make any Sabres fan’s ears bleed.
-Both Buffalo and Detroit have a few things in common: they both have horrendous football teams (the Bills and the Lions are the two clubs with the longest playoff droughts in the NFL), they both have dying economies and freezing cold winters, and they both share the shores of Lake Erie. However, Detroit has one thing over Buffalo; their hockey club is superior. Since 1996 the Red Wings are 15-1-2 against the Sabres and embody everything that Sabres fans hope to see in their club in the near future.
-Right now it’s tough not to hate on Henrik Tallinder and Tim Connolly. Perhaps these thoughts come from an angry place, but the Sabres should have traded Connolly and kept Kotalik. At least Kotalik could score in a shootout. To pick on Tallinder, he needs to be more physical in the crease. His injury history has caught up with him and he’s turned into a sissy. That’s right, it’s time to call out this ‘veteran’ with his -5 rating and 1 goal and 11 assists in 63 games.
-The thought that numerous sportscasters commented on how Ryan Miller’s mind would be on his alma mater’s performance in the NCAA Championship Game is ridiculous. Miller should have been focused on stopping pucks from the Detroit Red Wings. Period. If he really was thinking about that college basketball game, his new contract deal should be re-evaluated.
-Where the hell has Thomas Vanek been? Wasn’t he supposed to be our offensive savior since returning from his jaw injury?
-Ryan Miller is 2nd in the NHL for total wins (32) and shutouts (5) this season.
-Useless stat of the day: The Sabres are 11-4 in their third jersey’s this season.
-When entering the third period down at least a goal, the Sabres have only won 7 games this year. Also, in 4 on 4 situations this year, Buffalo has managed to score only 5 goals.
-The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last 10.
-Sabres/Washington Capitals stats: Miller is 9-3-0 against Washington in his career. Since the 2002- 2003 season, Washington has defeated Buffalo only twice, and both victories came this season on Dec. 26th and Dec. 30.
-Sabres/New Jersey Devils stats: the game was Jason Pominville’s 300th of his career.
It’s not over until the fat lady sings, but it’s practically impossible for the Sabres to make the playoffs. ”It’s tough. Until you are mathematically out of it, you can’t quit. Even if you are, you can’t quit. We put ourselves in a tough spot,” said Ryan Miller after the Detroit loss. According to sportsclubstats.com, the Sabres have a 1.8% chance of making it to the post season and need the following things to happen: 2 losses out of 3 games by the Florida Panthers, 2 losses out of 3 games by the New York Rangers, and the Sabres need to win out their final 3 games. Here is how the Eastern Conference standings look today:
- Boston Bruins (112 points/4 games remaining/clinched conference)
- Washington Capitals (104/3/clinched division)
- New Jersey Devils (102/3/clinched playoff spot)
- Philadelphia Flyers (95/4)
- Carolina Hurricanes (95/3/clinched playoff spot)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (93/3)
- Montreal Canadiens (92/3)
- New York Rangers (89/3)
- In the Hunt: Florida Panthers (89/3), Buffalo Sabres (85/3)
In their final three must win contests, the Sabres face the Toronto Maple Loafs and the Carolina Hurricanes on the road, and close out the year against the Boston Bruins at home in Buffalo. Anything can happen, but things aren’t looking good…
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The constant debates about the Buffalo Sabres have gotten tiresome. At this point in the season, with the chances of making the playoffs so scarce, there's really no point in talking about the strengths and weaknesses any longer.
The only thing that's always going to be debatable is whether or not the Sabres merely underachieved or just gave the residents of Buffalo their very best efforts.
When the team was working and they all gelled together, it would have been quite possible to make a respectable run at the Cup. But now, it is clearly evident that they were destined to fall apart.
It hurts. It burns the city royally. And the only things places like Buffalo and Detroit, two truly struggling cities in the United States, have are their professional sports teams to keep their spirits high.
Hopefully, as always muttered when a season turns out fatal, next year will be better.
But Sabres fans can only hope. Optimism and faith in the management is slowly, but surely fading.
The Buffalo Sabres will take on the Detroit Red Wings today at 7 p.m. in a must-win situation with only four games left, trailing the Rangers and Panthers for eighth place by four points.
Both New York and Florida have the night off as they face Montreal and Philadelphia respectively tomorrow night.
The Sabres can reach a maximum of 93 points to end out the season; the Rangers and Panthers can each max out at 95 points.
The scenario for Buffalo:
The Sabres MUST win all four remaining games; the Rangers and Panthers must lose two of their next three, which will put them at 91 points and Buffalo at 93.
If Buffalo loses one game, Florida and New York must lose out..
Buffalo's remaining schedule consists of two of the next four games at home, Detroit tonight, at Toronto on Wednesday, at Carolina on Thursday, and home to Boston on Saturday, which will be the season decider if all goes well for Buffalo.
Tonight's game is at 7 p.m. on Versus and TSN—a possible momentum booster for Buffalo in the last push for the playoffs.
Check out WGR550 AM radio for pre- and postgame analysis.
"Do You Believe?"
Yes, the Sabres beat the Capitals in overtime this past Friday night. It was a game the Sabres "needed to win." But looking at the game in more detail is still leaving me baffled. And one play could have changed that, and helped the Sabres in a much bigger way.
In the third period Maxim Afinogenov had appeared to score a goal that would have tied the game at 4-4. The referee behind the net quickly signaled NO GOAL. His reason was that Afinogenov had interfered with Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov.
If that was the case, wouldn't there be a penalty on Afinogenov? NOPE! Afinogenov skated to the bench and play resumed.
This proved to be an important moment as the Sabres had the game go into overtime. It may have also proved to be costly the following night as Buffalo came out sluggish in the first period against the New Jersey Devils.
What is hard to believe is that in the Capitals game, none of the referees reviewed the goal from Toronto. If the league instates a replay rule, why don't they use it in "just in case" situations.
While not related in any way, Arizona Cardinals fans are saying the same thing after the final play of the Super Bowl. Whether the Warner pass was a fumble or an incomplete pass, the referees didn't review it.
The Sabres now find themselves four points behind the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for the last playoff spot. It doesn't get any easier either. The Sabres play the defending NHL Champion Detroit Red Wings tonight and if it comes down to the last game of the season, the Sabres play the Boston Bruins who have clinched the top spot in the eastern conference.
NY Rangers say, "Please!" Buffalo Sabres respond, No, thank you!"
Let the record show that at 4 PM today, Saturday Apr. 4, after the Boston Bruins had defeated the NY Rangers 1-0, the Buffalo Sabres held their playoff destiny in their own hands.
That's right, in spite of their late season swoon after goalie Ryan Miller was injured, if the Sabres won all of their remaining five games, they would make the playoffs even if the other two teams vying for the eighth spot, the Rangers and the Florida Panthers, also won all their remaining games.
First order of business: Defeat the New Jersey Devils on home ice Saturday night in Buffalo. The Devils had lost six of their last seven games. Like the Sabres, the Devils had played an overtime game the night before.
The opportunity was there for the taking.
But the Sabres inexplicably came out flat. They were behind 1-0 within the first three minutes, as Ryan Miller appeared to not see or misplay David Clarksons's long wrist shot.
When Zach Parise deflected in another point shot after Henrik Tallinder fanned on clearing the puck during a Devil's power-play, the Devils were up 2-0 with just 5:38 gone in the first.
The only spark the Sabres showed was when the Devil's Zach Parise skated in on Miller who was handling the puck behind the net and not only slashed but also slew-footed the Buffalo netminder.
It was a foul eerily similar to what the Rangers Scott Gomez had done to Miller about a month ago, with Miller suffering a high ankle sprain and the Sabres spiraling out of playoff contention.
Tonight, Tim Connolly forcibly delivered the shaft of his hockey stick between Parise's shoulder blades and a scrum ensured with even Miller involved. Amazingly, when the penalties were sorted out, the Sabres were shorthanded.
The Sabres have gotten some bad calls this year, but this had to be one of the worst.
It was the kind of injustice that should have made the Sabres blood boil and fire them up to take over the game, especially after they killed off the penalty.
But the Sabres spent the rest of the first period gliding around, chasing the puck, and in general looking like a team that had no interest in playing for Lord Stanley's silverware.
The second period looked like more of the first. Sabre defenseman Andres Sekera was undressed, knocked down, and otherwise humiliated as the Devils took the puck from him and fired the puck past the helpless Miller for a 3-0 lead.
The Sabres were so lifeless, Coach Lindy Ruff pulled Miller and inserted backup goalie Mikael Tellqvist to start the third period.
Whatever did it, the Sabres began to wake up and skate. They were rewarded at 6:08 when the all but invisible Jochen Hecht backhanded in the puck off a goal-mouth scramble.
Buffalo began to dominate, taking the play to the Devils and controlling the puck in the Devil end. With 3:42 to go, the Sabres made it even more interesting as Clark MacArthur back-handed the puck inside the post.
With 35 seconds left, the Devils' Colin White helped out even more by shooting the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty.
But when, on the ensuing six-on-four, the Sabres managed to slide the puck across the net to a waiting Derek Roy, he could not get his stick on it to deflect it past Martin Brodeur and the Devils hung on for the 3-2 victory.
As with the entire Sabres' season, this was a game of a little too little too late that left the fan's with many questions:
- Why can't the Sabres play the way they did in the third period for the entire game? Especially when there are just five games left in the season. And if you win everyone you are in the Play-offs.
- What has happened to Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera and why was he in the line-up tonight? Once touted as a young offensive defenseman in the mode of Brian Campbell, Sekera has been brutal on defense and adding nothing on offense. Just a week ago, when he was benched in favor of veteran Teppo Numminen, Sekera said, "I've fallen in a deep hole. I've felt that way the last couple of games. Anybody can see that." After benching Sekera for a game, Ruff put him back in the line-up and his botched play led to the winning goal.
- Why does Ryan Miller appear to not see so many shots from the point? He didn't move on Clarkson's wrister for the Devils' first goal. Last night against Washington, he appeared not to see either of Sergei Fedorov's shots. Is Buffalo's defense that bad at clearing the screening forwards from in front, or does Miller have a problem with long shots?