A Start For The Ages

We know that Thomas Vanek leaves this weekend with an NHL leading 19 points, that news has been well covered.  He has carried this team on his back, in a year where the rest of the team, sans Pominville, is struggling to find their offense.  This isn’t unusual for Vanek.  He is notoriously a fast starter.  In fact, over his career, he has more than a point per game average in the first 10 games that he plays in each season.  In the 78 games that fit that category, he has scored 43 goals and has 45 assists for 88 points.  All of those averages are well above his career averages.

But let’s take a look at how this year’s start compares to those of Sabres greats, past and present.  Unfortunately, game logs for the NHL are only available starting in the 1987-88 season.  That excludes the entire French Connection, Danny Gare, Don Luce, and some of Mike Foligno, Phil Housley, and Dave Andreychuk’s seasons.  If anyone knows where I can find game logs for seasons prior to 87-88, please let me know and I’ll be happy to run those comparisons too.  On to the action…

Below are the top two season starts (through 8 games played) for 16 of the best to wear the blue and gold (or black and red) sweaters in the last 25 years, ordered by career goals scored for the Sabres.  Please note, these numbers are based on the player’s first 8 games, not necessarily the team’s first 8.

Player Season Goals Assists Points
Dave Andreychuk 92-93 8 7 15
  88-89 8 4 12
Mike Foligno 88-89 5 3 8
  89-90 3 3 6
Thomas Vanek 2013             8           11           19
  06-07 5 7 12
Miroslav Satan 02-03 4 4 8
  01-02 3 3 6
  98-99 0 6 6
Alexander Mogilny 92-93 8 6 14
  93-94 8 6 14
Jason Pominville 2013 5 7 12
  11-12 2 8 10
Phil Housley 87-88 6 4 10
  88-89 2 6 8
Donald Audette 95-96 9 6 15
  90-91 4 3 7
Derek Roy 07-08 5 4 9
  10-11 5 2 7
  06-07 2 5 7
  09-10 0 7 7
Pat LaFontaine 92-93 7 14 21
  95-96 1 10 11
Maxim Afinogenov 06-07 5 9 14
  99-00 4 4 8
Pierre Turgeon 89-90 4 9 13
  90-91 4 6 10
Dale Hawerchuk 93-94 4 3 7
  91-92 3 4 7
  92-93 1 6 7
Michael Peca 97-98 3 4 7
  98-99 2 3 5
Daniel Briere 06-07 2 9 11
  05-06 7 2 9
Chris Drury 06-07 9 3 12
  03-04 1 7 8

As you can see, Vanek’s start to this season has very few equals.  Only hockey Hall of Famer Pat Lafontaine’s incredible start to the 1992-93 season surpasses it.  That year Pat had 16 points through the first 7 games (same as Vanek) but then erupted with 5 points (2G, 3A) against San Jose in the 8th game.  Vanek could manage only 3 points in his 8th game.  What a bum!  LaFontaine went on to score 53 goals and have a Franchise record 148 points that season.  He was joined on that team by a pretty good cast of characters that included Alexander Mogilny (76 goals and 127 points) and Dale Hawerchuk (96 points).  Vanek doesn’t exactly have that type of company.

Chris Drury and the diminutive Donald Audette (9 goals each) had more goals scored than anyone over the first 8 games but Vanek’s 8 markers ranks right up there too.  Chris Drury went on to score 37 goals in 06-07 and Audette netted 12 in an injury shortened season that only allowed him to play 23 games.

Bottom line:  Thomas Vanek is off to one of the best starts in recent Sabres memory.  Most Sabres fans don’t realize how good this guy really is.  Forget Drury and Briere, Vanek is the best skater the Sabres have had in the last decade plus.  He continues to climb up the franchise leaderboards.  He’s now 10th all time in points with 466, 7th in goals with 238, 4th in powerplay goals with 99, and 4th in game winning goals with 39.  In fact, his career goal scoring averages are right there with some of the all time greats to play in Buffalo.  Franchise goals leader, Gilbert Perreault, has a career goals per game of .430.  Thomas Vanek’s career goals per game is .429.   If he continues the good start he’s had this season, he could finish the year as high as 5th in franchise goals.  He trails Mike Foligno for 6th by 9 goals and Craig Ramsay for 5th by 14 goals.

While Vanek is doing his part to help the team succeed, unfortunately, the majority of the team is still in lockout mode and they currently find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture.  It seems like a broken record that has been played each year since the Presidents Cup team in 06-07 rolled a balanced scoring attack, but if Buffalo can find some secondary scoring, they could show some promise in a shortened season.  Clearly the top line is doing their part, now it’s up to the rest of the team to pull their weight.  That of course leads us to the most important stat of all.  The team has only 7 points (3-5-1) through their first 9 games.  That’s not going to cut it.  Time for guys like Stafford, Ennis, and Ott to step up and be counted. 

For more Sabres stats nuggets in 140 characters or less, follow me on Twitter (@SabresStats).

LET’S GO BUFFALO!

Sabres beat Bruins…and fans cease panicking for now.

Sabres beat the hated Bruins, 7-4.

Thomas Vanek had another mind-blowing game–hat trick, two assists. Ryan Miller, after a slow start, held taut to come out victorious in the end.

The good guys put up 7 against a team that has had their number over the past few years and hand them their first regulation loss.

And in one fell swoop, the panic, the “Sabres are soft”, the “Fire Lindy” talks, begin to subside–for now.

I understand that it’s a 48 game season and that getting off to a quick start is vital.  But can we please hold off on the tired, same-old Sabres talk for a little bit unless it’s fully justified?  We’re only seven games in, and there’s still a long way to go.  This fan base has been spoiled by the Sabres’ success of the mid 2000′s, which stands to reason that at any sign of trouble, everything from Lindy’s system to lack of player toughness is called into question.

Believe me, I’m as upset as you that we were swept by the Canes and lost to the Leafs in (literally) the last second.  But let’s take a deep breath.  Thomas Vanek is playing the best hockey of his career.  Cody Hodgson has been what we have hoped for, and more.  Jason Pominville has been flat out dominating.  Yes, there are some things to be worked out, but let’s maintain a level of balance.

So before we bring out the torches and pitchforks, let’s put aside the pessimism for once.  Buckle up for what will be a short ride.  It may be bumpy at times, but hopefully it ends with them holding the Cup.

It’s good to be back, Sabres fans.

Image

It’s good to be back, Sabres fans.

18,000+ gathered in the First Niagara Center cheering on their Buffalo Sabres as they took to the ice for the first time (for a real game) since April 7, 2012, to take on the hated Philadelphia Flyers.  Doug Allen singing the Canadian and American national anthem, followed by his familiar point to the home crowd.  Jay Moran’s “Now…let’s play some hockey!”

Some old faces were there. Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford.

Some new faces were there as well. Mikhail Grigorenko, Steve Ott.

The young guard–Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers–the youngsters representing the future of Sabres hockey–were along for the ride too.

And, of course, between the pipes was the stalwart, #30, Ryan Miller, with the longest tenured active coach in pro sports (after Andy Reid’s firing by–ironically–the Philadelphia Eagles), Lindy Ruff, behind the bench.

And it began.  Quite well, in fact, for the Sabres.  Ott, the new guy, got it going with a one-time slapshot from outside to put the home team ahead, 1-0, on the power play.  Pominville and Vanek got the assists.  Things looked to be going well.

Then came the 2nd period.  Sean Couturier first to make it a 1-1 game at the 2:23 mark.  His teammate, Claude Giroux, the emerging star, just over two and half minutes later, on the man advantage, to give Philly the 2-1 lead.  It wasn’t really a strong period for the Sabres.  Could the Flyers be preparing to come away with this one?

Not if Vanek had anything to do with it.

With just under five minutes to go in the 2nd, Pominville found Vanek heading toward the net, and #26 put a perfect stick-deke wrister past Ilya Bryzgalov. 2-2.

And, yes, that was Drew Stafford dropping the gloves with Scott Hartnell at 18:20 of the 2nd.

The third period started a little slow.  Each team had their chances but couldn’t break the deadlock.  Until Myers, the tall, strong defenseman with a knack for scoring, put the good guys ahead–for good–on the power play.  Hodgson, who took 10 games to even get a point last year after being traded to Vancouver, vanquished any hopes of a comeback almost 90 seconds later.  Earning assists on each of those two goals was none other than Vanek.

But 26 wasn’t done.  Putting an exclamation point on what turned out to be a career night, he scored the fifth and final goal on an empty net for his fifth point.

Two goals, three assists.

Sabres 5, Flyers 2.

So what does that tell us?  Remember the last time there was a lockout?  The Sabres came out flying (back to back Eastern Conference Finals).  Will it happen again in this dead sprint to the postseason?  Is Vanek poised to be the head and shoulders leader of this team?  What about Pominville, Myers, Hodgson, and the new guy, Ott?  How will Grigorenko, the youngster, adjust to the NHL?

Time will tell.  Right now, one thing’s for sure.

It’s good to be back.

Moving day: Sabreland has switched servers

In order to have better control/functionality over the site, I’ve decided to move Sabreland to a new server. The good news: all the posts have been transferred over there already. The better news: the URL will be a lot shorter now.
The new URL is http://sabrelandblog.com. Bookmark it and tell a friend–I’ll leave this site up for a while in the meantime to continue to guide people to the new site.
We’ll see you over there.

Buffalo Hockey Night Live debuts Monday night

Although the Sabres are out of the playoffs, we should have a lot to talk about on the debut of Buffalo Hockey Night Live, our new podcast that debuts Monday night at 6 on BlogTalkRadio. I’ll be joined by Brittany from Sabres in Seven and Chris from Two in the Box as we take a look back at the season that was, take a look at what’s next for the team, make our Stanley Cup picks, and more.
You’re free to join the discussion–call in between 6-6:30 at (347) 996-5187. If you want to tweet your comments, use the hashtag #BHNL and we may read your comments on the air. If you cant catch the show live, don’t worry–we’ll archive it for you so you can listen later.

Sabres out.

With the Capitals winning and the Sabres losing, there is no need for scenarios as I promised earlier. I’ll keep this short and simple.

The Sabres are out of the playoff race.

3rd 7th and 8th are yet to be determined  exactly, pending a Senators loss to the Bruins in regulation. (Score currently 2-1 in favor of Boston halfway through the 3rd.)

A bad pinch by Sekera and a breakaway goal by Matt Read after he beat Regehr ended the Sabres miraculous playoff push. Despite not making it there is no denying that their run down the stretch has been nothing short of impressive. And given the injuries on defense (again) I think the Sabres played a pretty good game tonight. Unfortunately the Sabres offense fluttered despite some good opportunities and couldn’t put the game out of reach for the Flyers despite going into the 3rd 1-0.

I’d like to see the Sabres put up a good show in Boston, and am looking forward to what the off-season brings.

 

Scenarios – Final 2 Games

For a quick look at the Sabres possible future and getting into the playoffs, I present 5 scenarios based on the total points Buffalo gets in their remaining 2 games and on how Florida and Washington finishes their seasons as well. Here is a look at the games that matter for Buffalo.

Thursday

Sabres @ Flyers

Panthers @ Capitals - very important.

Saturday

Sabres @ Bruins

Capitals @ Rangers

Hurricanes @ Panthers

For a quick glimpse of the possibilities yourself, here are the standings and how tiebreakers are determined. Here is how tiebreakers are determined without looking at remaining games and just at the end of the season totals. Without further elaborating here are the scenarios from best possible Sabres finish to worst.

Scenario 1 – 4 points, Buffalo wins both games in OT or SO.

If Washington loses just 1 game, even in OT or SO, Buffalo makes the playoffs and Florida remains in 3rd even if they get 0 points.

-or-

If Washington does win both games, it is essential that Florida gets 0 points. Washington and Buffalo would both have the tiebreaker over Florida and all teams finish with 92 points but Florida is out of the playoffs and Washington gets 3rd seed. This is the only way Florida can be out of the playoffs.

Scenario 2 – 3 points, Buffalo wins one and loses the other in OT or SO.

Florida will make the playoffs, in 3rd or 8th.

For Buffalo to make the playoffs Washington can get no more than 2 points. Either 1 win and 1 loss, or both OT or SO losses.

Scenario 3 – 2 points, Buffalo wins one and loses the other in regulation, or loses both in OT or SO.

Florida will make the playoffs in 3rd or 8th.

For Buffalo to make the playoffs Washington must lose both games and only 1 can be in OT or SO. Washington

Scenario 4 – 1 point, Buffalo loses both games, one of which is in OT or SO.

Florida will make the playoffs in 3rd or 8th.

For Buffalo to make the playoffs Washington must lose both games in regulation.

Scenario 5 – 0 points. Buffalo loses both games in regulation.

Zilch, nada, no play-offs, see you next year Sabres.

Soooooo……… this means……

Regardless of the Panthers and Capitals games the best way for the Sabres to get into the playoffs is to win both of their games in regulation, and even this does not ensure the playoffs. Unlike at the time of my last post, the losses to Pittsburgh and Toronto mean that the Sabres no longer control their own fate. Without Ehrhoff and Myers in the lineup this will not be an easy task against the high scoring Bruins and Flyers (currently 2nd and 3rd in the NHL in total goals for, Pittsburgh is 1st).

Immediately following the Thursday night games I will make a post about the scenarios that remain for the games on Saturday. This will either bring hope or despair. But for now, cheer for the Sabres as usual, and be prepared to cheer for the Rangers or Hurricanes or both on Saturday. Cheering for the Panthers Thursday night is also the most likely way the Sabres will squeak into the playoffs, but also cheer that this game does not give out 3 points (no overtime or shootout for either team). For the next 20 hours or so we will just have to wait and see.

Here is an excellent website for determining playoff odds, though it can seem a bit confusing at first. It currently gives the Sabres a 28% chance of getting into 8th place. Hopefully this percentage increases tonight.

As a note – my math is not excellent, but I’m fairly confident this is correct. Also, regardless of whether the Sabres get points, Washington will get 3rd place over Florida if Washington wins both games and Florida loses both in regulation. This means that 1 point for Florida ensures they get the 3rd seed, and 1 point lost by Buffalo at least ensures they make the playoffs. Also, at this point ROWs and SO wins make no difference I believe. Washington easily hold the edge over Buffalo, and for the tiebreaker to matter between Buffalo and Florida then Buffalo would still have the edge regardless of how they win.

 

Quick edit: Ottawa has not clinched the 7th seed yet as they hold 92 points but Washington has the tiebreaker over them. 1 point from for Ottawa or 1 point loss to Washington ensures they are in 7th. Buffalo can not pass Ottawa for 7th. It’s 8th or nothing for the Sabres.

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