Game Time: 6:30PM (no, they're not playing in Buffalo)
TV/Radio: National Broadcasting Company Sports Network/WGN720
Still Hates Cashews: Die By The Blade
Things are.... not going all that well in Buffalo. They started the season 5-1-0 and that's about the best it's been up in the Canadian side of New York. Since December 1st, the Sabres have gone 6-11-4 and are only a single point ahead of the Northeast basement dwelling Canadiens. That's bad for just about any team but once again this is a team much like that Blue Jackets that spent their way right up to the salary cap and has done nothing but disappoint. Not exactly what Terry Pegula had in mind when he bought the team almost a year ago. The Sabres haven't won back-to-back games since November when they had a 4-game winning streak... how fondly they must look back on those days.
Things aren't going to get any easier for the Sabres either. While they let Scum waltz their way to a 15th straight home victory, they themselves fell to a franchise worse 9th straight road regulation loss. That's a tough pill to swallow. Add that to the fact that they're in only the third game of a seven game road trip and you almost feel bad for the team. Or maybe that's just me since I have a soft spot in my heart in this team ever since NHL '94 (Mogilny, Lafontaine, Hawerchuk... how could you not like that team). With the team drastically under-performing, Buffalo fans are now having to deal with the always annoying "JUST TRADE SOMEONE!" factions of the fanbase.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Sabres struggles - Milan Lucic. Well, not quite. Miller was 5-5-0 in the 10 games leading up to Lucic's steamroller act. After missing most of November with a concussion, Miller has put together 6-7-2 record and he's been pulled from the net twice, most recently in the game against the Wings. So he was having a mediocre year before the concussion and he's continuing that now. Things have gotten so low for Miller that our very own struggling Patrick Kane has come to his defense. Miller has been one of the best goalies in the league for the past few years and it's quite obvious how much the Sabres have been relying on him when he begins to struggle. The Sabres didn't have an answer to Lucic's run and it seems to have bled over to the rest of the season.
The team in front him ain't exactly helping either though. The game against Scum was full of turnovers and sloppy play. The offense is fairly anemic with only 2.44 G/G (24th in the league) and they're in the bottom half of the league in shots per game. Oh.. but they have the same PP% as the Hawks, so that's nice. Players like Brad Boyes and Ville Leino were brought in to spruce up the offense but injuries have nagged the Sabres and both these players have failed to produce, they're currently tied with Jimmy Hayes in number of goals. Christian Ehrhoff was brought in to add spark to the offense but he also has battled injuries and subpar play. Ehrhoff is on pace to have his worst year in terms of +/- and his only year in the negative since his final year with the Sharks in 08-09. But hey... at least Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are having good years with 85 points combined for the pair. They play on the same line though so the Sabres only have one line that can do any damage. Derek Roy has been centering the pair and only has 25 points on the year... so who the hell knows what he's up to. Shut down the top line for the Sabres and it's a pretty ugly Mad Max-esque wasteland beyond them.
So for the Hawks the game plan ought to be simple. Q will clearly use all the tricks in his match uppy match up playbook to make sure the Hawks can shut down the top line. Beyond that the Sabres have been so awful that getting the puck to the net and looking for rebounds have given many teams two points lately. Corey Craword will be getting another consecutive start but I'm writing this the night before the game so there hasn't been any news about lines, scratches or the rest but I wouldn't expect any major changes from the San Jose game. Patrick Kane has enjoyed some success against his hometown team with 5 points in 5 career games against the Sabres. He's still getting plenty of chances and obviously should have had a goal if not for the phenomenal save from Niemi on Sunday. Kane seems to enjoy beating certain teams and finds another gear when needed but I'm not sure a game against a team he cheered for as a boy is the night where he'll find his killer edge. Thankfully, against a team struggling like the Sabres, I doubt he'll need it.
Let's Go Hawks