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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.10.2011 / 12:50 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

The Sabres and Bruins will close out their 2010-11 regular season series tonight in Boston as the longtime rivals face off for the sixth and final time.  The season series has been made particularly memorable by the hat trick heroics of Drew Stafford, who has netted seven goals in just three games against the B’s this season, including a pair of three-goal efforts.

Buffalo lost its first two meetings against Boston.  The first came in early November, when the Bruins visited HSBC Arena and handed the Sabres their sixth consecutive home loss to start the season.  The next loss was a tough one, as the Sabres gave up a lead late in the third period of a hard-fought road game at TD Garden, eventually falling in overtime on Dec. 7. 

When the teams met in Buffalo just over a week later, Stafford personally put an end to the struggles.  In his return from an injury, he scored all three Sabres goals in a 3-2 win for his first hat trick of the season.

 In the midst of the 2011 World Junior Championship, the Sabres hosted the Bruins on New Year’s Day in a game that may be remembered as the most exciting of the 2010-11 campaign.  The back-and-forth contest featured five ties and five lead changes. Stafford again was the difference, capping his second straight hat trick against the Bruins when he tied the game at 6-6 with just 28 seconds left in regulation.  The goals kept coming in the shootout, as five of the six shooters scored.  Ryan Miller stopped Zdeno Chara on Boston’s third attempt to clinch the victory.

In the most recent matchup, Thomas Vanek tallied a goal and an assist in the third period, including the game-winner (below) to lead the Sabres to a 4-2 comeback win on the road in Boston on Jan. 20 to improve Buffalo’s record against the Bruins to 3-1-1 on the year.

Since the dramatic New Year’s victory over Boston, the Sabres have gone 16-8-4, climbing from 11th in the Eastern Conference to eighth, where they currently sit entering tonight’s game. 

POSTED ON Tuesday, 03.8.2011 / 1:06 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

The Sabres’ season-long seven-game road trip surpassed the halfway point Sunday in Minnesota as Buffalo moved to 3-0-1 in the first four games, moving the team into a playoff spot for the first time since Oct. 10.  With that in mind, here are some facts and figures from the first four games of the roadie:

- Andrej Sekera is producing points in pairs.  The defenseman has notched two points in each game of the trip, as well as in the final game of the homestand, giving him a career-high five-game point streak (2-8-10).  He is the just the second defenseman in Sabres history to record five straight multi-point games and the first since John Van Boxmeer in 1981.   On the road trip alone, Sekera has one goal, seven assists and a +5 rating.  For his efforts, he was named the NHL’s Second Star for the week of Mar. 6.

Buffalo Sabres Brad Boyes (22), Andrej Sekera (44) and Jason Pominville (29) celebrate. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
- Steve Montador is a plus player.  Sekera’s new defense partner, Steve Montador, has registered a +3 rating in each of the last two games and has improved his team-leading mark to +20 for the season.  Montador has collected a goal and three assists on the road trip.

- Brad Boyes is paying instant dividends.  Boyes, acquired from St. Louis on Feb. 27, made his Sabres debut against the New York Rangers in the first game of the road trip and scored in each of his first two games in a Buffalo uniform.  He currently has four points (2-2-4) in four games with his new team.

- One-goal games have been the rule.  Three of the first four games of the trip have been decided by one goal, with two of them going to overtime.

- Offense has come from everywhere.  The team's 13 goals thus far on the trip have been scored by ten different players, with Boyes, Pominville and Stafford leading the way with two apiece.

- Jhonas Enroth works overtime again.   Enroth was summoned from Portland to start Sunday’s game at Minnesota and earned his fourth win of the season in the 3-2 overtime victory.  Enroth is now 4-2-1 on the season and all four of his wins have come in overtime or a shootout.  Five of Enroth’s seven starts this season have been decided in overtime or shootout.

- Rob Niedermayer is on the board.  The first-year Sabre and 17-year NHL veteran scored his first goal of the season Sunday in Minnesota.

- Reinforcements are on their way.  With the injury bug hitting Jochen Hecht, Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta, the Sabres are looking to Portland for late-season help.  Mark Mancari played on Sunday after Grier went down with a lower-body injury in Saturday’s game, while Hecht missed both weekend games with an upper-body injury.  Meanwhile, Kaleta took a slap shot to the leg at the end of the second period in St. Paul, leading to the recalls of Mark Parrish and Luke Adam.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 03.2.2011 / 3:08 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

One look at the schedule tells you that March will be the most challenging month of the season for the Buffalo Sabres.

The first reason is obvious.  After Tuesday’s win over the Rangers to start the month, Buffalo sits two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just 20 games to play, meaning the Sabres’ margin for error is slim.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
March is also Buffalo’s busiest month of the season as the team plays 16 times before the calendar flips to April, which is three more games than the next busiest month of the 2010-11 campaign.  The Sabres played 13 games in November and 12 times in October, December, January and February.  The jam-packed March features five sets of back-to-back games, also the most of any month this season.

In an added twist, the month begins with a season-high seven-game road trip, which ties the franchise record for the longest road trip.  The 12-day excursion began Tuesday at Madison Square Garden and continues in Carolina (Thursday), Philadelphia (Saturday), Minnesota (Sunday), Pittsburgh (Mar. 8), Boston (Mar. 10) and Toronto (Mar. 12).  There will be no rest for the road-weary, however, as Buffalo will host Ottawa at 5 p.m. the day after the final game of the trip. 

Ryan Miller will continue to be counted upon down the stretch, and the netminder has proven throughout his career he can win games in March.  Including Tuesday’s win over the Rangers, Miller has a career record of 31-16-7 in the month of March.  Although his career numbers for March (3.10 GAA, .898 SV%) are above his overall career totals (2.58 GAA, .914 SV%), his outstanding record indicates an ability to make key saves at crucial times, just as he did Tuesday in New York.

Miller also seems to be peaking at the opportune time.  Over the last seven games, he has posted a 1.86 goals against average and a .944 save percentage while allowing two or fewer goals in each outing.

Another player who could have a significant impact over the next four weeks is newcomer Brad Boyes, who scored a goal in his Sabres debut on Tuesday.  Boyes has registered 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) in 75 career games in March.  In three of his first five full NHL seasons, March was his most productive month.

The March of the Sabres continues Thursday night at Carolina, where Buffalo will have the opportunity to climb into the top eight.

POSTED ON Thursday, 02.17.2011 / 1:42 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

The Sabres took the day off from practice on Thursday, which gives us a chance to put last night’s loss to Toronto in the rearview mirror and take a look ahead at the intriguing mix of opponents who will visit Buffalo over the next 10 days as the Sabres continue their playoff push while on a season-long six-game homestand. This is a critical stretch for the Sabres, who will follow this six-game homestand by playing seven straight on the road.
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

St. Louis Blues – Friday, Feb. 18: The Blues don’t come to Buffalo often, but when they have, they’ve had success, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 trips to Western New York.  A playoff team two years ago, the Blues have taken a step back in terms of points, but they still boast some impressive young talent.  David Backes, who leads the team in scoring, and defensemen Erik Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, were both members of Team USA’s silver-medal winning squad at the 2010 Olympics.  Backes and Johnson, along with goaltender Jaroslav Halak, make up a solid young core for the Blues.

Washington Capitals – Sunday, Feb. 20:  Although they’ve had their share of scoring slumps this season, the Capitals have some of the league’s most explosive forwards. Alex Ovechkin is averaging a point per game, which would signify an excellent year for most players; for Ovechkin, though, it means he is behind his career average of nearly 106 points per season.  Alexander Semin scored his fourth hat trick of the season Wednesday in Anaheim, making him and Drew Stafford the only players with four hat tricks this season.  Rounding out the Capitals’ trio of elite forwards is Nicklas Backstrom, who registered 101 points last season.

Atlanta Thrashers – Wednesday, Feb. 23: This matchup should have a playoff feel to it with the Sabres and Thrashers currently locked in a battle for the Eastern Conference's eighth seed.  As of today, both teams have 60 points, although Buffalo has played two fewer games.  The teams split the first two meetings of the season, which both took place in Atlanta back in October.  The Thrashers have struggled of late after going on a tear in November and December.

(AP Photo/John Amis)
Ottawa Senators – Friday, Feb. 25: The Sabres and Sens have had their share of memorable battles in recent years, but Ottawa will have a bit of a different look when they make their next appearance at HSBC Arena after recently trading long-time Senators Mike Fisher (to Nashville) and Chris Kelly (to Boston).  Despite their last-place standing, Ottawa always plays Buffalo tough.

Detroit Red Wings – Saturday, Feb. 26: The homestand ends with a big matchup against the Red Wings, who occupy their normal place near the top of the Western Conference standings.  Detroit’s usual cast of characters – Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg – are once again leading the way.  This is the fourth straight year that the Wings will have appeared in Buffalo after not coming here at all the previous two seasons. The matchup also pits Ryan Miller against his younger brother, Drew, a forward for the Wings.

POSTED ON Thursday, 02.10.2011 / 1:39 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS
By scoring 13 goals in their last two games, the Sabres have put together their biggest two-game offensive outburst in over two years.  At the center of the attack have been Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek, who have combined for 12 points in the last two games. 

While 13 different players recorded at least one point over the two games, the 13 goals came from just six different players, including eight from Stafford and Vanek alone.

Here is a look at some of the more impressive numbers and notes to come out of the last two games, beginning with some items on Stafford’s hot streak (with an assist from Sabres Manager of Publications & Hockey Information Kevin Snow, who began collecting facts as soon as Stafford recorded his hat trick in Tampa Bay).

Stafford’s three-goal game on Tuesday was his third of the season, making him the first Sabre to notch three hat tricks in one season since Vanek had four of them in 2007-08.

Since missing 15 of 16 games from Nov. 6 to Dec. 11 because of an injury, Stafford has been among the NHL’s hottest goal scorers.  His 15 goals since Dec. 15 are the third-most in the League during that span, behind only Ryan Kessler’s 20 and Steven Stamkos’ 16 goals.  Making that feat even more impressive is the fact that Stafford has played eight fewer games than Kesler and six fewer games than Stamkos over that stretch.

With 20 goals on the season, Stafford has matched his career-high in just 34 games.

As for Vanek, the Sabres’ leading scorer with 47 points (21-26-47), has been on a tear of his own.  Not only has he, like Stafford, registered six points in the last two games, he’s also posted 8-14-22 in the last 15 games.  Vanek has nine multi-point games during the 15-game stretch.

In Tuesday’s come-from-behind win, which marked the third time this season the Sabres won when trailing after two periods, the team scored six straight goals in a span of just 15:17.  That was the quickest they’ve scored six goals since doing it in 14:51 on Mar. 19, 2008, when the opponent was also the Tampa Bay Lightning. In that game, Vanek netted a hat trick.
POSTED ON Monday, 01.31.2011 / 10:51 AM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

With the NHL All-Star festivities now behind us and the calendar set to flip to February, it’s time to look ahead to the remaining 33 games on the schedule for the Sabres.  The team does not play again until Friday, which makes for an unusually long nine-day layoff that can be either a blessing or a curse.
Photo: Bill Wippert

On one hand, the break gives players a chance to recover from injuries and heal from the typical bumps and bruises they incur over the course of a grueling season.  On the other hand, the Sabres were playing good hockey heading into the break, going 9-3-1 over the last 13 games, and there’s always a chance that such a long layoff can hurt the momentum.

The February schedule is a quirky one for the Sabres.  They return from the break with back-to-back games, traveling to Pittsburgh on Friday and returning home to face Toronto on Saturday.  They play just two games the following week, both in the state of Florida as they meet the Lightning and Panthers.  

After that, the schedule picks up immensely, with four games in each of the following two weeks.  That means Buffalo will play a total of four games over the first 12 days of February followed by eight games in 14 days to finish the month.  In addition, seven of those final eight games of the month will be played on home ice, where the Sabres are 11-12-1 on the season.

Following their six-game homestand to close out February, the Sabres go on a season-long seven-game road trip that will last 12 days and begins in New York for a meeting with the Rangers, then takes them to Carolina, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Boston and Toronto.  Then, seven of the final nine games of the month will be back in Buffalo. 

Photo: Bill Wippert
March will be by far the busiest month of the Sabres’ season as they play 16 times in 30 days, including five sets of back-to-backs.  In April, the Sabres close out the regular season with a total of two home games and three road contests.

In terms of location and opponents, the remaining schedule breaks down like this:

•    17 home games
•    16 road games
•    28 games vs. Eastern Conference opponents
•    5 games vs. Western Conference opponents
•    9 games vs. Northeast Division opponents
•    17 games vs. teams that currently hold a playoff spot
•    12 games vs. teams that are below Buffalo in the overall standings

Buffalo enters the post-All-Star break portion of the season in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and six points behind eighth place Atlanta with three games in hand on the Thrashers. Those two teams will go head-to-head twice down the stretch (Feb. 23 and Mar. 19) with both games at HSBC Arena.  The Sabres will also face the team directly above them in the standings, the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes, three more times.

The only team Buffalo will face more than Carolina is Toronto, as the Sabres and Maple Leafs will square off four more times this season.
POSTED ON Friday, 01.28.2011 / 9:20 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS

Sabres forward Tyler Ennis will compete for Team Staal in Saturday’s Honda NHL SuperSkills competition at RBC Center in Raleigh, NC after the teams were determined Friday night at the inaugural NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft.  The SuperSkills competition will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. on Versus.

Ennis, the lone Sabres representative in Raleigh for All-Star Weekend, was one of 12 NHL rookies selected by the league to join the 42 All-Stars in Saturday’s Superskills Competition.  While team captains Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal alternated picks to choose their teams, the rookies were divided into two groups of six, and each group joined one of the teams.  Edmonton’s Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in last year’s Entry Draft, was selected to choose which team his rookie group would join, and Hall elected to go with Team Lidstrom.  It was pre-determined that Ennis would be a member of the other rookie group, which was captained by San Jose’s Logan Couture.

Joining Ennis and Couture on Team Staal are fellow rookies Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders, Jamie McBain of the Carolina Hurricanes, Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.

The rest of the team, which will skate together in Sunday’s All-Star Game minus the rookies, is highlighted by captain Eric Staal and alternate captains Mike Green and Ryan Kesler, as well as Alex Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin, Zdeno Chara, Carey Price, and the first overall pick of the Fantasy Draft, Cam Ward.


2011 Honda NHL SuperSkills
At the All-Star break, Ennis ranks fifth among all NHL rookies in scoring with 28 points on 12 goals and 16 assists.  Jeff Skinner of the host Carolina Hurricanes leads all rookies with 40 points (18-22-40).  Skinner was originally selected to be one of the 12 rookies who would appear only in the SuperSkills competition, but due to injuries to other All-Stars, was a late addition to the game roster.  Skinner will become the youngest player to ever play for an All-Star team in the All-Star Game on Sunday when he takes the ice at 18 years, 259 days of age.

The other three first-year players ranked ahead of Ennis in rookie scoring, Couture, Hall and Derek Stepan of the Rangers, are also set to participate in the skills competition.

Last year, Ennis represented the Portland Pirates on the Canadian team at the 2010 American Hockey League All-Star Classic and earned Most Valuable Player honors after notching a goal and two assists in a 10-9 victory.  He also took part in the Skills Competition, skating in the puck control relay and the breakaway challenge.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.25.2011 / 2:41 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS
It should come as no surprise that Thomas Vanek is leading the Buffalo Sabres in goals at the All-Star break.  The six-year NHL veteran has led the team in goal scoring every year since 2006-07, averaging just under 37 goals per season during that span.  This year, Vanek is well on his way to once again lead Buffalo in tallies with 18 goals in 49 games.

While he’s on pace to approach his career average for goals this season, Vanek has also displayed a knack for coming up big at key times.  Of his 18 goals, nine have come either with the game tied or the Sabres trailing by one and seven have come in the third period or overtime.  In addition, Buffalo is 10-3-2 in games in which Vanek scores a goal.

The 27-year-old forward has also notched three game-winning goals, scored on all four of his shootout attempts and played a key role in four of the five overtime goals the Sabres have scored this season by netting one, assisting on two and creating a turnover that led to yet another overtime tally.

Vanek’s biggest moments have come in overtime this season, beginning with what has probably been the Sabres’ goal of the year to this point back on Nov. 13 against the Washington Capitals.  Take a look below at Vanek’s dazzling individual effort:

Just two nights later, Buffalo was locked into another overtime contest with Vancouver.  The four-on-four action in the extra session was played at a frantic pace, and one subtle play by Vanek led to a chance for Tyler Myers to walk in alone on Canucks goalie Cory Schneider and win the game.  Vanek disturbed the Vancouver defenseman enough to cause a crucial turnover, and though he was not credited with a point, he certainly played a major role in the goal.

Vanek was at it again on Jan. 18 against Montreal when he received the puck in tight from Tyler Ennis and feathered a perfect pass in front to Jason Pominville for the game-winning goal in the extra frame.

Most recently, Vanek helped Buffalo head into the All-Star break with an overtime win at Ottawa.  He outworked Chris Phillips in the corner, allowing Pominville to dig out the puck and find a streaking Shaone Morrisonn for the clinching goal.

As for Vanek’s four shootout goals, his blast against Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliot gave the Sabres gave the Sabres their first-ever 1-0 shootout victory back on Dec. 4.

For much of the season, Vanek’s points have come in bunches.  He set a career-high with a seven-game point streak in November, collecting 10 points (4-6-10) in that span.  He recently put together a string of four consecutive multi-point games during which the Sabres went 3-1-0, giving him a total of 13 multi-point games. 

Aside from two short scoreless streaks at the beginning of the season and a seven-game scoreless streak in December, Vanek has been able to produce consistently.  When he has gone quiet on the scoresheet, he’s had a tendency to rebound with productive stretches, such as when he followed up the seven-game scoreless streak by recording 14 points over the next nine outings.  One of the more encouraging signs has been his rising assist total.  His 23 assists at the break put him on pace for his highest total since the 2006-07 campaign when he finished with 41 helpers.
POSTED ON Monday, 01.24.2011 / 2:14 PM ET
By Rob Crean - Public Relations Director / BEYOND THE BOARDS
Thomas Vanek leads the Sabres with 19 power play points (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Sabres’ power play unit has quietly snuck up the NHL rankings over the past 12 games to coincide with the team’s 8-3-1 record during that stretch.

Entering play on Dec. 28, Buffalo ranked 20th in the NHL with a 16.3% success rate with the man-advantage on the season.  The team was also sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and had just learned four days earlier that leading scorer Derek Roy, a key power play producer, would be out for four to six months, potentially keeping him out for the remainder of the season.

Four weeks later, the Sabres have found a way to move up eight spots in the overall League power play rankings to 12th by going 11-for-40 (27.5%) with the man advantage in the last 12 games and have also crept up to 10th place in the East.  Buffalo has tallied at least one man-advantage goal in five of the last six games and nine of the last 11. 

Six different Sabres players have netted a power play goal and 10 different players have notched at least one power play point over the last 12 outings.  Thomas Vanek leads the way with seven power play points (3-4-7) during that stretch and has 19 (9-10-19) man-advantage points on the season. 

As Lindy Ruff stated after the win over Montreal last Tuesday, the Sabres are going to need the power play units to score goals in order to continue their recent success.  The evidence to support Ruff’s statement is clear when examining the last 12 games.

In the eight games the Sabres have won, the PP unit has produced at an impressive 36.4% (8-for-22) rate of success.  In the four losses (three regulation, one overtime), that number falls to 16.7% (3-for-18).

That trend holds true throughout the entire season.  In Buffalo’s 22 wins this year, the power play has gone 23-for-83 (27.7%).  In the 26 combined regulation and shootout losses, the power play is just 11-for-98 (11.2%).  Going further, the Sabres are 16-8-1 in games where they score at least one power play goal; 6-13-4 in games where the unit is held scoreless.

It’s no secret that power play success over an extended period of time usually translates into points in the standings.  Given the disparity in Buffalo’s record when they score with the man advantage versus when they don’t, it’s a good sign that the unit is clicking heading into the All-Star break.
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