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AROUND THE NHL

SabresTV's Brian Duff looks at some of the league's hot topics

Friday, 03.02.2012 / 8:16 PM / News
By Brian Duff  - Sabres TV Host
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AROUND THE NHL

Empty the tank.

That’s the message from Lindy Ruff to his players -- or at least to the media about what he wants from his players -- before every game as we head down the stretch, which now has just 18 games to go.

And there is no denying they did just that during a more than productive last 48 hours in California, thanks to back-to-back shutout wins courtesy of Ryan Miller’s heroics.

But there is a lot more to digest beyond the final score in those games.

It’s about players in new roles, team discipline and a defense corps that is really playing together right now. Even with the injury sustained by Robyn Regehr at the end of the second period, the remaining five all played in the range of 20-22 minutes for the entire game. Definitely some hard minutes based on how under siege they were at times in the final period, but moving forward not a major concern for total minutes played by any one defenseman.

In consecutive games the Sabres were forced to the penalty kill only two times in each. And that’s where you really look at players roles changing in the absence of Paul Gaustad.

Both nights Derek Roy led the forwards in shorthanded time on ice along with his PK partner Jason Pominville. Following them we saw the pairings of Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta, and Nathan Gerbe and Ville Leino up front during a critical third-period kill.

On face-offs, against the second best face-off team in the NHL, Roy’s total for the night may have read 46%, but he won 60% of his draws in the defensive zone.

Cody Hodgson won 13 of his 24 draws over the two games, and last night took three out of five from Joe Thornton in close proximity to Ryan Miller. This prompted Danny Gare, Kevin Sylvester and I to agree that Hodgson just does not play like a rookie. And nor should he. He’s 22 years old, and drafted in the same first round class of 2008 as Tyler Myers. He just had some early injury issues that delayed his arrival on the NHL scene.

Another area that caught my eye: who is on the ice in the final minute and a half of a one goal game?

Against the Sharks, the Leino line (with Gerbe and Kaleta) had an outstanding shift with 90 seconds to go. Leino by the way, also may have had a tough night on the dots winning only 33%, but again he was 60% in his own zone, winning three of five.

As we drew (Drew?) closer to the final buzzer, Ruff put out the Hodgson line with Stafford and Tyler Ennis. And who can forget the blocked shot by number 21?

They emptied the tank so they could leave the (Shark) tank with another two points. Now it’s a season best seven-game point streak (5-0-2) on the line with two games to go on this road trip.

Here’s what awaits them in Vancouver - two former teammates in Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani; the first place team overall as of games through Thursday; a team that is fourth in goals for, fifth in goals against, third on the power play, fifth on the penalty kill, third in face-offs, first in road points, and only three teams have lost fewer games at home than these Canucks. And not surprisingly, they are 13-1-5 in their last 19.

The trip concludes on Monday in Winnipeg, as does the Jets eight-game homestand on which they are currently 4-1-2 following a 7-0 demolition of the Panthers on Thursday night. Now they wait, and wait, and wait for the Monday matchup.

Blake Wheeler has been phenomenal for the Jets in their push for not only a playoff spot but the Southeast Division crown, and Dustin Byfuglien strangely had his impressive run of five straight multi-point games come to an end when he was blanked in the rout of the Panthers.

The Winnipeg power play has been lethal of late going 10/19 over the past six games. The Jets did very little at the trade deadline but did send Johnny Oduya to the Hawks, removing a player who tallied an OT winner versus Buffalo in January.

Discipline will again be the biggest key for the Sabres as this trip winds down.

That, and Ryan Miller.

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