Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bandits Need to Play at Home More Often

The Bandits had another blowout game at home, this time embarrassing the Toronto Rock, 25-10.  Mark Steenhuis was the game MVP by setting the (unofficial) NLL record with 17 points in the game, 4 goals and 13 assists.  Other scorers for the Bandits are Vyse (6), Tavares (4),  Bomberry (3), Tommy Montour (2), Dostie (2), Greenhalgh (2), Llord and Billy Dee (1). 

It seems that the Bandits are a team that will capitalize on a bad defense at will.  They did it against a Knighthawks team that gave up midway through the second half and they did it to a Rock defense that just couldn’t catch a break.  They also have found their secondary scoring.  This team needs to play good defense and they can let their offense take care of the rest.

The defense looked good with the return of Billy Dee Smith from injury.  This defense has always looked really good on the home floor and was able to answer the bell when the Rock started to get chippy in the fourth quarter.  The Rock had 65 total penalty minutes in the game, 42 of them coming in the fourth quarter.  

Montour looked average compared to what he has done, allowing 10 goals on 45 shots.  But in saying that, Montour has been the better goaltender of the two this season.  The goalie rotation has worked well in keeping both goaltenders fresh but Montour has been that much better this season.

In terms of the Rock, this is just a blip for them.  They may have lost Ratcliffe for an extended period of time after getting hit by Llord, I think.  But the Rock are going to bounce back after this game.  They have enough offensive players on that team to be able to contend in a game, see the first matchup between these two.  The Rock are going to want a piece of the Bandits when they come back to Toronto next Friday.

The last two games show how important home-field advantage is during the playoffs.  The Bandits are 3-0 at home and 3-1 on the road but have outscored their opponents 63-27 at home compared to 42-36 on the road.  They play infinitely better when they feed off the energy of the home crowd.  They have a two game lead over the Titans and Blazers at the time of writing and a half game lead over the Roughnecks in the west.  They are going to need to keep those leads to ensure a good draw for the postseason, if they make it there. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

As Much as Things Change is as Much as They Stay the Same

I know that this post is very, very, very delayed in coming but things happen.  Things will be changing around here due to the fact that I have signed on to be a contributing writer over at Die By The Blade.   This means that all Sabres stuff will be heading over there and everything else will stay here.  Hence, Dueling Sabres will keep the name but have nothing to do with the Sabres.  We will become a Buffalo sports blog with a major focus on the Bandits during their season. 

So to everyone who has read my stuff, thank you.  We will keep things going and have more and more things to write about.  I will also keep the Die By The Blade feed in the corner so you can keep up with our Sabres coverage over there. 

By the way, the Bandits turned on the jets in Edmonton on Thursday night winning 13-8.  A very well played game by the offense and Ken Montour did what the goaltending tandem has done all season, been a brick wall.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bandits Travel to Edmonton for the Rexall Sweep





The Bandits travel to Edmonton tonight to take on the Rush and complete the Buffalo sweep of the city.  This will be the first matchup between these two teams.  This is the Rush’s fifth ye ar in the league. 

Both of these teams can be extremely dangerous.  Bob Hamley completely overhauled the Rush after he became their head coach and GM last season.  He continues to tinker with the lineup through trades including the last one he pulled off sending Ryan Benesch and Derek Suddons for a handful of picks.  Late last season, one of many Hamley trades included sending Mike Accursi to Buffalo for Dan Teat. 

The Rush have a bunch of big guns in the offense including Benesch and Teat.  Teat was named the offensive player of the week for scoring five goals in last week’s loss against the Roughnecks.  They also have a pretty good goalie that knows a thing or two about Buffalo shooters in Steve Dietrich.  Dietrich of course was with the Bandits from 2002-2007 and was traded to Calgary as part of the Sean Greenhalgh trade. 

The Bandits should have a hard time on their hands with this game and it could most likely be their first loss of the season.  The Swarm were a tough team and so are the Rush.  With what appears to be no changes on the injury front, the defense needs to stand tall and Ken Montour, who should be starting based on the rotation, needs to be as good as he has been in the first two games.

Game time is 9 pm from Rexall.  Can be seen on and heard on 1520 AM. 

The Game That was Setup to Fail

This game had loss written all over it.  Second half of a back-to-back series, scoring an insane amount of goals the night before, and playing against a team that is fresher than the Sabres.  The Sabres didn’t disappoint on this claim either losing to the Flames 5-2.  After the Bertuzzi goal went in early in the third period you had to know and feel that the Sabres were not going to claw back into the game and try and get a point out of it. 

The effort was there though, the team just ran out of energy by the third.  This is evident in that they were outshot in the third 19-5.  Being outshot and essentially outplayed in the final period of what started as a tied game just showed they had nothing left in the tank.  I am a little surprised that they did not start Lalime against the Flames but not totally surprised.  It is two straight games for Miller after resting over the break, but he did look like he lost a lot of focus as the game wore down, letting in his fair share of softies toward the end of that game.  Don’t be surprised to see Lalime in Phoenix rather than Anaheim due to the fact that Anaheim is the scarier team. 

The one nice thing about MSG trying to save production costs on this road trip is that we as Sabres fans get to see the Canadian broadcasts in this case.  Unfortunately, I do not get CBC so I can’t enjoy Hockey Night in Canada as often as I would like.  The Canadian broadcasts are so much better though.  The camera angles are so that you can see the game and follow it better, the announcers actually show a passion for the game that is being played and not trying to tote an agenda that their American counterparts love to do.  Versus should just stop trying to produce games and just show the TSN feed in the States.  They do this during the playoffs to save production costs and it should be done during the regular season to just try and promote the game better.  What Versus has done to hockey is just shameful and doesn’t grow the league, it makes it worse.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sabres/Flames at the Saddledome


The Sabres cruise into Calgary tonight, riding high after that 10-2 crushing of the Oilers last night.  Things are probably not going to be as rosy tonight.  As we mentioned in the Oilers review, the Sabres are 2-5-2 in the second half of back to back games.  That record goes down to 1-4-2 when that second game is on the road.  They face a Flames team that has not played since the all-star break and is in a much better position playoffs wise. 

The Flames are leading the Northwest division with 60 points, 9 points ahead of the Wild and Oilers.  Jarome Iginla is still the face of the organization in Calgary, leading the team with 53 points which is good for 10th overall.  Iginla has some good supplemental support with Mike Cammalleri and Daymond Langkow.  On the defensive side of things, Dion Phaneuf leads a fairly suspect defense for the Flames.  Besides Phaneuf, there are not a lot of big names on the blueline.  Robyn Regehr is back there as well as Adrian Aucoin.  Both of them have experience but are well past their primes to be a major factor on defense.  In goal, Miikka Kiprusoff should be in net for the Flames just because there really is no other option for them.

The Sabres may be without Adam Mair tonight as he suffered a cut while blocking a shot last night.  Do not be surprise to see Lalime in net tonight though it will be a long shot at best.  I would expect to see him some time on this road trip, most likely in Phoenix. 

Game time is 8 pm on MSG.  Your announcers for tonight are going to be the TSN crew which may just be Gord Miller as play by play and Pierre McGuire between the glass.  Nothing is more annoying than Pierre McGuire, except for maybe fingernails on a chalkboard but thats about it.  At least we get to hear the Hockey Theme again.

As a note, while perusing the TSN website looking for the announcing crew, I came across this clip of Drew Stafford being pestered about the pigeon.  Somewhat entertaining but TSN doesn’t have embedding capability so here is the link.

Where 10 Is Always Enough

The Sabres came out on their first game of their four game road trip with a bang.  Stafford scored 10 seconds in the first and the Sabres never looked back, crusing to a 10-2 win.  West coast games are always fun for me due to the fact that it gives me an excuse to stay up late.  Its even more fun when the game you stay up for is incredibly entertaining. 

The Oilers looked really, really sloppy and Dwayne Roloson got absolutely no help from his defense on the first eight shots.  Of course, it wasn’t like many of those shots were ankle breaking, amazing highlight reel goals, but they were goals that were going to be tough to stop.  Ryan Miller on the other hand, looked really good.  But the two goals that he let in were more on the soft side.  The first goal from Cole deflected off of Miller and Miller looked visibly upset over it.  The second one, Miller went down way too early and the Nilsson scored rather easily.  Of course this is the mantra for Miller, when the team is cruising he loses focus rather easily and gives up the easy goals.

The main story line that came out of this game is Stafford’s hat trick against his uncle’s team, being the equipment manager and all.  That is all well and good, but the true player of the game was Craig Rivet.  So Rivet had only 2 assists and was a +1 for the game.  But the dude battled back after Penner kicked him in the well, you know.  What made that clip more entertaining was that the Oilers announcer at first thought that the puck hit him in the skate.  Which would exactly be the reason that Rivet would be down on the ice for a good period of time.  Rivet battled back and played the rest of the game and hopefully for our sakes, he is just fine. 

All in all, this team looked really good against a bad team.  Heading into Calgary is probably going to be a tougher test and the Sabres will most likely fail.  They usually do in the second half of back to back games with a record of 2-5-2 and are 1-4-2 when the second game is on the road.  For now, lets enjoy the drubbing and worry about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sabres Prospects Notes

A couple of interesting Youtubes featuring Sabres prospects surfaced this weekend.  First, we direct you to Corey Tropp (drafted by the Sabres in the 3rd round of the 2007 Draft).  Tropp clubbed a Michigan player during the Michigan State/Michigan game over the weekend. 

Second Youtube comes from a Lethbridge/Medicine Hat game featuring first round selection Tyler Ennis.  Ennis is the one you see throwing his stick at Lethbridge player Kyle Beach admiring his empty netter:

Sabres/Oilers Gamenight




The Sabres travel to Edmonton for the first time since 2006.  A lot has happened since 2006 for both of these teams.  The major one though is Kevin Lowe.  We all remember Lowe very well as the GM who tried to steal Vanek away from us, forcing us to pay way too much money for him.  Honestly, can we thank him now?  Is anyone taking a look at the three signings we could have had that summer and grateful for the one we do have:

Briere:  9 GP, 5 Goals, 9 Points, $888,888.88/point

Drury:  48 GP, 15 Goals, 31 Points, $229,032.25/point

Vanek:  47 GP, 28 Goals, 43 Points, $186,046.51/point

Now it would have never been possible for the Sabres to sign all three of these players at the rates they are at.  It would kill their cap and they wouldn’t field a team.  But it is nice to see we were force to the right player.

On to the current team, the Sabres head into this game down another defensemen, Tallinder was injured during the Tampa game, so the Sabres bring up Marc Andre Gragnani.  Which means that Portland is completely tapped of defensemen themselves.  On the Edmonton side, it looks that Sam Gagner is going to miss  this game with a bum ankle.  The Oilers are in the same position as the Sabres, clinging onto the 6th position in the Western Conference, two points behind the Coyotes in 5th and two points behind the Wild in 9th.  The Sabres need to keep winning as the Hurricanes and Panthers are poised to gain ground in the weak Southeast Conference.  The Sabres are 6 points behind the Flyers who are in a slump of their own.

Game time is 9pm from Rexall and is on MSG.  Seriously it really is

Monday, January 26, 2009

AHL All Star Game Live Blog

It makes complete sense to live blog an all-star game where Rory Fitzpatrick is a captain and Mike Ryan is an all star, both play for the Planet USA All-Star team.  The only representative from the Portland Pirates is Mark Mancari who will play for the Canadian All-Stars.

1st Period

- At least the fanfare behind the AHL All-Star game is not as crazy as it is with the NHL All-Star game.  This might actually be an entertaining game instead of people floating.  Sort of.

18:49 – First goal scored by the Canadians.  Corey Locke from the Houston Aeros scores a nifty goal.

16:17 - Mike Brodeur of the Rochester Americans makes the first save of the game.  Hope he enjoyed it.

15:19 – As I said, I hope Brodeur enjoyed it, Planet USA ties the game up at 1. 

13:21 – Ok, so I lied, this is like every other All-Star game.  Except there isn’t enough scoring. I like though in the intro they showed about every bone crushing hit trying to entice you to watch a bunch of young stars float around.

11:26 – Ryan Vesce from the Worcester Sharks scores for a 2-1 Planet USA lead.  This would be Vesce’s first all-star goal.  The Worcester Sharks are obviously affiliated with the San Jose Sharks.  Hence, the Sharks. 

- At least the AHL All-Star game has announcers that call the game.  Even the bench reporter is cuter than Chris Simpson on Versus.  Hmm…everything could be made better by not being on Versus.  Poor Indy Racing League.

9:04 – A goalie actually tried and made a pretty good save.  Shocking. Cory Schneider from the Manitoba Moose is actually playing like he wants to win.  Must not have been given the memo.

6:47 – Both goalies making good saves as Brodeur on the other end stuffs a 2-1 breakaway.  Game is still 2-1 and its been 5 minutes since either team has scored.  Something must be wrong here.

4:49 – AHL leading scorer, Alexander Giroux from the Hershey Bears, scores to tie the game at 2.  Giroux’s rights belong to the Washington Capitals and Giroux could be a very dangerous player in the NHL.  At 6’2, Giroux has a wicked shot.

- AHL sideline reporter is stuttering through her questions now.  At least she still looks good. 

2:47 – This game is somewhat entertaining due to the fact that these guys look like they actually care.  Mike Ryan gets stuffed on a breakaway, shocking.  A total of 22 shots so far in the first with only 4 goals.  The goalies are making them look bad.

14.3 – Team Canada takes the lead on a Brett Palin shot to finish off the first period.  Both goalies, Mike Brodeur and Cory Schneider, played really well to stop 26 of 31 shots on goal. 

2nd Period

- Back to game time.  The AHL jerseys don’t look half bad.  Goalies in net now are Barry Brust and Daniel Larsson.  Hopefully they can keep it competitive.

16:50 – Corey Locke scores his second of the night to take Team Canada to 4-2.  Poor Brett MacLean has been jipped on two goals tonight.  First he was late to tip in the Palin goal and Locke cleaned up the rebound on his initial shot.

15:56 – Bryan Helmer scores his first goal of the season, yes season, for a 5-2 Team Canada lead.

15:32 – Stay in your seats for this one, Mike Ryan scores to cut the Team Canada lead down to 5-3.  Was it Ryan that scored on his own net or was it Funk. I honestly can’t remember.

14:30 – For what became a goalie battle in the first is now a scoring fest in the second.  There is some defense going on but nothing to write home about.  A lack of AHL defense is a sight to see.

Alright, back to real life.  There is only so much all-star game a person can watch.  Sabres in Calgary tomorrow and actually on TV.  More stuff coming tomorrow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quick Hits After a Week Long Break

So after taking a week off from blogging due to the fact that my life is just too busy to blog, here are some thoughts from the past week.

- The Sabres always seem to get too much sun while going on the Florida road trip.  Usually though, they lose in Sunrise while kicking the crap out of Tampa.  This time it was the other way around.  Considering the Tampa game was the second game of the two, it makes sense.

- The West coast swing as officially been announced as not on TV.  Also, the radio feed is going to seem odd with Rick Jeanneret not being on the mike for the four games.  He is being replaced by a trio of announcers: Curt Keilback, Kevin Sylvester, and Paul Hamilton.  Keilback I am not familiar with, but Sylvester and Hamilton are somewhat solid picks.  Sylvester will grow into the role while Hamilton has the experience calling Niagara games but this will be his first Sabres game.

- Mark Steenhuis and Ken Montour are named players of the week for Offense and Defense. After their performances against Rochester, it should not be surprising.  Speaking of Rochester, according to the Democrat and Chronicle, the Knighthawks are expecting Pat O’Toole back in net for them against the Titans.  Also, the Wings are expecting Athan Iannucci back this weekend against the Blazers.  Both additions will make those teams that much better.

- In other Bandits news, Rich Kilgour has announced that this will be his final season with the Bandits.  This comes after being hired by Niagara County Community College as their men’s lacrosse coach.  Kilgour has said he will leave the Bandits to focus on recruiting and coaching for NCCC.  Best of luck to him and here’s to raising another banner in his honor.  His number will most likely be retired next to his brother’s on the Bandits floor.

Bandits/Swarm preview coming later today and most posts coming after that. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sabres Survive the Hurricane

The Sabres continued their home winning streak against the Hurricanes on Saturday beating them 3-1.  Playing a predictable type of Sabres game, the team ended up holding on to the 3-1 lead by allowing Ryan Miller to do most of the work.

Miller stopped 36 of 37 including a barrage of shots in the third period.  It looked that the Sabres just ran out of steam after making the quick stop home from the Midwest.  Thankfully, they got off to a quick start.  Tim Connolly put in two and Teppo scored his second of the year. 

For the Hurricanes, Ray Whitney scored 17 seconds in the third on the typical Miller softie to ruin the shutout.  The Hurricanes have now lost five straight and still sit in 10th position while the Sabres still sit in 7th with 51 points.  They are 6 points behind the Flyers and one point ahead of the Penguins.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, not all the news coming out of the game was good.  Numminen ended up taking a puck off the face in the middle of the second period.  While he took his next shift, he ended up missing the third period and it was announced that he has a fractured jaw and will miss a considerable amount of time.  That leaves the Sabres down to six defensemen from the eight they had on the roster at one point.  More on that later this week.  Next up for the Sabres they head out on the road six games.  They will make the Florida Swing and a West Coast Swing before finally coming home February 4th. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sabres/Hurricanes Preview




It is really hard to write about this Sabres team when of the last two games you have seen a total of twenty minutes of game play.  The Sabres are coming off their comeback win against the Stars while the Hurricanes are on a four-game losing streak.  Lindy Ruff had this quote about the ‘Canes

"One that's going well or one that's desperate to win a game," Ruff said today at HSBC Arena. "We've got one tonight that's desperate to win a game. We need to exceed that desperation."

This is the first meeting between the Sabres and Hurricanes this season.  The Hurricanes are in the 10th spot in the Conference, one point behind 8th place and two points behind the Sabres in 7th place. Both of these teams are desperate for wins and they have both been streaky teams. 

The Sabres are now dropping the seven defenseman rotation due to the injury to Andrej Sekera.  Sekera will be out for a few weeks due to an ankle injury he suffered against the Stars.  Much of the lineup should stay the same with Butler replacing Sekera. 

Game time is 7pm at the Bank which has a good history for the Sabres.  The Sabres swept the series at home against the Hurricanes last year, beating them 7-1 and 8-1.  With the history between these teams, it should be interesting. 

Bandits Smear Knighthawks

The Bandits/Knighthawks game last night was an absolute blowout.  The Knighthawks showed they are a bigger mess last night and need something to come together if this team is going to be competitive at all.  The Bandits won 23-6 last night at the Bank and the main reason for the collapse by the Knighthawks was just their lack of defense.

This 17 goal difference was the worst loss in Knighthawk history and the 23 goals scored also set a Knighthawk record.  For the Bandits, this game does not quite make the record books in goal differential, that is held by the Charlotte Cobras in 1996.

In terms of the offense of this game, the Bandits brought it first and basically all night.  Mark Steenhuis was the leader of the offense scoring 8 goals of his own and ending up with 13 points on the night.  Steenhuis now leads the league in goals with 15 and points with 25. The secondary scorers also showed up with Vyse scoring 5 times and Sean Greenhalgh scoring his first goal as a Bandit on his way to a hat trick.  This Bandits offense is starting to hit its stride after looking somewhat shaky in the first two games.  23 goals is a good way to make your mark on a night.  The special teams for the Bandits was good as well, scoring twice shorthanded and also picking up one on the powerplay.  For a team that scored 87% of their goals heading into this game on even strength, it is good to see the special teams contribute.

An overlooked part of a 23 goal game was how well Ken Montour played.  Mike Thompson was supposed to start the game last night, but was not feeling well with a case of the flu.  So Montour stepped in and looked amazing again allowing 6 goals on 54 shots.  Even though Kilgour has said that he will use a goalie rotation, you would have to think that Montour has the hold on the starting job as of now with as well as he has been playing.  For the season, Montour has a 6.00 GAA with an .871 SV% which leads the league.  The Bandit defense themselves played really well in the first half when the game was still close allowing only three goals per half.  Gary Gait was shut out of the score sheet only registering three assists on the night. 

For the Knighthawks, nothing looked good and the defense ended up quitting towards the end of the 4th quarter.  Shawn Evans was the major player for the Hawks all night.  Evans scored three goals, assisted on another, and then drew a fighting major out of Brandon Francis by turtling, and then actually dropping the gloves with Ian Llord.  Evans ended up drawing an aggressor penalty which then drew the game misconduct.  The Hawks were outmanned physically all night, getting beat up and outworked on the floor.  When they did draw penalties though, they were able to capitalize on them, going 4 for 10 on the powerplay.  Although, they also gave up two shorthanded goals as well.

If I were a Knighthawk fan, one thing I could take out of this game was if Pat O’Toole was in this game, it would not have been this out of control.  Derek Collins and Phil Wetherup looked very, very average out there.  Their defense did them no favors, but they also gave up some very weak goals on the floor as well.  When O’Toole comes back, this team will be more dangerous, but they will also be out of the playoff hunt.  Next up for the Knighthawks is a cross country flight to play the San Jose Stealth on Sunday.  The Stealth are weak themselves so this could be a good rebound game for the Hawks.  For Buffalo, it is a three game road trip that starts on Thursday against the Minnesota Swarm and then on Saturday against the Edmonton Rush.  The Bandits need to keep playing the type of game that they are playing right now and also need to keep playing as a team and they will be a very hard team to beat. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bandits vs. Knighthawks Game Preview

It is the battle between the ageless wonder and the great one tonight in the HSBC Arena.  For being a fan that never got a chance to see Gary Gait in action during his first tour of duty, this is a special night for me to see two great legends in action.

Tavares passed Gait in the final category, all time goal scorer, on January 19, 2008 against the New York Titans.  Right now Tavares has 625 goals and 1334 points in his career.  Gait came back onto the scene last Saturday against the Wings and scored 5 goals on 8 shots in his return.  Therefore, Gait now has 601 goals and 1096 points.  Therefore, the only category Gait could recapture would be the goals category.  The race is on then for the all time goal title.  Gait needs to score 24 goals more than Tavares this season to recapture his crown.

Seeing Gait for the first time is somewhat special due to the fact that this main is legendary.  You know a player has had a great career when he has a shot named after him, the “Air Gait.”  I would give an ovation to him to see it pulled off again.

On to the game, the Knighthawks themselves are in a mess they are slowly cleaning up.  They are without Pat O’Toole for about the first month and that should mean that either Derek Collins or Phil Wetherup is going to get the start tonight for the Hawks.  The Hawks also are still trying to get used to Paul Gait’s new system and I imagine are going to look a little disorganized like they did against the Wings last Saturday.  They could have some problems coming out of this weekend if they do not pick up a win in either of their two games against the Bandits or Stealth. 

For the Bandits, Ken Montour stood on his head against the Rock which led the Bandits to their second win of the season.  In net tonight will be Mike Thompson as the Bandits are going to use a goalie rotation unless one of them is injured.  Rich Kilgour is still out for this game, therefore Chris White will be serving as the captain again.  The Bandits look as they are in mid-season form and they look to be the team to beat this season.  With their wins against the Wings and Rock, they have shown that their defense can carry them through games until the offense is hitting their stride.  More players on the offense though need to pick up the pace.  Steenhuis and Tavares have been their usual selves but the secondary scoring is not there.  Of the 23 goals scored this season, 12 of them have been scored by Tavares and Steenhuis.  Sean Greenhalgh has not scored a goal, but does have three assists and Vyse and Bomberry only have 2 goals a piece on the season. 

The Knighthawks are a dangerous team in that their offense is still good.  They have lost their two major weapons but gained one in Gait.  They are a team that can score on will and while the defense needs to play another sound game, the offense needs to be able to do the same and possibly play and dueling goals matchup.  As always, I will be at the Bank for the game tonight and have my take on it in the morning.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jim Jennings Resigns as NLL Commissioner, Is League Still in Good Shape

When a commissioner of a league resigns from the league in the middle of the season, it never bodes well for the state of the league.  Therefore, warning bells went off on Saturday when the NLL announced that Jim Jennings was stepping down from his post as the commissioner. 

According to Jennings and the NLL, this was in the works for a few months and is not a sign of things to come for the league.  The league has shown some pratfalls this offseason with the issues of the New York Titans trying to find a more stable home location other than MSG and the Chicago Shamrox folding a few weeks before the season starts.  These signs and the fact that there is no major deals in the works with a national TV contract or stability of franchises from season to season bodes that this league may not make it after this season ends. 

There are franchises that make money in the NLL.  The Buffalo Bandits and the Colorado Mammoth are two of the biggest teams in the league and two teams that make a profit year after year.  But there are more teams in the league that are holding on for lifesupport.  The Portland Lumberjax are not doing well even though they made the Champions Cup final last year, attendance is very, very low for San Jose Stealth games, which is bad due to the fact that the league is an attendance driven league, and the Canadian teams may have a harder time trying to survive if the Canadian dollar keeps falling as compared to the US dollar.

This has occurred in other leagues, the AFL and MISL, major indoor soccer league, which led to the leagues folding the year after.  With Jennings leaving and the NLL not showing an urgency of finding a replacement commissioner in an orderly fashion, it leads me to believe that the league is going to fold at the end of the 2009 season which is just sad when you think at how far the league has come.

Bandits/Rock Recap

I know this is late in coming, but I just finished watching the Bandits/Rock game from Saturday.  The Bandits did defeat the Rock 8-6 for the first time since 2006 in the Air Canada Center.  Which is a good thing because we face the Rock twice on the road. 

The major shining light was the play of Ken Montour and the Bandits defense.  Montour stepped up to the plate when it counted the most, stopping 38 of 44 Rock shots and keeping an offense that couldn’t seem to crack Bob Watson in the game.  The Bandits offense mustered 47 shots on Watson while only netting 8 of them.  Steenhuis scored three times while Tavares scored twice. 

Brandon Francis played a two-sided role in this game, he went 11-17 on faceoffs and had 5 loose balls, but also took two dumb penalties early in the fourth quarter which could have cost the Bandits the game.  Thankfully, the penalty kill of the Bandits was good, going 3-4 on the day. 

The next game for the Bandits is Friday night against a Knighthawk team that is still looking to find a groove after losing to the Wings at home on Saturday.  Expect Mike Thompson in net for that one as the Bandits will use a goalie rotation until it is necessary not to.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sabres can’t find beat in Motown

The Sabres dropped at least one point in Detroit on Saturday after the Red Wings scoring two quick goals within the last three minutes of the third period.  Ryan Miller tried to keep the listless Sabres in this game as well, but the Wings had gotten to him too much towards the end of the game.

Miller faced 48 shots total against the Wings, 23 of those coming in the third period.  This comes after a 44 shot, 1 goal performance against the Rangers on Friday.  He stole the game on Friday and just didn’t have enough to steal the game on Saturday. 

The team themselves looked really listless against a dangerous Wings team.  They could only muster one goal by Derek Roy and played bad defensive hockey.  They are on a long road trip of sorts.  They play three on the road against Central opponents, come home for a game against Carolina, and then have a Florida and West coast swing to finish up the long road trip.  It did show in the level of effort that this team played three games in four nights. 

Next game is Wednesday night in Chicago.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bandits vs. Rock


The Bandits head to Toronto tonight to face  their Canadian nemeses the Toronto Rock.  The Bandits have not beaten the Rock at the Air Canada Center since 2006.  The Rock play a very defensive style that always seems to stifle the Bandits. 

The Bandits have shown that they are in mid season form in their win over the Wings last Saturday night.  The Bandits defense came to play in that game, holding the Wings to five goals in the first three periods.   With Laverty gone and Kilgour out, the defense has stepped up and played a much tighter defense than the style they played last year.  Last year, the Bandits had a good defense but the offense could score at will.  This year, the defense should be able to help the offense out and keep the game close if they cannot score.  The Bandits first goal came 10 minutes into the first quarter, which was a tying goal thanks to the defense.

The Toronto Rock look to be a higher flying offense this season with their showing in the first Florida Cup.  The Rock defeated the Titans 15-14 with a last minute goal by Blaine Manning.  The Rock have added some heavy scorers with Jason Crosbie and Luke Wiles along with Manning and Lewis Ratcliff.  The Rock have always had a strong defense and great goaltending led by Bob Watson.  Watson has been playing for the Rock since the team’s inception in 1995.  In fact, Watson has only missed 2 games total. 

I would assume that Mike Thompson would be starting in net for the Bandits, but it would not surprise me to see Kilgour use a goaltender rotation between Thompson and Montour.  Watson will be in goal for the Rock.  Game time is 7 pm and will be on and 1400 AM.  All games will be broadcasted on the internet free of charge all season.   

Sabres vs. Red Wings

  The Sabres are heading into Detroit tonight to face the  always tough Red Wings.  This is the first of two games against Detroit this year thanks to flex scheduling.  The second matchup will be April 6th in Buffalo. 

The Sabres come off an interesting two point performance in which Ryan Miller kept the Sabres in the game all night.  Outshot 44-33 and outworked for the first two periods, the Sabres worked their way into a shootout win against the Rangers.  Ryan Miller was the star of the game and Derek Roy scored the game tying goal in the second period.  For the Rangers, Paul Mara, who didn’t have to deal with Kaleta, scored the Rangers only goal with 36 seconds left in the first period. Kotalik scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Sabres a much needed two points.  The Sabres currently sit in 7th place in the conference, tied with the Carolina Hurricanes and three points ahead of the Panthers. 

Meanwhile, the Red Wings are currently on a five game winning streak, including the 6-4 win against the Blackhawks outdoors.  Their last game was Thursday night 6-1 win against the Dallas Stars.  Six different Wings scored while Chris Osgood stopped 22 of 23 shots. 

The Wings have always been a tough opponent for the Sabres beating the Sabres in 7 of the last 10 matchups and 8 of the last 10 in Detroit.  The last matchup in Detroit was a shootout win in 2006.  Ty Conklin will be in net for the Red Wings as part of the goalie rotation that the Wings have been using.  For the Sabres, it would not surprise me to see Miller in net again in his hometown.  The Sabres do not play again until Wednesday and we will see Lalime at some point on this three game road trip. 

Game time is 7 pm at the Joe Louis Arena on MSG.

Blog Darkness Is Not Much Fun

My apologies for the lack of activity in the last week here.  The new year started and so did other things.  So now that the minor things are out of the way, I can focus on the more important things:  the winning streaks of the Sabres and the Bandits.

Since I left, the Sabres have started a new year winning streak with wins against the Maple Leafs, Bruins, Senators and Rangers.  The team has seemed to gel going into the halfway point of the season, with Ryan Miller stepping up his game and spearheading the Sabres winning streak.  Miller has been spectacular in the past four games, allowing seven goals on 135 shots in those contests.  The Sabres will most likely ride Miller through at least tonight against the Red Wings, which will be a homecoming game for Miller.  The last time that Miller played in Detroit was in October 2006, where he made 41 saves in a 3-2 shootout win. 

Another thing that is making the Sabres dangerous is the secondary scoring that has suddenly come along.  While Thomas Vanek has been on a scoring tear all season with 27 goals which is good for 3rd in the NHL.  But in the past four games, Vanek has only scored 2 of the Sabres 13 goals.  Roy, Pominville, and Ellis have stepped up their scoring in the current winning streak.  Ellis has 3 goals in this stretch, two of them coming against the Bruins, Roy has 4 goals while Pominville has 2 goals.  This scoring is going to need to continue if the Sabres are expecting to keep this winning streak going. 

Finally, the Sabres are starting to get healthy again.  Tim Connolly came back against the Rangers after missing 24 games with a broken rib.  As fragile as Connolly is, any amount of time in the lineup is a good thing.  When Connolly is playing, he is one of the best players on the ice.  Unfortunately, he can’t stay healthy for longer than 10 minutes.  So to have a healthy Connolly in the lineup is going to improve the Sabres for any amount of time that he is here.

Switching gears, the Bandits opened the 2009 season with a rousing home opening win against the Philadelphia Wings.  The 2009 Bandits roster looks extremely dangerous up and down the lineup.  Returning 18 players from last year’s championship winning team means that this team is going to be able to hit the ground running to start the season.  They showed this ability on Saturday night.  The Bandits scoring started slowly, the first goal was netted at the 10 minute mark in the first, but once they gained the lead they never let it go defeating the Wings 15-11.  Mark Steenhuis picked up from where he left off in the championship game, scoring 4 times while also having 4 assists.  The ageless wonder, John Tavares, scored 3 times and had a total of 5 points.  The main wonder in this game was how well the Bandits defense played.  Losing Kyle Laverty to the expansion draft and Rich Kilgour to an elbow injury may have caused some problems heading into the game.  But replacement captain Chris White and the rest of the defense stepped up to the plate and held the Wings defense to five goals through the first three quarters.  If the Bandits can play defense like that all season, this team is going to be even more dangerous than it was last season. 

This was game one though, and it was the home opener with the raising of the championship banner.  The true test of this team is going to be how they perform on the road.  The Bandits always seem to play at their best in front of the HSBC Arena.  The Bandits were 3-4 on the road last season while going 7-2 at the Bank.  They earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs and that could be a major reason as to why they won the Champions Cup last season.  The first major road test for the Bandits comes tonight against the Toronto Rock.  The Bandits have not won at the Air Canada Center since 2006.  Competing in a very dangerous Eastern Conference means that the Bandits need to get to a fast start.

We will have game previews for both games tonight coming later and more posts period coming. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 NLL Season Preview

I am not one for writing long poetic season previews, especially when it comes to the NLL, due to the fact that I cannot possibly know enough about every team to give them their due.  So in this case, I will have a key question that each team will have to answer to make their runs at the Champions Cup. 

Eastern Conference

Boston Blazers:  Can they overcome their expansion status to be competitive?   As usual in most leagues, the expansion league usually takes a few years to be truly competitive.  This may change for the Blazers.  The Blazers were the beneficiaries of first picks of two expansion drafts.  They were able to pick up Dan Dawson and Anthony Cosmo as well as a handful of players from the expansion draft.  They will be more competitive than the previous expansion teams, but I think that the Eastern Conference will be so competitive that they will experience some bumps along the road.

Buffalo Bandits:  Can they overcome the Champion Cup hangover to repeat?  The answer to this question should be yes, and I am not saying that because I am a Bandits fan.  The Bandits retained most of their roster from last season including the goaltender tandem of Mike Thompson and Ken Montour.  They have lost Brett Bucktooth for the season and most likely Pat McCready to injury.  Kyle Laverty went to the Blazers and then the Knighthawks during the expansion draft.  In return, the Bandits gained Sean Greenhalgh who returns from a knee injury last season.  This team should be as competitive as they were last year but with the Eastern Conference as tight as it is nothing can be certain.

New York Titans:  Can they handle the ever changing home locations?  This team is starting to turn into the MLL’s version of the Philadelphia Barrage.  The Titans play in three home stadiums, MSG, Prudential Center in Newark and they lose a home game due to the Florida Cup.  With all those changes, a team that competitive should be able to handle everything.  They showed the have enough firepower last year and the team has stayed essentially the same.  They also had the same issues last year with the changing of home dates.  Therefore, this team should be a playoff contender again.

Philadelphia Wings:  Can this team handle missing Athan Iannucci?  Athan Iannucci will be out for an undetermined amount of time.  If the Wings are going to be playoff contenders, they will have to find a way to score and a way to win without leading scorer Iannucci.  Iannucci will not score at the pace he did last season and that pace was what kept the Wings in the hunt last season.  That firepower has to be replaced and who steps up to replace it remains to be seen.

Rochester Knighthawks:  Can they overcome a tumultuous offseason to become a playoff team?  The Knighthawks offseason went something like this:  new owner, new GM, new coach, top scorer of team is out for season with knee injury, replaced by formerly retired Gary Gait, second leading scorer goes down with knee injury, first new coach resigns week before season starts, replaced by Paul Gait.  Can you keep up with that?  The Knighthawks are going to have a hard time keeping things together and trying to learn a new system with so little time.  The combination of the Gait brothers should help keep some cohesiveness in the locker room, but I think that if this team gets off to a slow start, they will be cooked. 

Toronto Rock:  Can this team be offensive enough to make a difference?  The Toronto Rock have always been known as a defensive first team.  The Rock have added offense in Jason Crosbie and Luke Wiles which just may be enough for this team to make the playoffs again.  With only two teams missing out on the playoffs this season, the Rock will most likely sneak in as the four seed with their defense carrying them the entire way.

Western Conference

Calgary Roughnecks:  Can the Roughnecks improve?  There really isn’t much to say about this team.  They didn’t make many major changes going into the offseason except for trading Steve Dietrich to the Edmonton Rush.  This team had just enough to make it to the Western Conference Finals last year, but the Western Conference was extremely weak.  With an improved Rush team and a Swarm team coming over from the East, the Roughnecks are probably going to be in for a long season.

Colorado Mammoth:  Can the Mammoth stay as the class of the West?  The Mammoth always seem to be the top dog in the Western Conference.  The question is, can they keep that status this year.  With all the changes in the Western Conference, the Western Conference may catch up to the Mammoth.  Colorado will make the playoffs, but they won’t do much while they are there.

Edmonton Rush:  With all the roster turnover, can this team gel and compete?  Bob Hamley has completely turned over this roster and made this Rush team his.  Now the question is, are the going to be able to work together and play well.  A massive roster turnover usually means that the team will take time to become a cohesive group.  It remains to be seen if this will happen to the Rush, but they will make life miserable for others in the Eastern Conference. 

Minnesota Swarm:  How will the Swarm react facing more Eastern Conference teams than their Western compadres?  When the Swarm agreed to move from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference, one thing followed them, their rivalries.  The Swarm will face the Eastern Conference six times this season, more than any other Western Conference team.  That unfair balance may hurt the Swarm, but the Swarm are a better team because of their affiliation with the Eastern Conference.

Portland Lumberjax:  How will this team rebound from the loss of Dan Dawson?  Dan Dawson carried the Lumberjax through the playoffs last season and carried them to within one goal of winning the championship last season.  They were a weak team without Dawson and they are going to have to be able to recover that leadership and the goal scoring if they are going to compete this year.

San Jose Stealth:  Can the Stealth recover from losing Anthony Cosmo?  Anthony Cosmo wanted out of San Jose so he could be closer to work and family.  The Stealth sent him to Chicago which then meant he went to Boston.  The Stealth will not have the goaltending to replace him and probably will have a very disappointing 2009 season.

Eastern Conference Predictions:

1.  Buffalo (12-4)

2.  New York (10-6)

3.  Philadelphia (9-7)

4.  Toronto (9-7)

5.  Rochester (8-8)

6.  Boston (7-9)

Western Conference Predictions:

1.  Minnesota Swarm (11-5)

2.  Colorado Mammoth (9-7)

3.  Edmonton Rush (8-8)

4.  Calgary Roughnecks (7-9)

5.  San Jose Stealth (7-9)

6.  Portland Lumberjax (4-12)

NLL Champion Cup Final:  Minnesota Swarm vs. Buffalo Bandits

NLL Champion:  Buffalo Bandits

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hey, there is other hockey on today as well

Besides sitting here watching what is turning out to  be a fairly entertaining Winter Classic, there is another hockey game on tonight.  The Sabres head to the Air Canada Center tonight to start the New Year off correctly against the Maple Leafs. 

The Sabres have had their fair share of looking relatively inspiring in 2008, starting the year losing their first seven games of the year and missing the playoffs.  They start the second half of the year looking very uninspiring and stuck in 9th place in the conference.  This team needs to find a spark and find it quick to be able to make the playoffs.  The month of January could help this team, but they have to be able to play well and consistently which is something that the Sabres haven’t shown they can do. 

Game time is 7pm.