Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Miller's malaise, blossoming Big Buff and Lightning outage
By Scott Burnside and Craig Custance
Burnside: Well, my friend, it looked like a terrific, often-emotional night at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Toronto. Also some pretty decent emotion on the ice in Montreal on Monday night as the beleaguered Buffalo Sabres were still frothing at the mouth at the Milan Lucic steamrolling of Sabres netminder Ryan Miller on Saturday. Miller is out with a concussion, the and Lord of Discipline, Brendan Shanahan, decided not to suspend Lucic, who was assessed a charging penalty during the game.
Shanahan also rebuked the Sabres for their complaints about the play. To top it all off, they fell behind Montreal 2-0 and then in overtime saw Erik Cole clip Jhonas Enroth when he was standing in his crease. Cole was whistled for a penalty, and the Sabres went on to win in a shootout. So you wonder if maybe the Lucic/Miller incident had some sort of galvanizing effect on the Sabres, whose response to the collision was tepid to say the least.
Custance: It indeed was another great Hall of Fame induction last night, and the Lucic hit on Ryan Miller was a widely discussed incident on the red carpet before the inductions. I'm sure you saw the comments from Shanahan, who had very terse words for the criticism coming from Buffalo regarding his decision not to suspend Lucic. There was fire in his eyes, and after he answered a couple of questions, he was asked if he had any message he wanted to send following that hit: "I think I just said [it]," Shanahan answered. And you're right, maybe Shanahan's decision can create a bit of an us-against-the-world atmosphere for a couple of games with the Sabres.
You mentioned the tepid response, and Tyler Myers paid the price with the trip to the press box during Monday night's game. There were some interesting contracts signed over the summer in Buffalo, but I thought Myers' deal was one of the safer ones. He signed a seven-year contract worth $38.5 million, and I thought the Sabres did well to lock up one of the league's best young defensemen. He hasn't lived up to that contract yet this season. The Sabres have to prove they aren't a soft team, and this incident could be the one that lights that fire.
Burnside: No one feels sorry for guys who are raking in the big bucks, especially Myers, who will wake up July 1 to find a check for $10 million on his bedside table as a signing bonus. But those contracts
can take a toll mentally. I wonder if that’s the issue for Myers, who started slowly last year after winning the Calder Trophy the previous June but turned in a much more balanced performance over the last half
of the season. Likewise, you wonder if Ville Leino’s big six-year contract that pays him $4.5 million annually is a burden. Leino has just two goals and two assists in 17 games. That’s not going to cut it. But beyond the production, I keep looking for the team’s real leaders to step forward. Ryan Miller is one, obviously, but he’s hurt and hasn’t played particularly well. Is Thomas Vanek the guy? Not sure on that one. For me, I think Derek Roy, who scored a big goal Monday, is someone who has the game to become the dressing room guy they’ve been missing since Daniel Briere, Chris Drury et al departed Buffalo.
Speaking of goaltending, another pretty grisly performance from Dwayne Roloson and the Lightning as they were waxed 5-2 by the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg on Monday. Big 30-minute players’ meeting after. Too bad they didn’t meet before coming out so flat against a pretty ordinary team.
Custance: Dustin Byfuglien has been ordinary too often this season, but give him credit for his performance against the Lightning. Claude Noel called Byfuglien's game the best so far this season for Winnipeg's big defenseman. I remember speaking with someone this summer who wondered how Big Buff would respond to the added attention he was about to receive in Winnipeg, and this was before the boating incident. On some level, Atlanta was an ideal environment for Byfuglien, who isn't one to seek a lot of attention off the ice. In Winnipeg, he has no choice. With the Thrashers, he also had the unconditional support of Rick Dudley, who has known and admired Byfuglien for a long time. Dudley had a lot of confidence in Byfuglien, and he responded in that atmosphere. Last November, Byfuglien had his best month of the season, registering 17 points in 14 games. He was also a plus-9 during his breakout month. This year, he has raised his game again in November with seven points in seven games. If the Jets are going to be anything but ordinary this season, he needs to continue playing the way he did last night.
Burnside: Well, it’s interesting to note that with Monday’s win the Jets are actually only three points and two wins behind Tampa, which owns the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Hmm. Stranger things
have happened, no? The Lightning have been terrible on the road this year (3-6-2) and can’t seem to get themselves going away from the warmer climes of the Channelside area in Tampa. The thing that impressed me so much about Guy Boucher and the Lightning last spring was that they were pretty much the same team at home and away. Look at their ability to win big games on the road, including Game 7 in the first round in Pittsburgh and taking the first two games of the second round in Washington, where the Caps are a very tough opponent. This year, they seem tentative. On Monday night, they had ample opportunity to get back in the game on the power play, but normally sure-handed guys like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier couldn’t bury glorious chances. You know this must be driving Boucher and GM Steve Yzerman more than a little crazy.
Custance: Not to mention Tampa's struggles on defense. The Lightning are allowing 3.12 goals per game this season, which puts them at No. 24 in the NHL. Steven Stamkos has certainly been a bright spot, though. He had another two points on Monday and has five goals in six games this month. If you're looking for consistency at home and on the road, he's providing it. He has eight points in six games at home and 10 points in 11 games on the road. Tampa has played a road-heavy schedule to start the season, and only the Jets have played more games on the road so far in the Eastern Conference. The good news for the Lightning is they get a chance to right the ship here shortly. Four of the next five games are at home, where they've lost only once. It's an important stretch of games for the Lightning. Well, Scotty, time to head to the Toronto airport and the general managers meeting. As always, it's been fun.