…And so we meet again.  The Sabres look to avenge an embarrassing 6-2 loss from six days ago in which Ryan Miller was pulled.  Miller goes for his 200th NHL win tonight.  Check out pre-game for tonight’s match here at WGR550.com.  I am down in Orlando so it will be interesting to see which feed we get down here.  I predict a 95% chance of getting the Panthers home feed.  I’ll be sure to let y’all know.  Last time Buffalo played Florida a friend commented that Florida’s PA announcer sounded like Macho Man Randy Savage.  Tonight’s game is at HSBC so we won’t have to deal with that nonsense. 

Buffalo sits in 10th place in the East with 32 points.  Boston holds down the 8th spot with 38 points.  The Buffalo Bandits threw down with the Toronto Rock in a recent pre-season lacrosse game.

Voting is important!  Don’t forget to vote for the All-Star game at NHL.com.

Miller and Vokoun will be the netminders tonight.  I also think that Patrick Kaleta will return as he sat out the final two periods of the Anaheim game after being hit by Jason Blake.

New Jersey fired their coach today.  Their record is 9-22-2, tied for the worst record in the NHL.

Shaone Morrisonn has been cleared to return to play hockey.  Morrisonn is returning from a long absence due to concussion.  The Sabres are 14-16-4.  They have allowed 97 goals while scoring 89.

Tara Minogue gives a quality rendition of both the Canadian and American Anthems.  I love that Buffalo does both anthems. 

Period One:

It’s Deja-Vu all over again!  Ryan Miller is going for his 200th win tonight but it looks like he might have to wait until after Christmas to unwrap #200.  Patrick Kaleta takes a first shift run at Weaver, and misses, crashing into the boards.  No luck on finding the game on TV down here in Florida.  I guess my parents don’t have the Super+ Platinum cable package.  So I turn to one of several internet sitesd all good hockey fans know and love. 

Looks like Chris Butler is the odd D-Man out tonight as Mike Weber is paired with Captain Craig Rivet.  The Puck is in the Sabres net!  But wait was it a legal goal.  Chris Higgins sounds like a baseball pitcher name and he batted that one right past Ryan Miller.  The goal stands and Florida takes a 1-0 lead 1:07 into the game.  Ryan Miller does the Panthers a favor by clearing the puck out of play.  That is a rule that needs to be taken out of the game.  How did Mike Grier get that breakaway!?! Grier shoots 5-hole and is stopped by Tomas Vokoun.  Paul Gaustad is in the giving mood and takes a hooking penalty to put Florida on a 52 second 5 on 3 advantage.  Miller is all over the place making saves and looks a bit awkward doing it.  The team keeps the puck out of the net and kills the penalty.  Nice play by Pat kaleta lunging to clear the puck down the ice. 

Kulikov slams Derek Roy into the boards and Roy is hurt.  Roy limps to the bench favoring his right knee.  He leaves for the locker room and will not return for the period.  Rob Niedermayer drives hard to the net and is taken down by Stephen Weiss; putting the Sabres on the PP.  This power play is brought to you by Integrys Energy.  Where’s the Energy?!  Thomas Vanek gets tripped up while tipping a nice shot on net; no goal, no call.  Marty Reasoner may be from Western, NY(Honeoye Falls) but he’s no friend of the Buffalo fans tonight as he skates by the net and slew-foots Ryan Miller.  Paul Gaustad takes note and sets off a melee by attacking Reasoner.  Patrick Kaleta runs into the mess and comes out with a game misconduct and a double minor for roughing.  The Panthers get another early Christmas gift from Paul Gaustad in the form of a hooking penalty and another 5 v 3; this time for 1:23.  TIC-TAC-TOE-GOAL.  2-0 Panthers as Stephen Weiss slams the puck into a wide open net.

Florida brings the puck into the zone, shoots, the Sabres are scrambling.  Chris Higgins picks up a rebound and softly backhands it into the net for a 3-0 Panthers lead.  Four car pile-up around Tomas Vokoun as Rob Niedermayer drives again to net.  The net is dislodged and play is called. 

If Mike Grier is the last player I want to see on a breakaway then Thomas Vanek is just the opposite.  And I get my Christmas wish!  TV on a dead breakaway… and he does his best Mike Grier impression and shoots it right at the goalie.  Bah Humbug!  Period one ends with the Sabres down 3-0 and more importantly without Derek Roy.  

Florida leads 15-9 in shots after period one.

‘We have some rather disgruntled customers here at HSBC Arena’ – Rick Jeanneret

Period Two:    

The lines are screwed tonight due to Kaleta’s misconduct and Roy’s injury.  Here’s an honest attempt at tonight’s lines.

1) Ennis-Niedermayer-Vanek

2) Stafford-Hecht-Pommer

3) McCormick/Gaustad-Gerbe-Grier

Myers-Sekera,    Leopold-Montador,   Weber-Rivet

Tyler Myers with a blast that hits Panthers D-Man Bryan Allen in the ankle.  Allen is stung but toughs it out because he’s a hockey player.  Tyler-Two takes a tumble over Tomas Vokoun as he skates to net! 

Bad News: Derek Roy will not return.  He has a ‘lower body injury’.    

Tyler Ennis with some Afin-nifty-genov moves skates behind the net keeps posession and rips it through a pile of bodies.  The horn goes off, Ennis celebrates, the spot-light is on, the green light is on.  But the ref says NO! and play continues.  Paul Gaustad levels Dadonov at mid ice.  How do you get an insurence goal when you’re down 3-0?  Jpordan Leopold says, This is how!  Leopold snaps the puck 5-hole off a nice posession by Hecht then a heads up cross-ice pass from Pominville.  No other Sabres defender gets to the open space like Jordan Leopold.  3-1 in favor of Florida 5:44 into period two.  Tyler Ennis’ earlier goal was deemed not to have entered the net.  Either way the Sabres get the goose-egg off the board.

Apparently Patrick Kaleta did NOT get a GAME-Misconduct but simply a 10-minute misconduct.  He is back and the lines are in even more disarray.  Eleven forwards makes for some wild combos.  There’s one moment where Nathan Gerbe skates out late to take the left wing position.  I remember those moments being the last guy off the bench to go out on the rink; everyone’s screaming, ‘We need another guy!’  This is life with 11 forwards.

Good puck controlling shift by the Niedermayer-Vanek-Ennis line helps Buffalo to the power play courtesy of Frolik hauling down Tyler Ennis.  Tyler Myers does his best Brian Campbell imitation toting the puck up the rink and then dishing off to Jason who increases the POPULATION OF POMINVILLE!!! with a wrister 5-hole.  3-2 game.  Sabres trail by one!

Jochen Hecht with a shot followed up by Gerbe. Ohhhhh!!! How did Gerbe just not score?!?  Tyler Myers with a great Brian Campbell spin move at his own blue line.  Myers spots Jordan leopold charging thru center ice and hits his fellow D-Man with an in-stride pass.  Leopold turns on the burners and splite the Florida D en route to the net.  Leopold wrists a rocket low glove side to tie teh game at 3 goals a piece!  Unlike Mike Grier and Thomas Vanek, Jordan leopold knows what to do with a breakaway this evening.  The goal is Leopold’s 9th on the season.

Bill McCreary was just announced as reffing in his 1,700th game.  Rick jeanneret, Harry Neale, and Rob ray share some comments.  RJ – “boy is he a fun guy to have a beer with”,  Harry Neale – “A player once told him, ‘If you had another eye, you’d be a cyclops.’  I wanted to give him 10 for unsportsmanlike but I couldn’t because I was laughing so hard.”  Rob Ray (paraphrased)- “He let the players play and you’ll never meet a nicer guy”.  Listening to all this made me think how cool it would be to be sitting at a bar with those three; RJ, Ray, and McCreary.  Between those three the stories would be legendary and endless.

Former Sabre Steve Bernier with a long shot; Glove Save Miller.  David ‘John Wilkes’ Booth rips a dangerous wrister from the slot and Miller gets a pad on it.  Kaleta takes a run at Stephen Weiss and misses.  Dennis Wideman takes a crosschecking penalty on Paul Gaustad and the Sabres will end the 2nd period on the man advantage.  The period ends 3-3.  The Sabres outshot Florida 20-2 in the second period. 

Period Three:

The power-play carry over yields no bounty and there’s 19 minutes to decide this.  Miller seemingly out of position gets a toe back to the center to save his team from destruction.  Kulikov’s name has been called a bunch of times and Bill McCreary is calling his name yet again; this time for a Hi-Sticking penalty.  The Roy-less power-play keeps posession but does no real damage as Florida clears and kills it off.  Jochen Hecht doing all he can, drives the net and slides it out front to Tyler Two on a bad angle.  The tiny Tyler tries to no avail and misses the poor angle open net.  Power play over, Steve Montador lets go a point blast that is saved by Vokoun and deflected out of play for a face-off.

Cody McCormick tries to play defense and lugs the puck up the rink.  I guess we know why McC plays Wing beceuse he’s disposessed at his own blue line and the Panthers get a decent chance on net.  Monty Rips, Ennis Tips!  Wide of the net!  The action has opened up here a bit.  The Sabres are playing too loosey goosey in their own zone and the Panthers are getting prolonged offensive posessions.  A sloppy weak pass by Butler is symptomatic of this disease. 

Drew Stafford has his own plans; beats the D-Man around the left wing and bears down  on net with a wrister; Save Vokoun!  The puck dribbles out in the slot as everyone hits the breaks to double back.  No Sabre can get a solid stick on it as the danger ends.  Tyler Myers lets go a blast’ Save Vokoun!  

Two thoughts: 1) Patrick Kaleta doesn’t GO to the bench, he is ESCORTED to the bench. 

 2) Mike Grier might make a good NHL defenseman.  He hits like thunder, he’s 227 lbs, and he sucks at scoring goals.  He might be able to prolong his NHL career by a few years by switching.  Hey,  just a thought.

Cody McCormick with a chance in front and it looks like Cody is sick of NOT fighting.  He’s got a hand in the face of every guy within arms reach.  The ref’s mic is caught by the TV cameras and everyone at home hears, ‘OK, Everybody Let Go!!!’.  McC did not let go and he & Bryan Allen each get 2 for roughing.  We will skate 4 a side for 2 minutes.  McCormick’s helmet is broken and gets a quick repair on the bench.  5 and a half minutes to go.

Disaster!  Tyler Myers in the offensive zone falls or is tripped, depending on your perspective, and the Panthers go 2 on 1 down the rink.  Jason Garrison scores his 2nd of the year to put the Panthers up 4-3 with 5:07 remaining.  Florida immediately goes into a shell and starts the cycle in their own zone.  Time is ticking.   Why is the 4th line out on the rink?  Is Mike Grier going to tie the game up?  Nope, but he will draw a penalty as the Sabres go on the Power Play as Brian McCabe is called for a Cross-check with 1:26 to play. 

Jason Pominville showing a little more confidence has two one-timer chances; both blocked or saved.  Thirty seconds left and the puck trickles out to red hot Drew Stafford.  The fire’s out as Vokoun swallows up Stafford’s wrister from the slot.  That was it, that was our shot.  Game Over.  Sabres lose 4-3.

‘…I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul’ – Billy Madison

What I liked:

1) The Sabres (Paul Gaustad) defended Ryan Miller when Marty Reasoner slew-footed the goaltender.  We can’t have Miller getting injured.  There needs to be a violent reaction if he is touched.

2) The Sabres were driving to the net.  Particularly Jochen Hecht and Rob Niedermayer.

3) Rob Niedermayer played his best game of the season.  Driving to the net and doling out some big checks.  As Bulldog said, ‘He looked fast, and not just by some sorry old-man standard.  He looked like a real NHL forward’

4) Jordan Leopold – Wow!  This guy gets it.  He knows how to get to the open spot in the offensive zone.  We’ve got a real offensive threat here.  Watching the chemistry between him & Tyler Myers on the 2nd goal was pure beauty.

What I didn’t like:

1) Paul Gaustad – WTF Dude?! I know it’s tough playing the PK, but you can’t take penalties that put your team down 5 on 3. 

2) Derek Roy is lost for who knows how long.  Damn it!  You don’t appreciate what you had until it’s gone.

3) The big guns (Stafford & Vanek) couldn’t get it done.  Vanek on the breakaway, Stafford on the slot shot.  Same old story, top lines failing to score.

Stolen from ESPN i’m gonna hand out a “C’mon Man” Award:

C’Mon Man! – Paul Gaustad for his not one, but Two hooking calls, both of which put the team down 2 men.