The Buffalo Sabres are a little more than a quarter of the way through the 2011-12 regular season, and to call them inconsistent wouldn’t be doing it justice. Maddening? Yeah, that’s more like it. Putting things in perspective, the Sabres sit seventh in the Eastern Conference at the time of this writing, and while they’re only five points back of first place Pittsburgh, they are only five points up on 13th place Winnipeg.
The team is one bad weekend away from being pushed down the basement stairs.
24 games in, I’d like to hand out the first marking period grades (from an A to an F…and, yes, there is an F) for our Buffalo Sabres. Absenteeism has run rampant, and tardiness, at times, was at epidemic levels. To say that all 29 (!) players to have donned the blue and gold this season have been a pleasure to have in class would be flat out bull. There have been, however, a few honor roll students.
And there have been many I’d love to send to the principal’s office, or expel altogether.
So let’s call to the front of the class:
Thomas Vanek…A…The Austrian goal machine has been in the top 5 in league scoring most of the season (12-15-27 in 24 games, with a plus 5 rating), and has found another gear to his well-rounded game with often relentless back-checking and penalty killing.
Jhonas Enroth…A…Has outplayed starter Ryan Miller and, up until mid November, hadn’t lost a game in regulation during the calendar year of 2011. By my count, has had two rough games this season while playing spectacularly the rest of the time. May be the one to force a trade of Miller sooner or later.
Jason Pominville…A minus…El Capitan is too often cliche-ridden with his locker room comments, but his point-per-game output is anything but ordinary.
Luke Adam…B…If it wasn’t for the Edmonton Oilers‘ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (ready to get absolutely sick of hearing that name?), Adam, who started the year on the Sabres’ top line, would almost definitely be considered for rookie-of-the-year should the season end today. Despite piling up 8 goals and 16 points in the first 24 games, Adam has no shot against RNH.
Jordan Leopold…B…Leo has been one of better all-around Sabres rearguards. With 5 goals and 9 points, and a plus 5 rating, Leopold has been more than solid in being honored with a spot on the merit roll.
Christian Ehrhoff…B minus…The Hoff is on pace for around 45 points and while he is prone to a “Zhitnik” in the defensive zone from time to time, he is also adept at breaking up a scoring chance with his good stick-work. Needs to start getting his laser through to the goal more often.
Derek Roy…B minus…Roy9er began the year hobbled with various ailments, yet played through them. It showed. Since he has been healthy, he is on about a point-per-game pace. Like him or not (and there are many of you in the latter category), the Sabres need him, and he is good bang for your buck at $4 million/year.
Marc-Andre Gragnani…B minus…Grags was a revelation during last year’s playoffs, scoring seven points in as many games. He earned a shot at full time duty this season and, for the most part, has not disappointed. The slick puck-mover is a staple on the Sabres power-play and while his errors are increasing with each passing game, leads the team with a plus 7 rating. Could be much more physical.
Robyn Regehr…B minus…Regehr has come as advertised, with an often nasty physical game and solid defensive zone presence. Needs to clean up his minus 5 rating, but leads the team with 63 hits and 34 blocked shots.
Andrej Sekera…B minus…Reggie skates like a Ferrari, hits like a cupcake and his passing is either Paul Coffey, or just plain appalling. With the skill set that Sekera possesses, shouldn’t he be putting up more than 1 goal and 5 points? Has kept his plus/minus (plus 5) out of the gutter, however, and that counts for something.
Nathan Gerbe…B minus…If Gerbe had Theo Fleury‘s hockey sense, he’d be, well, Theo Fleury. If heart and desire were measured in inches, the 5’5″, NHL-version of Ricochet Rabbit would stand a foot taller. Gerbe has entered the second quarter of the NHL season on pace for a solid 40+ points, but has only scored 3 times in 24 games. C’mon, Nate, where are the goals?
Paul Gaustad…C plus…Goose will never be known as the second coming of Chris Gratton (thank the Lord), but with face-off skills that ridiculous, shouldn’t that hand/eye coordination translate into some GOALS EVERY NOW AND THEN?!? One goal in 24 games is not good enough, sir. He does play hard and stood up to Milan Goon-cic, but light the lamp once in a while!
Brad Boyes…C…Before his ankle injury against those Beantown Brats, was on pace for only 30+ points and, more importantly, 7 goals. However, Boyes has played well in creating scoring chances, especially for someone who’s had about 14 different linemates this season.
Ryan Miller…C…This has been a tumultuous year thus far for the Sabres’ starting goaltender. He started the season off in great fashion going 4-1, with a shutout, in his first 5 starts; ran into some shoddy all-around team play (including the man himself who let in some Charmin-esq goals); was booed off the ice on a couple of occasions; then gets drilled by the aforementioned Lucic, resulting in a concussion and whiplash for Miller. With a record of 5-6, Miller must rebound for the Sabres to even consider a sniff of anything past round one of the playoffs.
Matt Ellis…C…Honest, hard-working and relentless. Just not that talented. Ellis is the quintessential 13th forward. Shows up when called upon, can play any forward position, and is outworked by no one. Four points in 17 games, while keeping his plus/minus dead even. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Cody McCormick…C…Cody is as Cody does. He’s a banger and occasional scrapper who’s contribution isn’t measured in goals and assists, of which he only has two of this year. I’d like to see Cody throw a few more, and get that minus three rating to at least even.
Patrick Kaleta…C…See above, only substitute the two assists with two goals. I had high hopes coming into this season for Kaleta, who has shown on occasion that he does possess some limited hockey skills. Again, not happy with the minus three rating and, for cripes sakes, can he ever stay healthy?
Drew Stafford…D…No, the “D” doesn’t stand for “Drewwwwwww”. It might as well stand for Dumfounded. How can a guy with his sheer physical strength, sick puck skills and flat-out rockets for skates not be a dominant power forward in this league? Four goals, and a minus five, in 23 games isn’t what we had in mind after last season. Here’s a clue, Drew: Finish all of your checks (and I mean all of them), get involved, and drive to the net. Or risk becoming the second coming of Michal Grosek. (I just threw up in my mouth).
Tyler Myers…D…A disastrous first 17 games saw the future Norris Trophy candidate (yep, I’m still sticking to it) look all at once lost, confused, indecisive, and timid. With an official NHL count of 15 giveaways, it would seem that someone isn’t counting correctly, as Myers defensive zone coverage was, kindly, a train wreck. Was a healthy scratch for the first time ever in Montreal, and responded with two outstanding, even dominant, games before breaking his wrist. See you in a month.
Ville Leino…F…Ville, Oh, Ville. Where do I begin? Never in a million years did I think I would be “rewarding” your “efforts” with an “F”. I see your lifeless play, your lack of strength on the puck, your inability to remain on your feet, or score into a net so wide open, it would have been like hitting the ocean from the beach. Score against the New York Islanders last Tuesday, and fans in this city forget some of the uninspired play you’ve forced upon us this year. Good hockey players do not turn into bad hockey players overnight. I can see that it’s in there, somewhere. I am not ready to rule you a bust 24 games into your six-year contract with Buffalo. However, with two goals, six points and a minus five rating, it has become decidedly embarrassing when mentioning your name at the water cooler. Especially when I know Philadelphia Flyers fans are snickering at your bad play in a Sabres sweater. And Flyers fans are the worst kind. Help us help you to not become the next Slava Kozlov, and let’s get that grade to at least a “C plus” by season’s end…
Then you can really show us what you do in the playoffs.
Incomplete grades go to:
Mike Weber (3 games), Tyler Ennis (7 games), Corey Tropp (10 games…returned to Rochester) and Jochen Hecht (4 games).
Rookies with limited experience were omitted, though a few of them (Brayden McNabb, Zach Kassian and TJ Brennan) acquitted themselves well in their time in Buffalo.
Overall team grade…B minus.
Much room for improvement.
Plusses: Penalty Kill in top five. Power play ranked ninth. Vanek and Pominville ranked fourth and ninth in league scoring respectively.
Minuses: Need to tighten up measurably in own zone, while capitalizing on scoring chances in opposition’s end. Many players are underachieving to this point, including some of the Sabres’ supposed leaders. Taking too many periods off, while being thoroughly outworked and out-hustled.
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Topics: Andrej Sekera, Brad Boyes, Brayden Mcnabb, Buffalo Sabres Grades, Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Mccormick, Corey Tropp, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, Jhonas Enroth, Jochen Hecht, Jordan Leopold, Luke Adam, Marc-andre Gragnani, Mike Weber, Nathan Gerbe, Patrick Kaleta, Paul Gaustad, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Tj Brennan, Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino, Zach Kassian