In another life, I was a teacher.
Okay: technically, I am still am one, just not when I write for Sabre Noise. I try to leave that job behind me when it comes time for hockey. Still, just as in the teaching profession, there comes a time when a hockey writer needs to sit down and assess the team he writes about.
Say, every week or so.
Not coincidentally, we’ve had a full week of hockey played in the NHL, so now is he perfect time to examine the Buffalo Sabres and hand them their first report card of the season. I don’t like to make things any more complicated than they have to be, so my report cards will focus on just four areas: offense, defense, goaltending, and coaching. Having said that, let’s do this! (Note: when I give a split grade, the first one is the one I am leaning toward the most. Just so you know!)
I was browsing the Sabres website today, and read a fun fact: Thomas Vanek has been on the ice for all eleven of the Sabres’ goals this season, and he has earned a point on nine of those goals. His line, which by now we all know includes Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson, has scored nine of those eleven goals, which has prompted the writers over at NHL.com to award these guys the label of “Best Line in the Eastern Conference.” If we were just discussing these three gentlemen, then, the report card would show a grade of A+, obviously. However, the Sabres employ more than one offensive line-up, and sadly, the offense dies once the Best Line in the Eastern Conference heads to the bench. Steve Ott is the only other offensive player to notch a goal; overall, the Buffalo Sabres rank 16th in the NHL in total goals scored, which is way too low for a team that skates two guys of the top four guys in the NHL when it comes to total points scored and assists in Vanek and Pominville. Any one else want to help these guys (and CoHo) out? Please? Any one?
I can already hear some people crying foul, claiming that I am being too harsh here. After all, Buffalo has only given up twelve goals in four games, and two of those were empty netters in their two losses to the Carolina Hurricanes. Currently, Buffalo is 16th in the NHL when it comes to Goals Against, but without those two freebies, they would be more competitive, around 11th-12th. Still not elite, but better. However, those of you who have watched the Sabres know that, without Ryan Miller, twelve goals against could easily be more like twenty goals against. How about that 3-0 rush against Miller Friday night? Why was there no one in position to clear the puck that bounced in front of Miller against the Toronto Maple Leafs, resulting in the Leafs’ only goal of the night? Why has the PK unit given up four power play goals already, killing off only 80% of the penalties they have faced? And what is going on with Tyler Myers? Friday night’s home game against Carolina was a good sign, but I need to see more efforts like that from a team that is known for its defensive prowess.
If there were any Buffalo Sabres fans calling for Jhonas Enroth to take over the number one goalie position over Ryan Miller, the numbers speak for themselves: Miller has a record of 2-1, having allowed only five goals in three games for a GAA of 1.67 and a save percentage of .952. Enroth’s numbers? 0-1, five goals allowed, 5.00 GAA, .865 save percentage. Okay: I realize there were not many, if any, people calling for Enroth to start over Miller. I do know, however, that many people openly wondered how Miller would play this year. I think I speak for all Sabres fans when I say that Miller has regained the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy in 2010. If he keeps playing at such an elite level, the Sabres will be competitive every night, even if their offensive woes continue.
This is the most difficult area for me to assess. Coaching, to me, is a lose-lose proposition: when your team wins, it’s the players who earn the glory, but when your team loses, it’s the coach who shoulders the blame. Doesn’t seem fair. Neither does my grade, then, but hear me out: so far, Lindy Ruff and his coaching staff can really only take credit for one thing: the fact that they concocted the line of Vanek-Pominville-Hodgson. Pure brilliance. Yet, why did their brilliance stop there? Can’t they create a second line that is a viable scoring threat night in and night out? Maybe playing Grigorenko a bit more? Moving Hodgson to a second line, since his biggest strength right now is being in the right place at the right time? See – I’m not a coach, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, I hold the coaching staff accountable for allowing the Sabres to be the second-most penalized team in the NHL after one week of play (32 penalties committed, second only to Philadelphia). Discipline needs to be preached, and that comes from the coaches.
An article like this is just begging for some debate, so leave your comments below, or follow me @theaveragedick and Tweet away!