A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece that I should have known was going to come back and bite me in the butt. It was entitled, “The Buffalo Sabres: No Respect!”, and it was about what I feel is a lack of respect shown by sports writers when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres. At the time, the Sabres were 2-0, and even though the season had barely started I found it insulting that some writers could rank the Sabres below teams that they had either beat, or whose records were inferior to their own (including teams that were still winless). Since I wrote that piece, the Sabres have gone 1-5-1. Thanks for backing me up, fellas. I’d say I’ll do my best to keep my personal feelings removed from the grades I’m about to give you, but I’m not in the habit of making false promises. This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me.
Offense: Against Boston: A Against everyone else: F
It’s becoming more and more clear that games like the one the Sabres gave us Thursday night in Boston are going to be few and far between. For starters, the Sabres apparently can only score more than three goals a game on days when Thomas Vanek is going for 5+ points. Two of Buffalo’s three wins required exactly that sort of effort from Vanek, which means the Sabres easily could – and probably should – be 1-7-1 right now. The Sabres just don’t have enough players who can create offense right now, as shown by their one shot first period against the Montreal Canadiens and their weak twenty shot effort Sunday against the Florida Panthers. Yesterday, I wrote that I expected big efforts from the likes of Thomas Vanek (1 goal, 1 assist, but only 1 shot on goal), Drew Stafford ( 1 shot on goal) and Steve Ott (1 shot on goal). I’d say each of those guys let me down, because managing one shot on goal over 60 minutes is never going to produce results. Even worse than Buffalo’s inability to create quality scoring chances? The fact that, when Buffalo gets them, they have next to no one who can finish them off. Case in point: That was just one of two point-blank shots that Tyler Ennis failed to capitalize on, and he wasn’t alone in that respect. Buffalo doesn’t want to go out and pick up a Five-Star player? Then we can expect many, many, many more offensive disappointments this season.
Four goals allowed to Toronto, including the game-winner with two seconds left in overtime. Four goals allowed to Boston, in a game the Sabres won only because their offense over-achieved. Six goals to Montreal, including four in a second period that took them right out of the game for good. Four goals to the Florida Panthers, a team that had only scored 16 goals in seven games before playing the Sabres. Yep, I’d say the defense of the Buffalo Sabres could use some improvement, don’t you? Their problems have been documented many times before, and contrary to what Lindy Ruff believes, it’s not just as simple as “being within half a stick length” away from the puck. Being out of position, being lazy, being flat-footed, and making terrible decisions have nothing to do with whether or not the Buffalo defensemen get their sticks on the puck. I’m not here to guess as to why the defense is playing terrible; I’m just here to point out they are, and need to turn it around.
Yeah, I’m cheating a little bit here. The problem is, this week was all over the place. Miller had a poor showing against Toronto last Tuesday, and his numbers didn’t improve as the week wore on, but at this point it’s nearly impossible to assess his job as a goalie because the defense is making his job damn near impossible. Do I praise him for keeping Buffalo in the game during the first period against Montreal, and then damn him for giving up four goals in the second? How much of yesterday’s meltdown is Ryan Miller’s fault? I cannot honestly answer those questions, so I’m sitting this one out for one week.
I’m not a fan of throwing a coach, or an entire staff of coaches, under the bus. When push comes to shove, it’s the players who determine the outcome of a game. Because of this belief, I have a very hard time calling for coaches to be fired – I’m just not going to do that. Still, there are things the coaches are directly responsible for – like playing John Scott when what you clearly need are scorers on the ice, or failing to bench some players whose heads don’t seem to be in the game right now, or calling a timeout with only 13 seconds left in a game that you are winning, 7-4. (Sorry – I don’t believe in giving your divisional opponents one more reason to want to stomp your butt the next time around.) Right now, whatever is happening in Buffalo is broken. Lindy Ruff and his crew need to fix it, period.
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