In case you didn’t notice it on the Sabre Noise home page, there’s a great article in USA Today about how Thomas Vanek kind of re-discovered his love of hockey during the lockout. Check it out, and appreciate his time in Buffalo, however long that may last.
Now: onto this week’s Sabres storylines.
There’s no doubt right now that when Vanek, Pominville and Hodgson skate together, they are one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL. These three guys are ranked 1st, 6th, and 27th in the league in scoring as of today, have combined to score 18 goals and tally 23 assists, and account for 67% of the goals scored by the Buffalo Sabres this season. That’s amazing, and I’m sure that all Buffalo fans are glad they are playing for the boys in blue and gold. There’s your good news. Now for a scary thought: even with all of the offense those three guys are creating, the Sabres stand at 3-5-1, last in their division. Imagine what will happen if this line experiences a power outage like the one that brought the Super Bowl to a halt last Sunday in the New Orleans Superdome. You hate to have to rely on only one line to win games for you, and I would hope that no one in the locker room is actually doing that . . . but the reality is, the Buffalo Sabres will not win any games the way are playing right now unless Vanek’s line comes up big every single night. I currently don’t have any faith in the ability of the other lines to score enough to win, so all I can do is hope and pray the best line in the East continues to tear it up this week.
2. Can the Sabres get it together on defense?
One of the casualties of a 48-game season is practice. There’s just not enough time to run practices the way a team likes, and needs, to when you’re playing seven games in eleven days . (Buffalo will have played Boston twice, Montreal twice, the Panthers once, the Senators once, and the Islanders once between January 31st and February 10th. That is INSANE.) Clearly, when a team is not practicing, its overall game suffers . . .but more than anything, it is a team’s defense that suffers the most from a lack of practice. Playing smart, solid team defense takes practice and chemistry – knowing where to be, knowing where your teammates are going to be, communicating with your teammates, etc. The less a team practices, the more defensive breakdowns will occur, guaranteed, and right now the Buffalo Sabres are an absolute mess in their zone. Sports pundits pegged the Sabres’ hopes of making the playoffs on their defense; can it start to gel in time to save the season before it’s too late?
3. Will the Sabres organization make a move in time to salvage this season?
I have been advocating for the Buffalo Sabres to go out and get a true number one center for two weeks now . . . but that’s not the move I am referring to today. Lately, I’m wondering if the organization is going to shake up its coaching staff. I’m not calling for anyone’s heads, mind you; I already promised I would never do that, because I’m not in a position to know everything that goes on before and after a game. Still, you can’t help but wonder if the Sabres can continue to be satisfied with its current state of irrelevance. No one outside of Buffalo, and probably very few people living in Buffalo, consider the Buffalo Sabres to be a legitimate threat to win Lord Stanley’s Cup right now. This was a point Billy Bryson made over at the Causeway Crowd blog, and as much as I want to argue with him, I can’t (over this much, at least!). In the world of NHL hockey, the Sabres just don’t matter right now, and I find it hard to believe this fact sits well with the Sabres organization. If the Sabres are unwilling to drop some dimes to secure a truly elite player to help Vanek and company compete for the cup, are they at least considering making changes behind the bench in order to get more out of the players they have? It’s definitely something I’ll be watching for, especially if the Sabres continue to struggle this week.
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