At the beginning of the season, and at least one time since then, I referred to the 1994-1995 NHL season, which is the last time the season was shortened to 48-games. For those of you who know your history, the Stanley Cup was won that year by the New Jersey Devils, a team that started out slow and quietly made its way into the playoffs before taking everyone by surprise and bringing home the hardware. I used that season’s Devils as a cautionary tale, since they did not have a .500 record until they had played a full month (15 games). My point: Buffalo Sabres fans should refrain from panicking if their team didn’t come out with some huge winning streak.
Now that the Sabres have played three full weeks, and 13 games, we’re at that time of the year where my “Practice patience” mantra is ready to mutate into “Run for the hills!” The Sabres are 5-7-1, last in their division and twelfth in the Eastern Conference. Their defense is a shambles, their offense lives and dies with Thomas Vanek, and the organization seems to be of the opinion that no major changes are required. Unless this team starts to display some character, you may assume the panicky position.
So, with the theme of character in mind, here are my grades for week three.
Offense: Dr. Jekyll and My Hyde
Props must be given to the Buffalo offense that fought hard against Ottawa (L) and Montreal (W). That team had energy, grit, and a never-say-die outlook that put pressure on the opposing goalies and gave fans of the franchise a reason to believe the offensive woes were going to be a thing of the past. Then the evil twin of the Sabres offense showed up over the weekend. The results were the same (a win and a loss) but the outlook on the Sabres has dimmed. It would appear as if the Sabres are going to be an up-and-down offense all season, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that streaky teams occasionally hit the jackpot, but mostly send people to the unemployment line. I’d love the team to get hot and rip off 7-8 straight, but more than anything, I would like to be able to turn on a game without worrying that the bad offense might rear its ugly head. Consistency, please.
Defense: The Invisible Man
Defense, you say? Has anyone seen it so far this season? I’ve seen people listed as defensemen try to get fancy in the offensive zone, rendering them useless when it’s time to fall back and defend their end of the ice. I’ve seen a Calder Trophy winner take a lazy whack at the puck, and then stop and fix his helmet while the other team scores an easy goal. Seriously:
That might be may favorite video for the year, if only because I don’t actually believe it happened. Someone digitally altered that video – they had to. Anyway, that video didn’t come from this week, but this one did:
Ryan Miller got left out to dry so many times this week, he’s probably caught pneumonia. It’s a disappearing act: if you saw defense this week, you have better eyes than I do.
Goaltending: Batman and Robin
Not very mature, perhaps, but 100% accurate. When Miller was in goal last week, the Sabres had a chance to win every single night. He was the master, a goalie who is clearly on top of his game. If he continues to play like that, he’ll have opposing players questioning how they can score on him before they even come out on the ice, which means he’ll be in their heads, right where he wants to be. Jhonas Enroth: clearly still not ready to assume the role of a number one goalie. He settled down against Ottawa, but was too shaky early and helped the Sabres dig a hole so deep they just couldn’t get out of it. Sorry, Jhonas: no one is afraid of Robin, and no one is afraid to face you right now. I’d love to upgrade you to Nightwing, but that’s gotta come from you, buddy.
Coaching: Milton Waddams (Office Space)
If you have seen Office Space, you know Milton: the quiet, meek, stapler-obsessed employee of Initech who gets pushed around and pretty much ignored by everyone. That’s how I envision Lindy Ruff in the locker room right now: meek, ineffectual, and totally ignored by his players. Can I prove this? No. Do I see anything on the ice that would prove me wrong? Absolutely not. At least he benched Myers – maybe that will be how he sends messages to his players this year – but it’s not like even that move invigorated his defense. (And by the way: benching Myers came a week too late. He actually played well heading into the Islanders game, so I’m not sure he sent the right message to begin with.) I cannot blame Ruff for players who cannot put the puck in the net, but I can blame him for failing to get his players to step up their game in both of the games the Sabres played over the weekend.
Agree? Disagree? Suggestions for future posts? Leave them below, or send Tweets to @theaveragedick.