With their first 16 games in the books, the Buffalo Sabres have now completed 1/3rd of this lockout-shortened season. Let’s take a look at where they stand…
Record: 6-9-1, 13 points.
The Sabres at this point find themselves dead last in the Northeast, and perilously close to the basement of the entire Eastern Conference. Based on last seasons finish, Ottawa and Washington locked up the final playoff spots with 92 points in 82 games, meaning Buffalo would need about 54 points to get into the playoffs this season. That translates to 41 points in the final 32 games, or 19-10-3. While possible, the way this team has played to this point, it seems inconceivable.
Vanek has, without a doubt, carried this team thus far. Vanek currently leads the league in points (25), and goals (12). While many do not believe he can keep up this pace, if he can, the Sabres could do some damage if the rest of the lines could pick up some slack. Vanek has been a force, and definitely earns an A+ at this point.
The Sabres have themselves another league leader in Steve Ott, as Ott leads the NHL in hits with 64. Buffalo needed some grit on the team, and Ott has delivered. It is clear that he aggravates and agitates opponents, if you need an example, just look at how riled up he had the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of yesterday’s game. Meanwhile, Derek Roy has 9 points in 11 games for the Dallas Stars.
Based on their chemistry at the end of the last season, this line was being counted on to help propel the Sabres to new heights this season. It has not happened. The trio has a total of just 7 goals in 16 games, which is not going to cut it for a 2nd line. The chemistry has not been there, no matter how much Lindy Ruff pushes for it. Ennis has played well, with 13 points in 16 games. Foligno has mostly done his job, creating some chances while banging bodies. Stafford has struggled mightily, with just one goal so far. I am not of the opinion that Foligno is a second liner, and Stafford’s performance doesn’t justify his position there.
This is where most of the nightmares lie. Not just with the defensemen, but with the defensive play of the team as a whole. The Sabres have given up the most goals in the entire NHL, which is no way to win many hockey games. Game after game after game, the team has found themselves running around in the d-zone, chasing around the puck, and not applying man-on-man coverage. This has directly attributed to all of the Sabres losses, and there does not appear to be a fix in sight. I have watched Buffalo countless times acting as if they are on a penalty kill in 5-on-5 situations, and it is baffling. Paging Teppo Numminem. Paging James Patrick. Paging Lindy Ruff. Werent you all defensemen???
Hodgson has been a revelation, and has made the most of his opportunity being a first-line center. Although his face-off percentage could improve, he has been nearly a point-per-gamer, with 14 points in 16 games. For the most part, he has shown a lot of hustle and hard-work, and is an improvement over the ethics of the departed Derek Roy.
Sabres fans and media have long cried for leadership on this team, ever since the departure of Chris Drury. Is Jason Pominville a leader? Hard to say, since we arent behind the closed doors. What we do know, is that the current record speaks for itself, and that the Sabres have struggled with putting together a full 60-minute effort. There is a decent amount of veterans on the team (Pominville, Vanek, Jochen Hecht, Ott, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff) that leadership should not be a problem, but it might be one.
I constantly find myself feeling sorry for Miller. Especially when the guy stands on his head to give the Sabres a chance to win, and they let him down. Miller’s stats find him in the middle of the pack among NHL goalies, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. He has played well enough to steal some games, and that’s where some of the 6 wins in 16 games came from. Yet, the atrocities committed by the defense on a consistent basis have doomed Miller in 7 other games. Some days, I think that he will eventually leave the team, and immediately win a Stanley Cup, just as Dominik Hasek did.
The play of the Sabres overall, has been wildly inconsistent and unacceptable. The team puts together long stretches of decent play, which is offset by bursts of ineptitude. The expensive defense should be far better than they have performed. The offense, while more gritty, is not deep enough in offensive talent to win games with their current strategy. The passing has been horrid, which has translated into too many turnovers and poor play in the neutral zone. It seems obvious to everyone on the planet, except Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier, that the Sabres need a fresh voice on the bench, yet Lindy Ruff still remains.
While I remain hopeful that the Sabres will get into the playoffs and make a good run, I will stay skeptical until a coaching change is made, combined with a big trade.