We know the Buffalo Sabres can score, and it’s something you will see on full display once again this season. But can the Blue and Gold play better defense?
There is no question the Buffalo Sabres can score, and they may have just found another puzzle piece in Zach Benson, who has been nothing short of a revelation throughout camp and in the preseason. While I have my reservations with allowing the 18-year-old onto the big club, it’s not my decision to make, and I will support and trust the Sabres in whatever they decide to do.
The question, however, is whether Benson can help the Sabres out defensively. And so far, the answer has come with a bunch of Yes’ and No’s. Take a recent quote from head coach Don Granato, and you can clearly see that Benson isn’t afraid to play defense:
"“He can strip pucks and steal pucks as good as anybody. That was his M.O. prior to the draft. He’s been able to show that and bring that identity here. He’s just shown to be very, very smart and elusive.” – via Buffalo News"
However, Benson is also small, listed at a slight 170 lbs. At 18, his muscle maturity and strength are far from being fully developed, and he will have a tough time when push comes to shove against some of the more physical teams. Sure, Benson can help the Sabres defensively in some areas, but he could also be a major liability in others, which is something they don’t need if they plan on making the playoffs.
The Buffalo Sabres need to get their defensive game together in 2023-24
Last season, the Sabres missed the playoffs in part because they allowed a staggering 300 goals. While they may have fixed their goaltending issues with Devon Levi starting his first full season in the league as the 1A, he’s not bailing out poor defensive play in the 40-45 games he will likely start this season.
We also know Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen isn’t even close to bailing anyone out, while the jury remains out on Eric Comrie. Therefore, someone needs to step up, and it must be more than just those in the current defensive rotation and newcomers Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton.
Alex Tuch and Dylan Cozens can play a two-way game, and Casey Mittelstadt showed us last season he can strip the puck, given his 50 takeaways. The projected fourth line of Kyle Okposo, Peyton Krebs, and Zemgus Girgensons are a trio of solid defensive forwards, but the Buffalo Sabres need more.
Tage Thompson and Jordan Greenway are a pair of forwards who carry immense size and should have no excuses this year, especially with everyone talking playoffs. Jeff Skinner needs to step it up defensively, and the same thing goes for JJ Peterka.
If the Blue and Gold don’t step it up as a unit, it could be another 82-game season. And that should be motivation enough for their defensive liabilities to take their game to a more complete level.