The Sabres Are Doing Pretty Okay…Wait, What?
Perhaps lost in all of this hulabaloo about whether Jhonas Enroth is the heir apparent to the starting goaltender job (after 20 career NHL starts? Absolutely not) or what in the blue hell is going on with Tyler Myers right now (Yesterday, Alex said don’t worry about “Big Tex”) is the fact that the Sabres are in a pretty good place about 20% of the way through the regular season. Yep.
In the standings, the Sabres are 9-5-0 through their first 14 games and it’s got them sitting in second place in the division. They’re one point behind Toronto, but have a game in hand on their rivals to the north. Their 9 wins is tied for second in the league with Toronto, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Edmonton. Only Dallas, with 11 wins, is ahead of the pack. The Sabres have a .500 home record of 4-4-0, but a sterling road record of 5-1-0 (same old, same old). Their goal differential of +9 is second in the division, and fourth overall.
On the ice, the Sabres have 9 wins through 14 games despite some of their top players having uninspired stretches of play to work through. Ryan Miller has looked pedestrian at times and abandoned by his defense at others, but still has a .913 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average this season. He’s got those stats while playing not-so-inspired hockey at times. When he gets his game going again, he’ll look like that goalie who stole games versus the Canadiens and Panthers again.
Tyler Myers looks lost in the woods at times out there on the ice, but in his post last night, Alex brought up a good point about the towering defenseman:
His sheer physical attributes make him a passable defenseman whether his head’s in the game or not, and I think his poor play has been a bigger sign of diminished confidence than it has been of a lack of mental ability. A lot of times he looks shy out on the ice. Doesn’t want to hit, hesitates a split second on making decisions, etc. Unfortunately those things make a world of difference in professional sports.
Alex goes on to talk about how he’s got veteran mentors on the team to help him work through his problems. He’s got defensemen like Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold who can help the kid refine the different facets of his game. He’s got long-time Sabres in Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek who went through pretty harsh slumps in their time in the blue and gold to help him through his doldrums. At 22 years old, the kid has a long hockey life ahead of him and he should be just fine.
Free agent signings Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff haven’t looked so spectacular (gross understatement at times) since signing their megabucks deals, but chemistry does take time to develop. Since joining Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, Leino has looked much better but he still has a lot of kinks in his game to work out. There are those questions about him being uncoachble going back to his Detroit days, but Buffalo is fresh ground for him to grow his game. On the back-end, Ehrhoff was brought in to play the role of the howitzer on the power play and rush the puck as needed. Instead, he’s held on to the puck too long and made poor decisions. Perhaps he’ll (and Leino as well) never live up to the deal he signed, but his is a problem of confidence and coaching it seems. Both problems can be remedied when handled properly.
The Sabres’ play in the defensive zone (at even strength) and offensive zone (on the power play) have left room for improvement, but that can likely be coached out as well. Lindy Ruff is a defense-first coach, so fixing the back-end play should be no problem. While the power play isn’t the best in the NHL, it does sit 9th overall in the league. With a 2nd place penalty kill, a 9th place power play is nothing to shake a stick at.
Fans may be upset with a number of individual or zone performances, but the hard fact of the matter is the Sabres are 2nd in the division and 4th in the conference with only one point keeping them away from taking over the division and 3rd place in the East. They’ve got two forwards on pace for 105 points each (Vanek and Pominville), impact-making depth up front, versatility in back, and a real back-up goalie capable of winning games in relief of the all-star starter. Teams go through rough patches – the Sabres have plenty of time and talent with which to sort theirs out.