Vulgar Opinions: The Sabres Will Still Win The Stanley Cup
I thought going into the season that this felt like the year. It wasn’t based on Pegula-mania, or the free agent signings, or anything tangible, things just felt right. And that’s why I can’t help but think, despite evidence to the contrary, that there is just something in that locker room that hasn’t been there before. I have no reason to think that way, as the Sabres laundry list of issues is extensive:
- Ville Leino looks like a complete bust.
- Christian Ehrhoff looks like an incomplete bust.
- Derek Roy is still somewhat hampered by his leg injury.
- The defense, at times, looks like it’s never played together before.
- Ryan Miller is hurt.
- Tyler Myers is hurt and playing poorly.
- Jochen Hecht is hurt.
- They can’t win at home.
But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re onto something here despite the hiccups (which we all should have expected). I believe it was Pominville in the preseason who said that a bit of a slow start was not out of the question. With so many new faces in key areas it was probably foolish to expect them to gel right away, regardless of how the team tore through the preseason. Here’s what I think will happen; the Sabres will play around .525-.550 hockey for a while, then have a month, probably January, (and probably coinciding with some players getting healthy) where they’re something like 12-2-2. They will most likely win the division which will give them favorable match-ups in the playoffs.
And I don’t say this without merit, I think there is an answer to everything above:
- Ville Leino is struggling to mesh his game with the rest of the team, which is understandable. It’s not about playing as well as you can, it’s about fitting your skill set with those of your teammates, something that takes time. Think back to when everyone was calling for the head of Brad Boyes. Now that he’s found his niche, a 12-14 minute a night third liner, power play stud, and shootout master, he looks like a great player.
- Christian Ehrhoff is pressing because the aspect of his game that he expects to bring (offense) has been lacking because opposing teams respect his shot so much (mixed in with a little of what Leino is going through). Once he pots a goal or two, I think we’ll see a completely different player.
- I think Roy’s leg injury affected his conditioning. While his skating and agility may have returned, I think his endurance is lacking, which has always been a key part of his game. That’s why his recovery and backcheck have been poor, his legs aren’t at the level they usually are because of the time spent nursing the injury.
- In the past I’ve opined on the perils of changing out two or more defensemen, which the Sabres seem to have done every year since forever. With three new faces in Regehr, Ehrhoff, and Gragnani, it’s not surprising that there have been a few hiccups.
- Miller’s injury came at a time when he’d gone through a few weird games. I think that reports of his decline are way overblown and we’re sitting on a pissed off All-Star goaltender ready to show the NHL why he was the Olympic MVP and Vezina winner a few years ago.
- I’ve always said that Myers looks to be lacking confidence. I’ve also said that sometimes you need to fail first before you can really succeed because once you’ve been to the bottom and recovered, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore. I think the Myers benching was ultimately good for him, and that the time spent watching may also be good for him.
- Jochen Hecht, I think, is one of the most underrated players on the team and I miss him more than any other player at this point. That having been said, Hecht’s injury (and a few others) have allowed us to get a look at Corey Tropp and I have been very impressed. A bit undersized at the moment at 183 pounds, he looks like he could wind up being a Paul Gaustad-type player except with better hands. That Hecht’s injury has led to Tropp getting some extended time in the NHL may well prove to be a good thing.
- Sometimes a team plays poorly at home, and sometimes they just lose at home. There have been a few games (the Carolina and Phoenix games) where the team seemed to do almost everything right…except win. I think we have double the home wins this year that we did at the same point last year. It’s a little unfortunate that the team’s schedule has been front-loaded with home games while the team is still meshing, but I think ultimately it will prove to be a non-factor.
It’s not about rolling through the regular season with little adversity. We tried that once in 2007 and it didn’t work out so well. It’s about putting the pieces together as you make your way through a grueling 82 game season. Good teams aren’t crowned in November, and the best teams early are often the result of better teams struggling with their identity. Need we bring up the 2010-2011 Atlanta Thrashers?
The top line is absolutely dominating and no one has any clue how to stop them. The second line has shown flashes steadily increasing in frequency and the third line is better than the second on a lot of teams. The Sabres will figure out how to play together, and when they do, the rest of the NHL will be hard pressed to stop them.
It just feels like that kind of year in Buffalo. You can call me crazy, or in seven months, you can call me right.