Facts: The Sabres are 3-6-1. They are ranked 13th in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has scored 27 goals and allowed 30. The season is 12% over.
Opinion: As a fan base we are aiming towards winning The Stanley Cup. After this 10 game sample we are far from achieving that goal.
What did we expect? Before preseason I predicted a 7th place conference finish. The team currently sits in 13th position. Were our expectations unreasonable? Is this just a slow start that will correct itself? Are there underlying circumstances such as injuries that are plaguing the team? Have certain players underperformed compared to their past output? I think the answer to all four of those questions is YES. But just how much is each of these factors contributing to the Sabres poor start?
The first and most interesting question to ponder is whether our expectations were reasonable? The Sabres made the playoffs last year after a two year absence. There’s no arguing that the Sabres won a bunch of games and deserved the division crown. There’s also no arguing they bowed out rather easily in the playoffs to an average Bruins team. So, were our expectations of another playoff year unreasonable? When calculating my 7th place prediction I factored in a team that remained largely the same. That may be true, but who’s to say that those same players haven’t lost something and more importantly who’s to say that every other team hasn’t gotten better?
Have players underperformed? Tim Connolly hasn’t been awful, but he certainly hasn’t been great. His stats (3+3) aren’t slump-worthy but his overall play only serves to highlight the Sabres lack of a true #1 centerman. Tyler Myers has had some issues; Issues like coughing up the puck and leading directly to goals in our net. Rob Niedermayer hasn’t quite been the offensive force we had hoped for. Craig Rivet looks slower than ever and he’s most likely still nursing his shoulder back to full health. There’s tangible evidence of key players playing poorly; which leads us to the next question.
Is this just a slow start that will correct itself? I have a hard time believing that the Sabres will finish 13th in the East. The last three years they’ve been 9th, 10th and 3rd. I’d be willing to drop my prediction down to the 8-10th place range, but I still believe that this Sabres team is better than their current 3-6-1 record. In essence I am saying that they are working kinks out and will rise to meet their full potential, even though that potential is not great.
Are injuries plaguing this team? I would say, yes. But when have injuries NOT plagued the Sabres? Every team has injuries. Without Pominville we’re certainly losing some scoring and missing Morrisonn can’t be helping Tyler Myers and the defense. However, I think our replacements for those missing players are ample. How much do we really lose when Mike Weber and Tyler Ennis have to play the role of Morrisonn and Pominville? It’s a drop-off but not enough to point at and say, ‘that’s the reason we can’t win’. This Just in: Tim Connolly is hurt again. Surprise, Surprise!
Lastly, what needs to be done to get us back on track? I don’t think we’re at the point where you fire the coach or trade Tim Connolly. That would be throwing away the season. I believe this team can make the playoffs and that is worth having some patience. I do not believe that injuries are an excuse for losing. I think that this Sabres team just isn’t that good. We lack a championship level scoring line, team toughness, and have an average at best defense. Lastly, our power play stinks. These things will keep the Sabres mired in the middle pack of imperfect teams.
What would I do to fix the team? Nothing right now. The off-season was the time to act and we didn’t. That being said, it’s not time to panic. The Sabres are 13th, but a mere two points away from 7th. I’m going to be patient for now. However, I can tell you for certain that after 20 games if we’re still 13th my patience will be wearing thin.
What I like:
1) Derek Roy has continued to score. (5g+6a =11pts) For as much as I complain about Roy and his immaturity, he consistently puts the puck in the net. He’s an ample 2nd line centerman even with his faults.
2) We have depth on defense. Despite injuries to the Defense, we have NHL ready reserves. Sekera, Butler and Weber are all NHL caliber Defenseman. Gragnani, Brennan, Schiestel, and Tim Conboy are in Portland should we need to go deeper than the first 8.
3) Steve Montador has started strong. Nobody expects the 2nd pairing D-Man to be Duncan Keith, but Montador has had a nice start. (1g+5a), a +8 rating, and continued physical play on a team that sorely needs it.
4) Thomas Vanek finally started scoring; 4 goals in last 4 games. Although he’s on the 3rd line, Tyler Ennis is proving that his dozen games last season weren’t a total fluke, (2+5). Welcome back Drew Stafford, (3+4). Keep it up.
5) Ryan Miller has been good. After a Vezina winning campaign it was far from a guarantee we’d get the same elite level Ryan Miller for this season. As far as being 3-6-1 and still giving Miller credit; I blame most of the losses on the team in front of him.
What I don’t like:
1) The power play. Seriously, the power play has been an issue since the lockout. Is it the players?, is it coaching? My finger points slightly more towards coaching, but the fact remains the power play stinks. The PP is ranked 16th out of 30 teams at 15.4%. The PK is ranked 27/30 at 75.7%
2) The Sabres have looked outclassed against top flight competition. The Chicago Blackhawks are a decent measuring stick seeing they won The Cup last year. The Hawks beat the Sabres twice, each team once playing their respective backup goaltender.
3) We still don’t have a trustworthy backup goalie. Marty Biron is winning games for The Rangers and Lalime is still here losing games for Buffalo. Ryan Miller WILL be overworked this season due to Lindy Ruff’s lack of trust in Patrick Lalime.
4) Lack of team toughness. There was barely a response to the Pominville hit even when the team had another shot at Chicago. I miss Zack Kassian even though he was barely here.
Portland Pirates report: The Pirates and coach Kevin Dineen are 6-2 through 8 games. 6’4”, 215lb RW Mark Mancari leads the team with 11pts (5+6). Centerman Luke Adam, who we saw play against Philly has 10pts (5+5). Matt Ellis has 7pts (2+5) for The Pirates.