Buffalo Sabres: The Weekly Plus/Minus

Posted on January 11, 2010 by Will Eldredge

The Sabres played one of their best weeks in recent memory to start the New Year, winning four of five (and earning nine of ten available points), and earning the “w” in every possible way.  Buffalo showed resiliency in a three goal comeback against the Thrashers, defensive prowess when they shut out the Canadiens 1-0 at the Bell Center and explosive offense when the team scored the fastest opening three goals in Sabres’ history and prevailed 5-3.  Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs was the Ryan Miller show, as the best goaltender in the league made forty eight saves despite Toronto’s best effort to crash the crease.  Buffalo ended the week at home against the Avalanche, and again displayed their resilience, coming back from a two goal third period deficit, although they could not prevail in an eleven round shootout.

The biggest plus of the week without a doubt has to go to the varied ways in which the team managed to rack up points.  From comebacks to shutouts to blowouts, the Sabres were able to do it all; and extend their lead in the Northeast Division to ten points over the beleaguered Boston Bruins.  They don’t have the complete game of the 05/06 team yet, or the star power of the 06/07 President’s Trophy winning squad, but this current version of the Sabres is finally starting to shed its losing baggage and carve out a niche for itself as a team that just gets the job done.

At this point in the season, Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers seem to be locks in the plus column.  Even though his performance against the Lightning was one of his shakiest of the year, Miller still made thirty six saves against a high powered forward corps that includes Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier.  In his past five games Myers has three goals and two assists and has played over twenty three minutes per game against the opposition’s top scoring threat but has not been a minus player since the day after Christmas.

A more underrated plus this week has been Jochen Hecht.  In the offseason, most Sabres fans thought the veteran winger was horribly overpaid and were looking to dump his salary by any means necessary.  Since being left of the German Olympic roster by Uwe Krupp, Hecht has been a force.  He has six points over the past five games and has been paired with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville to form the first consistent scoring line the Sabres have seen in some time.

After I called for him to be traded whilst in the midst of his scoring drought, Tim Connolly is back to being the player that he was down the stretch last season for the Sabres.  Connolly has eight points in six games and combined with Hecht’s production, the pair has done much to carry the Sabres offense of late.

After rumors of relieving associate coach Brian McCutcheon of power play duties, the Sabres seem to be far more productive on the man advantage.  They’ve scored power play goals in three of their last five, all of which coming in clutch situations.  Tim Kennedy and Drew Stafford seem to have found their niche with the man advantage and Derek Roy seems to be far more productive from the point than down low or in the slot.  Tyler Myers’ ability to move the puck is also second to none on the blueline and his two power play goals against the Leafs showcased his incredible mobility.  Buffalo has also largely abandoned the square-peg-in-a-round-hole zone entry neutral zone drop pass, which is a welcome sight.

The biggest minus is that although the Sabres have been winning their games, they haven’t exactly looked sharp doing it.  It took a three goal deficit to rally the troops against Atlanta, they gave up a ton of odd-man rushes against the Lightning and allowed the Leafs to put fifty (!) shots on goal.  It’s fantastic that the Sabres have a ten point divisional lead, but they need to eliminate some of the lapses in defensive coverage that have led to goals against.  In the beginning of the year, the Sabres were forechecking opponents into the boards and outshooting the opposition consistently.  Now, Buffalo is allowing thirty to thirty five shots with somewhat alarming regularity and is leaning on Miller far more than they were during their initial hot streak.

When Ryan Miller was fed up with the Leafs truculence on Friday night, he let Matt Stajan know about it.  Miller decked the Toronto center with a right cross and received a two minute roughing penalty for his troubles.  Miller also served up some humorous quotables after the game on the subject.  Said Miller, “if you’re going to cross-check me in the back of the head, at least take the punch like a man.”  As funny as it is to see a fully padded goaltender deck someone, it’s a situation that should never come up.  Craig Rivet was brought in for his leadership and his grit and has made a noteworthy positive impact as captain, but he needs to have more games like he did against the Ducks last season.  In a winter game in Anaheim, Rivet fought both Corey Perry and Steve Montador for getting too close to Patrick Lalime and was involved physically after almost every whistle.  Rivet is not the only one who needs to take a stand, however.  The team as a whole needs to make the opposition pay more of a price for crashing the blue paint.  When teams get comfortable bumping and jostling Miller, bad things happen.  Just ask Scott Gomez.

The bottom two defense pairings also need work.  Since Andrej Sekera was removed from the lineup in favor of Chris Butler, the Sabres third through sixth defensemen have not looked good.  Toni Lydman and Steve Montador, despite their chemistry in Calgary have both committed some egregious turnovers in their own end.  Both are known for similar mistakes such as bad pinches and hand-grenade passes, and perhaps it would be better to split the pairing up.  Chris Butler and Rivet have not fared well either.  Butler’s mobility does not offset Rivet’s sedentary nature and Butler has looked timid while Rivet has looked pylonic.  Butler’s minus twelve rating is worst on the defense by far and it is increasingly obvious that the Sabres need to acquire a third top pairing defenseman if they want to truly do some damage in the playoffs.

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1 Comment on Buffalo Sabres: The Weekly Plus/Minus

  1. Buffalo Sabres: The Weekly Plus/Minus : Buffalo Sports Daily | NHL Tickets News

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