I was scrolling around Twitter a little bit Monday evening where a series of tweets by WGR’s Howard Simon caught my attention. The radio host rattled a list of four very big problems with the Buffalo Sabres lately—a list I’m in complete agreement with.
Simon mentioned a lack of secondary scoring, terrible play by the defense, shaky production from Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff as the primary reasons Buffalo is 3-5-1 after nine games and look like they’re going nowhere very fast.
While nothing Simon pointed out should be regarded as groundbreaking, it’s hard not to buy into everything he said—I mean tweeted. For the sake of this discussion, I delved into each topic a bit more specifically. Do you agree that these are the four biggest problems with this team?
No Secondary Scoring: To say the line of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville have been spectacular would actually be an understatement. The trio, in just nine games has already racked up 18 goals and 23 assists for 43 points. Simply put, Vanek has been the best player in the NHL early on in leading the league in scoring with 19 points. Hodgson has nine in game games to quiet any criticism about Zach Kassian’s hot start in Vancouver while Pominville has been as stead as ever.
But that’s where the good news ends for this team. The other three forward lines have seen plenty of combinations on the ice, but all have basically resulted in a mess. Combined, the other 10 forwards on the roster have resulted in lighting the lamp a mere five times. Drew Stafford is the leading culprit, with zero games in nine starts. Steve Ott came via trade to provide at least some offense but has not scored since tallying the team’s very first of the season. Marcus Foligno is off to a slow start with just one goal while highly touted rookie Mikhail Grigorenko also has just one. Jochen Hecht isn’t supposed to provide a ton of offense but is getting far too much ice time to account for one assist this season.
Tyler Ennis (two goals, three assists) is the only forward on the team other than the top line that’s done anything. It’s far too unacceptable.
Porous Defense: It’s almost hard to fathom how terrible the Sabres have been in their own end this season. I’m not sure I can recall a high prospect like Tyler Myers falling from grace so rapidly. Less than two years ago he was the league’s Rookie of the Year. Right now, he stinks. I could write out some elaborate summary of him but I’d be wasting too many words. He’s been awful and now we’re starting to wonder if 2010-11 was a fluke. Sadly, he hasn’t been worse than his partner Jordan Leopold, who shares the NHL lead with a minus eight plus/minus rating. Robyn Regehr is hurt, Alexander Sulzer is wildly inconsistent, it takes injuries or horrific play from others to keep Mike Weber on the ice, T.J. Brennan can’t see the ice, Andrej Sekera is hurt and Christian Ehrhoff has been good only on offense.
And to think—this unit was supposed to provide great depth and be strength of this team.
Miller’s Roller Coaster: The first two segments of this piece are pretty meaningless if Ryan Miller isn’t on top of his game and through nine games, he’s been incredibly ordinary. He’s had some big moments, such as shutdown performances over Philadelphia and Boston. He’s also been horrific, such as last week’s home loss to Toronto.
A 3.11 goals against average and .905 save percentage isn’t good enough, not on this team anyway. To be fair Miller hasn’t gotten a lot of help around him at all. Still, he’s formed a habit of allowing soft goals and two a night against this team’s offense right now is the equivalent of a death sentence.
Lindy Tuned Out: There may be not a scribe more in this blogosphere that hates “fire the coach” talk more than me. However, it’s getting harder to defend Ruff by the day. He’s been the head coach since 1997 and it’s starting to feel like he’s been here since the franchise was born in 1970. There’s been something like 170 NHL head coaching changes since he stepped behind the bench and I think players may be tuning him out completely.
The Sabres haven’t been out of the first round of the playoffs since 2006-07 and have missed the postseason all together in three of the last five years. At least a chunk of that has to be put on Ruff. Does he lose confidence in young players (Myers, Grigorenko) too quick? Does he stay overly loyal to guys like Hecht and Leopold, who aren’t getting the job done?
I’m not sure, but it’s going to be very difficult for Terry Pegula to please this frustrated fan base by keeping Ruff should this team miss the playoffs again.