BREAKING: The Sabres Aren’t So Bad

16 Nov

The clear #1 headline in Buffalo: we like sports again. 

A longed-for Bills win and two straight home Sabres overtime nail-biting triumphs will do that. I miss the way Buffalo feels on a Monday after a great Bills game – the sun is brighter, everyone is happier and friendlier, and even the toll booth collector smiles as he steals another dollar from you. When the wins matter, they feeling is even greater. It has been a while since we’ve experienced that collective mood, and even a poor shade of it yesterday was welcome. 

Image courtesy Sabres.com

 

The Sabres, on the other hand, were never supposed to be bad at all, and their malaise permeated the community unexpectedly. Much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth was expended at their behalf, from yours truly as well. And while I don’t want to gloat not really I love to gloat, no less a source than Ryan Miller agrees with my analysis of the situation.

Audio clip Talking about it on the radio this morning, Miller said there were a lot of new faces, and everyone just needed time to get used to each other.

I don’t think we’re all on the same page and we’re slowly learning about how to play with each other. . . We really do have five or six guys consistently in the lineup who weren’t consistently in our lineup last year. So it makes a difference, especially bringing two defensemen in, a third of your D-corps, and we’re still trying to find the pairings that are going to settle in like last year. 

Like I said, these guys need time. They aren’t the team that started the season in the basement. They also aren’t going to go unbeaten the rest of the year, as they are (4-0-1) in the last five games. Between now and April, they’ll win more than they lose, and settle into the middle of the playoff pack. Good runs can be made from the middle – ask Montreal, Boston and (especially) Philadelphia about last year. 

The Bills will go 0-fer the rest of the season, and the Sabres aren’t out of the woods. But let’s have a little optimism – the Sabres are suddenly only two spots out of the playoffs, and there is a lot of reasons to feel better about the rest of the season: 

1) Derek Roy. Who thought that Roy would respond to the wilting criticism he got at the end of last season by crushing it out of the gate, being seventh in the NHL in scoring, and on pace for a 34 goal/92 point campaign, at the one quarter mark? Yeah, me neither. Roy (right now) is proof that old dogs sometimes find new tricks and can improve to give you more, even 6 years into their career. I hate to say it, but he’s the best defensive forward on the team, hustles on the back check, comes up with big goals, and says all the right things in the media. Put the “C” on him, now, and watch him flourish. 

2) Steve Montador. Yes, you read that right. Not only is he on pace for a 42 point season (12 goals, 30 assists), but he leads the NHL in +/- at +12. So all that offense isn’t keeping him from being tidy in his own end. He’s part of breakout D-corps, which leads me to . . . 

3) Defensemen other than Tyler Myers: We’ve spent so much time noticing how bad Myers has been out of the gate, and how frustratingly slow and behind Rivet has seemed, that we aren’t paying attention to the seasons Montador, Leopold, and Sekera are having. Our defensemen, collectively, lead the NHL in goals. This from a group who couldn’t buy a goal a year or two ago. Myers is coming around, slowly, with the help of Sekera, of all people. 

4) Real Lines: I love Lindy to death, but his line combinations make me pull my hair out. Hopefully the success the last couple games shows that his “Fore-checker-scorer-grinder” plan for each line was flawed. Instead, we have a Real Top 3 line: Vanek – Roy – Ennis. I love it – a real threat to score every time they are on the ice, our best talent fielded at once. They are coming through with the goals when we need them. We also have a Real Forecheck/Shut Down Line (Niedermayer – Greer – McCormick) and a Real Checking Line (Gaustad – Ellis – Kaleta). Sure I’d like to see Hecht demoted to the Forecheck, and McCormick back on the fourth line. But this is the best we’ve had yet. I hope Lindy notices. 

Yes, the Sabres have issues. The team looks better with Stafford out of the line up, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I also avoided the Connolly (-7) – Pominville (-7) – Hecht (-4) line, because they are the epitome of the Regeir era: overhyped, over-loved internally, disappointing, soft. Better that they are lumped together than they spread their mediocrity to the other lines. Butler is still struggling – I say put in Weber for the physicality and meanness. And NO ONE seems willing to throw a punch anymore. Gaustad and Kaleta need to get the memo that their game is suffering, though it pains me to say so. But take solace in what we have, and the fact that we are moving in the right direction.

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