Two games down and eighty to go. For Buffalo, those two games have already come with four points, and have fed the excitement of a fanbase that's ready to burst.
But today let's put blind optimism aside and take a look at a few stats, observations, and musings that might help us determine more about Lindy Ruff's plan for the Sabres this year. Here are five small things we noticed over the first two games that could signal something larger this season.
1. Two defensemen on the point during the power play
One constant thing the Sabres did over the weekend was to experiment with playing three forwards and two defensemen on the power play. Robyn Regehr was the only blueliner to not receive any power play time, while the other five had anywhere between two and three minutes. This allowed Ruff to keep his forward lines together on the power play, which will hopefully lead to a bit more chemistry with the man advantage, and a more consistent power play overall. It also means that the Sabres may be looking to cut down on their 13 shorthanded goals against from last season by having a d-man on both points rather than a forward (I'm looking at you, Pominville and Connolly).
2. Defense involved in the offense
Speaking of defense, one of the biggest questions going in to the season was: which two defensemen among Andrej Sekera, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Mike Weber will play? It's clear now that with the pairing of Sekera and Gragnani, Ruff and his coaching staff favor skating and passing over size and physicality. Sure, some players can bring both (Myers, Ehrhoff) but of the Sabres six defensemen, Robyn Regehr is the only one who doesn't have above-average skating and passing ability. The defense, especially Ehrhoff, led the rush up the ice many times over the first two games, and I expect this group to jump into the play even more than they did last season.
Guess the Sabres solved that #1 center dilemma, huh? Seriously though, Adam had a very solid opening to this season, and while many of his points came and will come off of riding the coattails of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, he still buried his chances, which is something the Sabres have struggled with in the past. If he can hang with #26 and #29 and not look over-matched in the faceoff circle, it will allow the Sabres to roll three even and dangerous scoring lines, which will make them much harder to play against.
4. Don't forget about
When Sabres fans talk about the defense, the guys that make their voices rise these days are usually Myers, Ehrhoff, and Regehr. But guess who finished just barely behind Christian Ehrhoff in total time on ice over the first two games? It wasn't the future Norris candidate Tyler Myers, but rather Jordan Leopold. The forgotten man of the Sabres defense plays in all situations, including a whopping 5:04 of shorthanded ice time in game one. Myers will have a big impact on how the team plays, but it's clear that Lindy Ruff trusts Leo just as much, if not more, than anyone else on the blueline.
5. Improved physicality?
Perhaps it was just the start of the season and a release of pent-up excitement, or perhaps the acquisition of Robyn Regehr is rubbing off already, but the Sabres seemed to play their first two games with a bit more chutzpah than they showed last year. The defense looked especially impressive, as everyone from Myers to Regehr to Leopold showed they had a little sandpaper in them. If Regehr, Gaustad, Kaleta, and others can further instill the sense that the Sabres are a team not to be messed with or pushed around, then I think this team will be very, very fun to watch this year.