I thought it would be nice to take a collective deep breath and briefly go over the Sabres' season so far. I did something similar to this around the end of October last year and it seemed like a good time to bring it back again.
There's no denying that Enroth is a definite upgrade over Lalime in the back up role. The best indicator for knowing the Sabres have faith in the young Swede is how the team plays around him. It's clear that they have confidence in Enroth - the offense continues to play aggressively and they take the same chances that they do with Miller in the crease.
And Ryan Miller is...well, Ryan Miller. All-american goalie - probably the most marketable player in the country for the league. Worth noting that he doesn't appear to have lost any drive from taking the plunge over the summer. Simply put - as Miller goes, we will follow.
The defense (as expected) has been top notch in large part to the solid play of our newly-acquired starters. Robyn Regehr has been an absolute force - leading the team in blocked shots and hits. He's like the more savvy version of Jay McKee - takes no prisoners, punishes opponents, has a superb will to win. His addition alone has made Ryan Miller look like the elite goaltender he is once again.
In addition, Christian Ehrhoff has an absolute cannon for a shot - something we haven't seen on the back end of the power play since (cringe) Alexei Zhitnik. (I still remember the all the times Zhitnik fired slappers that almost took poor Vaclav Varada's head off standing in front of the net, but I digress) Needless to say, Ehrhoff's ability to hit hard, low bombs from the back end makes the power play all the more deadly. For one, they actually hit the net - something that has been easier said than done for us in recent history. Also, players like Goose/Vanek pounce on the rebounds those shots create and they're also much easier to tip-in.
On the offensive end, I have seen so much progress out of the Thomas Vanek-Jason Pominville-Luke Adam line it's scary. This line has already had pretty sizable chunks of game time where they have been downright dominant. Adam has shown the most improvement - he can be an absolute bear along the boards and he has a scoring touch to boot. Sure he's still a young guy and he'll make his fair share of mistakes, but with his long reach and quick shot release it's clear that he's moving in the right direction. Don't discount Pommer or Vanek either - Vanek's tenacity and uncanny hand-eye coordination alongside Pominville's leadership and unheralded ability to play in Lindy Ruff's system makes this collection of forwards worth paying attention to - and hopefully some additional ice time as well.
On the other hand, not everybody has really jumped out of the gate with as much vigor. Derek Roy has struggled..but coming back from the injury he had, that's not a huge surprise. Ville Leino has shown some flashes of excellence but he has had a tendency to dog it every now and again. Tyler Ennis, before he was injured, seemed to be overcomplicating the game and as a result his productivity suffered.
But with the team jumping out of the gate with such a strong first month of play, it's difficult to bash their collective effort. The truth is that we haven't seen this much talent on a Sabres starting roster since the great exodus of July 1, 2007, and this team is way too talented to not have very lofty expectations come April, May. (..June) I have had moments in this young season where I have seen this team *almost* possess the ability to score on demand the same way those teams from a few years back were able to do. (a little more size,depth up the middle wouldn't hurt but their speed, creativity, aggressiveness often compensates)
They're a tight-knit group - they have almost all of the components of a winning hockey team; We have grinders (Goose, McCormick, Kaleta) that can chip in a goal or two, punishers (Regehr, Weber, Myers) who will paste you to the boards and leave you looking like Garfield clinging to your back window, we have a plethora of goal scorers and playmakers, (Roy, Vanek, Ehrhoff, Pommer, Stafford, Ennis, Gerbe, Boyes?) and we have two world-class backstops in Miller and Enroth who can steal a game any given gameday.
With that said, I would also be remiss to not mention the team off-the-ice that has made an enormous impact for this squad. The Pegula regime has almost instantly redefined what it entails to be a Buffalo Sabre and a Buffalo Sabres fan with the various efforts to make this franchise into 'hockey heaven.' They have given themselves the burden of collectively raising the expectations for the Sabres in the future - and only time will tell if and when they will be able to cash in on their wishes. But needless to say, they have made every effort that any fan could ever ask for to this point.
All in all, it's a recipe for success and we will all reap the benefits. Go Sabres!
So what is your assessment of this year's team thus far? Things to work on? Things you've enjoyed seeing this year compared to recent years?