Taking a look at what the Sabres are doing well, wrong, and simply horrifically to start off the shortened season.
I've been writing this post in my head since opening weekend and I'm glad I waited till now to do so as I think, coming off a big win after a crushing losing streak, I'm the most neutral about this team. Being seven games into a shortened season means we're already 1/7th of the way through, and "ain't nobody got time" for four game losing streaks. It's not horrible though, right now the Sabres are one point out of a playoff spot and a match-up with Montreal tomorrow may put them in the top eight. No giving up yet.
With that said...the Sabres are doing a few things really well, a few things badly, and a few things that simply need to stop yesterday. We could chalk it up to rust with a shortened training camp and no pre-season, but every team had that disadvantage. There are a fair amount of new guys and line changes so maybe chemistry just needs to build but that doesn't explain the first two impressive victories. Whatever it is, this isn't the season to take weeks to build up to top form. Hopefully last nights win was a sign of things to come as a team, but for now, lets look at some individual pluses and minuses.
Physicality - The Sabres have been a weaker team for years and it really showed last year during "The Hit". When your all star goalie takes a borderline dirty hit and no one on your team gets five minutes in the box you should take some criticism as far as toughness goes. The front office took this to heart and added some toughness in Ott and Scott who have already showed that the Sabres are not a team to be pushed around anymore. Hell, even Stafford tried to throw down knowing that he was going to feel it tomorrow. When you simply out-bully teams like Philly and Boston, it's a good sign. It makes me like the direction this team is going.
Ryan Miller - He might not be in Vezina form but he's doing what he has to do. The game winner in Toronto is easy to blame on the defense (and should be) but Vezina/Olympic silver winner Miller would have stopped it and enough after it to get the shootout win. He sat on the other side of a bargaining table most of the lost months instead of playing overseas like other players, so maybe once a few bad goals knock the rust off we'll finally see the Miller of old again. Even with the issues he's still making enough saves to keep this team that lacks scoring depth in every game, so he lands in the good pile.
Thomas Vanek - Two five-point games. Leading the league in points. Second in the league in goals. Should I keep going? Lets hope this guy stays healthy because he seems to be one of the few that can be counted on to score. If he keeps up games like Philly and Boston we may not need anyone else to score. This might be the year Vanek shows the doubters he is for real.
Tyler Ennis - I hate to do this and compare him to the only player in a Sabres uniform I took pleasure in booing, but he reminds me a bit of Afinogenov (interested to see how many thought I was going to say Connolly after the booing comment). We get it, you can skate, but that doesn't mean you have to skate in circles around everyone. This isn't figure skating...the point is to score goals, not look pretty. Just pass. With that said, if he starts scoring goals while figure skating I will give him a pass. Oh, and the hair has to go.
Tyler Myers - A few games ago and he would have been under "The Ugly" but he seems to be improving. I don't know how many turnovers this guy can have though. He seems to be having the worst Calder hangover in the history of the NHL. Perhaps things were different in Europe or the ankle injury was affecting him still but as the teams all-star defenseman he really needs to pick it up.
Cody Hodgson - I put him here because I see a lot of mistakes from him for being a top center despite the praise he's received for his offensive talents. Lots of turnovers and poor puck control are the main points against. He's mainly on a line with two guys that have an average of 13.5 points and he has six.
Faceoffs - We've touched on this before so I'm not getting into details but you can't win games if you don't have possession of the puck and you can't get possession of the puck without occasionally winning faceoffs. Even after sorta holding their own against Boston, who leads the league in faceoff percentage, they're dead last in the league at an embarrassing 42.1%. Steve Ott may be our only saving grace at 55% but everyone else is below 45%, Hecht...37.3%. Can we get Gaustad back?
Scoring - I don't mean overall but someone outside of the top line. That top line combines for 33 points. The rest of the team only has 32. That's right, the top 3 guys have more points than the other 18 skaters. Just goals...15 from the top line and eight from the rest...Vanek alone has six. Now you might say that top line is really good which is true (Vanek leads the league in points and Pominville is 4th) but they really need more scoring from the rest of the team. Lets put it in perspective - Hodgson has scored more goals without using his stick than anyone not on the top line has.
The two games this weekend will show if last night was a flash in the pan or a team finally getting its act together. If more of the bad and ugly show up it may spell disaster in a shortened season. Hopefully, practices are revolving around faceoffs and the top line showing the rest how to put a puck in the net. Solve those issues and this team is one of the best.