We have reached the one-quarter mark of the season and the Sabres are one game below .500. I certainly expected more from this team at this point but I still have (little or) no doubt that they will be playoff bound. Each of the Sabre skaters has played a part in the successes and failures up to this point, so here my ¼ season grades for each player. Let the debates begin !
Thomas Vanek “A+” Leading the NHL in goals and points. Player of the month, for January. Even though he’s been lighting the lamp often, he might be a better play maker than a goal scorer. That’s saying a lot !
Jason Pominville “A+” 14 points in 12 games. Solid 2 way play. One of the most underrated players in the league.
Cody Hodgson “B” Been scoring at a decent clip which is a good thing and he doesn’t look too out of place on the top line. But this guy is horrible, defensively and too many giveaways in the offensive zone. Blind passes to the front of the opponent’s net, that gets easily picked off by the other team – nice way to kill a rush.
Tyler Ennis “B+” An offensive spark on a team in need of secondary scoring. I was expecting the Ennis-Foligno-Stafford line to continue it’s impressive play from the end of last season (weren’t we all), but Ennis has still been pretty consistent. Sometimes tries to stickhandle past 3 players and ends up turning it over. You can stick handle, but you’re not Patrick Kane, ok.
Marcus Foligno “A” Only 1 goal in 12 games, but he does have 7 points and he’s very good working along the boards, and he does a lot of little things, very well. On a team where the concept of defense exists only on the chalkboard, he’s been very consistent in checking and tying up opponents, chipping the puck out of the defensive zone and dumping the puck deep before a line change. I’ve been really impressed with the kid’s hockey sense and he’s even seen time on the first power play unit.
Drew Stafford “C-“ This guy has been invisible most nights. I know he’s streaky, but in order to keep that rep, you actually have to be hot AND cold. When can we expect to see the hot ? He showed some leadership by dropping the gloves and holding his own against Scott Hartnell, but that was 11 games ago.
Mikhail Grigorenko “B” An 18 year old kid who has been keeping up quite nicely with the big boys. Doesn’t make egregious errors out there. He’s quite skilled with the puck and knows how to control it and create offensive chances. After a full season, next season, I could see this guy assuming the # 1 center role.
Steve Ott “A-“ Funny, sometimes I’ll see # 9 skating around with a head of steam, and I’m still thinking it’s Derek Roy, but then “bang”, he hits somebody and I snap out of my fog ! Ott’s grit and tenacity has been a welcome addition to this team. I must admit, I would like to see the physicality a bit more (he tends to stop hitting at times, for inexplicable reasons), but he’s been solid at both ends of the ice.
Jochen Hecht “B” I’ve always liked Hecht. He’s slowed down a bit, but he’s a trustworthy, versatile, knowledgeable player. Every team needs a vet like that. I wouldn’t mind seeing him with an “A” on his sweater, instead of Stafford. (got no love for Staff, right now)
Ville Leino “TBA” I’m expecting more consistent play than last year. Very crafty and creative player. I actually think he would work well with Grigs.
Patrick Kaleta “C+” I enjoy seeing him on a line with Ott. Still an agitator, still plays the body, I just wish the guy could stay healthy. Ya gotta protect yourself; don’t turn your back, looking for a boarding penalty.
Nathan Gerbe “D” He’s kinda like a hamster. I’m not talking about his stature, though (well, maybe a little). Have you ever seen a hamster on a wheel ? Moving at a feverish pace, making lots of noise, but he doesn’t actually go anywhere or get any results - - ladies and gentlemen, introducing Nathan Gerbil !
John Scott “B+” Ok, he was brought in here to fight and intimidate, right ? He’s had 3 fights. He lost to Colton Orr; he destroyed Scott Thornton and had a draw with George Parros. He gets an A+ alone for destroying Scott Thornton (oh, did I mention that already?), but before he joined the team, I was thinking he would be dominating pretty much every fight, which he has not. Beyond that, he’s got some good hockey sense. Not just a goon, from what I’ve seen.
Matt Ellis “C+” Hmmm.. I respect Matt Ellis. He’s in the NHL solely based on desire and work ethic. He’s a fairly solid spare part. But damn, Matt, can you not be a little more creative than chip n chase. 99% of the time, you do not retrieve the puck ! How about carrying the puck across the blue line every so often.
Cody McCormick “C-“ Can you believe that 2 seasons ago, this guy had 8 goals and 20 points ! Those days are long gone, though. Sure he has a reduced role and ice time, but it’s kind of redundant to have him and Matt Ellis on the same team. Cody can still fight, but we’ve got Scott, Weber, Kaleta and Ott who can all throw down.
Christian Ehrhoff “A” Our best defenseman. Cool under pressure, smooth skater, a near-perfect point man on the powerplay. He also makes Sulzer a better player.
Jordan Leopold “C+“ Mostly, I thought of him as trade bait, but he’s been pretty capable so far. Quite frankly, he’s not a top 2 defensemen. He’s been getting a lot of icetime, especially at the end of games, lately. Sure that’s due to injuries to the other D-men, but he still coughs up the puck at times and he’s a minus-6. He’s been pretty good, but not that great.
Tyler Myers “F” Enough with the Bobby Orr impersonations, alright ! You don’t have to make an end to end rush every time you touch the puck. Orr actually passed the puck too, ya know. Too many giveaways; he doesn’t use his 6’8” frame to lean on people; he “leads” the team with a plus/minus of –9 in 11 games ! He has 1 point ! and he was a healthy scratch against the Islanders. This is the so-called building block of our team ?
Andrej Sekera “C+“ Still enigmatic. You never know what you’re gonna get from this guy. Giveaways or end to end rushes. He’s so hit n miss from game to game and from shift to shift. You would have thought there would be a lot more consistency to his game by now – he’s not a kid anymore.
Robyn Regehr “B-“ You can tell that he’s quite slow so he really needs to always be aware of his positioning on the ice, cause he doesn’t have the foot speed to make up for missing a read, or misjudging a play. He has played as expected, but it’s too bad he’s injured. I don’t think we would have given up as many goals if he had been in the line up.
Alexander Sulzer “A” He seemed like a throw in with the Hodgson trade but he’s been very good. He contributes offensively, and he’s a good defender. It helps that he’s paired with our best defensemen in Ehrhoff, but he still performed well even when Ehrhoff missed a game. Interesting stat – the Sabres’ defense, as a whole, has 7 goals..Sulzer has 3 of them !
Mike Weber “B-” He’s fairly solid. He blocks shots, he hits, he’s not a liability, he fights (not such a great fighter, but it takes guts to drop ‘em). Chips in some points. He’s been good.
TJ Brennan “C+“ Seems to be playing scared. When he was called up last season he was hitting, shooting and seemed more confident with the puck. He may have taken a little step backwards so far.
Adam Pardy “B+” Not a very big sample size (only one game), but certainly a safe option if and when we have injuries on the back end.
Ryan Miller “B-“ I don’t think he’ll ever win another Vezina trophy, but he’s easily a top 10 goalie in this league. He needs a lot more defensive support from his teammates. Without Miller, we’d probably have one win this season. At the same time, he needs to make a few more saves at crucial times and we’ll be playoff bound
Jhonas Enroth “F” I’d say it’s time to give somebody else in the organization a shot at earning the back up role. Enroth played well in spot duty 2 seasons ago, and he was pretty good while Miller was hurt , last season..but he has sucked ever since Miller returned. I believe he has not won in his last 12 starts or something along those lines. Throw big-ol Connor Knapp in net, and see what he can do against NHL shooters. Our back up role has been a soft spot ever since Marty Biron left after 2006-07. That’s sad.
Lindy Ruff “C+” One good thing is that he’s keeping lines together, for the most part, instead of constantly playing with different line combinations during a game. That used to drive me nuts. Maybe he’s finally realized that some players may need time to develop chemistry with one another. I think he’s using Hecht a bit too often at the end of games. I don’t really like seeing Ott on the PP. He could use Grigorenko a bit more – I would like to see Grigs get a game on the first line with Vanek and Pommer. “Demote” Cody to the 3rd line for a couple of games and tell him he needs to be a better forechecker and more responsible defensively. The power play has been cold of late and that’s where a coach should be trying to make a difference.
Darcy Regier “B” Getting Ott and Pardy for Roy looks to have been a really good deal. Trading up to draft Girgensons was brilliant. Hasn’t been able to pull the trigger to get a true # 1 center but I believe him when he says other team are asking for too much. Might have to play a waiting game. I would like to see him make a block buster - Tyler Myers for Ryan Getzlaf !