It has been a rough stretch of games for the Buffalo Sabres and that has forced Lindy Ruff to tinker with his line combinations. The Sabres have lost five of their last seven games and the only two wins were both Ryan Miller shutouts. The last time the Sabres won a game that the opponent scored a goal was October 23 when they came back and beat the Minnesota Wild in overtime.
Lindy Ruff has a problem on his hands but it is a good problem to have. The Sabres have an abundance of forwards that can play and contribute at the NHL level. Since Jochen Hecht returned to the lineup the Sabres have scratched Drew Stafford for one game and Daniel Paille for one game. It's inevitable that someone (probably Connolly) will get hurt and the current problem becomes an opportunity.
It seems to be a no-brainer to keep the top line of Vanek-Roy and Kotalik together but I would argue that Roy has not played all that well so far this season. I'm not advocating him being sent to the press box but maybe a wake up call by a line demotion is warranted. Thomas Vanek is off to the best start of his career and is leading the league in goals scored with 12 but Derek Roy has only two goals and six assists in 14 games played. Last season Roy was a point per game player and I think he will be again in the future but maybe he should take a step back for a time.
Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville have played well over the past two seasons and they are always on the same line when they are both in the lineup. Tim Connolly is one of the most talented players in the league when healthy and seems to have chemistry with Hecht and Pommer.
It's the third line where things start to get interesting. Max Afinogenov is probably the most explosive third line player in the entire league but he is also the most criticized. Afinogenov has a ton of speed and talent but has never lived up to the expectations set by Sabres fans. He has played fairly well this season and was finally rewarded with his first goal of the season on Friday. He is playing with Daniel Paille who spent the last game in the press box as a healthy scratchy and Clarke MacArthur who was not even expected to be in the lineup on opening night but has earned a spot over Stafford and Paille. MacArthur has six goals and two assists but he is one of many players that are a minus two on the season.
It gets even more absurd with the fourth line. I like having Gaustad and Mair on the same line but when Andrew Peters is on the other wing instead of Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta I have issues. Is there really a spot for Andrew Peters on this team? There are plenty of guys that are willing to drop the gloves and I don't think he intimidates any of his opponents. I have no issue with Kaleta watching from the press box because I thought he has been mostly ineffective in recent games but Drew Stafford brings a lot more than Andrew Peters.