After an incredible but unlikely hot start to the season the Buffalo Sabres have struggled mightily as of late. Buffalo began the season 6-0-1 and beat teams like Montreal, Boston and the New York Rangers in the process. Since that time the Sabres are just 3-6-2 have been embarrassed a couple of times in the process. The Sabres recent struggles can be summed up in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday night. Buffalo lost that game 6-1 at the HSBC Arena despite outshooting the Jackets 37-25. With all due respect to Jacket fans, they aren't exactly a power house team especially on the road. Buffalo followed that game by allowing four third period goals in a 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Saturday and of course they blew a two goal lead last night. The season seems to be spiraling out of control when just a month a go it looked like the Sabres were an easy pick for the playoffs.
I can't sit here and tell you what they need to do to fix but I agree with Ryan, the answer is not in Portland. Unfortunately guys like Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy are not ready to make the jump to the NHL yet (although I think they both have a bright future). Mark Mancari might be able to contribute at the NHL level but he is not going to make the difference on this team. They need to go back to playing the same hockey they were playing in the first seven games.
What has changed for the Sabres since they began the season rattling off win after win?
- Goals Against - In the first seven games Buffalo allowed more than two goals in a game only once and that was a 4-3 overtime victory against the Minnesota Wild. Since that time they have allowed three or more eight times and only won one of those games was a win.\
There are many reasons for the increase in goals against. The goaltending has been suspect in recent games, the penalty killing isn't as good as it was early in the season but mostly it is costly mistakes. It's frustrating to see these mistakes because we all know how good this team was defensively in the first couple of games. They haven't been bad lately, they just make mistakes that seem to always end up in the back of the net.
- Penalties - Last night was a perfect example of bad penalties hurting you. Adam Mair took a couple of bad penalties and the puck ended up in the back of the Sabres net. The best example of penalties hurting came in the Sabres shutout win against New Jersey. Buffalo dominated that game for 30 minutes but than Buffalo took a penalty. The Devils responded and took control of the game but they failed to score a goal because of great goaltending by Ryan Miller.
Buffalo was able to get away with penalties early in the season because they were not allowing power play goals. Opponents scored just two power play goals (and one was scored by Ryan Miller himself) in the first seven games. The Sabres have allowed nine power play goals in their last 11 games. They were 31-of-33 killing penalties in their first seven and they are 35-of-44 in the last 11.
- Power Play - The power play has been less effective but hasn't been terrible. They began the season 9-for-39 through seven games and they are 10-for-54 in the last 11. This hasn't been a huge problem for the Sabres during their recent slump.
Obviously the point of the game is to score more than the other team but the Sabres have a huge discrepancy between their goals for and goals against. In the first seven games Buffalo scored 24 goals while allowing only 12. In the time since than they have scored 28 and allowed 40. It is unbelievable to see how far this team has fallen in such a short time...it kind of reminds me of another team.
It seems the answer is simple to the Sabres problems...stop making stupid mistakes. It appears that Lindy Ruff agrees with me. Tallinder had one of the worst giveaways I have ever seen and he spent most of the game on the bench after that. It will be interesting to see if Lindy decides to send a message by sitting Hank and play Paetsch. We'll have to wait till tomorrow to see if that is the case.
Scoring hasn't been a huge issue for this team although it seems that most of the goals are coming from Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Vanek was moved onto a line with Pominville and Hecht and it paid off with two goals against Boston. Derek Roy is now on a line with Clarke MacArthur and Drew Stafford and he too scored a goal. When the Sabres were down they moved Paul Gaustad with Daniel Paille and Max Afinogenov...we'll keep a close eye to see if that line stays together. It's really all about the defense at this point.