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Buffalo Sabres: Half-Season Outlook

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Before the season began I wrote a season preview and gave a prediction that the Sabres would not be good enough to win the division but they would finish as the eastern Conference six seed.  That prediction is not far off at the half way point of the season.  The Sabres are currently in seventh place along with the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Sabres haven't cemented their spot in the playoffs but they have set themselves up for a run at it in the second half.

This is a talented group of guys that show no signs of an offensive let down.  The offense is led by Derek Roy and Jason Pominville but plenty of other guys are key contributors.  Roy had a career highs in every offensive category with 81 points in his first season as the teams number one Center.  Jason Pominville has put up good offensive numbers since being called up to the Sabres during the 2005-2006 season.  Many people wondered if Pominville would continue to put up good numbers after Briere left and he had a career high 80 points last season and became a more complete player in the process.

That is what I said before the season started about the Sabres Forwards and part of it still holds true at the half way mark.  As a group the Sabres forwards have had a disappointing season but there are a couple that have excelled.

The Good


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Derek Roy 42 16 24 40 2 20 3 0 6 1 115 13.9


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Thomas Vanek 42 27 12 39 -2 28 12 2 4 1 145 18.6

There was never much of a question as to whether or not Roy and Vanek would be good this year but there was a question as to how good they would be.  Vanek is on pace for over 50 goals and Derek Roy is well on his way to another 80 point season.  There are other guys that are having good seasons that were not listed here.  Jason Pominville struggled early on but seems to be playing better lately and could probably be listed here.  Drew Stafford has been one of the Sabres top three Forwards over the past two or three weeks after struggling in the early part of the season.  Of course Ryan Miller has been good as well and seems to have regained his form from two seasons ago.

The Bad


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Maxim Afinogenov 34 2 10 12 -14 12 0 0 0 0 64 3.1


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Jochen Hecht 32 4 9 13 -10 25 2 1 1 0 74 5.4

I'm not sure that the Sabres or Lindy Ruff  ever gave Max Afinogenov a chance to succeed this season.  It was no secret that the Sabres were looking to move Afinogenov before the season and they did nothing to help showcase his abilities this season.  He spent a lot of tim in the press box and played mostly on the fourth line when he was in the lineup.

There is really no good reason why Jochen Hecht should be struggling the way he is.  He had a career year just one season ago and now he seems to be lost on the ice.  There are rumors about him being traded but tell me who wants an overpayed defensive Forward that can't play Defense?  I may be a little harsh but unless Jochen turns things around in the second half, that is what he has become.

The Surprises


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Clarke MacArthur 41 11 9 20 -7 30 5 0 0 0 64 17.2


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2008 - Chris Butler 10 0 1 1 4 2 0 0 0 0 9 0.0

Clarke macArthur was a guy that we all knew had offensive abilitiy but he never seemed to use it conistently.  Although he still needs to be more consistent, his 11 goals have been a welcome addition to the Sabres offense.  MacArthur is another guy that has spent some time watching from upstairs and he has also played some on the fourth line.  He can be a defensive liability at times but he needs to play more if they want him to showcase his offensive talent.

Coaching

It seems that it's taboo to criticize Lindy Ruff around these parts but I can't understand why he always escapes the criticism while the players are always under fire.  I can't stand when people say things like "They're blocking him out" or "He's lost the room".  These are professional athletes and they should act like professionals.  It's not fair to criticize the coach for that reason.

There are plenty of reasons that the coach should be criticized.  It's my belief that the coaches job is to put his team in a position to win.  I don't believe that has always been the case this season.  Some examples of what I am talking about.

  • Lindy Ruff publicly criticized Jochen Hecht for poor face-offs.  Claiming that Jochen wasn't working hard enough.  Why he's wrong:  Anyone who has followed the career of Jochen Hecht knows that he has never been good at face-offs.  In fact I have been an advocate of moving him back to Left Wing since day one.
  • After that same game he was very critical of Derek Roy for what he termed "soft play"  Why he's wrong:  Although Roy may have been soft in that particular game, he has been the Sabres best Forward most of the season.  He had played well for at least a week before that game and has been great since then.
  • He played Patrick Lalime in a Friday night game at washington and Ryan Miller on Saturday night at home.  Why he's wrong:  The Washington Capitals are one of the best teams in the league and have an explosive offense while the Islanders are a struggling team that is in a state of rebuilding.  The Sabres managed two points that weekend but they may have earned four if the Goalie assignments were reversed.

The overall outlook of this team is the same.  I think they will be a playoff team and will finish anywhere from 6th-8th by seasons end.  I posted the run to 94 points before and the Sabres are half way there.  They currently have 47 points after 42 games and they need anywhere from 43-47 points to make the playoffs.