If you were asked before the season who the Sabres most talented players were, I bet your list would have looked something like this, give or take a player or two: Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, Jason Pominville.
Fast forward to the present day, where I would also bet that your feelings on many of these players have, shall we say, turned.
Aside from Derek Roy, the other four non-goalies on that list have combined through six games to put up these underwhelming stats: 1 goal, 5 assists, and a whopping -15. Ryan Miller, the reigning Vezina trophy winner, has a 2.63 GAA and a .911 save percentage, putting him behind such illustrious names as Anders Lindback and Michal Neuvirth. There's your 5 game winless streak right there, folks.
Derek Roy has been inarguably the Sabres best player this season, but unfortunately we can only have a team full of Derek Roys in my NHL 11 season. Excusing Pominville, since he's been on the shelf for 3 games, let's talk about the performance of the other four players thus far and how they can improve.
#19 / Center / Buffalo Sabres
May 07, 1981
|2010 - Tim Connolly||6||1||2||3||-2||2||0||0||0||10||10.0|
Tim Connolly has long been the lightning rod for Buffalo's lack of effort. That deserved criticism is even more evident when you watch games like Saturday's match against Chicago. When you watch Timmy on a random Wednesday night, you forget that he's actually a fast skater, is incredibly creative with the puck, and has a great awareness of both himself and his teammates on the ice. He made me remember all those things about him while watching that Chicago game, it's just too bad we only get to see that Connolly about 20 games of the year.
Connolly seemed to respond well to Ruff's benching and indirect criticism after the Devils game, so let's hope that his wounded pride will help him continue to give the effort he gave on Saturday. We all know Connolly has the talent to put up 60-70 points every year, and he probably will again this year, but he's a very streaky player (as evidenced by last season's 16-game, 25-point streak) and he needs to hit one of those streaks soon. When Connolly's on, he'll spark his linemates as well, and then we'll have a second scoring line that doesn't rely on Cody McCormick to be its offensive catalyst.
#30 / Goalie / Buffalo Sabres
Jul 17, 1980
|2010 - Ryan Miller||5||297||1||4||13||2.63||146||133||.911||0|
Ryan Miller was the reason that the Sabres won the division last year, and possibly the reason the team even made the playoffs at all. We all wondered this off-season whether it was the Olympics that were spurring him to new heights, or whether he had simply made "the leap" into being a top-5 goalie for the next decade. It's still to early to tell, but what we have seen thus far is an inconsistent Miller.
Miller's game is a very technical one that relies on positioning and body control over pure crazy athleticism and reflexes (like say, Dominik Hasek.) That means that he relies more on his defensemen to help him lock up attackers and clear rebounds away from the crease rather than making acrobatic saves. This is where the loss of Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder has been the most apparent. The new defensive pairings haven't quite jelled yet, and it's resulted in a few poor games statistically for Miller, even though many of the goals have not been his fault. He'll be fine, but he may have to steal a game to end this losing skid, like he
did against would have done against the Devils.
#57 / Defenseman / Buffalo Sabres
Feb 01, 1990
|2010 - Tyler Myers||6||0||1||1||-7||0||0||0||0||10|
Tyler Myers is, bar none, the player I'm most worried about thus far. We've all heard of the dreaded sophomore slump, recently affecting the likes of Steve Mason and Luke Schenn. Myers has said he's not worried about a sophomore jinx, but what else would you expect him to say? He's a -7 though 6 games, on pace for an NHL record -95, and while I hope things don't go that far south, he has been the worst defenseman on the team in this young season.
However, as Mike Harrington astutely pointed out yesterday, "Tyler Myers didn't have the Calder Trophy wrapped up last October and he's not sentenced to a sophomore slump in the same amount of time this year." Myers still has plenty of time to regain his mojo, and he at least showed signs of life in Chicago by calling for the puck and generally looking like his old offensive self.
Through six games, Myers has been hesitant in his decision making at times, and has looked uncertain with the puck. Lindy Ruff brought up a good point in his interview yesterday: the fact that every team now has a thorough scouting report on Myers and the things he likes to do with the puck speak volumes about how well he played last year and how dangerous other teams consider him. The no-longer-rookie is going to have to learn some new tricks if he wants to continue his growth as a promising young defenseman, but before he does I think we'd all appreciate if he could remember how to defend a two-on-one first.
#26 / Left Wing / Buffalo Sabres
Jan 19, 1984
|2010 - Thomas Vanek||6||0||2||2||-3||0||0||0||0||19|
Thomas Vanek frustrates me. As a generally optimistic fan, I want to congratulate him for getting so many chances each game. As a Negative Nancy, however, I want to scream at him that YOU ARE PAID TO SCORE GOALS SO START BURYING THOSE CHANCES BEFORE I BURY YOU!!!!
That being said, Vanek has not played as poorly as some other Sabres overall, aside from the aforementioned unburied chances. The entire Vanek-Connolly-Whoever line has been terrible this year, which is why they're all in the minus and no longer playing together. But no matter who he plays with, the fact remains that the Sabres need Vanek to be a 30-goal scorer again, let alone 40. Another season with 28 goals for a guy who's being paid more than $7 million to do nothing but score is completely unacceptable. He's getting the chances, but he's got to find the twine more often than not.
So what do you think, Sabres fans? Can anyone else be blamed as much as these four for the team's poor play? When will Connolly, Myers, and Vanek break out of their slumps? (Wednesday would be nice.) Sound off in the comments.