The Buffalo Sabres are a week and a half into the new season, with five games in the books already. Buffalo went 2-0-0 on their European travels, before losing to Carolina in their home opener, winning 3-2 on the road at the Penguins and then pulling out a 3-1 win in Montreal. Here are some quick observations so far -
- Buffalo lost their first game in the friendly confines of the newly-named FN Center but maybe they're still getting used to their new luxurious digs? Last season the Sabres didn't win at home until the middle of November, starting 0-6-1 at the HSBC Arena. The last time the Sabres won a home opener was in the '08-'09 season.
- The top line of Thomas Vanek - Luke Adam - Jason Pominville has been a roaring success so far, combining for 48 shots, 20 pts and a +9 rating. Rookie Adam is taking full advantage of his opportunity on this top line and has not disappointed so far. Vanek meanwhile has been his sniping best, topped off with his team-leading fourth of the season last night from a highlight reel sequence of passes off the face-off with two seconds left in the second period.
- Derek Roy has been centering the unofficial second line with Nathan Gerbe and Drew Stafford, and they have 13 pts and are +10. Roy appears to still be recovering from his shoulder injury in preseason. Stafford has had a slow start but has been improving by the game while Gerbe has been at his pesky best, playing hard and taking on all comers.
- Tyler Ennis - Ville Leino - Brad Boyes on the third line have been struggling, with just 2 pts in five games. Initially Lindy Ruff tried to play Leino and Ennis out of their collective slumps, but ended up losing his patience with Leino after his poor game against the Habs, seeing only two minutes of ice time in the third period. Ennis looked much better and had two excellent chances to break his scoring drought when he was moved to the second line with Gerbe in the locker room for an equipment malfunction.
- Surprisingly, coach Ruff has not been tinkering too much in-game with the lines. Part of this was due to the fact that the four lines were all contributing. However, after the miserable first period in Montreal last night and Leino's repeated turnovers, he finally reverted to rolling three lines. Boyes meanwhile has been a disappearing act this season and barely deserves a mention.
- Prized free agent Christian Ehrhoff is leading the team in ice-time, playing 24:41 per game. He has an empty-netter and 4 assists to lead all the d-men, but is a -2 thanks to the two short-handed goals given up. Second among the d-men on ice is not Tyler Myers but the almost-forgotten Jordan Leopold, who also scored last night. Myers has been paired with Robyn Regehr, and they have mustered 20 hits and 21 blocked shots between them. Myers hasn't struggled as mightily as he did in the beginning of last season, but has had problems with puck handling at times. Regehr on the other hand is really looking like money well spent.
- The third pairing of Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani has been on ice for about 15 minutes a game, with Ruff not hesitant to use the two young puck-movers together. Gragnani leads the team in PP time with Sekera being utilized more on the PK. Sekera has been more responsible with the puck this season while Gragnani has shown his inexperience at times with turnovers and poor positioning.
- Vezina-hopeful goaltender Ryan Miller (3 W, 2.01 GAA, .942 SV%) looked ordinary against the Canes but was spectacular in his 40-save performance in Montreal. Backup goalie Jhonas Enroth (1 W, 2.00 GAA, .935 SV%) continued where he left off last season (going 9-2-2 with Miller injured) with an excellent performance against the Pens, allowing the Sabres to record their first victory since 2008 in the Steel City. A well-rested Miller is a spectacular Miller, and Ruff acknowledged he wants to entrust Enroth with 20-25 games.
- Ruff's high-risk/high-reward powerplay philosophy came true to form, with the Canes taking advantage of lapses at the point to score a pair of short-handed goals. After going 3 of 8 in the first two games, the Sabres have since dropped to 3 of 16, placing them 13th in the NHL. The Sabres' quick lateral passing has been opening up all sorts of shot lanes, but they are also proving to be vulnerable to aggressive penalty killers.
- The Sabres penalty kill has been very competent in negating 18 of 20 penalties, good for 6th in the league. Myers and Regehr have been leading the way with short handed time on ice for the d-men, with Patrick Kaleta and Paul Gaustad leading the forwards.
- After a late-looking heavy hit on Pominville by the Cane's Bryan Allen, the whole team leaped to his defense. First Cody McCormick challenged him a couple of times to a fight before Kaleta and Gerbe also hit Allen. Even Ruff was thrilled by McCormick hounding the offender. Pominville, the new captain, will be pleased how the team has been coming together, and is lucky to have escaped serious injury. McCormick then distinguished himself fighting Travis Moen of the Canadiens, acting as the catalyst that finally snapped the Sabres out of their slump in the first half of the game.
The rest of this week has the Sabres going down south to play the two Florida teams, Panthers on Thursday and Lightning on Saturday.