It’s been a bit of an up and down adventure for the Buffalo Sabres through the first 10 games of the season. Let’s take a look at some GOOD things, BAD things, and things that have been downright UGLY so far in this young season:
1. The Sabres have a winning record. Granted, our expectations are very high for this team, but a 6-4 record isn’t the end of the world. There are still new pieces on this team clearly having some issues getting used to their new surroundings, but let’s give them some time before we overreact. It might be the manner in which they’ve lost a couple of games which has been more concerning. The team has really had trouble putting together three complete periods the last couple of weeks. At the same time, there’s no reason to think they’re not capable of running off a six game winning streak at any given moment.
2. Robyn Regehr. The man is never going to fill up a stat sheet, but I really like what I’ve seen from Regehr so far this year. He’s your prototypical classic NHL defenseman – big hits, solid defensive plays, not much scoring. You rarely see Regehr make mistakes which is a very comforting sight. There is a calm confidence to his game that has really provided a huge positive for the Sabres so far this season. He has had some absolutely monstrous hits, and watching him back on his heels breaking up an offensive rush is a thing of beauty. His presence has really flown under the radar early on. It’s amazing the impact an elite defenseman can have without registering a single point in ten games.
3. The Vanek/Adam/Pominville line. Duh. I could have listed these three guys separately as three positives. Obviously Vanek is having one of the most dominant starts we’ve seen in a while (8 goals, 7 assists in 10 games), but Pominville has lived up to the captain label so far himself with 14 points of his own. Luke Adam has went through some periods of growing pains lately (especially on the defensive end), but 9 points as still technically a rookie has been a nice surprise for this team. We'll soon find out if Adam's success was a product of his line mates, with the news yesterday that Ville Leino will be getting a shot to center Vanek and Pominville.
4. Increased Toughness. Of course Regehr mentioned above is a large part of this, but guys like Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta are picking up from where they left off last year as well. The Sabres were viewed a bit like a "soft" team for a number of years, but this year’s team is really finishing their checks and keeping the opponents on their heels. Regehr has had some Earth-shattering hits already, and Kaleta is…well…being Patrick Kaleta. Last Monday’s game in Tampa Bay was a perfect example. Kaleta came out of the gate like a man possessed, with at least three solid hits in the first two minutes of the game. He didn’t tally a point, but his physical play set the tone for that period, which the Sabres went on to dominate offensively.
1. Line Depth and Chemistry. Besides the first line mentioned above, it’s been an adventure for everyone else down the bench in finding some sort of offensive groove. Players that the Sabres really expected to pick up the torch offensively like Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino, Derek Roy, and Drew Stafford just haven’t got it done. When you see those four players, you expect some offensive production, but they have COMBINED for 5 goals, 6 assists. Yes, 11 points total between the four of them (Vanek has 15 alone, Pominville 14). At some point you expect these players to come around, but it needs to happen soon. The first line isn’t going to average a combined 3.8 points per game forever.
2. Ryan Miller’s inconsistency. I am by no means a Ryan Miller hater, and I don’t think we have anything remotely close to a controversy at the goalie position. But you can’t deny that Ryan Miller has been a bit frustrating to watch this year. At one point we’re treated to five consecutive periods of shutout hockey, and the next we’re seeing him let in goals we’re not used to seeing Ryan Miller let by as the game slips away. I really hate the term "soft goal", but Miller has definitely let in some "questionable" goals. Granted, this isn’t always on the goaltender, as the defense in front of Miller has had some serious mental lapses on a few, but the fact that people are even bringing up the topic of Jhonas Enroth as the #1 lets you know the Buffalo fans are used to more superior play from Miller. He’s still riding a .930 SV% and 2.14 GAA in his first 8 games (4-4), which would both be the best of his career if the season ended today, so maybe we should take it easy on the guy. I think the play of Enroth will also help elevate Miller’s game over time. A little competition never hurt anyone.
1. Tyler Myers. After signing the big extension, Myers has really struggled to start the year. Zero goals, three points, +1, and a slew of bad defensive decisions to go along with it. At times he looks hesitant to insert himself into the play on the offensive end. Perhaps the pressure of a big contract is a bit much for young Myers to handle, or maybe he just hasn’t hit his stride yet. I’m still confident Myers will round into the player we expect him to be, but at this point early in the season his play has been a disappointment. The more time he can spend around vets like Regehr and Ehrhoff though, the more we should see his development begin to take hold. Yes, it’s his third season, but he’s still only 21 years old.
2. Christian Ehrhoff. It hasn’t helped that Ehrhoff, signed in large part due to his offensive savvy, has not filled the void Myers has left at the other end of the ice. Ehrhoff leads the team in ice time (avg 24:33 per game) but sits at -6 on the season. The Sabres have a +7 goal differential for the season, meaning they are +13 in total when Ehrhoff is NOT on the ice. Those are some staggering statistics and really speak for themselves. Right now, he’s not really getting it done at either end of the ice.
3. Ville Leino. After writing a profile on Leino a couple weeks ago, I almost feel like I cursed him. Leino has one goal, one assist, and a -4 to go along with it. The experiment with Leino at center was also momentarily scrapped after his line with Boyes and Ennis was disappointing to start the year. He looks lost bringing the puck into the zone, and seems to commit at least two face-palming turnovers a game. Maybe Lindy Ruff needs to give Leino a bit of a push by moving him up the depth chart a bit, like he did with Brad Boyes on the power play. We'll find out when Leino gets his shot tomorrow, teaming up with Vanek and Pominville on the Sabres' explosive first line. But if that doesn't work, once Johen Hecht and Tyler Ennis are ready to come back, could Leino find himself as the odd man out? Something that seemed so unlikely just a week ago actually may be closer to reality than we think.
Overall, I still expect the Sabres to get it together and be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference throughout the entire season. There would be no better time to start than tomorrow night on home ice against the Flyers; a game that promises to be very intense, very exciting, and probably a bit dirty as well. Probably the biggest game of the year so far, in fact.
If you have any "good/bad/ugly" items of your own so far this season...feel free to add on below.