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Early Season Struggle
October 18, 2010 - Matt Spielman
So the Sabres have played a little more than a week of their schedule and it's clear, there are problems in HSBC Arena.
Buffalo has played alright in its two road games, but it has been downright dreadful in four home contests, losing all four, albeit one in overtime.
Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek have been nonexistent on the offensive end and it's hard to point out one defenseman who has played well.
Tyler Myers is the most obvious struggling blue-liner, either because he sticks out like a sore thumb at 6 foot, 8 inches or because everytime the referee is pulling the puck out of the Buffalo net Myers seems to be standing right there watching. Jordan Leopold has been a nice addition offensively early on, but his defensive play has been lacking also. It looks like Craig Rivet's shoulder injury was just an excuse for the deterioration of his play the past two seasons and newcomer Shaone Morrisonn plays physical, but is already out of the lineup with a groin injury.
Opposing teams playing the Sabres early this season have featured defenseman like Sergei Gonchar, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook ... even Montreal youngster P.K. Subban looked like a lot more of a threat than any Buffalo blue-liners have looked this year. Myers needs to find his way back to his rookie-season form or the loss of Henrik Tallinder is going to start looking bigger and bigger. Coach Lindy Ruff needs to accept the fact that Craig Rivet should not be this team's captain and show him a seat in the pressbox, to give Mike Weber a chance to play. Weber will play the same type of game as Rivet, but should add a little better skating and youthful enthusiasm to the roster. Hopefully Leopold and Morrisonn will find their ways given a little more time in the system.
Up front bigger changes are likely needed. Derek Roy has been the only constant this season, but he can't do it all himself. Thomas Vanek has to start thinking shot first and pass second. Buffalo had a 3-on-1 break against Chicago on Saturday night with Vanek carrying the puck down the right wing. Vanek carried the puck too deep into the zone and when the Blackhawks defender went down the block the pass, Vanek tried to force it through the middle anyways instead of letting loose a laser slapshot. Drew Stafford has show glimpses of offense, but that has been his story for years now. Tim Connolly has lost all confidence of being a star NHL player and Tyler Ennis hasn't shown much yet either.
The line of Scott Niedermayer, Mike Grier and sometimes Jochen Hecht was supposed to be a shutdown defensive line against opposing teams' top forward lines, but Niedermayer and Grier are both minus-5 and Hecht hasn't been much better. Grier looks like his best days are behind him and Patrick Kaleta can do the same job with much more speed and energy on the third line.
The Sabres power play looked a lot more active in the Chicago game Saturday, but still did not produce any results. Watching a couple of other games this weekend, it just seems like Buffalo's system isn't conducive to power-play success. Other teams move players around the zone the entire power play with defensemen dropping through the slot and passes criss-crossing the zone whereas the Sabres move around the outside until the puck gets to the point and hope their shots don't hit a shot-blocker's leg. I think the front office should be looking for an assistant coach to come in with a new flavor for the power play. Hopefully that will jumpstart guys like Connolly and Stafford, creating better 5-on-5 play for the whole team.
A Stanley Cup can't be won in October, but it sure can be lost and if Buffalo doesn't right the ship soon the season could be a lost cause before Thanksgiving.
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Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, top, argues a call during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens in Buffalo on Oct. 15. AP photo