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Sabres in review: What went right

April 17, 2012

Hopefully my season recap provided a broad view of the ups and downs of the Sabres’ season. Chances are that I didn’t accomplish such a goal, apologies. I would also like to highlight some more specific cases as to the pros and cons, the good and bad of the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres season. What went right and wrong will be presented in different posts. First, what went right.

Tyler Ennis

Like just about everyone on the roster, Ennis didn’t enjoy a full year of successful hockey. However, when Ennis finally got healthy, he was one of Buffalo’s most consistent and dangerous forwards.

Despite missing 34 games with a high ankle sprain, Ennis finished the season with 34 points (15+19) in 48 games. His early season struggles were caused by his injury. Seven of Ennis’ multi-point games came in the final 15 contests of the season. His move to center not only jump started his production, but it provided a spark to the entire roster. He found instant chemistry with Drew Stafford and eventually Marcus Foligno. Ennis has suddenly become the best center in the Sabres organization and will be due a healthy raise, I’m guessing in the $3M range.

Jason Pominville

Pominville won the team MVP award and he earned it. Despite all of their struggles this season, Pominville was the only consistent performer over 82 games. Aside from last year, Pominville has always been a consistent point scorer over the entire year. He hit 30 goals, the only Sabre to do so this season.

He embraced the captaincy, despite not being an outspoken, rah-rah player. His first All-Star appearance was great to see and well deserved from a player who used to be a whipping boy for many fans. I have to think he could have achieved more had he been kept with the same linemates for a majority of the season. Separating he and Thomas Vanek didn’t do well for either player’s numbers.

Thomas Vanek (1st Half)

Vanek’s first half play probably surpassed the contributions that Pominville at certain points. However, January brought some bumps and bruises that developed into what seem to be nagging injuries. His second half was one of the biggest disappointments on the year, but his first half play was one of the reasons the Sabres were competitive on some nights.

I won’t include Vanek in both the highs and lows, but understand that he did need to be better during the homestretch this year. Perhaps if he was given the same center for the entire year and treated like an actual superstar, not a 13-minute third line winger, he would continue to top the 30-goal plateau.

Healthy Ryan Miller

Like it or not, Miller had a better than average year. In fact, had his season not been interrupted by injury, it would have been considered a bounce back year compared to 2010-11. Miller was strong early on and closed the season with the best hockey of his career. It was the middle portion that hurt him.

With a couple rough outings immediately prior to his injury, Miller’s numbers were ballooned compared to how he was actually playing. By the time he got his game back he needed a stellar run to get his head above water. Considering where he came from (stats-wise) and where he carried the team to, Miller is one reason the Sabres won’t be watching the lottery with a close eye.

Christian Ehrhoff

It would seem some fans thought the Sabres signed the second coming of Bobby Orr considering some of the expectations surrounding Ehrhoff this year. While he didn’t have the offensive numbers he did in Vancouver, Ehrhoff was one of the Sabres best defensemen for a majority of the season. In fact, he may have been the best of the bunch.

The Sabres winning percentage without Ehrhoff was well below .400, which is ghastly. He was a steady defender, whose offensive game seemed to come around as the season progressed. Ehrhoff ate up big minutes and was quite steady in his own end. Personally, I don’t think the power play was built to help him fully succeed, but he still managed to lead the team’s defense in points.

Youth Movement

The one thing no one seems to bust on Darcy Regier about is his ability to evaluate young talent. The Sabres injury issues caused a number of players to be called up throughout the season. I counted 22 different forwards who dressed for the Sabres this year. Eight of those players started the year in Rochester – Luke Adam would be the ninth considering his demotion late in the year.

The Sabres also called up three of their defensive prospects during the year and each was greeted with varying levels of success. While some of the AHL veterans had little impact during their games, the rookies (Adam, Foligno, Tropp, McNabb) were all quite effective during their time in the show. In addition to the number of players signed to entry-level deals, the Sabres cupboards seem to be well stocked as they move forward.

Finding Sandpaper

A big indictment of the Sabres over the past two playoff exits was their lack of toughness. The team has slowly begun drafting to fix this issue (Foligno, Kassian, McNabb) and the results are beginning to show. There is a long road ahead in terms of icing a truly tough roster, but the Sabres showed flashes of toughness along the way to 40 fighting majors this year. That number is their highest since the lockout and the highest since 2003-04. A few more big bodies will help in the corners and along the boards, but it certainly seems as if they’re heading in the right direction.

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