The ankle injury suffered by Tyler Ennis on Saturday has been deemed as a “week-to-week” injury for the winger. His absence from the lineup caused some significant shuffling at practice for the Sabres today.
Paul Gaustad also sat out with what was described as a “maintenance day”. He was replaced by Matt Ellis for the day. The only concerning part of Gaustad’s day off is that he has had a pair of maintenance days in the past week. Not a great sign for a guy with an injury history.
Ennis’ hole in the lineup is far more defined by any time Gaustad may, or may not, miss. With the young winger out for what will likely amount to two weeks Ville Leino will fill his role on the wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. It actually appears as if Leino requested to be moved back to the wing.
This is actually a move that could not only benefit Leino, but the Sabres’ second line. While the Vanek-Adam-Pominville line continues to put up points like it is going out of style (15 In seven games), the remaining six forwards to have tallied points have accounted for only seven goals and seventeen points over that same span.
Leino has exhibited the puck prowess that warranted his six-year $27 million contract in the offseason. However neither he, nor his linemates, has been able to produce the points that would prove that progress is occurring. A move to wing – the position where Leino has experienced the most NHL success – might be the best thing for him.
Skating with Roy and Stafford will put Leino with a pair of skaters very similar to his linemates from Philadelphia. Roy exhibits the shiftiness and goal-scoring prowess of Danny Briere, just on a slightly lesser level than Briere. Stafford has some similar attributes to Scott Hartnell; however Stafford is a more gifted scorer while Hartnell is a better grinder. Still, there are many similarities between Leino’s former and new linemates. Hopefully the similarities allow him the opportunity to blossom in a similar fashion that he did in Philly.
Leino’s move will allow Jochen Hecht (or Matt Ellis depending on Hecht’s health) to step in to center Cody McCormick and Brad Boyes for the foreseeable future. Hecht was skating with those wingers this afternoon and his addition to the line seems wiser than trying to force a talented set-up man in that spot.
The only remaining lineup decision that will cause trouble will be finding the right spot for Ennis upon his return. Should the Leino-Roy-Stafford line click there will be little reason to break them up. Outside of scratching him, putting Ennis with Hecht and either Boyes or McCormick may be the only option for the Sabres. While that isn’t an ideal line, Ennis’ playmaking ability may actually help veterans like Hecht or Boyes create some extra offense.
Buffalo has shown on multiple occasions their ability to create and maintain offensive zone pressure throughout these seven games. While only one line has found the back of the net consistently , perhaps the only missing piece of the puzzle is to find a new winger or center for some of the Sabres’ pointless forwards.