Losing Patrick Kaleta did not seem to be the type medicine a slumping Sabres team needed. However, it seems as if the line jumble created after the suspension may have been exactly what the doctor ordered.
Losing Kaleta forced Buffalo to recall Corey Tropp from Rochester and move Brad Boyes to the wing with Nathan Gerbe and Paul Gaustad. Tropp skated with Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick. Tropp was effective in a limited role and should see a few more minutes over the next three games.
Boyes stood out more in his new role than Tropp did. Obviously he is playing in a more prominent role both on the power play and even strength. But he certainly looked right at home with two players who are more offensively gifted than his previous linemates.
Losing Kaleta’s energy and drive from the lineup is the last thing the Sabres need. He plays with an edge that every team needs in some form or another. However, it looked as if – for one game at least – that playing Boyes alongside Gerbe and Gaustad was more beneficial than Kaleta. Boyes was comfortable on the wing and easily used his size as a compliment to the two muck and grind players skating alongside him. If nothing more, it offered balance through all four lines.
Balance had seemed to be one missing link for the Sabres over the first dozen games. While the Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta line had been one of the few constants, trying to disperse Boyes, Tyler Ennis and inevitably Jochen Hecht through the remaining spots at forward was less than a simple task.
That led to Boyes’ inclusion on the “fourth line” where he has played well, but has had his hands tied. Clearly surrounding him with better weapons has yielded better results. The bottom line being, there are too many talented forwards to fill the Sabres roster. Plus, finding a way to get all of them on the ice likely breaks up the best lineup in terms of who each player plays. The perfect example being a scoring winger on the fourth line.
While one game is probably too early to lean on way or the other, it would seem wise to put Kaleta with Ellis and McCormick upon his return from suspension. Reason being, they form a true grinding fourth line which would be just as, if not more effective, than when Boyes patrolled the right wing.
For my money Boyes should stick with Gaustad and Gerbe. Kaleta will be equally effective in his role skating with McCormick and Ellis (or Hecht when healthy). The Sabres have been trying to jigsaw players into roles they aren’t a perfect fit for and it has bit them on occasion. The theory at work here is along the lines of what is said in Miracle. You don’t always need the best players, you need the right players. While it is nice to have eight wingers who can score, you also need “role players” who are going to give an honest two-ay effort.
The looming return of Ennis will likely jumble the combinations again, but for the time being it would seem as if the Sabres lines are all mixed properly.