After taking a look at a few of the bright spots for the Sabres this season, here are a few of the lowlights from the up and down season that saw the Sabres fall short of a playoff berth.
By no means do I feel that injuries are the reason for Buffalo’s poor showing this year. But I certainly think they played a part in the downfall. I place this first because I’m tired of talking about it, so I want to get it out of the way.
It is obvious that injuries played a role in the Sabres’inability to defend and produce consistent offense at various points throughout the year. For example, having Paul Szecechura centering your top two scorers isn’t an ideal situation. The same can be said for needing to dress Derek Whitmore and Marcus Foligno for their NHL debut on the same roster as T.J. Brennan and Brayden McNabb.
The reason injuries can’t be pegged as the only reason for Buffalo’s struggles is that many of their regulars remained in the lineup. Derek Roy and Drew Stafford’s stagnant first half had little to do with other players being injured. The same goes for Ville Leino and Brad Boyes – although those two did miss some time due to ailments.
I think the only major issue that Buffalo couldn’t overcome was the way their defense was affected by the injury bug. By forcing Mike Weber into big minutes, while Brennan, Joe Finley and McNabb also took regular shifts, the Sabres were obviously operating with lesser talent in places where they needed strong players. I have to think the defensive strategy did suffer at times when the injuries were really bad, but that doesn’t excuse the inability of some of Buffalo’s core to perform at an adequate level.
One piece of criticism that I’ll never deflect from Lindy Ruff is how he treats his lines. He is far too impatient with the production of some and far too loyal to others. Luke Adam, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek were terrific to begin the year, but the line was broken up by the end of November. Those three players spent the rest of the season bouncing between different lines and experiencing different levels of success as the season progressed. Adam ended up in Rochester because he couldn’t find traction after the success he had with the team’s top two scorers.
Ville Leino and Brad Boyes are also part of this conversation. After proving he wasn’t a capable center, Leino was bounced around every single line on the team before ultimately settling on the wing with Derek Roy and Pominville. That was in March. Leino had an ugly season and didn’t justify his paycheck. However, you have to wonder if he had been given a fair chance to develop some chemistry with two linemates that his numbers may have been better.
Showing little to no trust in the players he groups together is one of Lindy Ruff’s greatest faults. I feel that he did more harm than good this season with the choices he made regarding who his players skated with.
Enroth makes this list not for his play, but the way he was utilized. Or should I say, underutilized?
After a great stretch of hockey last year, Enroth stayed hot in the fall working in tandem with Ryan Miller. He took over from Miller when Buffalo’s starter was injured and things began to head downhill. As the team deteriorated, as did Enroth’s game. He hadn’t won a game since November entering a stretch of hockey that saw him get a rare start on a back-to-back set. His losing streak is still intact heading into 2012-13.
Enroth is a very capable backup, but he needs to be used properly. Sitting him on the bench to get pickled will do nothing for his development or his impact on the team. Miller was called to start 30-straight games yet again, it is a situation that needs to end one day. One day soon.
Ville Leino & Brad Boyes
Buffalo’s pair of $4M+ wingers combined for 16 goals. You wouldn’t pay a single player their combined salary to score 16 goals. Both had their own types of let downs, but I would say Boyes was a bigger bust.
Boyes did fall victim to playing on the fourth line, which seriously choked off his offensive output. However, he did see plenty of time on Buffalo’s stagnant power play and didn’t pick up many points there. Despite his impressive start last spring, Boyes has been a disappointing player during his time in Buffalo.
As for Leino, there are a number of things he does quite well. His puck control is phenomenal and he makes some strong plays in the offensive zone. However, the scoring wasn’t there. Why? I feel that Leino’s adjustment period was longer because of being expected to play center and his general style of play. Add in the fact that he found himself playing nearly every position on every line the Sabres put out this year. Still, he wasn’t the player they expected or needed him to be. For $4.5M, that simply can’t happen.
To think I thought all would be better when Brian McCutcheon moved on. I was way off. The Buffalo power play remained streakier than generic Windex and failed to be a difference maker at numerous times during the season.
For the second-straight season, the Sabres failed to figure out how to enter the zone properly; relying on that idiotic drop pass and flat footed attacks. The organization acquired a premier point shooter, but he wasn’t used as such. Rather than build their attack around Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres treated him as just another player and it showed.
The numbers may not back up all of my claims regarding the power play, but an eye test would show that this unit was in desperate need of an overhaul. Perhaps Scott Arniel is interested in coming back to reprise his role from 2005-06.