Do the Sabres struggles trace back to how Lindy Ruff handles his players?

Over his 15-year tenure, Ruff’s job has been called for a number of times. Fans on the radio and message boards have typically been those leading the pitchfork mob, but the media has even begun to levy more criticism against Lindy Ruff as of late.

Most notably, Ruff’s players have come out to question some of the methods he has become known for. Derek Roy and Ville Leino’s locker clean out day remarks were the two that stood out the most in terms of questioning their coach’s approach.

There was a lot of pieces that were kind of out of place,” Leino said. “Also, they’ve got to work with what they were given. We have a lot of good players and we’re a good team, which we proved at the end. We just didn’t get that chemistry and all that right away at the start, and it was probably too late.

Coaches do most of the work, and obviously players want to be better, too. I think we’ve just got to get more out of everybody, which we did at the end. It doesn’t matter who plays if you don’t get their talents out. You’ve got to try to use everybody with what they’re best at. ~ Ville Leino

Terry Pegula and Ted Black have voiced their support for Ruff and Darcy Regier many times. Black all but confirmed the two would be back for 2012-13 at the All-Star break. When it was announced they would return, there wasn’t too much surprise. However, the long stretch of listless hockey last year and ultimately missing the playoffs has brought more heat on the Sabres’ bench boss. Ruff has been coated with Teflon for a long time. However, it seems as if his coating is starting to wear out.

The base of this argument centers around the fact that the Sabres have not won enough hockey games the last few seasons. As most are quick to point out, the Sabres haven’t won a playoff series since 2007. They also failed to make the playoffs last season and suffered through a season-long string of inconsistent play and injuries.

While Lindy Ruff certainly isn’t the only person to blame for the struggles the Sabres suffered through last year, he is certainly part of the puzzle. Ruff didn’t seem capable of righting the ship at various times. He certainly didn’t sit idly by as the Sabres took a nose dive, it just seemed as if he wasn’t capable of finding the answers with the players provided to him. With reports from people on, or close to the team (like Paul Hamilton) that players had begun to tune him out.

Ruff’s ability to utilize his players properly has long been a knock against him, but usually it was centered on his underutilization back-up goaltenders.  The 2011-12 season brought out a mob of fans who felt he wasn’t capable of getting the most out of his scorers as well. Personally, I think this may be Ruff’s greatest failing. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: The new core

The next group of player grades for the Sabres is comprised of young talent and new faces. This group either arrived in Buffalo this season, or are part of the burgeoning youth movement on the depth chart.

Tyler Ennis – A-

This might seem like a high grade to some, it may even look like a low grade for some. I say it is adequate with the understanding that Ennis still has room to grow, especially as a center. The ankle injury that sidelined him for 34 games was a devastating blow to his progress and the Sabres in general.

While he was sniffing at a point per game pace, it was basically just in the second half. That bodes quite well for a player that is looking like he could be a major weapon for the Sabres in the coming seasons. I still think Ennis needs to add a little size, but he certainly doesn’t need to change anything on the offensive side of his game.

Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson should prove to be the centers of the future in Buffalo

Cody Hodgson- C+

I like Hodgson’s game. His numbers weren’t ideal, but he showed some traits that should make him a dangerous piece of the puzzle moving forward. His brief time here was highlighted by a few nice goals and assists, obviously putting him with scorers will be a necessity. Depending on what kind of summer he has could mean that he comes to camp has the incumbent number two center (behind Ennis) with the chance to be a key contributor for next year.

Continue reading

Sabres in review: What went wrong

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.

Injuries

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.

Line shuffling

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.

Jhonas Enroth

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.

Power Play

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.

Double Minors: All Swedish, no finish

Usually the Buffalo Bills serve as the muse for finding every way in which to leave their fans befuddled. After a 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg, it would seem the Sabres are exhausting any remaining avenues for evaluation.

Despite both teams tossing plenty of shots on goal, the game was rather dull. It should be mentioned the full house of fans were incredibly tame too. Based on the last two games, it would seem the biggest culprits regarding the First Niagara Library are the fans. Of course, there isn’t much to cheer for on the ice.

Buffalo received a great effort from Jhonas Enroth in goal, turning aside 39 shots in the loss. Not only was this the second straight game in which Enroth faced a barrage from the opponent, it was his second-straight overtime decision.

Between performance and the apparent fact that Enroth is the only player capable of securing at least one point each night, Lindy Ruff may need to revise his decision to ride Ryan Miller.

Last night’s loss was yet another one-goal effort from the Sabres. This time, Tyler Myers registered the tally on the power play. What seemed lost on many of the fans in the arena was the tremendous passing play that created the goal. While fans complained of too many passes, or yelled shoot, Pominville’s centering feed got behind Ondrej Pavelc. So much for high hockey IQ.

Obviously scoring is the plague killing this season. No matter how bad the goaltending has been, it truly only can be held accountable for a handful of losses. Expecting a shutout or a one-goal against performance each night is foolhardy. Until more scoring finds its way into the lineup, this team will be heading for a lottery pick.

  • The uproar over Ruff’s decision to start Enroth seemed a little shortsighted. A back-to-back weekend was a good time to start Enroth, especially considering his last outing. If Ruff re-evaluates and decides to get more games for Enroth, it wouldn’t be a bad decision. However, until that happens there is no reason to think he is sticking with his decision to ride Miller.
  • Myers lost a few battles in his end last night. It certainly wasn’t as strong of an outing as he had in Carolina. However, Ruff rewarded him with quality minutes and seems confident in leaning on the cornderstone. A quality, while not outstanding, outing was certainly tarnished by the errant pass that led to the game winning rush for Winnipeg. Myers game far exceeds the struggles he had earlier in the year, it seems safe to say he is turning a corner.
  • Ville Leino’s return was a success. He was strong on the puck, made some fantastic feeds. Two resulted in chances and a subsequent penalty. His no goal was probably a good call considering he dug the puck from Pavelec’s pads. However, given how quiet that arena was, no whistle blew. Unless the call was intent to blow (which it wasn’t), there may be an argument in allowing that one to stand.
  • The Sabres should research a headset device that fans can wear which feeds them corrections to some of the things they say during games. For example, when one fan exclaims at the stupidity of placing Vanek on the point for a power play the device can point out that two defensemen are indeed on the ice but one is playing deep in the zone. Just spitballing on that one.
  • You can officially call him Grocery Stick Gragnani. The “defenseman” saw only nine shifts for 7:02 TOI. A majority of that time came on the power play. Obviously he is seen as a complete liability to this team. There doesn’t seem to be much risk in waiving him and bringing up any one of the players in Rochester. Again, T.J. Brennan exhibited a fine two-way game while be heads and shoulders better than Gragnani in his own zone.
  • Drew Stafford is in a serious funk. His goal against Edmonton should have acted as a catalyst to spur a scoring streak. However, he looks like he may be yet another player who needs a change of scenery to break out. Tim Connolly was stale in Buffalo and giving minor contributions, he is enjoying some sound hockey in Toronto. Perhaps a similar change is necessary for Stafford.

Three Stars

1. Johnny Oduya

2. Ondrej Pavelec

3. Jhonas Enroth

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

Ruff shakes up lines, Leino to center Vanek and Pominville

Lindy Ruff has decided that it is time for a change.  With a 1-2-0 record though the first three games of a five-game home stand; the Sabres were in need of a wake-up call.

The shake-up hit the top two lines as Luke Adam has been flipped for Ville Leino. Leino is back at center between the Sabres’ top two scorers. It looks as if Ruff wants Leino to play out of the funk he is in, definitely the best approach. While there is certainly a possibility to derail the early success Vanek and Pominville have had, Adam wasn’t a direct factor in their torrid start. If anything, Leino’s slickness will add an extra wrinkle to the already lethal wingers.

Adam will now skate alongside Derek Roy and Drew Stafford. Reports say Adam will be on the wing with the two veterans. This move won’t help or hurt a line that was largely in effective before Leino was moved to their wing. Adam has had a strong start to the season and has benefitted from his time with Vanek and Pominville. However, he wasn’t the only factor to their success. In fact, their continued success on the power play shows that they aren’t fully dependent on their center to produce.

Based on the limited ice time the Leino has been receiving, it is obvious Ruff hasn’t liked his game. Ruff is also aware that sitting a player on the bench won’t do much more than pile on the negative reinforcement. By placing Leino with Buffalo’s two best offensive weapons, Ruff has created the potential for Leino to utilize his tremendous playmaking ability with two players on hot streaks.

The key for Leino will be to make quicker decisions. It seems that he has been over handling the puck and thinking too long in regards to finding passing lanes or getting pucks to the net. If he is able to “simplify” his game there should be a marked improvement. Having two line mates who have been successful thus far is another added bonus. Continue reading

Ville Leino and preaching patience

The additional expectations and pressure that come with a six-year $27 million contract were probably something Ville Leino was prepared to deal with entering his first season with the Buffalo Sabres.

He was probably ready to accept the challenge that came with learning a new system, playing with new linemates and even switching back to his old position. The hiccup in all of this has been an early; make that very early, slump accompanied by a game of musical line changes.

Leino has skated with three different lines already and the season is only eight games old. After starting as a center between Tyler Ennis and Brady Boyes, he was given a new winger (Cody McCormick) before being bumped to the wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.

The most recent move should be the best one for the new forward. Leino’s best play in Philadelphia came on the wing; there is no reason to think the success won’t be duplicated here. That isn’t to say Leino would have been an effective center for Buffalo, he just hadn’t settled into the role through the first handful of games. Continue reading

Ennis to miss time, Leino to step in on wing

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. Continue reading