Sabres’ season sinking slowly

MillerMax

A strong season was expected, but this team has sunk low in the Eastern Conference? If that’s the Canadiens’ plight it is even more true for the Sabres, who provide the Habs Tuesday night Bell Centre foe in the first game coming out of the All-Star break.

After adding a number of new faces with owner Terry Pegula opening his wallet, the Sabres have fallen even further out of the playoff hunt than Montreal. They currently sit in 12th, two points behind Canadiens, and hoping a 2-1 shootout victory over the Devils last Tuesday — their final game before the break — was the beginning of something better.

While the Habs have been playing better of late (2-0-1 in their last three, including their powerful performance last Wednesday against Detroit), the win over New Jersey broke a five-game losing streak for Buffalo and was their first win in 13 road games. They haven’t won two straight since Nov. 8-11.

This team has beaten Montreal at the Bell Centre twice this season, but since mid-December they have gotten only 10 of a possible 36 points, with only three victories and three regulation ties.

They’ve scored only just 15 goals in their last 10 games and their goal differential — -30 — is the worst in the Conference and 29th in the NHL (better only than Columbus). Their 119 goals is better only than the Islanders in the East and is 26th in the league. They haven’t been good keeping the puck out of the net either. They are one of only five teams that has allowed three or more goals a game.

Like Montreal, however, this is a team that has underachieved and has enough talent to do some damage down the stretch. How much of that talent will be around much longer is an open question.

As you’d expect, there are cries for replacing both coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier, who have run this team longer than any other coach-GM duo currently in the league. But team president Ted Black told The Buffalo News he isn’t considering it. He’s not using injuries as a crutch for the team’s play either, even though they have lost almost as many man games to injury as Montreal. He’s blaming the players, many of whom are having career-worst seasons.

“Our commitment is to winning, not to any particular group of players that are labeled as a core,” he said. So management is clearly thinking “trade” here.

Those having down years include goalie Ryan Miller, who hasn’t played like the Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic MVP of 2010. While he played a strong game against the Devils, he has not been the confident, Vezina Trophy calibre netminder from a couple of seasons ago, with a 3.09 average and a .899 save percentage, very un-Miller-like.

He began the season strong and made 40 saves in beating the Habs in October, the teams’ first meeting of the season. But not long afterward he lost his sharpness and was then run over by Milan Lucic. When he returned after a three-week layoff, he was even less sharp. But he told the media after Monday’s practice he’s identified some things he was doing wrong and hopes he is turning his season around.

Miller’s backup, Jhonas Enroth, who was in goal the last time these teams played on Nov. 14 (a 3-2 shootout win after Montreal had a 2-0 lead) has not been effective and has won only won games since then, not posting a W since Nov. 26th (0-6-2).

On defence, Christian Ehrhoff, who had 50 points and was a plus-19 last season for Vancouver, has only 17 and is a minus-10 — and on pace to be a minus-19. Big Tyler Myers, who had 48 points in his Calder Trophy season two years ago, has only 10 points. Robin Regehr, who hasn’t been a minus player since 2002-03, is minus-13.

In looking at who’s hot and who’s not, apart from Jason Pomminville, the entire forward corps would be listed under who’s not. Tomas Vanek has no points in six games, Derek Roy has none in five, Ville Leino has one point in the 10 games he’s been back after an injury, Drew Stafford has one point in 10 games, Nathan Gerbe has three points in 10 games, antagonist Patrick Kaleta has three points in 16 games…you get the idea.

The Sabres got more bad news last week when centre Jochen Hecht went down with a concussion, his second of the season and third in less than a year. His career could be in jeopardy.

Special teams are truly problematic for Buffalo. While the Sabres power play is quite good at home (seventh in the league at 20.4 percent), on the road it struggles (22nd at 14.3 percent). Similarly, their PK ranks 11th at home (84.8 percent, a shade behind the Habs), but 26th on the road (76.6 percent).

While Hecht is gone, Ruff will be getting some bodies back up front. Tyler Ennis, who has been out of the lineup for two lengthy stretches with a bad ankle, should return and Paul Gausted (upper body) is also possible.

Here’s how the Sabres could line up:

Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Patrick Kaleta, Brad Boyes, Ville Leino
Cody McCormick. Luke Adam or Paul Gausted, Matt Ellis

Andrej Sekera, Tyler Myers,
Robin Regehr, Mike Weber
Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

23 Comments

  1. obrien says:

    I hope Ruff gets fired. This is exactly the kind of coach that I would like to see available in the summer.

    Babcock ain’t going to be available folks… He would be the perfect fit for an anglo coach.

  2. HabFanSince72 says:

    The Sabres were solidly in the playoffs until Lucic ran Miller.

    Even when there are no symptoms of concussion, reaction time and concentration are subtly impaired for many months after the event.


    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

    • habsperspective says:

      And confidence. Youd swear the Habs were suffering from post concussion syndrome collectively themselves.

      I get a feeling this problem is here to stay, unless certain players actually start caring about not hurting each other. Goonery seems to be blossoming more an more.

      Or maybe its a bush league, and its always been there.

    • canuckbot says:

      Hab Fan Since ’72 but how long have you been a doctor?

  3. Miller and Reimer get hit and start to struggle. I hope thats not giving anyone ideas.

    http://www.puckbandits.com

  4. solomio says:

    I will say, and its obvious, that if the “new” Habs come to play they’ll win handily but if they perform, as was their custom, like the “old ” Habs, then they’ll lose this one.
    I’m starting to believe in the new but not without trepidation. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    “I figure PG has one or 2 moves left to bring the Habs that extra step closer to perhaps being the best in the league.” – Einstein

  5. G-Man says:

    Sabres are suffering from a new owner who is trying to make some noise. Team chemistry is really important. Miller having his worst season makes Buffalo seem weak. Yet, against the Habs they’ve physically dominated. Let’s see if the Habs can reverse their fortunes against them. After a looong week of waiting, real hockey is back.

    • nickster13 says:

      Not just Miller, ive seen the goals against them, and there are tons of defensive breakdowns leading to 2 on 1’s down low, or giveaways. Habs and Sabres have shown that with a mistake-prone defence corps, you cant win very often

    • Habfan10912 says:

      Good mornng Gman. Millers play most definetly has suffeted for sure. The Sabres remind me a lot if the Habs. They were built for speed with strong goaltending. The league through both clubs a curve when goonery won the day. Speed and skill didn’t sell in marginal US markets and Daddy wanted to secure the viability of the franshice in Boston. Montreal has recognized this and have made some changes to get bigger. Buffalo will need to do that soon.

  6. Duracell3 says:

    Crazy conspiracy theory guy checking in here.

    Every time Annakin Slayd mentions/updates a song with a new player’s name, they get traded/go unsigned.

    TIDES GO IN TIDES GO OUT!

    YOU CAN’T EXPLAIN THAT!!!

  7. sreuel says:

    Just another team that just won’t play hockey what they are paid to do. All the teams that are our of playoffs have all the excuses why they aren’t playing well. If I didn’t perform at my work I would be fired but theses million dollar players come back year after year and get paid more money

    • spirek says:

      totally agree. All those guys are overpaid and that’s the biggest issue right now in hockey. Their salary should up to their performance on the ice or sth.

      • nickster13 says:

        Removing guaranteed contracts would do the trick! It would totally drive the salaries down and keep players honest. Problem is, it would never be accepted by players, but then again, why should they have a say, they are the employee.

        • neumann103 says:

          Ummmm…. because they are formally restrained from contracting their services to an employer of their choice by an oligopoly (the NHL) that engages in practices that would be illegal without the explicit consent of the players (and probably are anyhow).

          It starts with the draft. Imagine if you graduated Engineering school and were told “You were picked by Schlumberger, and you will be working in some godforsaken mining town in Northern Ontario.”

          “But I want to work for Imperial Oil in Calgary. They want to hire me, they pay better, I won’t be eaten by blackflies and can have my pick of 22 year old drunk college girls, instead of frozen livestock. When can I work where I want for the company that wants to hire me?”

          “That is kind of a complicated question involving some other variables, but the short answer is in 9 years.”

          “STFU!”

          Any professional sports league that has things like a draft, and the kind of rules involving rights to players is inherently engaging in collusion. Their main purpose may be to encourage parity, prevent a situation where there are a half dozen super teams, a half dozen on the verge of bankruptcy and a bunch stuck in the middle …(pause for effect)… but the effect is clearly an illegal restraint on the players, unless they collectively agree.

          We will likely never see another Curt Flood because any current player would be essentially throwing away his career for the good of those to follow since the litigation would take too long. But I wouldn’t bet on any of these sports leagues standing up to that scrutiny.

          The current terms of the NHL CBA are an attempt to balance the interests of the NHL, its megalomaniac franchise owners and its players. And frankly to protect stupid teams fro themselves in making it impossible to offer 15 year, $200 million contracts to players in a desperate bidding war. No I don’t think that $2M is a reasonable figure for a below average NHL player in the abstract. But what blows my mind is how frequently “fans” will rail against the greedy lazy players and effectively support the greedy lazy owners or the greedy lazy stupid league bureaucracy.

          At least the players actual deliver something of value. With the exception of a couple of people like Mike Illitch in Detroit what the hell do NHL owners produce that in any way ought to warrant taking their side againsnt the players?

          “Et le but!”

    • SlovakHab says:

      Every NHL team pays millions to their players. But 30 teams cannot make playoffs.
      They play against each other, not together. That is quite a big difference between your job and their job.

  8. Propwash says:

    It’ll be an interesting matchup, Buffalo more often than not has our number :/

    _____________________________
    Don’t let the wultures getcha.

  9. Da Hema says:

    Thanks for the update on the Sabres, Stu.

  10. ProHabs says:

    Am I ever glad the Habs didn’t go after Ville Leino. That guy is soo overrated.


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