Saturday, November 12, 2011
Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic mishandled a breakaway pass through the neutral zone and the puck squirted ahead into the Buffalo end.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller raced out to clear the failed break and Lucic crashed into him at full speed, sending the All-Star goalie and his team into a dizzying tailspin.
Miller would not finish the game and is out indefinitely due to concussion-like symptoms. The Sabres failed to muster up the guts to defend their goaltender physically or on the scoreboard throughout the rest of the game. The 6-2 loss was more disconcerting for the Sabres cowardly retreat rather than the final outcome.
In the nine games since, the team is 3-5-1 and missing consistent play in surprisingly all areas except net minder. If it weren’t for the solid play of rookie backup Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres might be 0-9-0 after losing Miller.
Since Enroth took over as the starting goalie, the Stockholm, Sweden native has posted a solid line of; .902 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average while compiling 212 saves and a shutout in the process.
In the 15-games Enroth has started this season he has posted an impressive; 8 wins, .926 save percentage, 2.27 goals against average and 387 saves.
The 23-year-old has shown some signs of youth by getting pulled in starts against New Jersey and Columbus this season, but he has relished the opportunity to prove his resiliency by bouncing back with stellar performances in his next start.
If losing Miller has made one thing clear, it is that the Sabres have a more than capable tandem to carry them through the playoffs. However, their consistent struggles prove this team has obvious holes in other areas that still need to be filled.
Miller hasn’t been the only key injury that has affected the Sabres over this tough November stretch. F Jochen Hecht, F Tyler Ennis, F Patrick Kaleta, F Cody McCormick, F Brad Boyes, D Tyler Myers and D Mike Weber have all missed time with various ailments.
As the injuries have mounted the Sabres have relied heavily on their organizational depth to keep them competitive in a tight Northeastern divisional race. Rookies; Zack Kassian, Corey Tropp, TJ Brennan and Brayden McNabb, have all made positive impressions in their first taste of the NHL.
McNabb, a 6-foot-5-inch, 216 pound 20-year old and Kassian a 6-foot-3-inch, 210 pound 20-year old have brought a solid physical style of play to match their physical stature. Although Kassian is known more for his mean streak than McNabb, imagine if they were both on the ice when Miller went down. Lucic would have had a tougher time standing there grinning like; show me what you got.
Third year forward, Paul Szczechura a Brampton, Ontario native, picked up in free agency from Tampa Bay over the summer, has brought a Matt Ellis type intensity to his game that has helped the Sabres depth in a serious time of need.
Filling some of the holes of inconsistency with the regular roster is much easier said than done. General Manager, Darcy Regier can continue to use the blue chip prospects he has drafted to attempt to fill the voids with the big club or consider cashing those chips in a trade for some readymade NHL talent.
Unfortunately pulling off a trade with the Sabres isn’t going to be that easy. The team’s current salary cap situation jams them into a corner where any team looking to deal a highly priced player would have to take a player of close or equal salary value in return.
Realistically there are only a few ‘untouchables’ on the Sabres roster; Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Robyn Regher and Christian Ehrhoff, all have no trade clauses in their contracts.
Add Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, Luke Adam, Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb to that list for their current and projected production and the less likely it seems a deal is imminent.
Regier has also had a reputation of overvaluing the players he’s drafted throughout his career with the Sabres, making it even more difficult to believe the Sabres would pull off a blockbuster move, especially this early on.
At this point in the season there is truly no reason to panic, but there are a few concerning factors facing this team. There is a serious disparity of grit and intensity in the top six forwards on this roster and there is a deficiency in consistent scoring contribution throughout the bottom six.
Big name free-agent acquisition Ville Leino has struggled mightily within the top six thus far in the blue and gold. He has been shuffled through the lineup in an attempt to find the right combination that might light a spark beneath the Savonlinna, Finland native. The Sabres rewarded the winger a 6-year $27 million contract that is beginning to look like stolen money.
With 6-points and a dismal minus-5 in 24 games, Leino delivered another pathetic performance against the New York Islanders, Tuesday. Coughing up pucks in the neutral zone, missing wide open passes and at times looking completely lost, Leino’s minutes should deteriorate as the injured Sabres forwards begin to return to the lineup.
Saturday, November 12, 2011