The Line


Note: I wrote this for the Gazette, but thought it might work here as well. The stuff from Ruff is particularly interesting, and no one else talked to Roy on Saturday night. Press play on the video and enjoy.

A funny thing is happening atop the Northeast division these days. Namely, that the Sabres are still hanging around up there.

Take a look at what’s happening on the ice and oftentimes it’s tough to remember that the Sabres still have a solid record. The first two months of this season has been shrouded in relative chaos, but to call the Sabres ‘struggling’ is a bit of a misnomer. Buffalo is 12-8 and hovering among the best in the NHL in wins.

Perhaps that say something about league parity, but Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are also among league leaders in scoring. Buffalo is also without its starting goaltender, but mentioning Ryan Miller introduces an entirely new set of drama for this team.

Nearing the quarter pole of the season it seems the Sabres have been playing two months of hit or miss hockey, with the misses stinging more than the hits.

“I think we’ve got some defensemen who have played loose and inconsistent,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said last week after a 5-3 loss at home to New Jersey. “We’ve got some lines that haven’t quite fit together. We’re close some nights. The odd night we’re really good, but we really haven’t come together that tight.”

The line between good and great seems slight, but getting past that benchmark is proving difficult for the Sabres this year. Buffalo is 7-2 on the road and certainly playing its best hockey in foreign buildings. Or foreign countries, where they went 2-0 to start the season and justified soaring expectations for the team.

Now, Buffalo’s 4-6 record at the First Niagara Center looms large with Boston coming to town tonight, the team that bullied Buffalo and concussed Ryan Miller two Saturdays ago.

Overcoming those demons could go a long way towards finally finding some cohesion on this team.

“I think, and I’ll say this again, it is so close,” Ruff said last week. “You can get it going really good, but it can go south if you can’t correct it quick enough. There’s lots of great examples, even the start Toronto got off to. They thought they had their lines all solved.”

Ruff is famous for shuffling lines like an expensive deck of cards, and most expect to see a different lineup when the Sabres take the ice tonight. Most fans, however, are hoping for a different attitude against the Bruins.

Winners of nine straight and the defending Stanley Cup champions, Boston has a toughness that Buffalo simply couldn’t match in their first meeting, a

“We have to go out there and deliver,” Sabres forward Derek Roy said after a 4-2 loss to Phoenix on Saturday. A game full of missed chances, Roy said his team can’t afford to slip up after a three day layoff.

“We just have to bounce back,” Roy said. “It’s going to be a long wait, but we have to bounce back and deliver.”

Tonight the Sabres have an opportunity to bounce back in a big way, making a statement to their fans and the league that the team isn’t going to be pushed around anymore.

Putting the pieces together for a win, however, may be the tougher task.