“You don’t know where you’re going to be. I think there’s a lot of strange things going on with our team, with a lot of teams. You don’t know where your players were and what level they were at when you got them in here. I think we’ve seen some stuff we’re not happy with and we’re really going to have to improve on.” — Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff
The quote was about Tyler Myers, but it could apply to almost everyone in blue and gold this year. A handful of players are powering the Buffalo Sabres right now. One line has been productive while the rest are somewhere between ‘competent’ and ‘decent.’
Ruff’s “strange things” point is a good one. It’s not a surprise to see the Sabres lose games, but there are plenty of variables when it comes to the “state” of each player. We’re barely a week into the regular season, and barely two weeks removed from the official end of the lockout. Things are moving quickly and there are a lot of unknowns. Figuring things out will be a process, and perhaps the last two games have shown the team is a bit further behind than we first thought.
The scoring gap in the last post I wrote is only expanded after adding Friday night’s game to the pile. It’s Vanek’s line leading the way, then Ehrhoff, then a bunch of (mostly) defenseman with a point. That’s it.
They’re still getting killed in faceoffs–this time by a 42-23 deficit–which finally cost them in the form of Jay Harrison’s game-winner off an Eric Staal win. After doing much of the scoring damage on Thursday night, Staal’s and linemates Alex Semin and Juri Tlusty were held in check by Jochen Hecht, Steve Ott and Pat Kaleta. A pair of icings and an incomplete change late in the third put them against Vanek and Pominville centered by Tyler Ennis. Game over.
Keeping that line in check may have cost fans a long look at Mikhail Grigorenko this year. The forward had just 6:48 in ice time on Friday and saw just a handful of shifts in the second and third periods. Ruff said the benching–and moving him down to the fourth line–was a matter of giving the top checking line more time against Staal.
“I thought we’d try to be a little bit harder on Staal and used Ott and Kaleta and Jochen Hecht against them, which, for the most part I thought they did a pretty nice job against them,” Ruff said. “(Vanek) was missing for a little while and we dropped to two or three lines and I thought once he hadn’t played for a long period of time, it wasn’t really fair to stick him in the fire. (I) called him once in the third and recalled (him) because I don’t think it’s fair to put him in that spot.”
The Grigorenko Situation is a tough one for everyone involved. The rookie wants to get ice time and prove he can make it in the NHL. He wants minutes, but Lindy Ruff wants to win hockey games. Sabres fans, of course, want both. On Friday night they didn’t get either, so they’re obviously not going to be happy. Ruff said line matching was the “only” reason the 18-year-old rode the pine. Whether you believe Ruff’s answer to The Grigorenko Question is up to you, but it’s tough to be optimistic about his fate this year.
Being optimistic about the team itself is a bit easier, but spirits have taken a hit after two losses in two days. Ruff is definitely right about one thing: strange things are happening in the NHL this year. The short season will have its quirks and unexpected results. As bad as they’ve looked offensively, it would definitely be even stranger if only one line scored all the goals for one team in a 48-game season.