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Time For Sabres' Core To Step Up

April 20, 2010 - Matt Spielman
Coming out of the NHL lockout, the Buffalo Sabres excelled based on speed, skill and scoring touch. This served the team well for a couple of years, reaching the Eastern Conference finals in both the 2005-06 and 06-07 seasons before losing to Carolina and Ottawa, respectively.
Following back-to-back conference finals losses, fans began crying out for a “tougher” Sabres team. Forget the fact that in 2005-06, Buffalo lost to Carolina after being down several regulars and many “hockey experts” believe the Sabres would’ve won the series if not for injuries. In 2006­-07, Buffalo lost to an Ottawa team that was flat out more talented.
The front office responded after the departures of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell by bringing in “grittier,” “tougher” players, trading for Craig Rivet and bringing back Mike Grier while also relying more on organizational depth with players like Paul Gaustad, Tim Kennedy, Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler.
After two non-playoff seasons and a less-than-inspiring three games against Boston to begin this year’s playoffs, fans may be questioning the Sabres roster more than ever before.
Many of the adjectives that describe the players on Buffalo’s roster just aren’t showing in this series. Sniper Jason Pominville has just one goal on nine shots while tallying a minus-3 in the opening three games of the season while his center Tim Connolly, widely considered a playmaker, has no points while posting a minus-2 and just five shots on goal. Rivet, the team’s captain, has a key goal in the series, but is averaging just 12 minutes of ice time per game, much too little for a player that should be one of the most important on the ice. Gaustad, considered an aggressive player who should have a presence in front of the opposing net, is averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time, but is also a minus-2 with no points in the series.
The Sabres' best forward in the series has been Grier. The hard-working forward has fired 12 shots on Boston’s net and was also a physical presence in the first two games while providing the only offense in Game 3. On the back end, Toni Lydman not young phenom Tyler Myers, has been Buffalo’s best defenseman. The veteran from Finland is averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time per game and rarely has cost the Sabres much of anything. Myers’ play has slipped a little in the playoffs, which can be expected for a player one year removed from Major Junior hockey, and with that decline the play of Henrik Tallinder has fallen off as well.
Hoping for a charge from its young players has proven fruitless for Buffalo. Tim Kennedy was largely responsible for the winning goal in Game 3 as he was bullied off the puck by 42-year-old Mark Recchi with seven minutes remaining. And the game was arguably tied because of a terrible pinch by Andrej Sekera earlier in the game. Tyler Ennis played well in Buffalo but has provided just one assist while going minus-3 in the series thus far.
Lindy Ruff has all but given up on the power play producing, but with every game in the series being pretty much a one-goal affair, special teams take on added importance. As long as Thomas Vanek is out, Derek Roy, Connolly, Pominville and Drew Stafford are going to be asked to find the back of the net. If they don’t, this summer will be nearly as long as the last two for Sabres’ faithful.


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Tim Connolly AP photo