Ryan Miller is all fired up. Can you blame him? After losing 4-3 to the Penguins Sunday on Hockey Day in America, Miller didn’t hold anything back in the post-game interview. The Sabres trailed 2-0, 87 seconds out of the gate but battled back before relinquishing a 3-2 lead in the third to lose 4-3 in regulation. Miller made an unbelievable save prior to the 4-3 goal so it had to sting a little extra.
If you haven’t noticed, Miller is getting shelled in what seems like a game-by-game basis becoming the league’s busiest goaltender. Miller leads the league in shots against (SA) with 466 and saves (SV) with 426. He’s faced 30 plus shots in 11 of his 14 starts during the Sabres first 16 games. Three of those games Miller saw 40 plus shots. He’s been chased from the net only once this season. Backup Jhonas Enroth is 0-2 allowing 11 goals in his three appearances. The Sabres are sitting at (6-9-1) in the East, good enough for 13th place and teams below with games in hand. Despite allowing 40 goals this season (2nd in league), Miller has kept his save percentage at a respectable .914. It’s safe to say Miller has every right to speak his mind. He isn’t the problem with this Buffalo Sabres team.
Ryan Miller 1/3 mark grade: B+
Jhonas Enroth 1/3 mark grade: D
Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville 1/3 mark grade: A
You know where this one starts, the one and only Thomas Vanek. Playing with Hodgson and Pominville has really done wonders for Vanek’s game and the top-line has been outstanding on the offensive end. Buffalo has been able to put the puck in the net as they sit 9th in scoring with 2.81 goals per game. The problem is that the only consistent contributors seem to be the first-line players. Vanek, Hodgson and Pominville account for 25 of the team’s 48 goals and are all getting similar ice-time as the second and third lines. They are making the most of their opportunities.
Foligno-Ennis-Stafford 1/3 mark grade: C+
When we take a look at the second line for the Sabres, it’s far from the Three’s Company effect the first line portrays. Tyler Ennis has been solid but his 40.8% on the draws contributes to Buffalo sitting last in the league in face-off percentage at 44.2%. Marcus Foligno is young but the one goal and seven assists he has put up thus far has reason for optimism. He is getting his chances and Lindy Ruff has confidence in Foligno. Mistakes will come but its part of his maturing process. Drew Stafford, you need to get going. He can’t find his game and don’t be surprised to see him drop down to the third or fourth line if he can’t get it together soon. There is no time for slumps in the short season and the Sabres need Stafford to elevate his game.
Ott-Hecht-Grigorenko-Gerbe 1/3 mark grade: D+
As far as the third line goes, Steve Ott has made the biggest impact thus far. He’s provided the grit and sandpaper that Buffalo sought and he’s contributed on the score sheet as well. The rest of the line which usually sees the likes of Jochen Hecht, Nathan Gerbe or Mikhail Grigorenko are not getting it done. Hecht has 5 assists but is getting 16:00 of ice-time a night. Gerbe has two assists with about 10:00 a game and the rook Grigorenko is having some growing pains with a goal and two assists with over 11 minutes a night. We know Gerbe and Hecht can put the puck in the net and they have to find a way to make it happen. It’s unreasonable to believe that Hodgson, Vanek and Pominville can carry the team so if these guys can get going, Buffalo might be able to pull back into playoff contention.
Scott-McCormick-Kaleta-Ellis 1/3 mark grade: D
John Scott, Cody McCormick, Matt Ellis and Patrick Kaleta. All with 0 points across the board. Once in a while, a fourth line makes a play that changes the complexity of a game. And I’m not talking about a fight. That hasn’t happened yet.
With a 26th ranked powerplay at 13.6%, the defensive pairings are changing for tonight’s game against the Jets as a prime example. Regehr and Myers have been playing together all year and it didn’t take long for Ehrhoff and Sulzer to display chemistry early on. But Lindy Ruff is going with TJ Brennan over Jordan Leopold in an effort to boost the power play tonight. The 23-year old has played in five games with the team this year. Ehrhoff has got out to a solid start with two goals and eight assists with a team leading +6. The Sabres defence have nine goals scored by defenceman this season but their power play has been the achilles heel. No one to seemingly quarterback the efforts with Pominville playing the point on the 1st powerplay unit. They need to give Miller some relief because too many broken plays are turning into goals. They lead the league in shots against. There is still time to fix the problem. If it doesn’t change soon, Darcy Regier needs to do some shopping.
Sabres Defensive Pairings (Tues Apr 17)
Ehrhoff – Sulzer 1/3 mark grade: B-
Regehr – Myers 1/3 mark grade: C-
Weber – Brennan
Leopold and Sekera are scratches.
Overall Defensive Grade: C-
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Currently a writer for Metroland Media in Mississauga and contributor for The Hockey Writers on the Buffalo Sabres. Have covered the Memorial Cup, Belleville Bulls and the former Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.