5) Lindy Ruff
What? How the hell can you have Ruff on both lists? Yes, even the Teflon Don can have his own bad days. For one, Ruff has always been a coach that is fixated on giving his four lines almost equal playing time. How many times this season have we seen Adam Mair and Matt Ellis on the ice with two minutes remaining in a tied hockey game? Too many for my taste. At times, it seems like Ruff has more confidence in Mair than he does in Vanek.
We all know that if you’re struggling during a game, Ruff is going to cut your ice time. It doesn’t matter if you’re Roy, Ellis or Vanek, he’s going to go with someone that he finds to be playing well at that particular moment. Sorry, but I’ve made no bones about seeing the fourth line in crunch time; don’t want to see it.
Speaking of playing time, we all know that Ryan Miller is the key to the Sabres success in the playoffs. If Ryan Miller struggles in the postseason, a lot of fans are going to blame Ruff for tiring him out and screwing up the goalie rotation during the regular season. Hey, I wouldn’t exactly think it’s a big deal, but everyone keeps on talking about Miller possibly wearing down.
4) Injury bug
I swear, the last two weeks for the Sabres season have looked like the Hurricanes series in 2006. Don’t look now, but for the first time all season the Sabres have some serious injury questions. Yes, Thomas Vanek came back from injury with a vengeance against the Senators. But the injuries to Tim Connolly, Pat Kaleta and Jochen Hecht have to be a concern. The Sabres have been very hush-hush about the extent of the injuries.
We all know the injury history of Tim Connolly. Hell, he was suppose to make it back for the start of the 2006 season and we didn’t see him until the playoffs. So there’s no telling when or if he will return. As for Connolly the player, the guy can look like the real deal for a 10 game stretch, only to disappear for the next month. However, we know when he gets hot, he can be a game-changer on the ice. Thinking of Paul Gaustad as the team’s second line center, doesn’t exactly yell roll the highlight reel.
Pat Kaleta (Who returned against the Devils) can be a game changer in his own way. He can get under the skin of the opposition very easily and enrage them into taking stupid penalties. Plus, he can hit like hell. Hecht is Lindy Ruff’s pet…more like teacher’s pet. He does everything that Ruff wants out of a hockey player. He’s a great two-way player and never really gets the credit he deserves. Those three players bring a dynamic to the Sabres roster that at times have been lacking this season. Sure, they may be ready at the start of the postseason, but you have to wonder if they will be a 100%.
Lets not forget that their replacements are guys that have only played a handful of NHL games. You could have afforded to have the likes of Tyler Ennis or Nathan Gerbe learn on the fly during the regular season. However, one rookie mistake in the postseason, and it can cost you a series.
3) If the east is weak, then are the Sabres weak?
I know a lot of fans have spoken about the East taking a step back this season. There’s no denying it. However, if the East is so weak, wouldn’t you think that the Sabres should have dominated it? The Sabres have had their issues against the weak Eastern Conference. Going into Sunday’s game against the Devils, they are 14-15-4 against playoff teams in the East. That’s not exactly a great record against a less than superior conference.
Not to mention, it gets worse against the top seeds. The Sabres are 5-10-2 against the Capitals, Devils, Penguins and Senators on the season. Yes, I know, the Sabres finally beat the Senators on Saturday Night. However, lets be honest, they were playing against the Senators 2nd string goalie and a team that had already clinched the 5th seed. Hell, the Sens were too interested in giving Daniel Alfredsson his painting and staring at his hot wife. Of course, there were positives you could take out the game. Vanek finally coming out of his shell comes to mind. But to say that the Sabres got the Senators monkey off their back? Sorry, more like a banana peal.
2) Heart for the playoffs?
On the surface, if you were to look at the Sabres roster, you’d come away with being very impressed with their playoff game experience. The Sabres have nine forwards that played on the team’s back-to-back playoff births after the lockout. The defense has Craig Rivet and Henrik Tallinder, who have both tasted playoff hockey. Of course, we all know that Ryan Miller has extensive playoff and international experience. All and all, the Sabres have 14 players (Including Raffi Torres) on their roster with playoff experience.
The only problem in my view is that these 14 players haven’t exactly had to “be the man” in the playoffs. Take Ryan Miller. Yes, Miller has had some nice postseason games, but if you were to look at the success of the Sabres playoff games from 05-07, Miller really wasn’t the focal point of winning games. The same goes for the nine forwards. I hate to bring up you know who (or them), but the backbone of those teams were Briere and Drury. Guys like Vanek and Roy were complimentary players to those guys. Dont forget, Briere had the most points in the playoffs from 2006-2008. I’m sure we don’t have to google Chris Drury’s playoff performances to see what he brought to Buffalo.
This time around, the Sabres aren’t riding the coattails of Briere and Drury. Guys like Roy and Vanek have to step up and become the focal point of the offense. Over the years, we’ve seen some of the team’s core players come up short when adversity hits them. Now, the pressure is really on. You can’t rely on Drury or Briere for the playoffs anymore. It’s time for those kids that we saw on those early playoff teams become men. If the Sabres aren’t successful in the playoffs, the vultures are going to be swarming around some of those core guys.
1) Scoring inconsistency
It’s really hard to believe that the Sabres are ranked in the top 10 for scoring in the NHL. It kind of boggles my mind. However, even with the high ranking, the Sabres have had there issues with scoring consistency. There have been a number of moments during the season that we have scratched our heads and wondered, “where has this top six forward been over the last five games?”
Now, it should be noted that over the last 2-3 weeks, guys like Pominville, Roy and Vanek have found their scoring touch. However, we have seen this song and dance before. The top six forwards have a knack for showing up for three week stretches and then disappearing for another three weeks. I know a number of fans have been using Miller as the reason to like the Sabres chances in the playoffs, and you should. However, this isn’t the era of Devils hockey that ruled the NHL in the late 90’s and early in the 2000’s.
Since the lockout, three of the four teams that have won the Stanley Cup didn’t really have ideal goaltending. Sure, goaltending can win you a series or two, but you still need to have guys that can put the puck in the back of the net. The success of the two previous Stanley Cup champions should tell you that. The Sabres can’t count on winning every game by the score of 2-1 or 1-0.
We all know what the Sabres are getting with Ryan Miller. However, we really can’t say the same about the top six forwards. Even if Miller struggles in the playoffs, fans would be certain to forgive him and place blame on Ruff and Lalime for tiring him out. Now, if the top six forwards falter, I don’t think the Buffalo fan base is going to be as remorseful.