As President Obama was finishing up adressing the nation, the Buffalo Sabres were putting the finishing touches on the Ottawa Senators. the 3-2 win in Kanata Tuesday night put the Sabres at 51 points, 4 behind eighth place Atlanta. We have reached the All-Star break, which marks the half way point of the season for most of us. Buffalo can easily catch Atlanta, who has played 2 more games than Buffalo, they could be tied but the Sabres decided to a few games against the Islanders off. Let's take a look at some of the high and low points 49 games into the 2010-2011 season.
The biggest news this season was the quad injury Derek Roy suffered 35 games in that sidelined him for the rest of the regular season. Roy had 35 points in 35 games and was on pace for a point per game season. the Sabres havent had a point per game player since 07-08 when Roy had 81 points in 78 games. Unfortunately Roy is out for the season and there is nothing any of us can do about it, so we are going to move on.
With Roy being absent many counted on Tim Connolly to step it up and take control of this team. Connolly has 20 points in the same amount of games played as Roy, Connolly is consistantly riddled by the injury bug, and while he does show signs of flash when he is in the lineup, he is not providing the spark this team needs to get back to last seasons form. Connolly's contract is up after this season, his value may not get any higher and should be dealt by the trade deadline.
Connolly had the chance to “grab the bull by the horns” when Roy went down, but couldn’t pick up the slack. However, Tomas Vanek has greatly picked up his game from past seasons. Vanek was always good for putting up big numbers in the past but was criticized for his laziness. Vanek has stepped up his game and is turning into the player the Sabres hoped he would be when they drafted him fifth overall in the 2003 Entry Draft. Vanek has 16 points since Roy went down on December 23 and leads the team with 41 points in 49 games.
Other players have stepped up with Roy and Connolly out. Rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe have provided consistent scoring since Christmas. Ennis is tied for third on the team in scoring with 28 points, while Gerbe has 14 points, respectively. Jason Pominville is also in third with 28 points. Pominville was not the same player after he was crushed by Chicago Blackhawks dman Niklas Hjalmarrson from behind earlier in the season. He seemed hesitant to go into the corners on the fore-check and stayed away from the boards for the most part. Since the New Year he has stepped up his game by crashing the net and working harder on the fore-check. Pominville could possibly be the leader of this team in the near future.
Leadership is one thing this team lacks. It is tough for a team to have a leader when the so called captain of the team can’t even crack the top 7 on defense. Craig Rivet has had a tough time in Buffalo since coming over from San Jose; unfortunately it may be time for Rivet to hang up the skates and the Sabres to name a new captain.
A potential leader for this team could be Jordan Leopold. Leopold started the season off very strong on defense and is fifth in scoring with 27 points. Leopold has been struggling a bit with only 6 points in his last 15 games, but he is a proven veteran dman. He has a chance to be the leader on this team, it is up to him whether he wants to embrace it or not.
This has been a breakout season for forward Drew Stafford who has 24 points in 30 games. When healthy, Stafford looks like one of the best players on this team. It is time for the Sabres to lock him up for the future. Another player who was poised for a breakout was defenseman Tyler Myers. Hopes were so high after he won the Rookie of the Year award after last season. Myers started the season off slow with multiple turnovers in his own end directly leading to goals for the opponent. Myers has picked up his game over the past month and seems to be more comfortable; he tried to do too much early in the season. It may not be too late to avoid the sophomore slump.
Of course the Sabres will always get consistent play from players like Gaustad, Hecht, McCormick, Kaleta and Grier but the biggest disappointment this season has been Rob Niedermayer. Niedermayer looks lost out there most nights, he lacks hustle and grit. Nothing against Rob, he was a great player in Anaheim and New Jersey, but sometimes age catches up to you. He has had a few good games with good fore-checking; he only has 9 points this season, all assists.
How can there be a Sabres article without the mention of Ryan Miller. Miller is the backbone of this team and has been for many years. After coming off a stellar season where he won the Vezina Trophy, miller started the season off slow. He looks out of position on multiple plays and still lets the easy squeak by, which has been a problem for him since he entered the league. Miller has turned it on of late and is back to Vezina form. He has been stellar since the New Year and it also helps when the players in front of you also turn it on.
Although the Sabres have been playing well recently, 7-3 in their last ten games, this team still needs a playmaker to get them into the playoffs and to win in the playoffs. Darcy Regeir is usually active during the trade deadline, and hopefully he is again this year. Enjoy the All-Star break kids, the Sabres start back up Feb. 4 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins (Crosby’s first game back?) Since no Sabres will be at the All-Star game, except Tyler Ennis who will represent the rookies, the team should take this time to look back on the season so far, re-prioritize and make a push for the playoffs.
Kudos to Ennis on making the All-Star roster, I will have more on that after the weekend.