Did the departure of two good hockey players really make the Buffalo Sabres that much worse? After watching the Islanders sweep Buffalo this past weekend, folks are starting to wonder.
It is only two games, but that is more than enough for some fans to hit the panic button and start throwing the blame around.
The co-captains are gone. The defense is lousy. Miller is a bit off. Blame the coaching (sorry-when writing about fan opinions it is obligatory that we always include that one). A prominent local scribe even suggested that the players were not trying hard enough.
Let us stop all of this silliness right now. If you look closely you will get a clear picture of the main reason for the struggles of this club not only this past weekend but also going back to the 2007 playoffs.
Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman were completely dominated by the Islanders top line of Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, and Ruslan Fedotenko, who combined for a whopping 16 points in 2 games.
Watching the success of the Isles new gunners brought back some disturbing memories of the Ottawa Senators big line freewheeling and causing havoc in the Buffalo zone during the 2007 Conference Finals.
Go ahead and blame the effort, the departure of the co-captains, or even the goaltending – but the big story here should be the realization about this team that appears to be coming to the forefront this year - the Sabres arguably do not have a true shutdown defensive pairing.
For some time now we have been running with the notion that Tallinder and Lydman are true shutdown defensemen and a formidable 1-2 combination. But in reality, that was only true for a period of time about two years ago.
Were their struggles this weekend just an aberration, or the continuation of a trend? Last season seems to indicate the latter.
In 2006-07 they were unable to produce better individual plus/minus ratings than either of the team’s most maligned defensemen - Jaroslav Spacek and Dmitri Kalinin.
For all of the complaints about the Buffalo power play, their penalty killing was worse at 20th in the league - and it wasn’t because of Chris Drury.
Of the 16 playoff teams last season, the Sabres were a lowly 13th in fewest regular season goals against.
In the 2007 playoffs Tallinder and Lydman were the only Sabres defensemen who were minus players.
As a disclaimer it must be noted that Tallinder was injured for much of last season and missed 25 games. But that fact notwithstanding, instead of everyone complaining about how underrated he is, we should be asking when and if he will ever return to his form of 2005-06, when he and Lydman were so good that Peter Forsberg alluded to playing against them as being similar to trying to skate through quicksand.
The Sabres do not quite have the offensive firepower and depth this season to mask their defensive deficiencies. If things on the blue line do not change soon, they will be the ones who will be sinking.