Well, I’ve waited until the day before the season starts. I’ve thought about this a lot this week, and I’m sure my wife is tired of listening to me, but alas, the time is here. Sabres season preview time for 2013.
I’ve got one thought before I look at this season, that needs to be highlighted before I get started. Everyone already knows it, but still;
This season is not going to be a marathon like normal, it’s a sprint 48 games, 100 days No breaks.
There’s several things that are concerns for me this year as I look at the line up for Buffalo. I’m going to break this up into my dislikes, middle ground, and likes of the team this year.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first
Cody Hodgson. I do not like Cody Hodgson being on the first line between Vanek and Pominville. I watched him a lot while attending several Amerks games this season. While he did get 19 points in 19 games, his play was sloppy, and he made several poor turnovers while playing for the Amerks. Some of which, resulted in immediate goals for his opponents. He appeared sluggish at times and not on the same page as his line mates. Personally, I don’t think that his sloppy play makes up for getting 19 points in 19 games. Why, would anyone think that this man is capable of being a first line center? He made these errors at the AHL level, I feel it’s going to get worse at the NHL level.
Sloppy in their own end. Buffalo hasn’t played great in front of Miller for quite some time. I watched last year as Buffalo made several poor turnovers in front of Miller, and left him hanging out to dry. Buffalo can’t linger in their own end anymore. They need to be more aggressive leaving their own end. Since I haven’t seen this for awhile, I have no reason to think that this is going to change.
Leadership. I like Pominville, I do. But not as a captain. Last year, we all remember how Buffalo controlled their own fate. They just had to play well the final 4 games and they were in the playoffs. Buffalo looked terrible the final 4 games. No one stepped up to rally the troops. There is no excuse for missing the playoffs last year. Buffalo has yet to find that player who will deliver when times are desperate. No one seems to want to answer the call.
Finally, coaching. It’s not good. Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier have not won a playoff game for the Buffalo Sabres in 6 years. They last beat the Rangers in 2007. One can argue, why do they have their jobs? It is do or die time for them both. I stand by the fact that it’s no longer good enough for Buffalo to just make the playoffs. They have to at least get out of the first round, and I’m not sure this team can do it under Ruff and Regier. If, they fail to deliver this season, I feel its the end of their tenure in Buffalo.
Grigorenko. So he’s done great in Quebec playing in the junior league. Good for him. This is the NHL. He’s got a long way to go despite what others may say about him. I also question the line combination of putting him with Leino and Ott, but time will tell. A lot of pressure is going to fall on this guy to move up to a top line center. He’s not there yet. I’m waiting to pass judgment until I see him play for a little bit. He’s got 5 games, and we will see if he can persuade the powers at be to keep him in Buffalo.
Line combinations. Lindy Ruff, I feel, hasn’t always been the greatest at putting logical lines together. He shuffles a lot, and while it may provide a momentary spark, it doesn’t linger for long. Right now, I hope that he keeps the lines together with what they are, and not have any hesitation to send Hodgson down quickly if he struggles. The problem still resides with not having a number one center. However, hopefully he will keep like minded players together, who have good chemistry and provide a spark on the ice.
Speed. When Buffalo wants to, by god they can move. However, they don’t utilize that to the degree they used to. Buffalo’s speed can catch a lot of the bigger slower defenses napping, and result in good quality scoring chances. Buffalo shy’s away from doing that. If Buffalo wants to be a success, utilize that speed, and force your opponents to keep up with you.
Miller. I know he lets in some soft ones. I know he could be better at times. In the end, he’s still one of the best goalies in the league. He needs support in front of him. Remember, a goalie is only as good as the team in front of him. I said before that I don’t like how the team plays in front of him. The only reason I put this under middle ground is that Miller has bailed out his team several times. I’d like this a lot more, if the team in front of Miller didn’t turn the puck over in their own end so much.
This team is young. With this upcoming season, that’s going to be huge. Like I said before, this isn’t going to be a marathon season, it’s a sprint. Personally, I feel that the team that has the potential to do some damage will be the best conditioned team who is still playing hard after playing 48 games in 100 days. Buffalo has a lot of young players, and that may be a benefit in this year with the short season.
Size. This team has gotten tougher. Hopefully they won’t be seen as the runt of the NHL anymore and will send a message to any opponent that if you’re going to play hard hockey, strap in, we’re playing that way too. Size on the ice though doesn’t equal physical force. Ideally, players like Ott, Foligno, and Scott, will show up with attitude. With the exception of the first line, there’s a big guy who isn’t afraid to hit on every line. Foligno was more than willing to drop his gloves a few times in Rochester. The lineup definitely has more grit to it.
So where does this leave us? I have no idea. There’s a lot of questions surrounding this team, like I said earlier. Personally, this isn’t a team that’s going to win the division. That’s just fantasy. If Buffalo makes the playoffs, it’ll be in the bottom 5. However, that’s not the end of the world (see 2012 Los Angeles Kings). I still don’t like Buffalo’s chances. There’s weak spots on this team, and they’ve been inconsistent with their play the past few years. I don’t like making predictions, but I stand by the fact that if Buffalo makes the playoffs, it’ll be in the 7 or 8 seed. They will finish the season somewhere between 7-10 place. I’m leaning more towards 9th again.
Yet, I desperately hope that I’m wrong.
Now that that’s all out of the way, I’m going to be sitting at First Niagara Center Sunday afternoon for the homer opener. I’ll be in my black ice Ryan Miller jersey, blue Sabres hat, sitting in section 309, row 11. Feel free to say hi if you see me at the game.
I’ll also be doing live twitter updates from the game. Follow me on twitter- @SabresBTB
I’ll do a recap of the game when I’m home.
Enjoy the season everyone...
And Lets Go BUFFALO!