2 weeks ago, I wouldn’t have thought that the Buffalo Sabres would lose to the Panthers, Lightning, and Capitals, and then beat the Penguins, Senators, and Devils.
It’s like we’re in opposite land or something. Not that I’m complaining, but it is nice to see the Sabres beat some good teams for a change.
There seems to be something different about this Sabres team right now. They’re playing with a certain level of determination and grit that has been lacking for quite sometime. The Sabres seem to be more willing to throw their weight around and play strong aggressive hockey.
Even though not everyone is contributing on the score sheet, players are playing a lot better. Stafford has had some very good games, as well as Myers. It seems that the players are starting to leave everything on the ice each and every night. This has been lacking all season long. Plus, there’s secondary scoring, and it’s finally starting to look like on any given night, any player can score.
The more I think about the past 3 games, the more I like what I’m seeing.
So what’s the big change?
The Sabres are playing a lot more simplistic style of hockey. On the power play, while they give up a lot of short handed goals, they’re taking their shots instead of trying to set up the perfect pass. I’m also noticing that the Sabres are going hard to the net, and cycling the puck very well. Their offensive game has gotten a lot more fluid and the lines seem to be working very well.
I personally don’t feel that the Sabres currently have a #1 line. I suppose the recent pairing of Ott, Hodgson, and Gerbe could be considered one. However, everyone is playing so well that it’s tough to isolate just 1 line that’s the top line. Players like Pysyk, Flynn, and Porter aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, but they are playing solid hockey. We all know there’s more to the game than just scoring. The defense is also pinching at appropriate times, and they’re not giving up as many odd man rushes. The Sabres also seem to be getting some odd man rushes themselves. It’s almost like watching a different team.
The Sabres also seem to be trying to put the appropriate personnel are on the ice at crucial moments in the game. For example, Cody Hodgson had been on the penalty kill several times this season. While Hodgson is a very good offensive forward, he’s not a good defensive forward. In fact, I’d rather he not be on the ice at all when the Sabres have the puck in their own end. The Sabres have their best penalty killers on the ice, like Ott, Kaleta, and Hecht. The power play functions well, and while they may not be scoring, they’re at least generating chances. The team finally seems to be functioning as a unit.
I feel that 2 things have changed especially over the past few games. First, the Sabres are finally starting to be coached in a manner that utilizes the strengths and abilities of the team. Rolston has definitely made some good changes in the style that the Sabres play this game. While it’s taken about 6 weeks, one can definitely see a change in the way the Sabres play. I’d like to see this play continue over the dying weeks of the season. If they can keep it up, Rolston may become the permanent coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
Second, the Sabres leadership has changed with the Jason Pominville trade. I was thrilled to see the A on Steve Ott’s chest the past 2 games. I feel that Ott is the leader this team needs. Several teams confuse a top scorer with a leader. Don’t get me wrong, some players are both, but I don’t feel that Jason Pominville was. He was a scorer, and failed to motivate his teammates when he needed to. Ott is an aggressive leader, plays a good 2 way game, and has a commanding presence on the ice. He’s a vocal leader as well, and I feel has the ability to potentially motivate his teammates at crucial moments. In the rare instance the Sabres make the playoffs, I say Rolston needs to put the C on Ott.
These past 3 games have been a joy to watch. While the playoffs are a long shot, the Sabres at least look like a team that actually want to win games, and believe that they can win. The next few games are extremely crucial if Buffalo does want to make a run for the playoffs. They’re playing several teams that they’re in competition with for a playoff run. These are games they have to win if they do indeed want to make the playoffs.
Let’s hope they continue to do what’s working for them, and keep their game plan simple.
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