: Should Ryan Miller have played for the Sabres last night in Atlanta?
That question is on everyone's mind after a 4-2 loss against the Thrashers Saturday night at the HSBC. While it's important for Miller to get his rest, and for backup goaltender Patrick Lalime to get enough starts to stay fresh, now may be an important time to ask a more pertinent question:
How does THE TEAM play when Lalime is in net?
Lambs To The Slaughter?
The answer to this question isn't difficult to discover: Lalime started 21 games for the Sabres last season, scraping together a record of 5 and 13. Why? Is Lalime a sub-par goaltender? His GAA of 3.10 and a SV% of .900 last season would lead me to say, "No". His numbers are solid, and would rank him in the realm of "respectable" as far as NHL backup goaltenders go. So what gives? Why does his record in net seem so miserable? The answer is simple, and of no fault to Patrick Lalime: He isn't Ryan Miller.
Ruff's New Swagger
Its no secret the Buffalo Sabres' best player is All-Star goalie Ryan Miller. He is Buffalo's ace in the hole, capable of stealing 2 points from the opposing team. With such a netminding stud between the pipes, Buffalo has been able to build play styles and systems that depend upon the abilities of Miller. The Sabres' system for 09-10 is no different.
Lindy Ruff's newest system for the Sabres (developed during the offseason where Ruff learned a few things coaching Team Canada) relies heavily upon dmen that are willing to be aggressive and move up the ice with the forwards. The new system consists of both the defense and the forwards moving up the ice in unison, using short rapid passes to move quickly up the ice. This keeps everything on the ice very, very tight.
Opposing teams cannot generate any form of an effective forecheck, thus they cannot easily enter Buffalo's own zone to generate shots and scoring opportunities. It also allows for Buffalo to breakthrough the neutral zone quickly and efficiently, ensuring they are able to lock things down in the opposing end and generate a ton of shots.
This is the style of play that has allowed the Sabres to DOMINATE teams thus far. Going into Atlanta, the Sabres were leading the league in shots per game, and had the fewest shots against.
This system has worked thus far because our defense can afford to be aggressive and mobile without much worry. Even if an opposing forward blows past them our forwards and defense, Miller stands a good chance of making the save. With Lalime, they do not have that luxury. With Lalime in net, the defense (warranted or not) has a seed of fear embedded in their minds. Instead of a confident, mobile defense, they fall back.
You saw Buffalo's system break down last night against Atlanta. Instead of playing Ruff's new system, our dmen played on their heels. It allowed Atlanta to forecheck aggressively, clogging up the neutral zone, forcing our forwards further up the ice. So, instead of the team moving in unison, you had the d playing deep in our zone and Atlanta forwards freely forechecking; this effectively split our players on the ice in half. With Atlanta crowding the neutral zone, our forwards had no choice but to skate past the Thrashers and hope for a pass. This cursed our defense, because the only outlet pass our dmen had was to throw the puck up the ice to the opposing blueline and hope one of our forwards received it. It frustrated me to see the d attempt those passes, as they rarely ever work.
Just Shut Up And Do It
The Sabres need to learn to play their new system regardless of who is in net. In the words of Ryan Miller, "Blah, blah, blah, on and on and on. Yeah, maybe it's time to stop quoting ourselves in articles and just shut up about it and do it."
The Sabres' new system has been awesomely effective the first few games, and will continue to be so as long as the team is committed to it. Whether or not Lalime can bail out the d if they make a mistake matters not; the d needs to be confident, aggressive and stick to the plan. If they do that, the Sabres will be successful and Lalime will not face a great amount of shots. If the defense doesn't move up, and if they play without confidence, the entire system collapses.
Do you think the Sabres need to stick to their gameplan regardless of whose in net? Do the Sabres need an upgrade at the backup goaltender position? What are your thoughts about the Atlanta game last night? Would the game have been different if Vanek was playing? Did our defense play poorly last night? How about that Maxim Afinogenov? Leave me some comments.
James "Blog-o-matic" Ehrmann