Originally posted on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 1/31/13
Tuesday night didn’t end well. Ryan Miller allowed a pair of questionable goals and there were some struggles from various players on the roster. However, Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Leafs was followed by a 7-4 win over the Bruins. Thomas Vanek continued his Hart-worthy play with a five-point effort that was complimented by his first hat trick since 2011. Buffalo’s defensive struggles remained evident in the win, but Ryan Miller made a number of massive saves throughout the course of the evening, aiding in the Buffalo win. Vanek was straight-up dominant on Thursday. He’s been strong all year and quickly jumped into the Hart Trophy race with a five-point game right off the bat and an incredibly impressive point streak. Vanek has registered at least one point in every game that he has played. This is exactly the type of hockey that you need to see from Vanek. He has developed terrific chemistry with his linemates and providing him with a steady, talented center in Cody Hodgson has been playing dividends. Vanek’s line has combined for 33 points (15+18) thus far. Lindy Ruff has found lightning in a bottle with this line and I’d argue that no matter what type of slide the Sabres may hit that this line should remain untouched. The one constant between Tuesday and Thursday’s games are the continued struggles on the defensive side for the Sabres. Tyler Myers has had an up-and-down season and Thursday was certainly a down game. His partner, Jordan Leopold, wasn’t much better in a contest where the Bruins skated freely in the offensive zone on a regular basis. Buffalo’s defensive zone lapses aren’t focused on one area either. In fact the defensemen, centers and wingers have all been culpable at times this season. Even the goaltenders have laid eggs of their own – Enroth in Carolina and Miller on Tuesday. Whether it was the Bruins’ forecheck or not, the Sabres weren’t able to produce a single strong effort along the boards for the first 40 minutes. Again, there weren’t any players who were specifically guilty, but there were plenty of obvious plays in which the Sabres’ effort was weak. For example, Alexander Sulzer made a poor play leading to the scramble on Boston’s first goal while the Sabres were unable to clear the zone prior to Sulzer’s turnover. Brad Marchand’s second goal also came off a lengthy in-zone possession for the Bruins in which the Sabres were unable to clear the zone. Things improved in the third but not to the point of a full turnaround. Either way, these defensive struggles are more glaring to me than any issues at the faceoff dot or even in terms of Buffalo’s secondary scoring. A lot was made leading into Thursday’s game that the Sabres new toughness and physical presence was going to be a big part of the game. The Sabres played a physical game and certainly matched the Bruins in terms of physical play. John Scott even won his fight with Shawn Thornton. However, the fight appeared to be largely inconsequential when looking at the entire game. Great job by Scott setting that tone, but the fight appeared to be more staged than spontaneous and wasn’t in any sort of response on either end. Basically it is important to keep in mind that, as Steve Ott pointed out, that playing that physical, gritty style isn’t all about fighting. It is about setting a tone on your bench to maintain that edge for all 60 minutes. Despite falling behind and providing poor defensive coverage, the Sabres rallied on the power of their second period power play more than any fight that occurred early in the first period. There are going to be moments this season in which Ott or Scott are forced to step to the plate in response to something that occurred throughout the course of a game. Tonight was less about two goons fighting (it wasn’t even Scott fighting Lucic) and more about playing with the necessary grit to come out on top. At the end of the night, enough players on that bench played to that level. Depending on your hockey IQ, there is a good chance that you either respected Ryan Miller’s performance or thought that it was his second-straight poor outing. Yes, Miller allowed four goals – three in a row in a tough second period – but he not only buckled down in the third, but made timely, game-changing saves throughout the evening. Looking at the four goals against, the Krejci tally in the third period was probably one he could have played differently, but Jordan Leopold sold out so early that it turned into an altered breakaway more than a three-on-two. Ignore the goals against in this case – as the three second period goals came as if there were no players in the defensive zone for Buffalo – and examine his play. Much like the third period on Tuesday, Miller stepped up for his club and turned in a big effort. That is the kind of night you need from your starting goaltender. Yes, Tyler Myers has not been good this week. He had a few solid efforts late last week but was only okay against Toronto and really looked lost on Thursday. Myers has been taking very poor angles and routes to the puck and has been burned numerous times because of it. While the added physicality to his game has been notable (and the best feature of his game) but he continues to make poor choices away from and with the puck. Jordan Leopold has also had a pair of questionable outings as he’s been leaning on stick checks which has ultimately made him quite ineffective. Reference both the Leafs game-winning goal and Marchand’s first on Thursday as evidence. On the other hand, Mike Weber has looked steady and strong in his first two games of the season. He’s going to earn more minutes going forward with his simple, body-first play. Holy crap Thomas Vanek was incredible tonight. He has patented the high-slot power play deflection and his hat-trick goal was downright impressive. Then there is the pass to Ennis, which is more impressive than any slam dunk, just don’t tell ESPN that. Two games and two points for Mikhail Grigorenko after his assist on Alex Sulzer’s goal on Thursday. While his first goal was the product of hard work, the assist was a product of great vision. Grigorenko is settling in and you can expect to see him continue to produce. Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera have been Buffalo’s most consistent defensemen. While Sekera’s play in his own end has only been so-so, he’s managed to play within himself, that is more than most of the others can say. Saturday and Sunday’s back-to-back set could really turn things around after Buffalo’s mini slide this past week. Four points aren’t a must, but would put the Sabres in a much better position in this shortened season.
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