Today the Sabres face the Islanders in Nassau Coliseum thus completing the first quarter of this lockout shortened season. It has been a disappointing start, both for the organization with a 4-6-1 record, and for many of the individual players who have struggled mightily out of the gate. Injuries, a lack of training camp, and the condensed schedule have been the common excuses for the poor play around the league, but how much effect has the lockout truly had on this team? Do the players that played elsewhere in November and December have a leg up on those who were working out on their own? Let’s go through this Sabres roster and see.
The most glaring issue for the Sabres 11 games in has been the play of their defensemen, particularly the erratic play of Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold. Here’s a breakdown of how the Buffalo rearguards spent their lockout:
Myers wasn’t his Calder self even in Austria. (Getty Images)
Tyler Myers – 17 gp for Klanegenfurt AC (EBL, Austria)
Christian Ehrhoff – 32 gp for Krefeld (DEL, Germany)
Jordan Leopold – DNP
Robyn Regehr – DNP
Andrej Sekera – 25 gp for Bratislava (KHL, Slovakia/Russia)
Mike Weber – DNP
Alexander Sulzer – 21 gp for ERC Ingolstadt (DEL, Germany)
TJ Brennan – 36 gp for Rochester (AHL, United States)
From a defensive standpoint it’s clear that the players who were playing during the lockout have come into this season a bit more ready than those that haven’t. Christian Ehrhoff and prior to his injury, Andrej Sekera, have been the guys who have looked most at mid-season form, and with each of them playing between 25-35 games they basically are. The one anomaly would be Tyler Myers, but it shouldn’t be a surprise he is struggling. Tyler was playing poorly in Austria during the lockout, he was a -7 in a league where the level of competition is considerably lower than the NHL. To top it off he then suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him all the way up to the Sabres shortened camp. The one player who has played pretty well despite not having suited up during the lockout is Mike Weber, but Weber wasn’t inserted into the Sabres line-up until 5 games into the season giving him an additional 9 days of practice time to get himself into game shape.
Up front the Sabres have a good mix of forwards who were and weren’t actively on a roster during the lockout:
Thomas Vanek – 11 gp for Graz (EBL, Austria)
Cody Hodgson – 19 gp for Rochester (AHL, United States)
Jason Pominville – 7 gp for Adler-Mannheim (DEL, Germany)
Marcus Foligno – 33 gp for Rochester (AHL, United States)
Tyler Ennis – 10 gp for Langnau (NLA, Switzerland)
Drew Stafford – DNP
Jochen Hecht – 6 gp for Adler-Mannheim (DEL, Germany)
Mikhail Grigorenko – 32 gp for Quebec (QMJHL, Canada)
Steve Ott – DNP
John Scott – DNP
Matt Ellis – DNP
Patrick Kaleta – DNP
(Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick were injured during the lockout)
The line of Vanek, Hodgson, and Pominville has been on fire to start the season for Buffalo, and for them that’s just a continuation of their lockout play where all 3 players were averaging a point per game or better in their respective leagues. Marcus Foligno was having a great season in Rochester, and after sputtering a bit in his first 4 games in Buffalo, he has 7 points in his last 7 games. On the flip side, Drew Stafford is goal-less in 11 games, and may be feeling the effects of missing out on game action the past few months. He’s played well enough to believe he’s going to break out, but there’s clearly more rust on Drew than his linemates.
Jochen Hecht got his game back playing for Adler Mannheim during the lockout. (Getty Images)
It’s tough to gauge whether or not the lockout has much of an impact on the bottom six forwards. Jochen Hecht has been a pleasant surprise but hasn’t set the world on fire, nor should be be expected to at this point in his career. Mikhail Grigorenko is an 18 year old rookie making the jump from Juniors, even with all those games in Quebec under his belt the expectations should be tempered for the young Russian. Steve Ott has performed well, despite not having played during the lockout, but perhaps having a fresher body for such a physical player is an advantage unto itself.
In net Ryan Miller spent the off-season working out on his own, while Jhonas Enroth sneaked in a few contests in his native Sweden during the lockout. Miller has certainly looked a bit rusty to start the year, and outside of an early victory over Toronto he hasn’t shown an ability to steal games for Buffalo yet. When Ryan hasn’t been in net Jhonas has been getting shelled, it’s difficult for a player of Enroth’s mold who needs to get into a groove from playing on a nightly basis but instead comes in completely cold once every couple weeks at best. Due to the situation that he’s used his play during the lockout has little bearing over his early season NHL struggles.
Looking across the NHL leaderboard, the top two points leaders (Vanek, Kane) both played overseas during the lockout. Overall there are 11 players with at least 14 points heading into today, and 6 of them (Vanek, Kane, Malkin, Thornton, Zetterberg, Pominville) played in Europe during the lockout. That’s not an overwhelming percentage, indicating that while it may have helped players playing overseas in the fall, it didn’t necessarily hurt everyone who didn’t.
On the Sabres specifically it appears the players who played in Europe or the AHL have fared better through 11 games than those that haven’t. It’s hard to make that determination for the forwards, because it’s primarily their top 6 forwards, sans Stafford, that played overseas and they are expected to perform at a higher level than their bottom 6 forwards regardless if they were idle or not. However it is evident that the Sabres defensemen who played during the lockout have been much stronger than their rusty counterparts. Whatever the cause, Buffalo needs to get everyone back on the same page, and up to the same level of play soon, before the season slips away.
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