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Bad times continue for Buffalo Sabres

Dec 28, 2011, 10:27 PM EDT

Buffalo Sabres v New Jersey Devils Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres came into this season with big expectations, but their goals are whittling down to the same ones they had midway through 2010-11: simply claw their way into the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils are likely to be one of those “bubble” teams, so dropping a 3-1 loss to them cannot feel good.

The turning point?

Then again, the Sabres haven’t felt very good since they took a four-game winning streak into Boston on Nov. 12. Call it an easy narrative if you’d like, but times have been pretty lean since Milan Lucic clobbered Ryan Miller.

Since then, the Sabres have gone 7-11-3 to drop their overall record to 17-16-3. Buffalo went from second place in the Northeast Division and fourth in the East before that collision to fourth in their division and 11th in the conference today.

Who’s to blame?

The Versus gang pointed a finger at Miller and he’s certainly been disappointing, but it’s a team-wide concern. Despite some expensive should-be enhancements, their offense is inconsistent, their defense is as lax as its ever been and, yes, their goalie isn’t earning his big contract.

It’s tough to say what they really need to do – unless you’re in the subset who believes the team should make the drastic move of trading Miller – so improvement will have to come from within.

(Unless the Sabres decide to fire Lindy Ruff, the league’s longest tenured coach in the NHL, of course.)

  1. Alex - Dec 28, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Too many one dimensional players is the problem, or if you prefer, not enough grit in the skill guys, not enough skill in the gritty guys.

    Roy can skate, Stafford is big, Gaustad is good on faceoffs, Kaleta can hit, Ellis hustles, McCormick fights, Ennis can stick-handle, Leino has good vision, Boyes plays well in the corners. But none of those guys bring much else, or at least not on a consistent enough basis.

  2. oscojoe - Dec 28, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    The Bruins seem to have that effect on every team they play. It must be good to be a Bruins Fan!

  3. danphipps01 - Dec 29, 2011 at 5:25 AM

    Miller’s most squarely to blame. He’s in the bottom-five amongst current starting goaltenders (meaning Roloson and Mason aren’t being considered here) in GAA terms and is currently 24th in save percentage amongst starters (23rd if you consider Neuvirth one, but I don’t know which the Caps are treating as their mainstay offhand). In other words, he sucks out loud and half the League’s backups are not only better than him, but quite dramatically so. It’s not like the Lucic hit really changed much. He had gotten pulled how many times by that point? I recall at least three. He was awful from the start of the season.

    The rest of it is accounted for by a combination of lack of grit and a truly appalling injury streak. Basically, combine their luck with their goaltending and you’ve got a team running on fumes. Their lapse in recent games hasn’t been easy to break out of with half the damn roster missing. But seriously, run Enroth. He’s not great, but he’s certainly better than Miller on basically all fronts. Let Miller enjoy the scene from the bench for a few games, see if that slaps some better play into him. If not, run Enroth as the starter. If New Jersey can sit Martin fucking Brodeur himself in favour of career backup Johan Hedberg, the Sabres can sit a one-hit wonder like Ryan Miller.

    • Chris Ostrander - Dec 29, 2011 at 1:26 PM

      Miller has been pulled twice this season. Once against Philly and then against Pittsburgh. He was pulled against Boston but it wasn’t due to his play, it was because of the concussion/whiplash. For what it’s worth, his numbers were atop the NHL for the first three or four weeks. It wasn’t until the Philly-Winnipeg-Boston stretch in which his numbers began to tail off.

      Miller has been fairly decent since returning from injury – not nearly good enough – and has actually probably eclipsed Enroth in most categories. Again, at least since his return from injury.

      His numbers and play still need to be better, especailly because the only way this team will win games is if the goaltender steals a win. Unfortunately, neither Buffalo goaltender has been good enough to do that lately.

  4. pftbillsfan - Dec 29, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    Miller had one fantastic year and benefited from amazing marketing due to the Olympics. If you look at his career stats, they’re average to slightly above average. You can’t trade him because who would take his contract, but the other big problem is guys who play lights out in contract years and then disappear when they get a good contracts. Stafford, Roy, Leino, and the only true superstar on the team is Vanek. If he had a true number 1 center he could be a 50 goal scorer.

  5. babar61 - Dec 29, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Miller is just an average whiny goaltender. No mystery.

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