With just a little over a quarter of the season gone, it’s time to recognize the Buffalo Sabres players that have really impressed, or truly disappointed, through the team’s 23 games.
The Sabres head into next week with a 13-9-1 record, giving the team 27 points. This puts the team at third in the Northeast Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. For a team that had so much hype at the beginning of the season, that’s pretty disappointing.
Certain players have stood out, but certain games stand out as winnable contests that the Sabres didn’t have the will to win. They couldn’t muster anything against the 30th-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets, a team the Sabres beat earlier in the season at the First Niagara Center. Speaking of home games, the Sabres have a 6-6-1 record in their own building, which is unaccepatable. Thankfully, the Sabres have a pretty good road record, going 7-3 in games in other teams’ buildings. If the Sabres hope to stay in playoff contention, their play at home must improve.
Enough about the Sabres as a team, though. Here are Hockey Heaven, NY’s picks for individual awards at the quarter mark of the season:
Most Valuable Player- Thomas Vanek– This shouldn’t even be a question. Vanek leads the team in many categories, including goals (12), points (26), game-winning goals (3), shots (78), and power play points (6). He’s second on the team in assists with 14. Vanek has had points in 18 of his 23 games, and the Sabres are 2-3 the games he didn’t score. His place on the team doesn’t begin to describe where he falls in with the rest of the NHL. Vanek is 4th in the league in scoring behind Phil Kessel (30), Claude Giroux (29), and Joffrey Lupul (27). Vanek has been on fire ever since the season started. This may be because his linemate, Jason Pominville, was given the Sabres’ captaincy by coach Lindy Ruff. In a way, he may be trying to show Ruff that he made the wrong choice, while at the same time, helping the team on the ice while leading by example. This is Vanek’s spot to lose.
Most Surprising Player- Jason Pominville– This spot could have gone to Luke Adam, but his hot start has tapered off some since the start of the season. Instead, Jason Pominville has done nothing but get on the scoresheet since the start of the season. He’s almost as hot as Thomas Vanek, with 25 points in 23 games. Pominville leads the team in assists with 16, and he’s second in goals with nine. We’ve seen before in past seasons that Pominville has the ability to put up points, but he hasn’t been as prolific as he is now with scoring since the 2007-08 season, when he had an 80 point season, one point behind Derek Roy’s team-leading 81. Since then, his scoring has decreased significantly, getting only 52 points in 73 games last season. It’s possible that Pominville will eventually slow down, but as long as he’s on a line with Thomas Vanek, he’ll be expected to keep scoring at a high rate. If not, he could always team up with Paul Gaustad for another one of these:
Best Rookie- Jhonas Enroth– While I once again considered Luke Adam for this spot, Jhonas Enroth has been nothing short of phenomenal in place of Ryan Miller, whether that be for spot starts or during the time Miller has been out with a concussion. Before Miller was knocked out of the Boston game about three weeks ago, Enroth was forcing Lindy Ruff’s hand into sitting Miller for the rookie goalie. Enroth has started 12 games, in which he’s 8-3-1 with a .925 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average. He has started every single game since Miller went out, which personally, I don’t agree with. Lindy Ruff’s management of goalies has always been, at the very least, questionable, but you almost can’t blame him at the moment. Drew MacIntyre isn’t really a time-tested goalie that Ruff knows he can rely on for a spot start every now and then. Regardless, other than the other night in Columbus, Enroth has been spectacular in place of Ryan Miller, and should make Lindy Ruff more comfortable in installing a timeshare with his goalies once Miller is healthy enough to come back.
Best Defenseman- Robyn Regehr– This shouldn’t even be a question. While he’s not a scorer, Regehr is one of the best acquisitions the Sabres made over this past off-season. While his +/- isn’t too pretty (-4), Regehr is the physical, stay-at-home defenseman the Sabres have been looking for since Jay McKee’s departure at the end of the 2006 season. He leads the team with 59 hits and 34 blocked shots. His physicality is a change of pace from all the offensive-minded defensemen that the Sabres have on their roster. Regehr is out with an upper-body injury right now, but hopefully he’ll be back soon.
Best Summer Acquisition-Robyn Regehr– See Above
Best Goalie- Jhonas Enroth– See Above.
While there have been many good stories, there have also been some disappointments.
Ville Leino was expected to bring an extra scoring dimension to the Sabres and solve the team’s problem with depth at center. However, Leino hasn’t been able to catch on with any linemates and has since been moved to the wing in most situations. One can only hope that eventually he’ll catch on, as fans will have to deal with a lot of Leino before his contract is up in six years.
Tyler Myers was having a pretty dismal season after signing a big 7-year deal this past September. He has 6 points in 19 games and is a -4 with 31 blocked shots and 24 hits. He’s been decent, but decent isn’t good enough when his $7 million cap hit kicks in next season.
Drew Stafford also signed a new contract over the summer. He’s expected to be a 30-goal scorer for the next four years, but at the moment, he’s on pace to score only 15 goals this season, counting the game he already missed. He’ll probably be missing a little bit more time with a bad groin.