There isn’t a whole lot to be concerned about with the Buffalo Sabres right now. They’re out of a playoff spot here at about the ¼ season mark, but only by three points, with a game in hand on the teams above them. They’re getting their key players back from injury – Bogosian and Kane are back from the pressbox. Eichel is getting rave reviews from the likes of myself and Wayne Gretzky (the only time we’ll be together in a sentence.) Reinhart is quietly becoming a great player. O’Reilly is the leader we’ve been waiting for since Drury. And then…there’s Ennis. He’s not having a bad season, really – 10 points in 18 games, which is good for third on the team. He just seems…uncomfortable. On the Nov. 19th edition of the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast, Joe Yerdon reported what we’ve all been seeing; “Ennis has the cliched ‘squeezing the stick a bit too tight as of late.” On the same night, Buffalo travelled to St. Louis to take on the Blues, who sit in second place in the west, but were coming off of a tough loss to Columbus on Tuesday night, and had lost three of their last five. It was a winnable game, and Ennis had two chances to help seal the deal, but…y’know…squeezing the stick…
The first opportunity came on a 5-on-3 in the third period. The puck came across and Enzo had the whole net, but ripped it wide, and all of the way down the ice, essentially killing the 49 second two-man advantage. The second chance came in the shootout, when Ennis took the puck wide to the glove side of Blues’ goalie Allen, and seeing an opportunity, shot high. Too high, unfortunately, as the puck missed the net and glanced harmlessly off of the glass.
So what could be causing Ennis’ play? Over the past two seasons, he’s been the Sabres’ most consistent player, and there were high hopes for him coming into this season, where he’d finally get the help he needs. Put him on a line with any of the names listed above and he should shine bright like a diamond, to use the parlance of our time. Despite his 10 points, it’s Ennis’ play away from the puck that gives cause for concern.
Twice last week, a goal was disallowed after review because Ennis had gone offsides. His infraction was not caught at the time the puck passed the blueline, so the margin was incredibly slim, obviously, but it was an infraction nonetheless and in Saturday’s game against the league-leading Dallas Stars, it may have cost them a point. And he knows it. “This time it cost us the game, so it’s frustrating,” Ennis said, “I’ve got to stay onside.”
Then there was the incredibly dangerous play in St. Louis, where he took defenseman Alex Pietrangelo hard into the boards from behind, resulting in a five-minute major. The Blues scored just over 30 seconds in. Maybe it was an honest mistake – split second bad decision. Maybe it was frustration. Either way, it was a play that hurt the team, and as mentioned on the broadcast, he’s lucky he didn’t get the game for it.
Not many people on this Sabres roster have suffered through the last two season. Ennis had no extended breaks for injury – he played 80 games in 2013 and 78 games in 2014. It is likely that Enzo felt like he’d taken the team on his shoulders – any success they were going to have was going to come off of his stick, one way or another. Maybe the coaching staff put too much pressure on him. Maybe the lack of a system pushed him to make his own fate. Neither of those are concerns now.
I’m sure the Sabres aren’t scrolling through this story thinking, “Oh, man – Tyler’s GOT to read this,” but in the off chance that they are, I want him to know that we appreciate everything he’s done over the last two seasons. More than anyone, he’s give Buffalo fans something to be excited about. Remember that goal he scored on Carey Price, nearly a year ago? It was incredible. So much so that I’m still talking about it. What I’m trying to say, Enzo, is thank you. You’ve worked hard, and now, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Lining up with the likes of O’Reilly, Eichel, and Kane – you’re going to score! You’re going to make some great passes and they’re going to score! You don’t have to carry the team any longer. You’re a good player in a good system, and you’re finally surrounded by other good players. You’re a member of one of the youngest top sixes in the NHL right now, and in two years, you’ll be nearly unstoppable. Relish this time, and just play. Don’t overthink, don’t over work, just do what you do. Fly into the zone, spin off the halfwall and put the puck to the middle. This time, someone will be there to bury it. I promise.
Do yourself a favor and check out the latest 716 Sports Podcast from Tuesday night recorded at Lockhouse Distillery and Bar in the Cobblestone District