Mike Weber: "What's this defense thing? Somebody told me one time. I just can't remember."

Mike Weber: "What's this defense thing? Somebody told me one time. I just can't remember."

Holy Shit.  WHAT is going on with the Sabres?! They’re back in the bottom of the league. One point out of LAST place for crying out loud.  They’re on a 5 game losing streak as my numb, fanatical fingers scribe this piece out to you.  Tim Murray is a bum.  He’s made us an embarrassment of the NHL for the past 2 seasons and now – THIS?!  He needs to be fired.  Dan Byslma too.  B-U-M.  Why would Murray even hire him? I mean, anybody who’s had Geno Malkin and that Sidney guy can be a successful NHL coach.

NO.

Stop. Please. Just stop.

29th place or not, this team is MUCH improved.  Struggling? Sure. They can’t score their way out of a brothel right now.  This is a young team and young teams go through rough patches.  There are a lot of new faces, players are learning to play with new teammates, and some are settling into their new roles. 

So, what’s the deal?

DEFENSE:

OUCH. Outside of Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk, the Sabres defensive roster is like reading off of a list of obscure Kardashian ex-boyfriends.  We’ve got guys playing defense on this team that even the NHL’s queen of mediocrity, Elisha Cuthbert, wouldn’t consider dating. 

Injuries have surely had an important factor in this.  Zach Bogosian, who is considered a top 4 D man, has left a lot to be desired up to this point.  He started the season on the injured list and missed 17 games. He may not be entirely healthy and that could be his issue, but he is a defenseman that is heavily leaned on and he needs to pick his game up. 

Mark Pysyk – whom I consider the Sabres #2 defenseman, has been hobbled with a broken bone in his foot since November 17th.  That’s 23 games. Tonight will make 24.  He is being sent down to the AHL this weekend for conditioning and will be back in the lineup soon.  As former Chippewa Street regular and current Skittles advocate would say, “I’M THANKFUL.”  The Sabres lose a lot when Pysyk isn’t in the lineup. First of all, when either Bogo or Pysyk miss a game, Mike Weber or Carlo Coliacovo are somewhere close behind grinning about their next opportunity to show people exactly how not to play defense in the NHL.  He brings a steadiness to the back end and instantly improves the transition game with his speed and incredible first passes.

Cody Franson is a good player.  He’s not a defenseman that you bring in for his stifling defense however.  He’s had a good year for himself offensively and has done his part defensively as well.  At times he has been a defensive liability.  Being paired with Mike Weber so much has not helped his case.

Josh Gorges has not been what he’s been expected to be.  He’s an aging defenseman and is struggling in a faster and younger NHL. He could definitely be better for his team.  He was brought in for his leadership and to help along youngsters in a questionable locker room during a “suffering” time for the franchise.  He’s done just that and has been a great example for the kids in the system to follow.  Unfortunately, that’s about it though.

GOALTENDING:

I’ve seen black holes with more bright spots than our current goaltending situation. 28 minutes into the season, starting goaltender Robin Lehner went down with a high ankle sprain.  I’m confident that Robin Lehner can be a successful NHL goaltender.  Don’t count on it this season though.  Those high ankle sprains LINGER.  I injured mine playing hockey 3 years ago and I can still feel effects from it.  I also don’t have a professional training staff and I’m about 20 pounds overweight, but, that’s not the point.  Lehner likely won’t be back into full form and fully confident on that ankle until next season. 

In Lehner’s absence Dan Bylsma has been forced to rely on career back-up, Chad Johnson and a rookie fresh off of a double hip surgery in, Linus Ullmark.  Both goalies have had good stretches and showed flashes but they’ve also had their fair share of struggles. The Sabres have lost 12 games by one goal (3 by way of shootout loss). If you consider that and then consider how many times you’ve heard Razor and Rick utter the phrase, “He’s gonna want that one back.” Or, “That’s a save he’s gotta make.” The Sabres could easily have an extra 6-7 W’s with just a few more saves.  It’s not all the goalies fault though. The Sabres could be scoring more. Buffalo has scored 1 or zero goals 11 times this season - and that leads me to my next subject….

OFFENSE:

At times scoring has been tough to come by.  Ryan O’Reilly is pretty good though, eh?  How many of you were losing your minds over that mega contract that Tim Murray gave him?  Looks pretty good now.  The spotlight has been put on him and he has shined brightly. You’ll see him rocking that blue and yellow at the All-Star weekend as wellJ. 

Jack Eichel has also shown that he has been crafted by hockey Gods.  How about those hands? The deadly release on his shot paired with his impeccable skating stride and top echelon hockey IQ are pretty phenomenal too.  You can now find him tied for 2nd in points on the team with 26 points.  It’s been a streaky 26 points, but he’s been great offensively nonetheless. He generates uber scoring chances for himself and his teammates.  Anybody who touches the ice with him is instantly better. While his offense has been great, he’s proven that being a dependable 2 way center in the NHL is very difficult.  He’s struggled in his defensive zone. Don’t fret though. Sidney Crosby was awful defensively to start his career and he is great defensively now. More good news: The guy who coached Crosby through that is now coaching Jack.

Evander Kane has been off a bit this season as well. Don’t get me wrong though. He’s been playing great. His speed is insane and he finishes ALL of his checks. The puck just isn’t going in for him. He’s extremely snake bitten at the moment. Just ask Brayden Holtby.  He also might be JUST A BIT distracted by real life things at the moment as well if you know what I mean.

Dear Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, and Zemgus Girgensons,

Where are you? Please come back to us. Your team misses you.  They need your scorning touch.

I really just think that all 3 of these players are struggling adjusting to their new roles.  Tyler Ennis was a top center on this team the past 2 seasons.  He was the go to guy and controlling the play at center.  Now he’s been forced to the wing where play is being dictated to him. Tyler is a guy who should doing the dictating.  His insane quickness and dazzling hands need to the guy creating from the pivot and not waiting for the play to come to him. I believe this has been his biggest struggle and that he will get through it.  He does not and SHOULD NOT be traded. When he hunkers down into his new role he will be the milk loving Enzo we’ve come to love. 

Same thing with Moulson and Girgensons.  Both have been heavily relied upon in the past and are now playing mostly 3rd line roles.  Zemgus has been moved back to center and I think he is more effective on the wing for the Sabres.  In my opinion, put Ennis between 26 and 28 and we’ll have a very effective line with all 3 guys producing again.

One last thing. Can Brian Gionta not be a Sabre anymore? Love the guy to death but he is not helping at all. Let him finish the season and give the C to ROR. Hell, if he wants another shot at the cup GMTM should trade him to a contender for 3rd or 4th.

In conclusion; there’s some work to be done.  They are INSANELY improved but circumstances on defense and goaltending have been the issue this season. Outside a few names on this young defense, the pieces are in place.  While we are a point out of last place and currently on a 5 game losing streak, this team could just as easily go on a 7 game win streak and get back in the picture. If not, another top 4 pick surely won’t hurt.

This team WILL be great.  And they will be great with Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma at the helm.

Thanks for reading. You’re a peach ;)