A number of problems have emerged for the Buffalo Sabres through the first nine games of the season. Chief among them are lack of secondary scoring, loads of defensive breakdowns and inconsistent goaltending.
It has led to what has become a regular discussion the last few years about whether or not Lindy Ruff should be fired.
It was five weeks ago yesterday the Bills decided to end the Chan Gailey era at One Bills Drive. It was a move most people could see coming. Listening to Chan Gailey each Football Monday, you could hear the frustration in his voice and it sounded like he had run out of answers.
I didn’t get that sense listening to Lindy Ruff during his interview with Jeremy and me this morning. Although, there was one time where I envisioned Lindy sitting in his hotel room with his arms stretched out by his sides and shrugging his shoulders as if to say “Guys, I have no idea what to do.”
He was asked about the possibility of moving Mikhail Grigorenko up to the second line. Ruff responded by saying its hard to tell who that second line is right now.
Ruff has tried some different combinations but nothing has worked to this point. The line of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville has combined for 18 goals. The other 11 forwards who have dressed in at least one game this season have a total of five goals.
I suppose it isn’t fair to expect much scoring from fourth line players so I’ll focus on the next 6 forwards after that top line. Tyler Ennis leads the way with two goals scored. Steve Ott, Mikhail Grigorenko and Marcus Foligno have one each. Drew Stafford and Jochan Hecht, who had more even strength ice time than Vanek in the last game with Florida, have a big fat zero in the goal column.
Stafford is off to this worst start as a Sabre. He had never gone more than six games at the start of the season before registering his first goal. He is at nine games and counting.
Foligno had six goals in his first nine games after the March 10th call up last season but is stuck at one.
As far as Stafford is concerned, Ruff broke down all of Stafford’s scoring opportunities this season and told the winger, he isn’t getting tight enough around the net. For that matter, Ruff said there were times when Stafford skated right by the net. He added that Stafford has to do a better job of battling for rebound chances and tip chances.
Ruff had a similar scouting report for Ennis who has gotten more of his chances on the rush rather than around the net.
All six of the forwards are getting ample opportunities to grab hold of the second line job since Ruff has pretty much balanced out the playing time for the group. Ennis and Stafford are averaging just under 19 minutes a game while Ott, Hecht and Foligno are all between 16 and 17 minutes. Grigorenko is the low man at less than 12 minutes a game.
The offensive deep freeze isn’t just when the Sabres skate five on five. Do you remember Ott’s power play goal in the season opener against Philadelphia? That is the only power play goal scored by a forward not named Vanek or Pominville in nine games.