One of the key story lines in the Sabres game one victory was the play of the young blueliners. With the Sabres clinging to the one goal lead and Philadelphia having an extra attacker on the ice, Lindy Ruff had Tyler Myers, Chris Butler, Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani on the ice for the final 80 seconds while the veteran defensemen, Steve Montador and Shaone Morrisonn were on the bench.
No surprise here folks, the play of the younger Sabres has been a key factor in the post January 1 surge. In no particular order, Myers regained his form after a rocky start to his sophomore season. He bottomed out at minus 12 but finished even in the plus/minus category. He still produced 10 goals and 37 points and did you know Myers and Thomas Vanek tied for the team lead in game winning goals with 5?
Weber couldn’t crack the lineup, sitting out 20 of the first 22 games but has been rock solid since Thanksgiving. He was 2nd on the team with a plus 13, 3rd in blocked shots and led the Sabres in hits with 158. Even more impressive is the fact that Weber had 30 more hits than the next best Sabre and he only played in 58 games.
Like Weber, Butler didn’t do enough to earn a regular spot from Lindy Ruff, playing in only 49 games but like Weber, Butler improved over the 2nd half of the season and was tremendous in game one against the Flyers. He had only 9 points this season but was a plus 8 and has only one minus game in the last 20.
Gragnani and Mark Mancari have played in fewer games but have made key contributions. Gragnani got the shot thru on the lone goal in the series opener and of course had the OT game winner in Carolina earlier this month. Mancari had 8 points in 20 games but earned a place in the hearts of Sabres fans with his time consuming forecheck in the last minute of the Tampa game earlier this month.
Don’t forget about Tyler Ennis who played in every game this season, was 4th on the team in goals with 20, 5th in points with 49 and ended up 4th in rookie scoring in the league. Nathan Gerbe has won over lots of fans with his play. He scored 16 goals over the final 39 games of the regular season. He had the only goals during a big win in Montreal last month and had 2 goals including the spin-o-rama game tying score in the playoff berth clinching win over the Flyers. His plus 11 was 3rd best among the forwards.
Last but not least is Jhonas Enroth who saved the Sabres literally and figuratively. In the 2011 portion of the season, Enroth went 7-0-1. When Miller was out injured, Enroth stepped in to beat Ottawa and Tampa which were sandwiched around huge wins over the Rangers and Carolina when he allowed just one goal, and a fluke one off the stick of Eric Staal at that. Credit the Sabres organization for drafting these guys, the Coaches in Portland for preparing them for the pros and the Sabres coaches for continuing that development.