Is it FINALLY Miller Time?

Let's start by saying there hasn't been any kind of outcry for opinions on the Sabres as of late, I think we all have our own. On that topic, I'm sure every Sabres fan has about 10 different theories as to how the team can turn things around, each one more far fetched then the last.  But lets get down to brass tax, I purposely haven't written a blog here, not because I don't have things so say, but because nothing that I would write would be anything more then angry ramblings about how we can't score and we give up leads. But alas, there was a win this week and a real opportunity for a win tonight, so lets talk hockey!

The Sabres started this year with high hopes, everyone knows that.  They have a better looking defensive roster then we have seen in years and some offensive talent that everyone was hoping would reach their potential.  But it seems that we haven't seen that team since Europe, and actually we really haven't.  Buffalo has been plagued with injuries, as the rest of the league has, but it seems to have hit harder here.  

When Ryan Miller took the hit from Lucic, the wheels on this blue and gold bus really started to fall off. With the number one goalie out, some were hopeful that it was going to be Enroth's time to shine and pull this team up.  In Miller's absence, the only thing Enroth showed was that he really was a great back-up, but not the starter you are looking for to lead you to the playoffs.  So what really went wrong?

When Miller dropped, the coming weeks brought the fall of Ville Leino, Pat Kaleta, Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis (again), Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers.  The final two being the most critical of course.  But truthfully, how the heck are we supposed to know what kind of team we are playing with when half the roster are rookies brought up from Rochester?  Turns out those rookies aren't so bad, and are making a good impression while filling the void for the walking wounded.  But this is not the team we were all hoping for, and its important to realize that we were cheering for a different team then we started the year with.

But things seem to be settling down, a win against the Oilers on Tuesday night at home may have gotten the ball rolling.  Now coach Ruff is talking about how its time to put our faith back in Miller, and frankly, I agree. If we look back to the last few seasons, the Sabres have been one and done in the playoffs for a few years. But truly the only thing that has changed has been Miller.  The guy is still facing 40 shots a game on average, an all of the sudden we turn on him because he is letting three of them in instead of one of two? Every player in the NHL, or any sport for that matter will tell you that every now and then you have a rough stretch, their hands and their heads don't seem to work together and they don't produce how they normally do, such is the case with Ryan Miller.  The Sabres have done no better of a job keeping shots from hitting Miller this year then any other year. The rest of the team is simply not scoring to counteract when Miller is having a bad game.

How is it that the team can expect to win games in which they only score one goal, are they expecting a shut out every night? Getting behind Miller and off his back is step number one. Step number two is getting some pucks to the net, no matter how you do it and set up Drew Stafford, Paul Guastad and Thomas Vanek in front to hammer it home.  Those three have the big bodies and are tough enough to function within the traffic of the goal crease and hit home some garbage goals.  The Sabres don't have a Sidney Crosby or Bobby Ryan to run through four defenders and slide a puck by the goalie, they have gritty players and fast players and very few who possess both those skills.  

The set ups on the power play simply are not working.  I have played hockey, I have run the same systems that the Sabres are currently, and I can say that their broken communication and lack of effort to win the 50/50 battles are costing them games.  Garbage goals are what this team needs to build the second half of the season on, and if Nathan Gerbe wants to show you how great his hands are that's OK too.  But without the protection of at least two goals a game, how can any goalie in this league be expected to put up wins?

Tonight is a great test for the boys to get the ball rolling.  We are expecting to see Miller in net probably over the next five games or more and with any luck there just might be a turn around.  The Hurricanes are number 15 in the East, as low as it gets, and with the Sabres road record this should be at least a 3-2 win.  We will all have to stay tuned and see.




Matt Cefalu's picture

Probably your best piece I've read so far. Awesome job. It's tough when a team starts to stray from the things they know how to do, the things that, in the past, have allowed them to win. Bottling that is always tricky, but even at the lowly level of floor hockey that I participate in, and in most sports, you can feel yourself excelling when it's happening during a game, match, etc. They just have to get back into that rhythm.