Sabres Report Cards: 1st Quarter Grades

Today is the debut of the Sabres report cards feature on ‘Disciples of The Sword.’ Basically, it’s going to work like this. After about 20 games, I will hand out letter grades for the quarter. Simple enough, right? Well, let’s get to it.

Forwards:

Thomas Vanek (A+): This was a no-brainer. Vanek has developed from a one-dimensional forward into a two-way threat on the ice and he’s leading the team in points with 24 (11 G, 13 A), as well as providing good leadership to the team. Like usual, Vanek is a big presence on the Sabres power play and he’s performed well. It looks like an 80+ point season is inevitable for him.

Jason Pominville (A+): Pominville has been every bit as impressive as Vanek and then some. The captain of the Sabres isn’t the most vocal guy around, but he’s definitely leading by example. In my opinion, Pominville is the best defensive forward on the team, he’s put up 23 points (8 G, 15 A), and he’s really excelling in his prominent role on special teams. As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, Pominville is pretty much the de-facto center on his line, taking face-offs and playing center in the defensive zone and he’s been doing a heck of a job at that too.

Derek Roy (B): It’s been a tale of two months for Derek Roy. He was mediocre in October, but he’s turned it on in November, potting 10 of his 14 points in 10 games. On top of that, Lindy Ruff seems to really trust him again as evidenced by his ice time. His 19:00 TOI/game leads all Sabres forwards and that’s a pretty staggering number when you consider that just a month ago, he was averaging under 17:00 TOI/game. Based on how things are going, it appears that the Derek Roy might end up on a point per game pace or better like he was last season prior to him getting hurt, which would be awesome.

Drew Stafford (C-): When the Sabres signed Stafford to a 4 year, $16 million deal, they were paying for a top-notch goal scorer. That hasn’t exactly happened through 20 games. Stafford only has 4 goals, which extrapolates to a 16-17 goal season if he were to continue on that pace. I don’t think anyone would consider that a successful season. The effort hasn’t even been there for a many of the games. He’s looked like the Drew Stafford that nobody would notice for long-stretches of time. I want the Stafford from last season back.

Ville Leino (D): He’s been an effective player for about 7 games this season and even in those games, he’s struggled to get on the scoresheet. For the most part, Leino has been an invisible and redundant commodity in this Sabres lineup. Somehow, I don’t think Darcy envisioned this kind of game when they signed him in free agency this off-season. Leino has been playing well ever since he was put on a line with Stafford and Boyes. Hopefully, the points will start coming.

Brad Boyes (B-): Boyes is another guy who had a slow start to his season. Prior to the 2nd Tampa Bay game, his effort was subpar and he wasn’t scoring. Once that game happened, Boyes started to turn it around and was even rewarded with power play time on the first unit with Vanek and Pominville; the trio has looked very good together. The ironic thing is that even though he’s been one of the better forwards this month, he only has two points to show for it. The effort and chances are there on a consistent basis though and that’s a very good thing. All you can do is hope that his luck turns around for the better in that department.

Luke Adam (B): It’s all about expectations and despite him being a passenger in recent games, I don’t think anyone expected him to put up 14 points at this point in the season. The next step for Adam is to make sure his effort-level is more consistent and to be a better player in his own end while still being a contributor on offense. Otherwise, he might be looking at a demotion once Hecht and Ennis are healthy.

Nathan Gerbe (B+): As usual, you’ve got to love the effort from Gerbe. The guy’s work ethic on the ice is off the charts. He’s also picked up where he left off offensively last season too. Nate’s on pace for over 40 points despite only scoring 3 goals so far. You’ve got to think that will pick up a bit. Overall, it’s nice to have a little ball of energy who can spark the team and help close out games. I’m surprised Ruff hasn’t featured him more prominently on the power play though.

Paul Gaustad (B+): With the exception of the most recent Boston game, I’ve been very happy with Gaustad’s play. His physical game is back and he’s still just as good on face-offs as ever. Gaustad’s work on the PK and on the defensive-side of the game has been very good as well. That’s the kind of play that makes him worth the money’s he’s getting paid.

Patrick Kaleta (C-): Kaleta’s been hit-or-miss so far. There are games where he contributes to the team by making big hits and drawing penalties and then there’s others where he’s a non-factor and/or takes stupid penalties. The one part of his game that has been consistently good is his work on the penalty kill. He’s going to need to be more consistent in his even-strength play though and he needs to make sure that he can stay in the lineup. Otherwise, Pat might find himself out of a job in the not-too-distant-future. The team doesn’t need any stupid plays like his headbutting incident with Philly.

Cody McCormick (A+): Cody isn’t a big piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of things, but every successful team has a guy like him in their lineup. He’s a hard-worker and he’s willing to throw-down for his teammates. Let’s hope that his injury doesn’t keep him out for too much longer.

Matt Ellis (A+): Whenever Ellis is in the lineup, all you really expect from him is to work hard and be responsible in his own end. Anything else he does is a bonus. Right now, Ellis is doing just that and fans should be very happy that they’ve got good spare parts like Ellis in the system.

Corey Tropp (A+): He’s only played in 7 games, but Tropp hasn’t looked out of place in his first stint with the big club. He’s hitting everything in sight and he’s even chipped in a little bit on the scoresheet. I don’t see why he couldn’t become a fixture in the Sabres’ bottom-6 at some point.

Tyler Ennis (C): It’s kind of hard to grade Ennis since he’s only played 7 games due to his ankle injury, but during those games, he wasn’t an effective offensive player and failed to register a single point. He seems to be on the mend though, which is good news because the Sabres could sure use a boost up front.

-Jochen Hecht (N/A): Hecht has missed the entire season up to this point, but when he does come back, he’ll ideally provide the Sabres with good defensive play and great work along the boards to help open things up for his linemates.

Defensemen:

Tyler Myers (C): For most of the season, Myers has been inconsistent defensively while providing very little offensively. The games where he’s been a dominant force have been few and far between. In fact, it got so bad for Myers, that he was actually a healthy scratch for a game. He responded well from it though, playing very well in the two games after his scratch. Myers was taking the body more, playing better defense and he even scored a couple of goals. Unfortunately for him, he sustained a scaphoid fracture which can take upwards of several months to heal properly, so they will be without him for the foreseeable future.

Christian Ehrhoff (C+): Ehrhoff’s been logging big minutes for the Sabres. He leads the team in TOI/game and even-strength TOI/game. His offensive game hasn’t been what it was in Vancouver so far though. It’s shocking to see a guy with that kind of shot from the point only have one goal and his decision-making on rushes have been inconsistent. No one was expecting a great defensive-defenseman when Darcy signed him this summer, but we didn’t expected him to commit many brain-cramps that would lead to goals for the other team. That needs to change. Buffalo needs to find a way to open up more ice for him work with when he’s shooting from the point on the power play.

Jordan Leopold (B-): After a quiet start, Leopold has started to turn things up a notch on offense by collecting 3 goals and 3 assists during this month. Perhaps Leopold can give Ehrhoff some pointers on getting his shot through better at even-strength because he’s probably the best defenseman on the team as far as getting shots on the net goes. His defensive game has also improved from the start of the season. They’re going to need him to keep that up with Myers being sidelined long-term.

Robyn Regehr (A+): Regehr has been a godsend for this team and that is definitely not an exaggeration. For years, the Sabres have lacked tough, physical defensive-defensemen who will make life a living hell for the opposing team and they finally have a guy who can do that. Regehr leads the team in hits and blocked shots and he’s been a rock at even-strength as well as the penalty kill.

Andrej Sekera (A-): Aside from a couple of really bad games, Sekera has been this team’s 2nd best defenseman. He’s been a pleasant surprise in his own end of the ice making quiet, solid plays to break things up and start the Sabres’ attack from their own zone. When you factor in that he’s been essentially baby-sitting Gragnani for most of the year, that makes what he’s done so far even more impressive. I think you’ll see Sekera break out of his shell on offense more once he’s paired with a more defensively-responsible partner on a regular basis.

-Marc-Andre Gragnani (D-): I hate to be hard on a guy who’s just playing in his first full NHL season this year, but Gragnani’s purpose on the team was to help run a productive power play while not being too much of a liability in his own end and that just hasn’t happened for most of the season. The success on the power play has been sporadic and when it has had success, he hasn’t been a big part of it and he just looks lost most nights in his own end. Now, with Myers and Weber out long-term, it’s imperative that Gragnani figures things out fast. I’m not looking forward to a 3rd pairing of Brennan-Gragnani.

Mike Weber (Incomplete): Since Mike’s a defenseman and he’s only played in three games, I’m going to give him an incomplete in this quarter. In those three games though, he’s ranged from great to mediocre. I blame most of the mediocrity on Ruff tossing him to the wolves by putting him out against top forwards when he was clearly not ready for those kinds of assignments. The Sabres could definitely use some more sandpaper on defense besides Regehr. Get well soon Mike.

Goaltenders:

Ryan Miller (B-): Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t think Ryan Miller was having a terrible year before he had his concussion. He certainly hasn’t been playing as well as he could, but I think you can attribute a decent amount of the goals he’s let in during losses on shoddy play in front of him. Overall, I’d say his play has been above-average at best and pedestrian when it was at its worst. No one knows when he’ll be back because of how tricky concussions are, but the team can sure use him. As good as Enroth’s playing, I don’t want the team to have to ride him for a long stretch.

Jhonas Enroth (A+): You can’t ask for much more from a young goaltender. Coming into the season, he was just expected to start to perform well as a back-up at the NHL, but now, he has been thrown into the starter’s role and has played well. His calm presence has to please his teammates. One thing that I’ve noticed is that teams have been beating Enroth short-side and five-hole with a little regularity. He’ll need to make some adjustments to curtail that a bit as the season progresses.

Team Grade:

Overall, I’d give the Sabres a solid B through the first 20 games. Despite the chemistry issues, lack of secondary-scoring, and inconsistent defensive play, Buffalo finds itself tied in points for first place in the Northeast and they’re 5th in the conference. This team’s nowhere near it’s potential now as far as I’m concerned. The caveat is that they won’t have two huge pieces in Myers and Miller for awhile, so the rest of the team has to step it up, which means that they need to find more offense from people other than Vanek, Pominville, and Roy. Also, on defense, the top-4 of Regehr, Sekera, Ehrhoff, and Leopold will need to take their game’s up a notch with Myers & Weber out and it will be up to Ruff to give the Brennan-Gragnani pairing plenty of starts in the offensive zone. The most obvious key to continued success for the Sabres will be for Enroth to keep doing what he’s doing. Part of that process will be keeping that demeanor of his. The other part will be more committed team defense in front of him.

One Response to Sabres Report Cards: 1st Quarter Grades

  1. Pingback: Sabres Report Card- 2nd Quarter Grades « Disciples of The Sword

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