It's been a long, winding road for the Buffalo Sabres in the first half of the season. They've proved that they are more than likely the same team as last year, which could be taken as a good or bad thing.
The advantages to having this same team is the chemistry that is developing... sort of. These guys have been together for a very long time, and they're locked up for the next four to five years in order to grow into an even better team.
The only knock against this chemistry theory I have is that Lindy Ruff, coach of the Sabres, feels the need to change lines at least every two games. My point is that the average team we've seen in the past year and a half is growing into what I hope can become a superior, elite team in the near future.
Of course, there are disadvantages to having that same Sabres team here in Buffalo. They are average. What if they don't grow like they are supposed to, developing that chemistry which they all long for in order to become one of those elite teams?
The Boston Bruins seem to have figured it out, and seem to have been on the same road as the Sabres. The Bruins, however, just seem to be about a year or two ahead of where the Sabres want to be.
Still, I have to admit that I've had a huge problem with the coaching, especially with Ruff—changing lines constantly, never letting anything develop, not playing his star players long enough, not keeping a consistent power play, etc.
On the other hand, I am loving the approach he's had lately. When he doesn't like something from the players, he is no longer afraid to call them out anymore. He's hit his low point, now, and has no choice but to call the shots and bench the no-shows on the ice (I'm looking at you, Max Afinogenov).
Just before the new year, Ruff called out his "star players," particularly Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy, saying that if they don't score, then the Sabres are doomed to sit at this average status in which they sit at the moment.
Trust me, I've seen this team for the past two years. The talent is there, the effort just isn't.
The only one I've seen a consistent effort from the whole year is Thomas Vanek, who sits one goal behind league-leader Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers with 26. Roy, however, has shown his all-star caliber as of late, stringing together many good games. Hecht hasn't really seemed to answer the call from Ruff yet, but hopefully that changes soon so he doesn't have to sit even higher than the nosebleed section just to watch his team play.
This isn't to say that once the star players come out to play that grinders like Adam Mair, Matt Ellis, and Paul Gaustad can sit out and watch themselves win. No, we've seen that it takes a full team effort to win a game for the Buffalo Sabres, one which includes scoring, hitting, and strong defensive play in order to win games.
My guess is we get about one or two of those a night. In Toronto and Boston, the Sabres showed all three qualities. A win in Toronto wasn't all that satisfying to this proclamation, but a win in Boston showed everyone something: The Sabres have the opportunity to win night in and night out if they put forth the effort, if every single member of the team, including Matt Ellis (and by the way, great game the other day) gives it his all.
Now, I know that this seems like a high-school motivational story, and I guess it is, but these guys act so young sometimes that you just wonder who you're watching sometimes.
So, who's next. Ottawa? The Sabres always seem to have trouble with the Senators, no matter where they stand in the standings. An earlier loss this year to the Senators was preceded by the Sabres' amazing start at the beginning of the season, so we'll see what motivational changes the Senators bring the Sabres after this game.