Buffalo Sabres fans best get used to the image in the picture above as opponent players cruise in and around and through the Sabres crease area with impunity and at will. Now the most pressing area of need for the Sabres has become what was considered their strength, only a couple of weeks ago, their goal-tending roster.
As Mar. 4 quickly descends upon the Sabres homeland of WNY-Canada area on the shores of Lake Erie, the Sabres netminders have become an endangered species that seem to be without protection.
Ryan Miller, who has played the majority of the games this season, has now been knocked out of commission by a well-timed Scott Gomez hit behind the Buffalo net last week.
Former backup-now starting goaltender Patrick LaLime has now been felled by a rampaging flu-bug and missed practice today before the team departed for a H-U-G-E game tomorrow against Carolina.
In fact back-up to the back-up rookie Jhonas Enroth for the time being is the new starting goaltender and had to handle the netminder duties today, along with goal-tending coach Jim Corsi, as the only other two goaltenders in the Sabres franchise system, Adam Dennis and John DeCaro in Portland are both hurt.
That now means that if the Sabres are to survive the Miller injury and stay involved in the playoff race, then goaltender has to become a position of need and emphasis for Sabres GM Darcy Regier.
A couple of weeks ago, goaltending would have appeared to be a position of strength, as Miller had been playing the best that he has in several seasons.
Given that Miller and LaLime have not chosen to do a "Billy Smith", which Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff should well remember, the answer apparently does not lay with the netminders protecting themselves.
Smith tried to put Ruff's eye out with the butt-end of his goal stick as Ruff cruised too close to Smith's crease during a playoff series long ago, when Ruff was a young Sabres tough-guy on the ice.
That does not appear from any evidence to be in the Sabres' netminders personalities or solutions.
The Sabres do not have the players that apparently will protect their goaltenders either. When I travelled with and covered the team in their former hey-days of the late 1970's and early 1980s, I became spoiled by seeing the likes of Schoenfeld, Korab, Playfair, Ruff and even the Canadian prairie grace of Bill Hajt protecting the goaltenders.
Once past current Captain Craig Rivet, there are none-such defensemen on the Sabres roster now.
Youngsters Butler and Sekera try to protect the goalies, but they do not clear the crease "come hell or high water!" Spacek will deliver solid body checks at times, and does have a decent shot from the point that he scores with occasionally, but he is not the physical presence that the Sabres need in the crease, either.
This is the area that should have been one of the top areas of need addressed by Darcy Regier before the trade deadline, if the Sabres ARE serious for a playoff run this season?
A Boumeester or Pronger-type that might have been available for a combination Afinogenov-Hecht-Connolly-Pominville-Paille trade? Any combination or total of those players would upgrade the Sabres defense for a hard-nose veteran blue-liner that could also carry the puck and help on the power-play.
Pominville and Connolly would be the most missed, but a team has to give some potential to get an immediate transfusion of heart and/or testosterone to survive the rest of this season successfully (which translates into making the playoffs and beyond!).
The current defensemen are also limited in their pluses. Teppo Numminen did actually have heart surgery last season and is a crafty player, but the Sabres are in need of badgers, not foxes now.
Toni Lydman shows signs of physicality, but more often than not takes cheap and DUMB penalties with his stickwork, not the kind of clearing the crease that is needed.
His consistency is similar to that of Swiss cheese; full of holes that need to be filled. Paetsch, Butler, Sekera, and Webber ( when he is allowed to play) will show up, but they are so young and Rivet cannot cover up for them all.
Tallinder should be traded while he has any value left, but then again, most NHL GM's aren't Bryan Murray; they cannot be duped that easily.
For the record, as long as this is an editorial-type piece, the following players should be considered untouchable on the Sabres roster (at least for my season-ticket holders input?); Thomas Vanek; Matt Ellis; Paul Gaustad; Patrick Kaleta; Clarke MacArthur; Adam Mair; Derek Roy; Drew Stafford; Chris Butler; Andrej Sekera; Craig Rivet; and Ryan Miller.
Ellis,Kaleta,MacArthur,Butler, and Sekera because of their youth and potential upside. Mair, Gaustad, and Rivet because if you are suffering from a lack of heart, you do not give away the only blood supply you might have.
Miller, Vanek and Roy because Darcy Regier is not retarded. He is just SO slow to make any deals that fans sometimes wonder if he is awake.
There is something to be noted about the fact that Regier and Ruff are the longest tenured combination GM-Head Coach of the four major sports in North America. Continuity is a good thing, as long as it does not stand for mediocrity, as has been questioned for the other local professional entity, the Buffalo Bills.
This season's success will be read by Sabres' fans on the facts of whether the Sabres are forced to waste resources in their goaltending dilemma just to stay in the race, how long it takes Thomas Vanek to return from his broken jaw and resultant surgery, how productive he is when he does return, and how many times will the Sabres' goaltenders get run, hit, interfered with and injured in the remaining 20 games of the season.
Not all of these issues can be dealt with by free agency, but that is the only method that transplanting of organs that are missing, be it the heart or other organs better not mentioned in polite print, can be achieved by.