When Patrick Kaleta went down with a neck injury against Toronto on Tuesday night, he may have helped the Sabres in the long run. Buffalo will miss Kaleta’s physical presence until he returns from a neck injury, but losing a forward forced Lindy Ruff to mix up his lines.
Coming into the 2013 season, the line of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno was put together because of the success that it had in 2012. In just 14 games, Foligno alone had 13 points playing with Ennis and Stafford.
The Sabres had been struggling for offense this season outside of Thomas Vanek, who leads the NHL with 15 points. Ruff moved Ott to center with Ennis and Stafford on the wings and put Foligno with Mikhail Grigorenko and Jochen Hecht on the third line.
It only took six minutes until the new Ott-Ennis-Stafford line found the net against Toronto, and Grigorenko scored his first NHL goal against Toronto as well. Luckily, Ruff saw the new lines clicking and decided to give it a shot again against the Bruins. The new third line was on the ice in Boston when Buffalo tied the game 4-4.
The styles of the new lines look like a better fit. Ott playing in the middle with Ennis and Stafford gives the two skill players a center who will crash the net and crash bodies. Ennis and Stafford also have some protection on their line now because opposing teams know that they will have to deal with Ott if they get too physical.
It’s possible that Ott’s physical play could rub off on his linemates, and he could be a positive influence on Stafford, who was shown actually finishing off a hit against the Bruins, of all teams. Maybe a new Drew Stafford can emerge in 2013.
The change also gave Grigorenko another player with more offensive skill to feed off of in Foligno. I would expect Ville Leino to be with Foligno and Grigorenko when he returns from his hip injury, but Hecht will provide veteran leadership for the two young players until then.
The next line shuffle that Ruff needs to make is to only have one defenseman on the ice at a time who doesn’t play any defense. In other words, don’t have Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold together. Myers and Leopold were given the fewest minutes against Boston among the Buffalo defenders. Leopold let Matt Frattin get around him for the game-winner in overtime in Buffalo's loss to the Maple Leafs instead of pulling him down to take, literally, a two-second penalty.
Unlike the forwards, there has not been any discovery of a new pairing due to Robyn Regehr’s injury. Buffalo can’t get him back fast enough. Myers has especially shown a lack of hustle so far this season. At this point of his career, he is becoming another soft, underachieving Sabre.
Ruff isn’t the most experimental coach in the NHL, but it looks like he made the right switch with Ott and Foligno. Buffalo can’t expect the kind of production that it has been getting from its first line all season, and there plenty of games where the other three lines need to score.
With the slow start that the Sabres got off to, there are some players who have some scoring to make up for.