Biggest Takeaways from Buffalo Sabres' Start to the 2013-14 Season
Through five games in the 2013-14 season, the Buffalo Sabres look like a bad hockey team.
After years of playoff contention being an expectation instead of a hope, everything is now different. Anyone who still expects this team to make a run is poorly misguided. The team is in sole possession of last place in the NHL and is one of two winless teams.
Things can only get better, right?
One of the important things to understand is just how young this team is. They are the NHL's youngest, checking in with an average age of 25.45, which is more than 0.5 years younger than the average Toronto Maple Leaf (the second-youngest team).
With time, you can expect to see a better, more consistent product on the ice. But for now, be prepared for the worst.
Let's take a look at what we've learned through the first five games.
Lack of Scoring Punch
Through five games of hockey, the Sabres have scored five goals.
Yes, you read that correctly.
That is good enough for worst in the league. To put things in perspective, remember that the San Jose Sharks scored nine goals in one game against the Rangers. To add insult to injury, this is all happening with a number of rule changes intended to increase league-wide goal scoring.
At this stage of the season, it appears that any victory has to come from a stellar performance from Ryan Miller. Unfortunately, Miller's strong efforts have come with little reward, and things will only get worse if his play declines.
The Sabres Are Top-Heavy
For the past decade or so, the Sabres have been a team mostly devoid of star players, instead winning games with strong depth and balanced scoring.
Boy, are things different this year.
Through five games, six players have recorded a point for the Sabres. Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson have picked things up from where they left off, but Drew Stafford has been a poor replacement for the departed Jason Pominville.
If you have two forwards who you can rely on for relatively consistent offense, your team is going to struggle.
On top of that, Christian Ehrhoff is by far the best defenseman on the roster and is the only Sabre with a plus rating (plus-one). The rest of the "D" has been really pitiful (see: Myers, Tyler and Weber, Mike) or is very young (Ristolainen and Pysyk). The defense won't be able to pick up the struggling forwards.
Power Play Has Not Improved
For a seemingly long while, the Sabres have had one of the league's most impotent power-play units. Vanek remains as one of the league's most lethal players on the man advantage, but there is a lack of dynamic offensive talent on the roster.
Though it's early—our sample size is five games, after all—the team is firing at an 11.1 success rate, a pretty awful number considering it was second worst in the league last season at 14.1 percent.
With the lack of offensive depth, the Sabres rely far too much on Vanek and Hodgson for success on the power play. Players like Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford absolutely have to chip in, or this unit will continue to be miserable.
One light at the end of the tunnel: Joel Armia will be just the kind of guy the team needs on the PP if he's assigned to the team when he returns. For now, though, he remains out indefinitely with a broken hand.
Tyler Myers Is Still Struggling
Through five games, Tyler Myers still looks lost. The 23-year-old defender is in his fifth NHL season, but has struggled mightily since his 2009-10 Calder Trophy campaign. With a minus-seven rating thus far and zero points on offense, Myers is just a liability.
The hope was that Henrik Tallinder would revitalize Myers's career in the same way that he kick started it in 2009-10. However, Tallinder has been injured, appearing in only two of the team's games.
Myers is only 23, but the clock seems to be ticking a little bit faster with him. Having signed a lucrative long-term contract extension back in September of 2011, he has not lived up to expectations.
In his fifth season, it's imperative that Myers start showing some progress. Otherwise, we might have to start using the word "bust."
The Sabres Cannot Afford Injuries
Through the first five games of the season, Hodgson and Vanek account for eight of the 13 points recorded by Sabres players. That kind of imbalance is incredibly ominous for a hockey team that aspires to win games.
You can also throw Miller and Ehrhoff into this conversation. Those two are clearly the best players on the roster at their respective positions and are in no way expendable.
If any of these four players is lost for an extended period of time, the Sabres go from bad to horrific.
As we all know, though, injuries are bound to happen in such a physical sport. The only thing Ron Rolston and Co. can do is to pray for the health of their four most valuable players.