Assigning Blame for Buffalo Sabres' Early Struggles in 2013-14 Season
When your team is 0-6-1, you know that it's had its fair share of struggles. It would be impossible to pinpoint one aspect of the Sabres' young season and call that the problem.
The whole team is the problem.
Still, there are a number of people and areas of the team that are responsible for this wretched start to the season. Despite a clear lack of proven talent compared to their opponents, the boys in blue and gold should not be getting whooped on a daily basis.
Here, we'll take a look at some of the parties to blame for the miserable start. If a few of them can get going, then maybe there's a glimmer of hope for a respectable season.
For Sabres fans, it's already starting to sound like the beating of a dead horse, and only seven games have been played.
Where is the offense?
Thus far, Buffalo is averaging only one goal per game, and things don't appear to be getting better. With seven goals, they are last in the NHL in offense despite having played one more game than any other team as of Oct. 15.
What is the solution?
Sadly, there doesn't appear to be an easy panacea. Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson appear to be the only reliable sources of offense. That's a huge problem when you consider that other teams have the ability to key in on those players and force others to make them pay.
When rookie Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn are your third- and fourth-best scoring forwards, respectively (in terms of points), no one is going to fear your offense.
Ever since Ron Rolston was put into place as the interim head coach of the Sabres, we've been constantly reminded of his ability to develop young players into successful NHLers. This team is chock-full of young players.
It's early, but thus far, we've seen none of it.
Tyler Myers is averaging 21:44 each game and sits at an ugly minus-seven. At what point do you sit the 23-year-old down and realize that he's hurting the team?
The power play is still awful, clicking at a rate of 8.0 percent, a shameful number in itself. Even worse, the team has had 25 opportunities, good enough for sixth most in the league. If the Sabres are to score more goals, this is an area that could make a big difference.
Finally, a lot of the players look slow and uninspired on the ice. Given their inferior talent level compared to other teams, the compete level has to be there.
Ron Rolston and his coaching staff deserve some blame for how overmatched this professional hockey team looks on a nightly basis.
Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford
On a team that is almost completely devoid of veteran contributors, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford have been ghosts. Through seven games, the two have combined for one point.
These are two guys who have plenty of NHL experience and have both scored 20 goals in a season—Stafford has even notched 30—yet they are contributing nothing offensively.
Ennis is still a very young player, having just turned 24, but expectations are higher for him. The 5'9" forward is speedy and very talented, yet he has not been able to put the whole package together.
Stafford, on the other hand, has seven years of experience, but he has failed to live up to the expectations of his current contract. He has battled inconsistency throughout his entire career, but the 27-year-old veteran leaves a lot to be desired.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons are just a few of the youngsters that the Sabres roster is littered with. Pysyk is the oldest of the bunch at 21.
Talk about inexperience.
Right now, Pysyk looks like the real deal. He's playing 20 minutes a night and is one of two players on the team with a plus rating.
Girgensons looks like a steal of a pick from 2012, tallying two points thus far and playing with a level of competitiveness that many of his older teammates are unable to match.
However, the rest of the youngsters have failed to make a mark. Ristolainen could use some seasoning in the AHL to get used to the North American style of play. Meanwhile, Grigorenko still looks lazy out there.
With the lack of veteran talent on the roster, young players have been thrust into big roles that they are seemingly not ready for.
The Sabres' puck possession numbers are horrific. The team has a shot differential of minus-9.0 shots per game. On top of that, Buffalo takes 36 percent of its faceoffs in the defensive zone as opposed to 29.4 percent in the offensive zone.
Put simply, you can't win games if you can't control the puck. Opposing teams feast on the Sabres' weak possession numbers and pelt Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth with 35 shots per 60 minutes.
Their inability to win battles on the boards and control the pace of the game means that the Sabres are constantly on their heels instead of attacking.
It should come as no surprise that the NHL's best teams all carry great puck-possession numbers. This team has a long way to go.