It may only be 12 games into the new NHL season, but you can notice the difference in these Buffalo Sabres. Looking at the roster is deceptive. There are only four different names on this year’s list, but they have completely re-energized this team. How?
They stick to the system.
Much has been made in the local media of head coach Lindy Ruff’s summer foray with the Canadian national team in terms of absorbing everything he could from coaches Mike Babcock and Jacques Lemaire, two proven winners.
It is being said that, due to his proximity to two Stanley Cup-winning coaches, he had tweaked his system to adapt to the next phase of the NHL.
Here’s the part that most people don’t realize: Ruff hasn’t changed his system. He just found new ears.
An alert observant with a good memory will realize that this is the same system that Ruff put into place after the lockout: two tape-to-tape passes in the neutral zone followed by gritty corner work and sweeping in the garbage in front of the net.
On the defensive side, keep the feet moving and the net clear of both players and pucks; just like the ’05-’06 Sabres that crept up on the league and were one period away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
Watch out, NHL. It’s happening again.
And the Sabres have four unheralded, yet genius (thus far) personnel moves to thank for it.
Montador contributes unspectacular, but consistently above-average play in his own zone. He keeps all but the most talented forwards away from goalie Ryan Miller.
This kid has replaced Terrell Owens as Buffalo’s most welcome new neighbor. He has brought new energy and skills to the Sabres and has Henrik Tallinder playing like "Hank" again.
There is no doubt how much this kid wants to win every shift. Having grown up in Buffalo, he knows how much Buffalonians love that work ethic. The Hecht-Kennedy-Grier line is consistently the best line of the night.
It’s no coincidence that his last year with the Sabres (’05-’06) was the last year that everyone on the team played to Ruff’s vision.
He was brought in to provide a backbone and a locker room voice. He has brought Hecht back from the ugly side of “stink” and has Kennedy playing like a seven-year vet.
It appears that every other player on the roster is afraid to cross Grier if they are caught abandoning the game plan.
Want more proof? Which Sabres team is better: the 6-1-1 team that began last year or the 7-2-1 team that began this year? Just ask Babcock and Lemaire. Both of their squads have already fallen to Ruff’s Sabres this year.