Often, watching any sports team will lead you to believing that there is at least one "untouchable" player or group of players. Disturbing or moving an "untouchable" player would shift the team identity, and probably kill the success of a team.
In the NHL, I think that this dependency breaks down into three main categories:
1. Goaltender Dependent. These types of teams rely on a star goaltender, and also a good defense in order to win games. Rarely can these teams win a high-scoring game. For examples, see the New Jersey Devils (Martin Brodeur) and the '99 Sabres (Dominik Hasek).
2. "Top Six" Dependent. These teams win on skill and speed. They make the highlight plays and win with lots of goals, the opposite of the Goaltender Dependent teams. For an example, I would choose the Atlanta Thrashers (Savard, Kovalchuk, etc.).
3. "Bottom Six" Dependent. These teams win with momentum generated from the gritty forwards on the third and fourth lines. Hitting well and crashing the net are the keys to winning a game for this team.
As you can see, I neglected to give an example for this last category, because it is hard to pinpoint these teams down, as it's hard to see grit and determination over skill.
This said, I believe that the 2009-2010 Buffalo Sabres are this third category: "Bottom Six" Dependent.
Now I know that many of you would argue that the Sabres are actually Goaltender Dependent.
However, I would contend that there is a fourth category not really mentioned above, and it's one where the better teams reside. These teams are dependent on one aspect, but very good in another as well. While the Sabres have a great goaltender in Miller, their foundation is laid in the "Bottom Six."
Why, you ask?
Balanced Scoring . Currently, Thomas Vanek leads the team with 11 goals. However, nine forwards have more than 6 goals. And while the top-line forwards lead the scoring, they are not running away with the goal lead.
Types of goals. Of course there's not a stat for this, but think about the type of goals that the Sabres have scored, especially in tight games. There haven't been many "highlight reel" goals, and more often than not, goals have been by crashing the net, by deflections, or through screens. Here's where the top six have been influenced by the bottom six.
The Corsi Number . The Corsi number is a stat metric developed by current Sabres goaltending coach Jim Corsi. You can find a description here , but the general rule of thumb is that the Corsi Number measures the amount of shots towards the opponents net while the player is on the ice.
A higher Corsi Number is good, while a lower one is of course, bad. That said, the Corsi leaders of Sabres forwards (found here ) are Mair, Ellis, Kaleta, and Gaustad, all gritty forwards. Clearly, they're getting the puck towards the opponents net, which is always a good thing.
In summary, the stats should show it all. The bottom six is succeeding at getting more shots on the opponents than getting shot on. More importantly, they are getting the shots in with a frequency near to the more "skilled" top-line forwards.
Without the energy from the grit lines, Buffalo crumbles into a turnover filled game, which will often results in a loss. But with a solid "Bottom Six," the momentum and scoring turns Buffalo's way, and with a goaltender like Miller, that's a winning formula.
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