The Sabres’ seven-game road trip has come to an end after a painful 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
After starting January 6-0-2, Buffalo has now gone 0-3-1 and has surrendered three or more goals in each of those four games.
The sudden decline in play can be attributed to a series of questionable defensive plays, including poorly timed neutral zone pinches and careless turnovers. The Sabres—known for their defense—seemed more open to allowing their defenders to join the rush. However, too many times their defenders were caught in the offensive zone, resulting in several odd man rushes.
The defensive pairing of Steve Montador and Toni Lydman was a combined minus-nine in Buffalo’s last four games.
Montador was a minus-three against San Jose on Saturday. He had two turnovers, which resulted in two goals and a blown coverage which resulted in a third goal.
It was rumored Sunday that Montador was going to be a healthy scratch and Andrej Sekera was going to start in his place, but the call-up was cancelled early Monday morning according to Buffalo’s WGR Radio.
In his second year with the club, defenseman Chris Butler is also struggling. Though he already has 10 more points than he did last season in nine fewer games, Butler is a team-worst minus-12.
Waiting in the wings for the Sabres is defenseman Mike Weber. Weber, who recently played in his first AHL All-Star Classic, leads the Portland Pirates with a plus-17 rating. He also played 16 games with the Sabres in the 2007-08 season—he was plus-12 with three assists in those 16 games.
Weber was quoted at the beginning of the year saying, “This is my season.”
With several defensive lapses in the last several games, perhaps Buffalo should look to Sekera and Weber for a few games.
Meanwhile, the offensive struggles have continued for Derek Roy who has just one goal in his last 11 games. He had three points on the road trip and was a minus-five in the four losses.
Head coach Lindy Ruff scratched Drew Stafford in late December for his lackadaisical play. Stafford responded with two goals and an assist in a 4-3 win over Pittsburgh—perhaps the same should be done with Roy.
Nathan Gerbe is now healthy and is patiently waiting in Portland for the call-up. Like Weber, Gerbe just participated in his first AHL All-Star Classic and has two points in two games this season for the Sabres.
Tyler Ennis, in his first season in the AHL, joined Weber and Gerbe at the All-Star Classic and has 41 points in 44 games for Portland so far this season.
It is obvious that the Sabres have plenty of talent waiting for their chance to play for the big club. Keep an eye on Ruff to make a few moves in the upcoming weeks, especially if Buffalo continues to slide.
On a positive note, the Sabres have surrendered just three power-play goals in their last 15 games.
Also, Tim Connolly extended his point streak to an amazing 16 games after tallying an assist on Buffalo’s second goal Monday night. He now has 25 points during the streak.
If the Sabres are going to pull out of their recent skid, there is no doubt that someone besides Connolly is going to have to step up.