If one word were to be said about the Buffalo Sabres last season, that word would be "streaky." The Buffalo Sabres were one of the NHL's streakiest teams last year in all three categories: goaltending, scoring, and defense.
Buffalo made a nice addition in the offseason in trading, essentially, forward Steve Bernier for veteran defenseman Craig Rivet. Their only other offseason move to date was the signing of veteran goalie Patrick Lalime. Sabre fans are hoping he is much more consistent than last year’s backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault.
Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have said they think they have the pieces to win, but they need a lot more steady play out of the following players.
Here are four players that need to show some consistency:
Vanek has all the tools to be a top scorer in the NHL. He has the size (6'2", 210 pounds) and the athletic ability to score. Vanek's knock is that he can be a very lazy player. In his rookie year of '05-'06 he had 25 goals and 48 points. However, he was benched because of his youth and inexperience in the playoffs.
Vanek greatly improved in his sophomore year. He had 43 goals and 84 points. Keep in mind that was the year he had Daniel Briere and Chris Drury on his team, and he was not playing against the team's top checking line most nights.
In this past season, his first without Drury and Briere, Vanek became a very streaky player, and some nights, did just not show up. He ended the season with 36 goals and 64 points.
Most people would love to have a goal scorer who can score 36 goals a season, and consider it a "bad season" but that number was misleading. This is because toward the end of the season Vanek had three hat tricks that inflated his stats in blow out games.
In Vanek's fourth year it will be interesting to see if coach Lindy Ruff can push the forward. He is the best goal scorer in this hockey club, so Vanek has no time to half it back down the ice back-checking. If he does, Buffalo fans will be in an uproar about his 7-year, $50 million contract.
D—Henrik Tallinder/Toni Lydman
For me, these two players count as one person because in the '05-'06 season most nights they were the Sabres' top defensemen pairing.
Tallinder is a big defensemen at 6'3", and Lydman stands at 6'1". Buffalo lacks a strong pairing that can shut down teams' top players. In a division with the three-headed monster in Ottawa and Marc Savard, Saku Koivu, and Alex Kovalev, the Sabres need this pairing to return to its original shut down performing ability.
If the team is at the cellar of the East come deadline time, expect one of these players to be dealt.
When healthy, Connolly is one of the best playmaking centers in the NHL (take a look for yourself: http://youtube.com/watch?v=1P_N78TmTHM). But the problem is, more often than not, Connolly is injured. And he does not miss five games here or there, he is out for a long time.
Over the past three seasons, Connolly has played in a total of 113 regular season games. While I still wonder why Darcy gave him a contract extension over Jay McKee, I may never know. The fact of the matter is Buffalo is weak down the middle. Aside from Derek Roy, Tim Connolly is the only other scoring center on this roster.
He has decent size at 6'1", and when given the puck, he can amaze fans like no other. The issue is Tim Connolly's lack of durability. If Connolly cannot stay healthy for another season, Buffalo has prospects ready to come up, or expect another offseason deal by Darcy.