It’s no secret that a majority of the Buffalo Sabres’ playoff hopes will be resting on the pads of Vezina-favorite Ryan Miller, but the defense in front of him will play an equally important role.
By now, everyone in the league knows about the 6’8” rookie phenom, Tyler Myers.
Myers played all 82 games for the Sabres and finished the season with 48 points. He led all rookies with almost 24 minutes of ice-time per game.
But Myers has played so well that he has actually improved the play of his defensive partner Henrik Tallinder.
Tallinder’s last two seasons in Buffalo have been a bit of a disappointment after two impressive seasons following the lockout. His 20:37 of ice-time is currently second on the team behind Myers.
Rounding out Buffalo’s consistent defensemen is Toni Lydman.
Lydman is in the exact same position as Tallinder. He came out firing after the lockout with two solid seasons, but then hit a wall for the last two seasons.
But this year Lydman has not been overworked and his defensive skills have improved as a result—might have something to do with the fact that, like Tallinder, Lydman is in a contract year.
The big question for the Sabres is which of the remaining defensemen will step up?
Steve Montador, Andrej Sekera, Chris Butler, and the captain, Craig Rivet, have all had inconsistent seasons and their unreliability may carry over into the playoffs.
The four defensemen have combined for 11 goals and a minus-22 rating this season; Myers has 11 goals and is a plus-13 by himself.
Montador has been better defensively as of late, and head coach Lindy Ruff picked up on it. Montador played over 21 minutes per game in each of Buffalo’s last four games.
Sekera and Butler have been interchangeable all season long.
Sekera was expected to be a big point producer from the blue line, in exchange for his lack of defensive skills. He finished with just 11 points in 49 games and averaged only 17:27 of ice-time.
Butler’s offensive statistics were surprisingly good this season. He played in 59 games but finished with 21 points. However, his defensive skills need improvement, as he was a team-worst minus-15.
But Butler’s defensive lapses can largely be attributed to his defensive partner, Rivet—arguably the worst of the Buffalo defensemen this season.
The team captain is expected to lead by example both on and off the ice. Rivet’s poorly timed pinches often left Butler by himself to defend odd-man rush after odd-man rush.
On top of that, Rivet is a slow skater and takes bad penalties as a result.
It can be expected that Myers will have to play a lot more than he did in the regular season if the Sabres want to advance. It will be interesting to see if the rookie can continue to respond with his stellar play.
Normally, it is the more well-balanced teams that raise the Cup at the end of the season—if Buffalo’s defensive troupes can come together for a couple of months, the team might have a chance.