What Sabres Team Will Finish the Season?

Tom ReuterContributor IDecember 15, 2008

With 40 percent of the season already gone, the Sabres are hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. But with the up and down defensive play of the forwards, the un-physical play of the defense, and occasional soft goals from Ryan Miller, it won't be long before the Sabres are outside looking in.

The offensive talents alone of Thomas Vanek (24-5-29) will not be enough to keep the team in the playoff hunt. The recent reemergence of Derek Roy (seven points in last five games) should help the team at least remain in the eighth spot, and along with the recent physical play of Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad, they might just be headed in the right direction.

The defensive unit is again soft this year, and with Craig Rivet (Upper Body Injury) being sidelined again, there is no help in sight. The defense has accounted for only four of the Sabres' 83 goals this year. There needs to be better production from this unit if the Sabres are to move up the ladder.

The lone defensive bright spot this year has been the penalty killing, which is ranked second in the league. The lanes are being taken away, and the shot selections are limited for the opposition.

There has been talk about Lindy Ruff's coaching becoming stagnant, but if you watch the games, you will see two different teams that will come to play. The team that's winning is a team that is buying into Ruff's system. The team that gets shellacked is the team that either doesn't want to play a Ruff-style game, or is having a hard time remembering what that style is.

On another note, it's time for some players to go, period. Max Afinogenov needs to be on the first bus out of Buffalo. His play is marginal at best, and he consistently gives the puck away. When Ruff put him in the press box earlier this year, it did nothing to inspire his game.

Being one of the fastest skaters in the NHL does nothing for this team if he doesn't produce, and with 10 points on the season (1-9-10), it doesn't seem to be there for him anymore.

The love affair between the team and Tim Connolly needs to end, and soon. A bag of pretzels has a better chance of getting through a game without getting broken. Yes, when he is on his game, he is one of the best in the NHL, but when he spends more than half of each season on the sidelines, it's time to cut the strings.

The Sabres are in eighth place in the East at the time of this article, followed closely by Florida and Carolina, each with 31 points. On the flip side, they are only five points behind Philadelphia for the fourth spot in the East.

If the Sabres want to move up in the standings, they need to buy into Ruff's system each and every night, or they will find themselves hanging on to the hopes of an eighth place finish, and in danger of missing the playoffs for a second year in a row.