Sabres' Defensive Woes Led By Captain

Matthew Hogan@MattNHLHoganAnalyst IFebruary 2, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 14:  Craig Rivet #52 of the Buffalo Sabres looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers on November 14, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A slow skater, poor passing ability, takes bad penalties, and makes questionable pinches—this is not quite what the resume of an NHL captain should look like, yet Craig Rivet continues to wear the “C” in Buffalo.

The Sabres have struggled defensively as of late, and at the core of that struggle is the captain, Rivet.

The ideal captain in today’s NHL is a player who has a number of skills both on and off of the ice. Take someone like Jarome Iginla for example: he is a strong skater, he can put valuable points on the board, he is a leader in the locker room, he will drop the gloves if he has to, he makes smart decisions on the ice, and he leads by example.

Rivet is much the opposite to someone like Iginla.

Buffalo’s captain is much slower than your average defenseman—which is a horrible quality for a player of his position. He is repeatedly beaten to pucks that are dumped into Buffalo’s corners.

Also, despite his larger build, Rivet is weak on the puck and often loses one-on-one picks battles along the boards to players of a lesser size.

While point production isn’t necessarily the most important quality for a captain, or defenseman for that matter, it is not a part of Rivet’s limited repertoire. Even with valuable power play time, he is on pace for just 18 points.

Most of Rivet’s points come from secondary assists. The little amount of play-making ability he has is absent more times than not.

But the worst quality of Rivet’s game is his decision-making ability. His offensive zone pinches are often mistimed and costly. He has left his defensive partner, Chris Butler, exposed to at least one two-on-one almost every game in the last three weeks—an obvious reason for Butler’s team-worst minus-14 rating.

The most recent example of his careless pinches was Monday night during a 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh. The Penguins scored just 47 seconds into the game when Rivet left Butler alone to face a three-on-one.

While Butler played the odd-man rush poorly and challenged the shooter, it was Rivet’s unnecessary pinch that put the Sabres in such a tough spot to start the game.

Not only were there three Buffalo forwards deep in the Penguins’ zone to begin with, but Rivet never gave thought to the fact that starting a game down 1-0 makes it that much tougher to win.

Plays, such as the one in Pittsburgh, show Rivet’s lack of leadership on the ice. As a veteran he is expected to lead by example, something he hasn’t done in weeks.

Rivet was voted captain by the players at the beginning of last season. However, his play this season warrants head coach Lindy Ruff to designate the honor of wearing the “C” to someone who can be the leader the Sabres need.

Names such as Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad come to mind when mentioning the word “captain” in Buffalo.

Connolly, who leads the Sabres in points, has eight seasons under his belt and is an intelligent player on the ice.

Gaustad, playing in his sixth season, is a hard-hitting, multi-situational forward whose defensive skills far outweigh those of Rivet.

With more than a few options for captainship in Buffalo, I think it’s time for a change.


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