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Sabres Euro Domination

The Buffalo Sabres have arrived home safely from their mini European tour that saw them defeat Adler Mannheim 8-3 in the teams final exhibition game, and follow that up with back to back wins over Western Conference foes the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings to start their season with a pair of wins. The Sabres didn't just escape Europe with 4 points, they looked dominant. For various reasons several key players stood out to me during these first two games, below is my observations on these Sabres.

Luke Adam- Of course I'd have to start with the rookie sensation. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to gloat about this one a bit, seeing as I was one of the few who kept insisting he'd be on this team during the off-season, and that he'd make an impact on the season. However even I hadn't anticipated this much early season success. Why has Luke Adam been so successful? Lindy Ruff has given him a fantastic role to play. With Pominville and Vanek as his line-mates, Adam's primary job is to play sound defensively, limit turnovers, drive to the net, and improve in the face-off circle. Sabres captain Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek do enough of the dirty work along the wall that Adam can concentrate on the basics and he's doing exceptionally well at them so far. He has a strong net presence and has competed well in the defensive zone, though he could stand to improve on his face-off percentage (42.8%). Overall it's a great start for the rookie center, and his presence allows the Sabres to spread their offense evenly over their top 3 lines.

Thomas Vanek- Sticking with Luke Adam's line, Thomas Vanek has been a monster through the first two games. I can't recall him using his size to his advantage this well at any point in his career. Right now when he gets the puck on his stick he is shielding it from defenders with his big frame and taking it to the net. With a team leading 10 shots on goal through the first 2 games, and an NHL leading 5 points (2g, 3a) the Austrian star is off to as good a start to open the season as anyone could have expected. The chemistry on the Vanek/Adam/Pominville line is electric right now, kudos to Ruff and his staff for having the confidence to stick Adam in that role.

Robyn Regehr- I knew he was nasty, I didn't know he was t his nasty. Robyn Regehr leads the NHL in shots blocked with 9, and leads the Sabres in hits with 7. In fact Regehr and Ehrhoffs shot blocking totals of 14 is the highest by any two defenseman on a single team in the NHL. Regehr is doing exactly what he was brought in here to do, and that's add some serious grit on the back end.

Derek Roy- Roy is not off to the best statistical start by any stretch. He has 1 assist through 2 games, and is a -1. However I have to give him a ton of credit, with the exception of Anze Koptiar's second goal on Saturday, which Roy could potentially have prevented had he turned his head to view the puck, Derek has played tremendous defensive hockey. He has also looked to make quick decisive passes in the neutral zone, and on the power play. This is encouraging because in previous seasons his biggest flaws have been soft defensive coverage and holding onto the puck too long. It might be a work in progress, but early on Derek Roy seems to really buy into the team concept and appears to be maturing in his game a bit. Once he and Drew Stafford get in sync with one another, the points will come too.

Ryan Miller- Nothing too unexpected here, Ryan has looked sharp in both contests. Only a deflection on a screened shot in game 1, another screened shot in game 2, and a fantastic play by Anze Kopitar have beaten him so far. Miller has been very aggressively playing the angles, and made several big stops in the the Kings game to keep them in it while the score was close, where the same could not be said for Jonathan Bernier who never really made the key save at the key moment for LA. Ryan now has 5 days off to mentally prepare for Carolina, and I expect him to continue his solid play in the Sabres home opener.

Other players who have played exceptionally well through the first two tilts are Patrick Kaleta, Jordan Leopold, Paul Gaustad, and Brad Boyes.

Despite the 2-0 start, not everything has been roses for the Sabres, there have been a few disappointments thus far. First and foremost, the ultra conservative third period of the Anaheim game was frustrating to watch. Sure Buffalo hung on and won decisively 4-1, but sitting back and being out-shot 11-0 in the final period is not playing Sabres hockey. Thankfully they recognized this and played much more aggressively with a similar lead the next night against LA. Additionally new comers Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff have yet to settle in. Leino does have a goal but he hasn't looked entirely comfortable at center yet, and his face-off percentage is worse than Luke Adams at an abysmal 38%. Ehrhoff has been as good as advertised moving the puck up the ice, but has taken a few careless penalties.

Marc Andre Gragnani has also had stretches of sloppy play, and unlike Leino or Ehrhoff, he runs the risk of losing his spot as a result. Though Grags has been great on the power play, some of his breakout passes have resulted in turnovers and that's not encouraging. He's young and he'll clean up his game, but I expect Mike Weber to see some action in Friday's home opener and Grags to watch from the press box. I believe we'll see nearly a 50/50 split in playing time between those two this season, with Sekera getting a night off here and there as well.

The Sabres next game is Friday 10/14 at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Buffalo plays their home opener and then embarks on another road trip at Pittsburgh, Montreal, Florida, and Tampa Bay before returning home again on 10/25 to host the Lightning in the second half of their home at home series.

Brandon Hess Follow me on twitter @SabreHess

1 comment:

  1. The way Vanek is playing this might be the season he comes close to 50 goals.

    Butler so far has been alright for us. A few gaffes here and there just showing his lack of experience.