In part two of our Sabres Season preview, QCS writers Brandon Hess and Bradley Gelber answer questions regarding Buffalo’s goaltending and defense.
1.) With a condensed schedule how important is it for Lindy Ruff to manage the starts between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth?
Brandon: We’ve seen in the past that Miller can lose his edge down the stretch if he is overworked. Jhonas Enroth has been a solid backup and has stepped in nicely for Ryan when Miller’s been hurt the past two seasons. In a 48 game campaign I think Lindy should use Enroth nearly every third game unless either of the two goalies is incredibly hot. Somewhere around 34 starts for Miller and 14 for Enroth should keep both goalies rested, but also sharp for *fingers crossed* playoff action. (Lindy Ruff has subsequently stated that Miller will be slated for 36-38 games)
Bradley: I agree with Brandon here. As I talked about in this week’s Water Cooler, goaltending depth is going to be a big factor with such a condensed schedule. I actually tweeted Enroth and told him to get ready cause the team is going to need to him! 48 games in about 100 days is going to take quite the toll not only physically, but mentally on Miller, so I agree with giving Enroth the start every third game or thereabouts. After finishing last season with a .917 SV% & a 2.70 GAA, I think this could really be Enroth’s defining year in terms of ability as “the guy,” whether it be for the Sabres or another team down the road.
2.) With Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera, and Jordan Leopold all but guaranteed to be on the roster, which of the Sabres remaining defensemen look primed to grab the final two spots?
Brandon: I really like Alexander Sulzer coming into camp, if he can pick up where he left off last season he might push Mike Weber out of a job. The last spot is going to be up for grabs among the kids, and although I’d rather see Brayden McNabb on this team it’s possible TJ Brennan gets the nod as he would have to clear waivers to be sent back down to Rochester. I’m not ruling out the possibility that Darcy Regier makes a trade before the season starts that could ship any one of Leopold, Sekera, Weber, or Brennan out of town for additional forward depth.
Bradley: I like everyone else was surprised with how well Sulzer played after being acquired last season. Sometimes a change of scenery & different line mates will do that for you. However, he has never played more than 30 games in an NHL season, so until I see Sulzer show that wasn’t just lightning in the bottle, it’s hard for me to pencil him into the lineup. I think for now we’ll see Mike Weber start with the Sabres, but have a very short leash with all of the young talent that Brandon hit upon. I’d like to see McNabb’s 6’4’’ frame patrolling the blue-line in Buffalo this season as well, but as Darcy said in the opening press conference, Brennan will get the initial call-up to camp to compete for a spot. I do think some sort of trade is coming because there is just too much defensive talent right now.
3.) Assuming he’s fully healthy what Tyler Myers are we going to see? The rookie phenom who took home the Calder, or the player who at times last season had fans questioning if he was worth the $5.5mil cap hit?
Brandon: Myers is worth every penny of that contract extension the Sabres signed him to. Tyler was hurt last year, and did experience a bit of a sophomore slump the year prior, but late in the year he seemed to have reacquired his mojo and he was the best defenseman for much of Buffalo’s late season surge. In a condensed season we’ll need to see 40+ games of vintage Myers if the Sabres are going to contend, and I think Tyler is up to the challenge.
Bradley: The kid can play hockey, there’s no doubt about it. As Brandon mentioned, while he shouldn’t be completely let off the hook for his play of late, he was injured for most of last season. Even an injured, underperforming Myers is still on par with most average defenders in the NHL due to his sheer size & talent. I think now that he’s been in the league for a few seasons we’ll not only see his performance return to that of his rookie season, but see his maturity level & leadership abilities shine through. Those things all develop over time, which Myers has now had. The one worry is that once again, Myers is beginning this season coming off of an injury.
4.) With all of the young talent Buffalo has coming through the pipeline, will Jordan Leopold or Robyn Regehr be brought back or are they playing out their final season in blue and gold?
Brandon: I think it’s entirely possible that the Sabres decide to let both defensemen walk away this off-season. Regehr will be 33 years old, and with the physical nature of his play he’s bound to start breaking down. Waiting in the wings the Sabres have Brayden McNabb who is virtually an 11 year younger Regehr. Leopold has been a really solid signing for the Sabres, producing 59 points in his two seasons in Buffalo. However Jordan will also be 33 this off-season, and if Weber and Sulzer have successful enough seasons to continue to be in the fold I think Leopold will hit the open market looking for a job in July.
Bradley: This is a tough one because of the amount of young defensive talent the Sabres have stockpiled. At the start of each season (although that’s typically months earlier) we seem to talk about how the Sabres have enough defenders to field two teams. Then as the season trudges on, injuries pile up and all that depth is often needed. While a veteran presence is always valued on a young team, I think that guys who we still look at as young in age (like Myers) will have been around long enough to provide some of that leadership despite not being that old. If they don’t already crack the lineup this season, McNabb, Brennan & even a guy like Mark Pysyk will be knocking at the door.
5.) Now that Tim Thomas is hiding in a bomb shelter somewhere in the Rocky Mountains does this elevate Ryan Miller to the best goaltender in the Northeast Division?
Brandon: The jury is still out on Tuuka Rask, but he has shown glimpses of being a top-flight starter including his stellar 2009 campaign. You can’t sleep on Carey Price either, and there is some young talent between the pipes in both Ottawa and Toronto. With that said, Ryan Miller will have to be the best goaltender in the Northeast if Buffalo is going to usurp the division crown from the Bruins. The Sabres are going through a transition up front, and while the offense takes time to gel it’ll be Miller’s responsibility to hold the ship together and steer this team towards the playoffs.
Bradley: Last season was really the first time since elevating to all-star status that Miller’s play was questioned in a more normal basis. Despite being “off” at times he still managed to pile up 31 wins, a .916 SV% & a 2.55 GAA. Compare that to Thomas’ 35 wins, .920 SV% & 2.36 GAA & it’s still pretty close especially when you consider the Bruins were a much better overall team. I do think Tuuka Rask is the real deal as is Carey Price, but Ryan Miller has the ability as we’ve all seen to be the real, REAL deal. While we’ve talked about the importance of Enroth stepping up to give Miller rest, it’s Miller or bust in terms of post-season chances and success.
Thanks for reading and keep checking back for our continuing Sabres season preview, and stay tuned to QCS all season long for all things Buffalo hockey.
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