When we saw the Buffalo Sabres a week ago I called them a weak team with horrible center depth that was getting killed when their best forwards weren't on the ice. The Habs then proceded to hand them their butts in a 6-1 shellacking. Has the week made the Sabres any sharper?
Well, according to Die by the Blade they were beat 5-9 in 5 on 5 scoring chances in their last game against Ottawa. So maybe not.
The quality of the Sabres forward group this year has been the Vanek-Pominville combo. Vanek is +5 on even strength and strong on possession while Pominville trails with weaker possession and a +1. Cody Hodgson seems to be along for the ride but at least isn't dragging them down.
The Sabres 2nd line of Foligno-Ennis-Stafford was more or less doing their jobs, being positive on possession and even on goals when Ennis was on the ice. But Foligno and Stafford are both minus players due to some brutal puck luck and goaltending. So the Sabres are shuffling their middle six, sending Stafford to help the third line and moving up the veteran Hecht.
Grigorenko has not been like Galchenyuk. The rookie is getting his face smashed in during sheltered minutes, being -4 in goals, -17 in shot attempts per 60 while getting a 65% Zone start ratio. I don't think shuffling in a 2nd line winger is going to save him.
Buffalo's 4th line is likewise inept, no goals for, plays limited minutes and has a -42.70 shot attempts per 60 player in Cody McCormick. Darcy Regier's experiments with goonery is costing him on the ice.
Myers - Pardy
Leopold - Sulzer
Brennan - Weber
Sabres have caught the injury bug, 3 defensemen out of the lineup (Regher, Sekera and Ehrhoff). Fortunately they stockpiled NHL level defenders ahead of time and had the spares to fill out the lineup. Unfortunately they don't have the players to create some good pairings. Ehrhoff has been their top possession defender to start playing with Sulzer, likely because the team favoured playing them behind the top six while Myers' pairing tended to back their terrible 3rd line.
As a group all of these guys are decent players. The problem is none of them are stalwart top defenders with the potentially best of them in Myers -15 per 60 in shot attempts and -7 on 5 on 5 for the season. They remind me of the Leafs forwards, decent individual players trapped in a failing system.
Sabres top unit continues to be solid, Vanek and Pominville being the basis of a team above average in possession (90+ corsi, as good relative to the mean as the Bruins were bad) and in goals scored per unit time, clearing 6 goals per hour, which is the mark of an above average unit.
Ennis, Stafford and Foligno are well below average as a second unit though. Just like 5 on 5, stop the top winger pair and the Sabres are borked.
As the PP is deadly, the PK is unthreatening. None of their units are good at controlling the puck and they are collectively letting Miller do all the work. Mike Weber steps into Robin Regher's shoes and is no improvement. As a unit they are getting anhiliated on both possession (sub -100 corsi across the board) and goals against (best forwards are still below -8 per hour in goals against, top center Hogson is almost double that with -15). Simply put, the other teams PP has been more elite than the 07-08 Habs against the Sabres. They are absolutely hopeless here.
Buffalo seems to be a top-heavy forward group that is week down the middle. Likely Plekanec backed by one of Subban or Markov will be sent to neutralize the Hodgson line and keep Vanek from running up another multi-point game. The other top defenseman can be used to support the offense or contain Ennis's second unit. There is very little to worry about here, Montreal's top two lines and top pairings should beat Buffalo's best. Montreals bottom lines and pairings should slaughter Buffalo's worst.
Last year Buffalo was 48.2% on Fenwick Close with a proven top six center and this year they are 45.7% without him. In both instances they are negative on possession and will likely continue to be this way this season. Montreal is dominanting 5 on 5 and has good special teams, while the only thing Buffalo is good at is the man advantage. Montreal should have a strong advantage going into this game, although that doesn't always translate into victory.