Wednesday, November 14, 2007

State of the Union

In honor of NaBloPoMO, I'll be attempting to post something every day in November. If you're not checking in every day, make sure you're catching all the posts!

So I guess we should shake things up and talk about the Sabres, huh? Okay.

Honestly, I have a hard time picking on them too much right now because most of them have worked really hard the last few games. The effort is definitely there now, they're just not getting the puck in the net. A few random thoughts that have been percolating in my brain:

- Thomas Vanek is not Miro Satan, okay, Sabres fans? I think it's killing him that the team is losing and he's not contributing. We went to one of the Boston games last week (the OT win) and watching him on the ice and the bench made it pretty clear that he's extremely frustrated and pressing way too hard. As much pressure as we're putting on him, he's putting way more on himself.

And this is exactly why a third year player shouldn't be making so much money. I'm not blaming the Oilers - what they did was within the rules of the CBA. I'm not blaming the Sabres - no one would've extended Vanek to a long-term deal after his rookie season and once there were rumors about offer sheets, his agent clearly wasn't going to let the Sabres anywhere near him. I'm just saying, it's a very unfortunate situation. Vanek doesn't have much experience with long slumps and he has no experience with being the go-to guy at this level. Now not only does he have to work himself out of this scoring drought, he has to do it while knowing that every single person watching him is thinking about how much money he's making. At this point I'm really just crossing my fingers and hoping he comes out of this in one piece. (I think he will.)

- It's not helping Vanek's case that he's playing with the two worst players on the team. Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov are playing wretched hockey right now, turning over the puck like crazy with fancy passes and extra stick-handling. Max is particularly frustrating to me. He finally seemed to put everything together last season - he used his linemates, he became a good playmaker, he figured out how to effectively use his speed to create space for himself and his team. To see him go back to his more selfish, careless bad habits is disheartening. Max isn't quite as young as the other forwards and he's been at the NHL level much longer. He should know better.

- So along those lines, let's break up RAV, PLEASE. I guess I understand Lindy's inclination to keep them together. They have played well in the past and Derek and Vanek have to get used to being centerpieces of the team. But with young players I think there comes a point where you have to worry a little bit about where they are mentally. Right now I think the most important thing is getting them jump-started no matter what it takes. When Tim Connolly comes back - hey, when is Tim Connolly coming back, by the way? - I'd flip-flop him and Derek. Tim has brought out good things from Max in the past and then you have Vanek with a playmaker who's actually playing well right now which might help get him back on the scoresheet. Tim would also bring a little responsibility and a level-head to that line, two things which are desperately needed at the moment. He doesn't seem to panic or press when things aren't going smoothly and in Vanek-Afinogenov-Roy you have three guys who are trying too hard to make things happen. Maybe Tim's more laid-back patience would soothe Max and Van a bit.

Derek tends to have a symbiotic relationship with his linemates. As they go, he goes. I hope that he'll eventually be able to bust out of that and impose his will a little more on his line but for now, putting him between Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville might be beneficial. Jochen and Jason are busting their butts every night
and playing strong at both ends of the ice. Maybe being surrounded by their hard work would bring out more of the fiery dynamo I love and less of the whiny turnover machine I hate.

- Tom L. made this point over at Sabre Rattling but I think it bears repeating: This team desperately misses Teppo Numminen. I'm sure he was partly re-signed because of his dependable defensive play but I'm also sure he was partly re-signed because he was a veteran who the younger guys on the team clearly like and respect. I really think Teppo's leadership was supposed to be a bridge from last year's team to next year's team. The d-men - Campbell and Kalinin in particular - have talked openly about how calming Teppo always was for them on the ice. I can't help but think that if he were around, he'd be able to help the younger guys get out of their heads a bit.

- The defense has looked better, especially considering that Kalinin is still out. Sekera still makes me a touch nervous but I do think he's much improved. Ryan Miller also seems to be finding his game. He hasn't stolen one yet but you can't really nitpick much about his last few starts.

- Seriously, what's up with Timmy? I get nervous when he's out and everything's hush-hush.

Come back later tonight/early tomorrow for some thoughts on Ottawa!

1 comment:

Mark B said...

You're so right - Vanek is not Satan and he sure as hell isn't Yashin. People who think so really aren't paying attention to hard he is trying.