A quick continuation of yesterday's thoughts coming up but first a reminder that today (Thursday) is NHL Preview day for the Buffalo News. I know I'm pretty hard on TBN sometimes but they usually do a really nice job with the preview section. It's one of the few days I make sure to buy a hard copy of the paper. And let me just say, I'm pretty sure this is going to be the BEST NHL PREVIEW SECTION EVER! Trust me and click on the link.
I'm shocked that Craig Rivet is the new captain. I figured he'd be wearing a letter since he wore one for almost the entire preseason but I really thought it would be an A. I'm not gonna lie, I've made fun of teams in the past for appointing the new guy the captain right away. It seems really weird.
The fact that this was the result of a player vote makes me feel better. People like me can ramble on and on about what was missing last season and what needs to happen this season but the only people who really, really know what went wrong are the guys in the dressing room. I don't think you can stress enough that most of the current Sabres team has been playing together for a while now. They know each other very, very well. If they looked around the room and didn't find what they wanted in a captain in each other, I think you have to trust that they know what they're talking about. And really it's not that far-fetched. We've been watching these guys for a few years now so I think we forget sometimes that the core players are all still really, really young. Rivet can wear the C for the next three years and if he moves on after that, one of the kids should be ready. And as an aside, good for Lindy for taking the pulse of the team and appointing one captain.
At any rate, I'm really excited to see what Rivet brings to the team not just on the defensive end - one more dependable body back there can't hurt - but in overall attitude. He's made it clear already that he's not going to hesitate to stand up for his teammates on the ice and he said very straight-forwardly in his most recent interview on Sabres TV that opponents will not take liberties with the team on his watch. The fact that the Sabres are still young can be a bit of a double-edged sword in that some of them are still very influenced by what's going on around them. I think we saw a lot of situations last season where one guy's frustration or panic bled out and affected his teammates. Hopefully if the guy with the C is calm, kicking ass and working hard, everyone else will follow his lead.
And seriously, don't you love that moment when someone new to the area finally says, "Wow, Buffalo gets a bad rap. It's a great place to be."
I was pretty surprised when a stat check showed that the Sabres power play was the 14th best in the league last season and was actually a little bit better than it was in 2006-2007. Of all the struggles we sat through in 2007-2008, the power play is the one thing that absolutely made my eyes bleed. I'll admit, my little pea brain still doesn't understand how it can be THAT hard to score when you have more people on the ice than the other team and especially when you have two more people in which case it felt like we suddenly got a thousand times worse. God bless the 16 fan bases who had to watch a power player worse than ours all season.
Porky mentioned on his blog that the power play was hit by a lot of injuries last season. I hadn't really thought of that but it is true: Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, Teppo Numminen and Max Afinogenov all missed large chunks of time and that's not even taking into consideration Brian Campbell being traded at the deadline. There were definitely some oddball power plays units out there at times so I don't know, maybe we're lucky it wasn't worse than it was. Hopefully the re-addition of Teppo and the presence of Rivet will help steady things a little. I think a lot will also depend on how Andrej Sekera develops.
On the other side, I'm hoping Teppo will steady the penalty kill a little too. Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman spent a lot of their time on the ice last season killing penalties and while yes, that's what the top defensive pairing should be doing, I think there were definitely times when they were just worn out. The more bodies who can dependably kill penalties, the better. And of course, as they say, your most important penalty killer is your goalie. Ryan Miller struggled last season and there were times when he and the defense looked really out of sync with each other. Better play from him should help a lot when the Sabres are short-handed.
Consistency is such a sports cliche that I kind of hate to even bring it up but it's a cliche because it is important. I think we've all heard that much ballyhooed stat the Sabres had the 4th best offense in the NHL last season and while that's definitely impressive, I think it's a little deceiving. Those numbers are skewed a bit by a number of games where the team suddenly exploded for 6, 7, 8 goals in one game. There were long stretches where the Sabres struggled to score and they had a hard time scoring when it really mattered which was reflected in their 14-18 record in one goal games. Scoring a lot of goals is great obviously but it needs to be more spread out.
Hopefully Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek, probably the two most important offensive pieces, will find a little more consistency this season as well. Vanek, a goal scorer first and foremost, will probably always be a little streaky - I think that's normal - but hopefully he won't disappear for half the season like he did last year. He really started to look more comfortable as the season went on and he had the second most goals in the league in the second half (behind only Alexander Ovechkin who was on a pretty torrid pace) so it'd be nice to see him spread that pace out over the entire season this year. Derek also improved as the year went on and I really think he's the motor that keeps the team running. When he struggles, everything is going to slow down a little so he needs to be working hard every night.
For me, one of the most frustrating things about last season was that parts of the team played well but never at the same time. If the offense was clicking, the defense was a sieve. If the defense stood tall, the offense couldn't score. If the goaltending was good, it was undone by poor defense. If the defense did its part, the goaltending was terrible. There were very few games where everything was working together. Guys, you are all allowed to play well in the same game. Really.
Hank will be totally awesome this season. Seriously. I know it.
Jeez, how did it get to be 1:10 a.m. already? One more post tomorrow should do it. Then we can finally move on to talking about actual games.