We continue our series of Three Questions by welcoming Andy Boron, the managing editor of SBN's Sabres blog, Die By The Blade, to get a scouting report on what the Canes can expect from the Sabres over the next couple of days. Note that since there's not much point in doing consecutive questions with the same team, there won't be another Three Questions post tomorrow, and we'll be back on Monday to preview the game against the Boston Bruins.
All that said, here's Andy...
- In their first two games, nine Sabres have tallied a point, five have scored a goal, and Thomas Vanek leads the nascent Art Ross Trophy race with six points. Is this balance and point-scoring prowess likely to continue, even if the current rate is unsustainable (unless you really think Vanek will score 144 points in a shortened season), or will the team crash back to Earth at some point?
Balance will be the key to the Sabres offense this season, as it has been every year under Lindy Ruff. Yes, Vanek (who will cool off) and Jason Pominville are proven producers, but they're no Malkin or Stamkos when it comes to production. To compete in the East, Buffalo will need to roll out three lines with scoring punch. They may not all strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but if the Sabres don't get decent production from their top 9, then this team will struggle to score enough goals to win many hockey games.
- With Ryan Miller turning back the clock to 2010 in his first two games, how will Lindy Ruff handle the goaltending rotation going forward? Is it Miller's show until he cools down, or does Ruff have a plan to work Jhonas Enroth into the net to keep Miller fresh regardless of how well he's playing?
It's already been confirmed that Enroth will play one of the two games against Carolina (my bet is Thursday's game), but as for the season, I would anticipate Miller getting the overwhelming majority of the work. Lindy Ruff has always ridden Miller as much as possible, even when he does have a competent backup, and though this season is compacted it's also shorter, giving Ruff an excuse to stick with his go-to guy. Only if Miller shows signs of significant regression do I see Jhonas Enroth getting anything more than about seven games.
- Since making it to back-to-back conference finals in 2006 and 2007, the Sabres haven't made it out of the first round and have missed the playoffs three times. Given that, what will it take for this season to be successful? Do they need to advance past the first round, or is simply making the playoffs enough?
They have to make the playoffs or I think Ruff's job will be in jeopardy for the first time in a very long time. New owner Terry Pegula set a mandate to win the Stanley Cup within three years of buying the team, and depending on how you're counting, this is either year two or year three. If the Sabres miss the playoffs, it will be a massive disappointment that will bring about significant changes in the organization. If they don't make it past round one, it will be another indictment of a coaching squad and core group that simply couldn't get the job done, but I'm not sure it would result in the massive changes some fans might want.