The Buffalo Sabres’ defense corps continues to be a revolving door. Who’s playing well? You decide. The proof is in the numbers.
Entering tonight’s game in Phoenix against the Coyotes, the Sabres are just 1-4-3 in their last eight games and have allowed an eye-popping 31 goals. The Sabres entered Wednesday’s play as the only NHL team with just two wins in their last 10 games (2-4-4).
Interim coach Ted Nolan has shuffled around healthy scratches and even his pairings, splitting up Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers for the first time this season in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to Washington. Not much is going right lately.
Mark Pysyk, who was averaging nearly 20 minutes a game, has been sent to Rochester to keep playing over the Olympic break. Brayden McNabb, a plus-1 player over 12 games, is also in the AHL. Most observers certainly feel those two would be an upgrade over the likes of Mike Weber, Jamie McBain and Alexander Sulzer.
Especially with Pysyk gone the last five games, the play in the defensive zone has suffered. There were sloppy passes, dropped coverages and just enough faulty goaltending to magnify the mistakes. McBain was brutal Monday in Pittsburgh and sat out the Washington game. There’s a chance he could return tonight, with Weber or Tallinder possibly getting scratched.
The Sabres were off Wednesday for travel, so insight on Nolan’s thought process will have to wait until today.
Weber is the NHL’s worst-rated defenseman with a minus-28. Myers is second-worst at minus-22. When your team doesn’t score goals, plus-minus ratings suffer. But the Sabres are finding the net pretty regularly lately, averaging three goals over the last eight games. They just can’t keep the puck out of their own net.
A quick look at each blueliner:
Myers: He came back strong from his three-game suspension with three points in his first two games, including a two-goal game against Columbus. But he has no points in the last five games and a minus-7 rating in that stretch.
Christian Ehrhoff: He’s got eight points in the last nine games and his ice time remains high, with no games under 21 minutes since mid-November and a team-high 24:05 for the season. But his defensive play can be an adventure, and he gave the puck away up the middle of the ice to lead to Washington’s second goal Tuesday. Myers and Ehrhoff have to be Buffalo’s best on a given night for the team to have a chance.
Chad Ruhwedel: He’s looked pretty decent for the most part in three games since getting the call from Rochester and has been a good partner for Ehrhoff. He’s plus-2, has five shots on goal and is averaging 18:46 a game. More play like that and he’s not likely to see the press box – or the AHL – anytime soon.
Tallinder: He was on the injured list for eight games and has been spotty since his return. A bad giveaway led to Pittsburgh’s second goal Monday. He played 21:46 and was better Tuesday while paired with Alexander Sulzer. The breakup of the Tallinder-Myers pairing was a relatively significant subplot Tuesday.
“It just wasn’t going very well the previous three or four games,” Nolan said. “I thought Tyler was playing exceptionally well when Tallinder was out. We just thought to mix it up would bring that back to Myers and give Tallinder a little bit of time to get back his game.”
Weber: He apparently will escape a call from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his high hit on Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom in the final minute of regulation Tuesday. Weber overplayed Alex Ovechkin on Mike Green’s overtime winner and has struggled in his own end all year. Nolan didn’t even want to talk about him after Tuesday’s game. Say nothing if you have nothing nice to say.
McBain/Sulzer: They’re proving to be place-fillers. McBain has 10 points and can produce on the power play but has often been brutal on five-on-five play and was completely outclassed on several plays Monday in Pittsburgh. Sulzer has been weak in his end of the ice as well.
The Coyotes officially announced Wednesday what had been expected for months, that they will change their name to the “Arizona Coyotes” for next season. The team, remember, plays in suburban Glendale and that city asked for the change as part of the franchise’s new ownership.
The Sabres have not played in Glendale since a 2-1 overtime win on Jan. 8, 2011. Drew Stafford got the winning goal that night.
They have won their last three there, not losing since Jan. 21, 2008.
The Coyotes are 2-0-1 in their last three games but just 6-8-3 since the infamous “Butt Goal” loss in Buffalo on Dec. 23.
That came when Pysyk was credited with an overtime winner after the puck landed in the jersey/pants of Phoenix goalie Mike Smith and was carried into the net.