The temptation is there, but Christian Ehrhoff does his best to resist it, while Tyler Myers isn’t even considering leading the breakout if there’s a more effective way to move the puck.
When a team is struggling to score and it has blue-liners with some offensive ability, the urge might be there for at least one of them to make like Bobby Orr or Phil Housley and lead a rush that hopefully produces some offensive chances. That’s one way of attempting to provide a spark and maybe even forcing the opposing team to tweak its defensive spacing. Often times it can be a risky proposition, especially with a team that’s struggling to get out of its own way, as the Buffalo Sabres have been through their dreadful 1-8-1 start.
If the Sabres were somewhat entertaining and losing, the worst 10-game start in franchise history might be easier to digest, but they’ve scored more than two goals in a game only once this season (the 4-3 shootout win last week over the New York Islanders) and rank dead last in the league in goals-per-game (1.3).
That’s not exciting.
Activating the defense more could lead to a solution, but ...
“You just can’t go and do something your teammates don’t expect because it throws them off, too,” said Ehrhoff, who has two assists, leads the Sabres in minutes per game (25:50) and has a plus/minus rating of even. “It doesn’t just throw off the other team. You still have to stick to the system.
“You have to be predictable for your teammates, too. You can’t just go on your own page but on the other hand when you want to fuel the offense you definitely have to pick your spots to lug the puck sometimes and try to fuel the offense that way.”
The Sabres’ defensemen do want to do their part to help jump-start the offense but not at the expense of defensive zone play. D-zone issues are part of the offensive problem as the defense has expended a lot of energy, especially during the team’s series of slow starts, in its own zone.
Buffalo’s back end has contributed one goal (Jamie McBain) and seven assists.
To put that in perspective, Montreal Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in eight games by himself. They may not have anyone who is Norris Trophy caliber but there is considerable room for improvement for Sabres blue-liners, and perhaps Ehrhoff or Myers getting untracked could ease some of the suffering.
Ehrhoff has scored more than 40 points three times in his nine-year career and had 22 points in 47 games during last year’s lockout shortened season.
Myers had 48 points during his rookie of the year campaign and followed that with 37 and then 23 during an injury-shortened 55-game campaign in 2011-12.
“I think most importantly their work at the offensive blue line more than anything” has to be better, said Rolston of the defense corps. “I think people want them to be rushing up in the play. That’s fine, but your offensive blue line work is a start. Hitting the net from the point and things like that and just keep the game simple at the point and make sure pucks get through offensively.”
Myers, who struggled last year with just eight points in 39 games, said he doesn’t want to necessarily lead the rush into the offensive zone, especially if there’s an opening to head-man the puck to the forwards. He prefers to do that and then evaluate if it’s prudent for him to jump into the play and be a threat on the rush as a trailer.
“I think it’s important for every guy to focus on doing their job on the ice,” said Myers, who also has two assists but is a minus-6 while averaging nearly 22 minutes per game. “I don’t think that guys need to start forcing things or trying to fix problems. It’s just a matter of supporting each other and getting each guy doing their specific job.”
Center Cody McCormick said Sabres defensemen want to help, but there’s more to it than one of them jumping into an open spot or leading the rush.
“You don’t have to look much further than the forwards coming back and being available for the D to have someone they can give it to,” McCormick said. “I think guys can work a little harder away from the puck. When we have the puck we seem to be pretty good when we get it in the offensive zone. I think it’s more working to support each other.”