Hallelujah the NHL has returned and so have I! With only 24 games left in the regular season our first taste of post-Olympic hockey featured Ryan Miller (2 GA, 38 SA, W, 2 A) picking up right where he left off before the break carrying the Sabres to a 3-2 victory over the Canes. It must be a nice feeling for Miller to come back and cleanse the bitter taste of defeat out of his mouth after the Bobby Ryan-less US team didn’t even medal. To be fair, they totally phoned in that bronze medal game against Finland after a terrific effort against the Canadians in the game prior, so they probably didn’t give a rat’s ass about anything but the gold. I don’t endorse that attitude, but it is what it is. Miller looked absolutely brilliant all night stopping shot after shot because man that Sabres D is something awful. Hell, to even have a chance at winning Miller had to throw in a pair of helpers, too! Put this guy on a team with a halfway decent defense and a bit more scoring and he’s top 5, so where will he go? No one knows. Every other day it seems the Buffalo front office flip flops on whether they want to focus on signing him or trading him. Let’s be real here; the guy is a UFA after this season and why on earth would he resign with the Sabres? They have to rebuild, Miller is 33, he wants a cup and he’s not going to get it in upstate New York. With the trade deadline looming the Sabres have a week to move the franchise tender and new Sabres GM Tim Murray claims to have “between two and 10 teams” who have inquired about Miller. Sounds promising, and if you own the guy you’re dying for news that he’s been traded to St. Louis. It’s hard to imagine a team so mediocre that it can make a top 5 goalie give you the stats of a guy ranked ten or so slots below him, but it could be worse, you could own Ondrej Pavelec! Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the first game back from Sochi:
Cam Ward (3 GA, 18 SA, L) also picked up right where he left off before the break and continued his bleh play allowing two soft goals to Christian Erhoff. The Sabres could only muster 18 shots and it was plenty to defeat Ward. I would imagine that the Canes will go right back to Anton Khudobin gets the nod in the next game and any chances the Canes have of moving Ward at the deadline are fading fast.
Christian Erhoff (2 G, 2 SOG) actually has an outside chance at 40 points by season’s end, but I doubt he’ll get there. Still, barring injury he should post his best point total since 2010-11 when he put up 50 points for the Canucks. This isn’t 2010 and the Sabres are not the Canucks, so don’t rely on Erhoff for much down the stretch.
Alexander Semin (1 G, 4 SOG, +2) continues to score goals and potted another tonight giving him 15 in 46 games so far this season. Even with the break it hasn’t slowed him down and by season’s end he’s capable of giving you another 6-8 goals and finishing around 23-24 goals in 65ish games. I’d buy that for a dollar!
Eric Staal (1 G, 4 SOG, +2) keeps on trying to salvage what started as a pretty horrible season, but then he plays for the Hurricanes and saying they stumbled out of the gate to start the season would be generous. Still, he scored a slick goal last night on Miller and that’s nothing to sniff at. He should be capable of giving you another 18-20 points by season’s end if he heats up a bit, but more than likely he’s got about 15-17 points left in the tank.
Jeff Skinner (7 SOG) poured the shots on goal but Miller denied him every time. There’s no shame in that, or how hard Skinner works every game. He’s made of glass, that’s not in question, but while he’s healthy he can easily give you near point-per-game production. Over the span of December and January he scored 19 goals in 18 games. That’s freakin’ delicious! Serve me up a big ole’ helping o’ that! You can expect around 15-18 points from Skinner moving forward, but he could explode and break the 20 point marker, too.
Tyler Ennis (1 G, 2 SOG, even) might be the only halfway decent asset the Sabres have left if they move both Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson over the next seven days, and what does that say about the state of their franchise? Yikes. That’s not an indictment of Ennis, though, he’s actually pretty solid when he’s on the ice. The diminutive winger is talented and is staying relatively healthy this year, but with only 30 points in 58 games on one of the worst offensive teams in the league, you can only expect another 8-10 points for the remainder of the season.
Andrej Sekera (1 A, even) may look like he’s 45, but he plays like he’s 27, which makes sense because that’s how old he is. 27 is sort of a sweet spot age in a lot of sports, baseball most notably, but in hockey? Man, you old at 27, yo. Still, Sekera has 33 points in 56 games so far and he’s definitely capable of giving you another 10 points from the blue line this season.
Justin Faulk (1 A, 1 SOG, +1) set a new single season points record for, well, himself! His helper puts his season total at 23 in 58 games, one point more than his previous best of 22 set in his rookie campaign. We can throw out the lockout shortened season and it’s safe to say the kid is developing nicely. He’s probably got another 5-6 points left in the tank this season. If all goes well, by this time next year, he’ll have 40 points.
Drew Stafford (2 A, 3 SOG, -1) continued his points streak with two helpers and that gives him six points over his last four games. Stafford is going to be one lonely guy on the Sabres offense next week, so if for some cray cray reason you were hoping Staff would provide a surge off the wire for you, let’s drop that illusion right now. If I’m being very optimistic, he gives you 10 more points this season. If I’m being realistic, it’s more like five. Yup.