Circling the Drain: Goaltending
Things are looking bleak for the Sabres and their fans at this point in the season. After Saturday’s pathetic performance against an even more depleted Pittsburgh Penguins, the Sabres have again lost three more players to injuries. One of those players, Colin Stuart, was a call up to replace Ville Leino, who was injured in last Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. Tyler Ennis also re-injured his ankle and Thomas Vanek is listed as probable for Tuesday’s game against the Senators in Ottawa. Needless to say, the team is in dire straits as far as keeping their heads above water. But no matter how hard the Sabres have it, it is the Rochester Americans are in even more trouble with their depleted roster (3-5-2-0 in their last 10). Perhaps it is time for some changes in the players on the ice, but perhaps it is time for changes in the coaching staff. To be perfectly clear, when I suggest that it may be time for changes in the coaching staff, I am in no way am suggesting that it is time for Lindy Ruff to be fired. In fact, if there is anything that this season has shown us, it is that perhaps it is time to change the goalie coach. I believe I may be the only blogger out there actually putting this idea out there, but you would not cut off the head for something the foot did. That is to say, that I would not fire Ruff if the problems are coming from the net.
I am certainly not saying that Ruff has not made some mistakes with his decisions on who should start in net. For example, why would Ruff put Ryan Miller in net against a team that he has historically struggled against throughout his career? After all, young Jhonas Enroth had performed quite well in his first two appearances against the Pens. And then to top it off, he replaced Enroth with Miller after Miller was pulled in the first period. And then he replaced Miller with Enroth for the third period. It was as if he was playing Goalie Roulette.
Certainly not all of the goals that both goalies allowed in Saturday’s game were their fault, but when you have goaltending like the Sabres are supposed to have, you expect your goalie to keep you in the game. There has been a noticeable decline in the caliber of the goaltending since Miller missed time due to a concussion. Some of this may be attributed to mistakes by the defensemen or the forwards, but you have to think that there may be an underlying cause to the problem that is out of the control of the players on the ice.
In baseball if your starting pitchers and bullpen run into issues with mechanics you do not fire the manager. You fire the pitching coach. If your players cannot hit, you do no fire the manager. You fire the hitting coach. See a trend here? As I said before, you do not cut off the head for something that the foot did. Certainly the head shares some responsibility because the foot is controlled by it, but you make the minor change before you make the major change. Sometimes all a team needs is a small change to turn things around.
Ultimately what happens will be determined by Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff. While the team is certainly struggling with all of the injuries, there is something else that is fundamentally wrong with this team. For example, the penalty killers really have not changed since the beginning of the season, and yet the team is 13 for 19 over the last few games in penalty killing. At one point they were at the top of the league. Perhaps this is Ruff’s fault, but at the end of the day a coach can only control so much of what happens on the ice. Terry Pegula has not exactly been happy with the goaltending either. Which, in my opinion, puts more pressure on Jim Corsi to do his job and fix the goaltending issues. If he is not getting the job done, it is the job of Ruff and Regier to see that they find someone who will.
And if ultimately it is Lindy Ruff that must go, so be it. Simply because he would be hired in no time after being fired does not mean that the organization should keep him. This happens all the time in the NHL. So why should it be any different for the Sabres? For now, let us hope that the team can turn it around. If they cannot, then there is always next year, as much as it pains me to say that.
In Tylers we trust.