We’re 20 games in.
Or 21 games in, depending on when you’re reading this. Either way, it’s time to check back with ol’ Finger Guns and see how our goal scorers are doing.
As we alluded to waaaay back in August, Don Cherry and his Hated Bruins still hold the record with the most players to score 20 goals in a single season, with eleven of his boys hitting the mark in the 1977-78 season. The question then and now is will the Sabres be able to break this record this season?
For the record, the answer to this question, every season, is “no,” but it is always fun to count how many of our boys that could reach Number Twenty. Remember, despite only posting four 20 goal scorers last season, the Sabres scored an Eastern Conference 4th-best 245 goals (only 1 behind Boston’s 246, 2 behind Tampa’s 247, a big ol’ 14 behind Philly). This season Buffalo’s young guns and depth of scoring should only improve.
How much have we improved? Are we shooting for more 20 goal scorers this season, or are we still leaning back towards four? It’s reassess our assessment. Here’s our initial candidates for 20 goals in 2011-12:
1. Thomas Vanek – TV has never scored less than 25 goals in a season in his entire career. Moving on.
Indeed, TV is on pace for 40 goals, or an easy 30. Moving on.
2. Drew Stafford – after a breakout campaign that saw him terrorize the NHL (actually, mainly the Bruins) with 31 goals in only 62 games, it would be shocking if Stafford failed to reach at least 20 this season.
Last season, Stafford’s key to success seemed to be scoring hat tricks against Boston. This season, he’s been looking at new linemates as much as he has been looking at his shots being blocked. On pace for 16, but could easily hit 20.
3. Jason Pominville – While he hasn’t hit 30 goals since the 2006-07 season, he also hasn’t failed to hit 20 in a season since. A lingering tendon injury may slow him down in the pre-season, but don’t expect one of the Sabres’ most consistent scorers to fail to reach the 20 goal plateau for his 6th consecutive season.
The population is on pace to go up by 30 this season, as Pommers has flourished in his new role as captain, and alongside new linemate Thomas Vanek.
4. Tyler Ennis – Besides Vanek, Stafford, and Pommers, this offensive dynamo was the 4th member of the 20 goal club last season – his rookie season the NHL. The 2009-10 AHL rookie of the year, Ennis made his transition to the NHL seamlessly. Defenses and statisticians will be watching out for this guy for years to come.
Currently sidelined with an ankle injury, and on pace for 0 goals. Call this one finger gunned.
5. Nathan Gerbe – After a slow start, the former AHL rookie of the year of 2008-09 finally managed to break out of a transitionary slump to the NHL, registering 16 goals in 64 contests this past season.
With 3 goals and 8 assists, we can’t say that Honey Badger is off to a slow start – especially as those hard earned points were earned on the checking line. Still, 20 is going to be a long reach for him. (Of course, what isn’t?)
6. Derek Roy – With only 10 goals to his name last year in a season cut very short by injury (35 games), Roy only needs to stay healthy to hit 20. He hadn’t otherwise failed the marker since the 2005-06 campaign.
Though hampered by an early season injury, Roy is still on pace to make 20. He’s regained his swagger and is now skating on the top line with Vanek and Pominville.
7. Brad Boyes – a lack of depth at center could spell doom for our 7th selection on this list, as his goal scoring for the Blue and Gold plummeted after he was shifted from wing to center in the 2011 playoffs. If Lindy Ruff can keep him on the wing, 20 goals is certainly achieveable with enough ice time and time on the power play.
Moving him to a prime spot on the power play didn’t work. Now he’s back at center. On pace for 8 goals. Free agent at the end of the season. Hope you didn’t buy his jersey.
8. Ville Leino – the ultimate wildcard, Leino enters the 2011-12 lineup as not only a guy who can score 20 goals, but can help every other player before him on this list reach the same. The Sabres have a lot riding on this guy.
The most disappointing Sabres player of the year, hands down. Leino has failed to live up to expectations, even to a modest degree. The meager time he spends on the ice he uses to cycle the puck behind the net like a wizard, before giving the puck away on a no look pass that in his mind must always seem like an awesome idea at the time, you know, before he does look up to see the other team taking his pass on an odd man rush down the ice. Sometimes he adds a little excitement by giving the puck away on a spin-o-rama pass. I don’t think that is what Darcy Regier thought he was paying for. Can we get Tim Connolly back? Leino is on pace for 8.
It’s time to be frank. Those are the only real candidates currently on the roster that should hit 20 this season, but there are a few more darkhorses:
1. Luke Adam – The AHL rookie of the year for the 2010-11 season scored 3 times in 19 games with the big club last year. Adam must first earn a roster spot with the Sabres in training camp and the pre-season, but if he makes it, he’ll be throwing a lot of pucks at the net. From there, he’ll have to storm out of the gate more like Ennis and less like Gerbe did as rookies – otherwise it’s unlikely he’ll earn enough ice time to hit the back of the net 20 times.
Adam has not disappointed. He’s scoring goals, and doing it all with the calmness of a ten year veteran. Cool Hand Luke is on pace for 20.
2. Jochen Hecht – the center/left winger from Mannheim, West Germany, has hovered around the 20 goal mark for most of his career. Hecht has only hit 20 goals twice – albeit recently – in the 2007-08 (22 goals) and 2009-10 (21 goals) seasons. He was able to put in 12 goals in 67 games last season. Anything from 10-20 is possible with this guy.
Sidelined with a concussion, Hecht is on pace to score a goal this season. Eventually.
3. Tyler Myers – 11 goals as a rookie, and then 10 as a sophomore – the sky is the limit for Myers. The addition of veteran blueliners Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff will only make him better, but reaching 20 goals is still a reach.
If there is a player that has browned his overalls more than Myers this season, I’d like to hear it. Had a quality pair of games before breaking his hand. He’ll miss a month, and is on pace for 8. (We’ll ignore the fact that his two current markers came in one game. Moving on.)
4. Christian Ehrhoff – the Buffalo power play is going to live and die on the heels of its new quarterback. Ehrhoff should help the Sabres’ special teams flourish, a point that made it tempting to keep him out of the “darkhorse” category. However, with 14 goals in 2009-10 and 2010-11 – with a very strong Vancouver team – it’s hard to see him scoring any more than that in Buffalo.
Shot! Blocked shot. Shot! Blocked shot. Welcome to the Northeast Division, Hoff. On pace for 4.
20 games in, and we’re looking at Vanek, Stafford, Pominville, Roy and Adam. Hey, five 20 goal scorers is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s not going to get us close to a whiff of Don Cherry’s Precious.
Also bear in mind that the Sabres are tied for 3rd in goals for in the East right now – and that’s been achieved without the services of Ennis and Hecht. And Boyes. And Leino.
As soon as Hecht and Ennis are back, and as soon as the Sabres’ mid-season chemistry sets in, their standing in goals for should only improve. Barring further injury, the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres are looking like a goal scoring with the kind of experience and depth that can carry a team far into the playoffs.
As for Cherry, well, there’s always next year.
Our stats so far: