The Sabres’ defense has seen it’s share of troubles this year.
Tyler Myers was just recovering from a troubling slump when he was injured. Christian Ehrhoff has provided some points from the point, but hasn’t produced the efficiency that saw him earn the award for Best Defenseman on the Canucks the last two seasons. Marc-Andre Gragnani simply refuses to hit. Mike Weber hasn’t been able to get his skates on the ice, and when he did, he was hurt. The rock-sterady presence of Robyn Regehr is now a presence in the infirmary, as well.
All the while, Andrej Sekera has quietly been putting together one of the better seasons of the defense corps. It’s time to show him some due respect.
Last season, I tried to call attention to Mike Weber’s stellar play on “buffalo74,” and called it the “Mike Weber Watch.” This year, it’s Andrej’s turn.
Let’s hope this lasts for more than just one game.
Here’ how the “Mike Weber Watch” concluded after last season:
There’s been a lot of talk that Weber made it onto the ice for last night’s game against the Habs because of the Lucic incident, because Myers failed to respond to what was happening at the time. Which is ridiculous. Myers should return, but Weber should stay in the lineup. Not only do the Sabres need more than one defensive defenseman (Robyn Regehr), but there’s also this issue:
That’s pretty alarming. All three were listed in the top 25 in the NHL in the GvA department. Myers, the scratch, had at least been hitting, but Marc-Andre Gragnani has had issues all season long asserting himself along the boards. He’s an open invitation for teams to enter the Sabres’ defensive zone on his side of the ice without thinking about getting hit.
Weber is -3 on the season, but the above list of egregious giveaways and uninspired lack of hitting are the real liability on the ice so far this season. I like Gragnani and what he brings to the power play, but that specialization is only good for a few shifts a game, if that. Let Ehrhoff, Leopold, Myers and Sekera take care of the PP. The Sabres need more grit on the blueline.
If Myers returns, hope for Gragnani to take a turn in the pressbox. (This, of course, is up to Lindy Ruff. So don’t hold your breath.)
More on Weber’s season thus far:
- After 2 games played, Weber is already 10th on the team in hits (9).
- At his pace of 4.5 hits per game, Weber “would” have 76.5 hits after 17 games played. Regehr has 47.
- The Sabres need teeth. Weber’s got them.
Click on the link above – it will take you to buffalo74, where the “Mike Weber Watch” will be ongoing throughout the season. For today, here’s a screen shot of the watch from last night.
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You gotta’ feel bad for Mike Weber these days.
Last season, Weber tied for 2nd place in plus/minus on the Sabres with a +13, lead the team in hits (158), and was 3rd in blocked shots (99). He also added 4 goals and 13 assists, and he did this all in just 58 games. He continuously put himself between Ryan Miller and Philadelphia’s shooters in the playoffs, leading the team with 16 blocked shots. He was the star of buffalo74’s much under-heralded “Mike Weber Watch.”
All that, and the guy has to sit in the press box and watch games this year. A healthy scratch. The seventh defenseman. All the while, the 6 ahead of him are playing great, and it doesn’t look like any of them are coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon, barring injury. Top six take note: avoid Weber’s hits during practice. He’s not going to let up. Call it frustration, desperation, or pure determination, Weber must put everything into every hockey shift he has this year just to get a sniff of ice time during a real game. It’s tough times for Weber.
And it’s a wonderful time for Lindy Ruff.
Ruff has gone from one of the most green defenses in the NHL to a balanced squad full of blue-chip veterans and prospects. It’s a squad so deep, that when Drew Schiestel (an AHL all star last season and the Sabres best bet for the number 8 d-man) went down for 4-6 weeks with a MCL injury, no one seemed to notice. It’s a weird twist of fate for the defense corps. With Pegula, the Sabres have the additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr eating up huge minutes of ice time. Without Pegula, Weber and Schiestel may have been battling for the 6th, maybe even the 5th defensive spot.
Meanwhile, Jochen Hecht looks to be coming back from his injury. The offense, augmented by Pegula with the likes of Brad Boyes and and Ville Leino (along with the emergence of Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe) is also out of space. Ruff will have to make a tough decision on where to place Jochen when he makes his return, and who to take out. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick seem to be the likeliest candidates to sit for Hecht, but why mess with a lineup that is 2-0-0 and has outscored its opponents 8-3?
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it. They know Mike Weber is ready, willing and more than able to take up the slack if someone gets lazy on defense. They know that Hecht, or even Matt Ellis or AHLers Zack Kassian and Marcus Foligno could step in at any time to replace a forward floundering on his confidence.
Ruff wields the ultimate power of the modern era coach: he can put anyone’s butt in the pressbox for any game, any time he wants. And the players know it.
Gone are the days when Lindy Ruff had to have screaming fits with enigmatic players who just didn’t play The System the way he needed them to.
Hecht is lurking. Don't screw up, forwards.
Gone are the days of that ill-fated 2005-06 playoff run, when Ruff and his Sabres ran out of serviceable and healthy defensemen in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Gone is the unhealthy sting of the injury bug: replaced with a deep and lasting dose of healthy competition.
Tough times for Mike Weber? Yes. It’s going to be tough for him, or anyone else, to crack this lineup. If anyone loses their place as a starter, it’s going to be miserable trying to get back in. These boys are going to push each other to the brink, and maybe beyond.
Coach Ruff has been to the brink before – 1999, 2006, 2007. Maybe this is the kind of push that he and the Sabres always needed to get them over it. Ruff doesn’t have to say a word. He decides who plays and who sits, and he’s got a wealth of bodies fighting for his attention.
He’s the most powerful man in Hockey Heaven right now. Finally.