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Calling Reinforcements

“Unacceptable. Unacceptable from a discipline standpoint, from a play standpoint.”

That was head coach Lindy Ruff’s way of describing the Sabres’ performance after the embarrassing 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

It’s also become a way to describe other things about the team.

To pinpoint the reason why the Sabres have endured a batch of ugly defeats in the first ten games of the regular season is a difficult task, but a look at the stat sheet provides one possible answer.

At the top of it, you find Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Luke Adam sitting pretty. Thus far they’ve been a great story with their success on the ice, and are on their way to establishing themselves as one of the most effective lines in Sabres history.

The problem is everybody else below them. While Vanek, Pominville and Adam have currently combined for 16 goals and 38 points, the rest of the roster (16 players in all) has claimed 13 goals, and 45 points.

“Unacceptable” definitely fits here.

To have only one line which can put pucks into the back of the net is a very dicey situation for any team. Vanek, Pominville and Adam are not machines- they can’t be on the ice for 60 minutes every game. And if the penalties don’t fall their way, the Sabres need to have another plan of attack beyond simple reliance on their top line to score on the power play.

If the Sabres only have three dangerous forwards, other teams are going to know that, too. Just like in Ottawa years ago when the Senators were led by Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, other teams are going to do whatever it takes to shut down Buffalo’s ‘Big Three’. What happens if it actually works, and Vanek, Pominville and Adam go cold for a night?

The Sabres will be in deep trouble that night, that’s what will happen.

Balanced scoring has been a staple in the franchise for several years now, and has always been a huge reason behind its success. Looking back to just last year, the defense was able to add an extra boost to the offense. For 2010-2011, the Sabres had one of the highest scoring defenses in the league, thanks largely in part to the goal-scoring ability of Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold.

After the first ten games of this regular season, the Buffalo defense has accounted for only two goals and 17 points. Myers has yet to score a goal.

Several offensively-gifted forwards, such as Nathan Gerbe, Drew Stafford and Brad Boyes have been inconsistent at best. Others can’t even boast that.

Tyler Ennis was no more visible on the ice in the seven games he played than he is now while sidelined by an ankle injury. Ennis, who was on the doorstep of 50 points last year in his rookie season, did not put up a single point before his injury.

Ville Leino is also well on his way to becoming forgotten. Leino has not just failed to put up points (one goal, one assist thus far), he’s failed to generate any form of offense. After ten games, the newly-acquired winger has only five shots on goal. In other, uglier, words, Leino is averaging a shot on goal once every other game.

Yet another Center who is off to a painfully slow start is assistant captain Derek Roy. After ten games last season, Roy was among the best in the league with five goals and six assists.

Ten games into 2011, and Roy is sitting on a lone goal along with three assists. He’s also sitting on a five-game stretch where he hasn’t put up a single point.

Thankfully, the initial ten games do not decide a season, as last year’s Sabres proved emphatically. Buffalo has had a bit of a weird schedule to start 2011, facing both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning twice, and only one division rival in Montreal.

Analyst Mike Robitaille has expressed that the team needs a challenge to snap them back into shape, and if that sentiment is true, the Sabres who have been underwhelming so far may find their moxie soon enough. On the agenda are several big matchups, including the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, and later meetings with Ottawa and Boston in November.

“We’re all accountable here, we’ve all got to wake up,” goaltender Ryan Miller said Saturday night.

Certain players more so than others, clearly.

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