Expectations were high for the Sabres to begin the 2011-2012 season, which they did overseas, where Jochen Hecht made a trip to his hometown in Germany. Unfortunately, the Sabres forward was dealing with concussion issues and did not get the opportunity to play in front of his home crowd. However, Buffalo won both games against Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season.
The Sabres started the season with a few big additions, a big reason why many fans predicted Buffalo to earn a playoff spot. Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino were acquired, but all did not go as plan.
The injuries: Buffalo finished with over 300 man games lost to injury, by far the most for this team since they started keeping track of the stat in the 1998-1999 season.
The injury-depleted lineup struggled through the end of the calendar year, and eventually hit dead last in the Eastern Conference. There was a point during the season in which it seemed there was at least one Sabres player every game who left with an injury.
In fact, Jason Pominville was the only player who did not miss a regular season game. The captain played all 82 games. Cody Hodgson finished the season with 83 games played, but wasn’t with Buffalo for the full season. Jhonas Enroth didn’t miss a game to injury either, but as a backup goaltender, he wasn’t on the ice much anyway.
The biggest losses for the Sabres may have been Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff, especially during the playoff run. The Sabres were 30-14-3 with both Myers and Ehrhoff in the lineup and 9-18-8 without at least one of them. Without Myers, the team went 8-11-7, and without Ehrhoff the team went 3-10-3
The goaltending controversy:
It’s still humorous that Buffalo could have a goaltending controversy when it has a Vezina-winning goaltender. However, the Sabres didn’t see Miller at his best, and it went downhill right after the Milan Lucic incident. The whole season did. There was some depressing and uninspiring hockey and it was just not a fun time to be a Sabres fan.
Fans started debating as to whether or not Jhonas Enroth was the better goaltender. It wasn’t until the latter half of the season when the “real” Ryan Miller showed up.
From February 19th through March 27th, Miller posted a record of 14-1-3 and allowed 30 goals. During that 18 game span, Miller allowed two or less goals 11 times, including three shutouts.
The crucial losses:
There are many losses this season that I could point to in which are a reason why the Sabres missed the postseason. The one thing that stands out is the fact that the Sabres found a way to lose 12 straight road games, the worst in franchise history. Buffalo were outscored 50-17 during the dozen straight road losses.
Not only that, but the Sabres hurt themselves by losing to teams toward the bottom of the standings. The Sabres lost to Tampa Bay three times, Carolina twice, the Islanders twice and Columbus once. That’s eight games against teams with poor records, and Buffalo got 0 out of a possible 16 points.
Due to all of the injuries to the starters, there were quite a few call-ups from Rochester. As a result, Sabres fans got a chance to see the future of the team. Marcus Foligno may have made the biggest noise, collecting 13 points (6 G, 7 A) in 14 games. Corey Tropp, Zack Kassian, Travis Turnbull, Paul Szczechura and Brayden McNabb all scored their first NHL goals.
A tough stretch of hockey hurt the Sabres, but they still managed to pull of yet another improbable run. Some will say that it was too late, but was it really? Buffalo controlled its own destiny with five games remaining. They simply failed to win the important games.
The future of this team does look promising, but the Sabres need to prove it in the upcoming years.