While there isn’t an exact formula for a Stanley Cup winning team, there are components that most championship teams possess. On October 8th, 2011 the Sabres defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-2 in Berlin, this was just the second game of the season.
However, the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup while the Sabres missed the playoffs entirely. On their improbable playoff run, Los Angeles displayed many qualities that were frustratingly lacking from Buffalo’s game last year. For Buffalo to make a deep playoff run in the upcoming season, they must learn from last year’s champions.
- Strength at Center– The Kings had an amazing list of centers on their depth chart with names such as Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, etc. and all performed admirably. At the trade deadline last year, Buffalo brought in Cody Hodgson from Vancouver, a young center with a lot of promise.A few weeks ago at the NHL Draft, Buffalo chose to draft two centers in the first round, Mikhail Grigorenko at 12th and Zemgus Girgensons at 14th. Buffalo appears to have two options; they either entrust the center position to Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis, two youngsters with bright futures, or acquire a top tier center via the trade market or free agency.
- Strong Goaltending– Throughout the 2011-2012 season the Sabres net minding was shoddy at best. Meanwhile in LA, Jonathan Quick stood on his head to keep the pucks from hitting the twine, and he was a major reason for their playoff success.Taking into account that Miller was dealing with concussion issues and Enroth was forced to carry a heavier load than expected, this is somewhat understandable. However, moving forward, the Sabres must expect and receive better goaltending to have any hope at etching their names on the cup.
- Team Defense– A goalie can only do so much if the defense in front of him is not doing its job and for a large part of the season, Buffalo’s team defense was nothing short of atrocious. Contrasting between the two, the Kings team defense was the somewhat under shadowed storyline of the playoffs.Their defensive pairings communicated effectively and quickly, short and safe passing outlets were available coming out of the zone, and Quick did not have to deal with many rebound opportunities.
- Physicality– It is no secret that the Sabres lack physicality. Here the Sabres have made strides with the acquisition of Steve Ott and John Scott. However, hitting is not something reserved to third and fourth line players. The Kings star players and captain body checked anything that moved and the Sabres should follow suit.
- Leading by Example– This is a simple point; Buffalo’s best players need to be their best players. Too often it was the call ups from Rochester taking initiative and sparking the team and not the players with the letters on their sweaters.Next season the likes of Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, etc. need to step up their game and not lapse into the lazy, ineffective habits that plagued the team last year.
Most fans in Buffalo are clamoring for a new number one center but that is only a small part of the problem. One player will not change the team’s physicality, team defense, or goaltending. The point is, a new center may be necessary, but there are still bigger changes to be made.
Miller needs to find his game once again and the Sabres need to play a clean, physical game. If Buffalo is unable to clear their own zone, then it will not matter how star studded their top line is. Instead, improvements need to be made when the regular season kicks off on October 13th in Buffalo.