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The Sabres Observer

Defense, Not Ryan Miller, Still The Albatross

Right after the Sabres blew a 3-1 lead with 2 ½ minutes remaining and proceeded to lose in overtime to Nashville last night, a brief and semi-cryptic comment of mine aggravated some puckheads in the twitterverse to the point of giving me the unfollow treatment.  An equal number of folks in agreement with me partially sustained my faith in hockey humankind.

My deserters were angry Sabres fans with a misguided notion that Ryan Miller not playing at a Vezina Trophy winning level translates to him being the problem for Buffalo in 2010-11.  Despite Sunday’s two deflected goals and ugly defensive miscues, Miller received some blame that he didn’t deserve.

What happened in this game should not have been a surprise to anyone who has watched this team enough to have a clear understanding of its most glaring weakness.  In a nutshell, the Sabres dominated the Predators for most of 58 minutes, before gaffes by Andrej Sekera and Tyler Myers snatched a Buffalo defeat from the jaws of what should have been their 22nd victory in 36 games.

I don’t remember where I recently saw a certain summation of the biggest problem with the Sabres, but it was a good one.  When this defense has the puck in its own zone, it can be like trying to put out a grease fire back there.

Look, things are still fine in Pegulaville and there’s a lot to like about this group.  Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe have opened up this offense and helped elevate the Sabres to having the NHL’s 7th best offensive team.  Despite the nightmare against Nashville, youngsters Myers and Sekera have been playing better.

All that last night’s game did was confirm what we already knew.  Things can fall apart quickly when you have a team that relies too much on offense.  That’s why a Buffalo two-goal lead or deficit hasn’t been a good reason to leave the arena or turn off the television.  For what it’s worth, it’s also why the Sabres have quickly evolved into an exciting group to watch.

The high quality of entertainment will likely come at the expense of a deep playoff run.  While Miller hasn’t lit the league on fire this year, it can’t be overstated how many times his defenders have left him hanging out to dry.  While things in that area have improved over the past month, the Nashville game has brought the concern back to life. 

And for all the talk of how offense is now the formula for winning the Stanley Cup, try to say with a straight face that the team that wins the championship won’t have a much more talented and effective blueline than what we have in Buffalo.

In terms of making the postseason, the Sabres are still in pretty good shape.  Let’s look at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for what it is.  It’s come down to two teams battling for one spot, with the Sabres having 3 to 1 odds to beat out Carolina.  Buffalo could still move ahead of the Rangers into 7th place, but Sabres Nation won’t care how far away they’ll sit from the head table as long as they’ll be at the party.

Put another way, last night’s poor defensive play didn’t cost the Sabres the season.  If what we’ve learned about them is any indication, we won’t be able to say the same thing around a month from now.

Extra: The playoff destiny of the Sabres, based on data compiled from SportsClubStats.com: vs. Flyers (45%), miss playoffs (25%), vs. Capitals (17%), vs. Bruins (8%), vs. Penguins or Lightning (5%)

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]