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Vanishing Act of Sabres Key Players Raises Questions

04/28/2010 at 12:12pm EDT

If anyone still had visions of this group of Sabres skill forwards someday leading their team to a Stanley Cup run, then the events of the past six games should pretty much run the hope tank to empty.

What we witnessed during the Boston Bruins 4-2 series win over the Buffalo Sabres was a colossal vanishing act by Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, and Jason Pominville. Sure, you can point fingers at other players like Paul Gaustad and Drew Stafford, but on a team desperate for big goals it is pretty evident where the biggest holes are in this lineup.

Gritty efforts by players like Mike Grier, Tyler Ennis and Steve Montador were overshadowed by the poor all around performance of the three players in question, who stood out like sore thumbs in every facet of the game. They were the top three leaders in ice time on the power play that went 0 for 19. All three played major roles on the penalty killing units that allowed Boston an ugly 27% conversion rate.

This series was supposed to be money in the bank for Buffalo. They had arguably the top goaltender in the league and were facing an opponent that withstood a ten game home losing streak following the Winter Classic, boasted only one 20-goal scorer and was missing their most dangerous forward and two of their regular defensemen.

Instead, while a few of their Eastern Conference rivals were succumbing to teams led by potent and feared superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Daniel Briere, and Mike Richards, the Sabres were being schooled by the likes of Miroslav Satan and the 2010 version of Mark Recchi.

Pominville admitted in his postgame interview that the Sabres didn’t match the intensity of Boston. It’s pretty simple to see where he was coming from. He and the others whom Buffalo relies on to produce offense don’t respond well to physical play. This flaw started to become really obvious in Game 3, when too many of the skill forwards could be found in the Chara Free Zone on the perimeter areas of the ice.

One of the few exceptions to this was Ennis, who team results notwithstanding used this series as his coming out party to the NHL. The rookie played like he couldn’t have cared less about being knocked around all over the ice. While there should still be some concern about the finishing ability of the speedy youngster, it’s hard at this point to argue with 13 points in 16 games counting regular season and playoffs.

When Sabres general manager Darcy Regier and his bosses perform their top to bottom organizational review it should be plainly obvious to them that the ineffectiveness of most of their star forwards caused their demise in 2009-10. It’ll be interesting to see what is done about it. Does their formula for future success really involve tiny forwards Ennis, Roy, Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe all playing on the top scoring lines?

In a way you almost have to feel sorry for Regier. All of these smallish forwards except Ennis were drafted or acquired back during an era where all the rage was about a 100% obstruction free “New NHL” where skill would be at an ultimate premium while hitting and physical play would not only become less important but often penalized.

Regier drafted accordingly but got caught in a bad place when much of the physical play was allowed back into the game after complaints from other general managers. In a few short years he has gone from being viewed as a forward thinking visionary to just a guy with a roster of soft and undersized players at the top end of his lineup.

There’s no reason to believe that a simple lateral move, an old-fashioned hockey trade, couldn’t be done with a willing partner. Remember the story of how the Florida Panthers want to shake up their roster? Nathan Horton and Derek Roy have identical contracts at 3 years remaining for $4 million per season, and they score goals at about the same pace. Horton is bigger and can get a little grumpy at times. Just a thought.

Connolly and Roy have combined for 2 goals in their last 47 playoff games. Any attempt by management to sell fans and media on the concept of a Stanley Cup contending Sabres team consisting of these players as the top two centers will surely fall on deaf ears. Pominville is less likely to be dealt but that doesn’t mean it would be a shocking move if it happened.

It’s been three years since these three were given the task of being leaders on this team. Despite respectable regular season stats it’s been a failure.

While it doesn’t need to be drastic, something at the top of the lineup needs to change.

Twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

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