Monday, January 28, 2013

"D"ecision Day coming tomorrow

Mikhail Grigorenko played his 5th game as a Buffalo Sabre yesterday.

The rookie center had two shots in over 17:00 of ice time and with no points. He remains pointless through five games.

Points would have been nice although the coaching staff and front office are more concerned with what is best for him and the team. He hasn't done anything blatantly wrong, save for some rookie mistakes, and seems to have grown in this short "tryout" period.

Methinks there's no reason for him to be sent back to junior. He's adapted well to the speed of the NHL and seems to be loosening up enough to be able to focus upon his offense a bit more. Yesterday he drove to the net and had himself a beautiful scoring opportunity but was stifled.

Grigorenko is still trying to do a little too much, trying to make plays that worked in junior, but to a man, many of his teammates think that the kid is a well-rounded pro who is growing with each game and doing what's necessary to stick with the team.

Plus he has size--6'3", 200 lbs--and he looks big on the ice.

This team needs two things right now--size and skill. Grigorenko has both.

He should stay.


On Saturday, Lindy Ruff was remorseful concerning Grigorenko, pretty much apologizing for "burning" one of the kid's five "tryout" games.

The basis for putting him on the fourth line between fighter John Scott and diminutive Nathan Gerbe was an attempt to keep the Staal brothers, most notably Eric, the elder, in check.

Mike Robitaille was on WGR today saying that he'd rather have Jochen Hecht defend against Staal instead of Grigorenko because Staal would've "ate [the rookie] up." Then he followed up saying it's all about winning the game.

Quick reminder there, Roby, the Sabres lost that game 3-1.

Two things on this thought process.

First off, Eric Staal is 6'4", 205 lbs. Ruff was countering with Cody Hodgson, 6'0", 185; Tyler Ennis, 5'9", 160; Hecht, 6'1", 200.

Once again, Grigorenko is 6'3", 200 lbs. Which Sabre would have a better chance matching up physically against Staal?

Second. How will Grigorenko get better if not playing agianst the best?

Yes, he's a rookie. Yes, he has a lot to learn. And yes, Staal probably would have given him more than he could handle. But fact is, they lost with Ruff's scheming on that one. Youngsters playing against quality veterans offer an opportunity to learn. It also shows a player that the coach does have confidence in him. I'm not saying Grigorenko should've shadowed Staal, but Ruff had the last line change and could have managed the matchup.


Back in 2006 the Sabres rolled three lines playing stop me if you can. Since then Ruff has his team playing more of a defensive game trying to match up with the opposition, just like the aforementioned game vs. Carolina. Except for one season where it worked to a "t" in 2009/10, the results have been wildly inconsistent leaning heavily towards the negative.

A huge dose of talent left the team in 2007 with the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. Ruff, I believe did well in adjusting his game plan more towards the defensive side during the last five seasons. The results were pretty mediocre, but based upon the talent he had to work with, as well as the changing of the league towards a grittier style, they were what they were--not a Cup-contender, but simply a playoff contender.

This team has more skill now than at any point during the last five seasons.

Looking down the middle the Sabres had Derek Roy, the oft-injured Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Paul Gaustad for many years. They were so weak that wingers Brad Boyes and Ville Leino were brought in to play center.

The top-three centers--Ennis, Hodgson, Grigorenko--are, in fact, centers and have the wherewithal to produce. Although very young, this group as a whole, seem to be getting better and have an upside that will surpass the previous groupings.

They seem to be meshing well with their linemates as well, at least on the top-two lines.

Wingers Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are playing a Sedin's-type two-player game on the top line and at one point were leading the league in points. Hodgson has learned to play off of those two--as opposed to Roy who always had to be the star--and potted three goals in four games before Vanek went down.

The Ennis line, with Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, had a miraculous late-season run last year. Although past performance is not indicative of future results, that line slowly seems to be regaining that chemistry as the individual players are beginning to find their games. Ennis is skating much better and Foligno seems to be finding out what made him successful last season. Stafford is still finding his way, but, he knows how to score.

The top-six, as a whole would easily match-up with any of the top-six post-Drury/Briere and with a little more seasoning, will surpass them.

The bottom six from years past featured Hecht, Paul Gaustad, Clarke MacArthur, Patrick Kaleta and a host of aged veterans like Mike Grier and Rob Neidermayer mixed with borderline NHL grinders like Adam Mair and Matt Ellis.

Right now they have Steve Ott who is an easy top-nine/solid top-six winger playing on the third line (until Vanek's injury) and Grigorenko, who has top-six skill. Noted NHL pest Patrick Kaleta can hold his own on the third line as well.

Rounding out the bottom-six are Hecht, the diminutive Nathan Gerbe and Big John Scott.

Waiting in the wings are the skilled Leino and solid fourth-liner Cody McCormick, both of whom are on IR right now.

When Leino returns, forming a Grigorenko/Ott/Leino line, the Sabres would have three scoring lines. When McCormick returns, the fourth line would consist of Hecht, McCormick and Kaleta--all solid--who would form a formidable checking line.

Point being, when this team gets healthy, they have the skill to dictate and force the other teams to play match-up.

With Grigorenko in the lineup, the centers fall into place, the lines fall into place (with the return of Leino and McCormick) and a good dose of size is added to a team that's still small relative to Cup-contenders like Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the NY Rangers. His skill-level wouldn't hurt either.

That's why he needs to stick.

There are still holes on the Sabres, and there will still be growing pains, but they have a nice collection of skilled forwards.

Pretty sure as a group they'd much rather attack and it would play to their strengths moreso than the defensive match-up scheming.

But, that's for the coach to figure out.

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