Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
In a tale of two halves, the first part of November was as ugly as October was for the Sabres with their bottoming out coming during a three-game stretch where the team gave up 18 goals (six each vs. Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, and at Minnesota) while scoring only six.
But a funny thing happened on the way to rock-bottom. Head coach Ted Nolan found himself a line combination.
For the game against the Blues on November 11, Nolan moved Zemgus Girgensons up to top-line center and moved Tyler Ennis over to the wing opposite Matt Moulson. The trio began with a modest stat-line of one goal, one assist and an even rating, but Nolan noticed that there was something there. Over the course of the next seven games we were treated to that chemistry and it propelled all three to the top of the production heap.
From the St. Louis game to the end of the month, Girgensons, Ennis, and Moulson had a cumulative stat-line of 10 goals, 14 assists and a plus-12 rating. The Sabres went 5-3 during that span, 5-1 after the 6-3 loss in Minnesota.
Nolan was on WGR's Howard Simon Show this morning for his usual Tuesday appearance and talked about the trio an what's so special about them. He mentioned Ennis' highlight reel goal against Montreal plus his skill package and desire as a compliment to Girgensons' hard work and determination. Moulson, he said, is a "read and react" player which fits with those two. Why is it working? "Sometimes chemistry." said the coach, "Sometimes style of play. Sometimes you don't know."
As big a turnaround those three had, goalie Jhonas Enroth may have outdone them.
The 5'10" 166 lb. netminder has been in a shooting gallery all season, but after giving up 16 goals on 111 shots (.855 sv%) in his first three games of November, Enroth was a wall to finish the month. In his last five games he was 4-1 with 1.70 gaa and a remarkable .952 sv%.
As remarkable as that run was for him, it only managed to pull him up to the level he was at coming out of October. That's how bad his first three games of November were. His month over month goals against remained at 3.11 while his save percentage went down a tick from .915 to .914.
Not to be lost in all of this is Neuvirth. He held the fort going 2-2-1 during a difficult first-half of November before going down to an injury against the San Jose' Sharks on the 18th. As difficult as it was, he ended up finishing the month with a 2.85 gaa (down from 3.26) and a .920 save percentage (up from .910) than he had in October.
The defense would also play a big part in the turnaround, including the minute-munching, solid play of Tyler Myers and his defense partners Josh Gorges and Tyson Strachan.
But the immovable force on the back-end can be attributed to the surprisingly strong pairing of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
Nolan began pairing them against the Pittsburgh Penguins back on November 8. Despite the 6-1 drubbing the Pens laid on the Sabres that night the 20 yr. old Ristolainen and 19 yr. old Zadorov had a combined minus-1 rating while playing just over 20 minutes each.
This pairing wasn't supposed to happen for at least another year, but circumstances brought it together. Zadorov finished the month of November with a plus-5 rating, second only to Girgensons plus-7 while Ristolainen eked out a minus-1.
Myers continues to play well despite not hitting the scoresheet as much as one would like. His 25:01 of average ice-time is by far the most for any Sabre (Gorges, 21:36) and he managed a minus-4 rating for the month. Gorges was his partner before going down to injury and in stepped Strachan.
Strachan was considered nothing more than a depth defenseman when he was signed in the off-season yet has found himself averaging nearly 20:00/game. His 17:09 of even-strength ice-time is third behind Myers' 18:49 and Gorges' 17:16.
Since Strachan was thrust into the top-pairing beginning in St. Louis, he's not logged less than 19 minutes of ice-time and was a minus-1.
With an 8-14-2 record just past the quarter-pole of the season, there's a lot of hockey to play. It would seem as if things are starting to fall into place a bit for the Sabres as scorers like Ennis and Moulson are doing their thing while the inconsistencies in net became prevalent as evidenced by the cold/hot play of Enroth.
This is a fairly young team that's still getting a feel for itself as a whole while the individual players are becoming more comfortable in their roles.
If you like roller-coasters, I think we're on a good one.
Buffalo Sabres Individual Stats (monthly):
--October: Drew Stafford, 6; Tyler Ennis, 5; Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, 3
--November: Ennis, 11; Girgensons, 10; Moulson, 9
--October: Ennis, 4; Girgensons, Foligno, 2; Stafford, Cody Hodgson, Torrey Mitchell, Nic Deslauriers, 1
--November: Girgensons, 5; Moulson, 4; Ennis, Stafford, Chris Stewart, Brian Flynn, 3
--October: Stafford, 1
--November: Ennis, 2; Stafford, Moulson, 1
--October: Stafford, 5; Moulson, 2; Twelve with 1
--November: Ennis, 8; Moulson, Girgensons, Gionta, 5
--October: Stafford, Moulson 2; Eight with 1
--November: Ennis, 4; Moulson, Stafford, 3
--October: Ennis, Tyler Myers, 1
--November: Moulson, 3; Stafford, 2; Ennis, Myers, Ristolainen, 1
--October: Sam Reinhart, Brian Flynn, Tyson Strachan -1; Girgensons, Deslauriers, Mitchell, Myers -2
--November: Girgensons +7, Nikita Zadorov +5, Gionta +4
--October: Andrej Meszaros -10; Stafford, Andre Benoit -8
--November: Stewart -6, Gorges, Meszazros, Benoit -5
--October: 1-5-1 record; 3.11 gaa; .915 save%; 0 shutouts
--November: 5-9-1 record; 3.11 gaa; .914 sv%; 0 shutouts
--October: 1-3-0 record; 3.26 gaa; .910 sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 3-5-1 record; 2.85 gaa; .920 sv%; ) shutouts