Chemistry in hockey is one of those intangibles that are impossible to define but are considered required for success. Depending on the situation, one may not even be able to evaluate which players have chemistry and those who don’t.
The prevailing opinion in Western New York is that Sabres need some serious tutoring in the chemistry department. That opinion seems to be growing into a fairly obvious observation as of late, particularly considering the Sabres’ top line (Vanek-Adam-Pominville) are responsible for 23 goals while the other three lines have combined for 21.
The blueline has suffered from a similar fate, although their struggles seem tied to inconsistent play rather than chemistry issues. Still, none of the Sabres’ defensemen have been particularly impressive through the first 18 games. The true bright spot on that unit appears to be Robyn Regehr who is a minus-2 but has been a solid physical force among a group that seems to avoid body contact at times.
Bucky Gleason made an interesting point in his column that basically said the Sabres are ultra-talented, but don’t have the right players. While he started his argument from the chemistry standpoint, he ended up carrying the flag of “get the right players in to win a Cup.” This is probably the most accurate assessment of the team. Sure, they have a handful of forwards capable of putting up impressive numbers. The issue is that these players are being moved around like checkers in the hope that they instantly click with their new line mates.
Take Ville Leino. He has drawn the most ire from Sabres fans thus far. Well, Ryan Miller has drawn more, but the criticism directed at Leino is slightly more justified than that coming from the fools who think every shot should be stopped.
Leino was signed to play center, a novel concept considering he had a strong 50-point season skating the wing with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. His savvy puck skills make him an excellent candidate to play center, despite his proven success on the wing. So, he was placed with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis for nearly the entire preseason. That line looked dangerous, very dangerous. Of course the line was broken up.
Leino was kept at center with Ennis, but Brad Boyes was bounced to their wing. Stafford moved on to skate with Roy. But those lines were quickly exploded as well. Ennis moved to the wing with Roy and Stafford while Boyes and Leino were given the leftovers (Cody McCormick). Fourth line minutes for Leino didn’t suit him well, the same can be said for Boyes. Leino eventually took a spin – albeit for 6:00 – with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville before settling on the wing with Roy and Stafford.
Now, that is four different lines by my count in an 18-game span. Doesn’t seem like an ample amount of time to develop a working relationship with the players you’re skating with. The Roy/Stafford combination seems like the best fit for Leino. They play a close style to Briere and Hartnell – Stafford being quite soft compared to Hartnell – which should suit Leino well. It appears that he has found confidence with the puck and has become more comfortable creating offense. He has three points in his last six compared to two through his first twelve. Granted, five points (2+3) through 18 games is not impressive, but his comfort level seems to be rising as he spends more time with the same players.
Of course, Ruff decided that the spark Roy provided the team while with the top line needed to ride beyond Monday. That means Boyes is Leino’s new center for the time being. I don’t fully disagree with this move because Boyes is a finisher and that is the type of player Leino needs to play with.
The pattern highlighted above is certainly no recipe for success. In fact, it could have something to do with the Sabres’ inability to maintain a competitive balance and show up ready to play at puck drop, not nine minutes into the game. Now, this isn’t all to blame on the coaches or the players. There is certainly a gave and take with this. However, it would appear that a bit more patience from Lindy would provide the potential for more consistent play from all of his forwards, not just one line.