The Sabres headed into the playoffs on a hot streak as well as having had to fight tooth and nail to make the postseason. Would they have a let down or not? Turns out they did when matching up against the Philadelphia Flyers as they lacked a killer instinct as well as the ability to find someone to keep an eye on Daniel Briere. Sure they pushed Philadelphia to seven games and made a valiant effort, but ultimately things failed for Buffalo and Game 7 incorporated a lot of those shortcomings.
1. Ryan Miller was far too average
Let’s look at a pair of stats from the playoffs:
Goalie A: 2.10 goals against average with a .934 save percentage
Goalie B: 2.93 goals against average with a .917 save percentage
Goalie A was Brian Boucher against Buffalo while Goalie B was Ryan Miller. You’re confused now aren’t you? You should be especially considering that Miller had two shutouts.
In four losses, Miller was very much average. With a team as banged up and shorthanded as the Sabres were, having Ryan Miller be very middle of the road killed them. It’s stunning to see that Boucher’s numbers look incredible in comparison but considering the problems the Flyers had in goal all series long, that should give you a good idea for how Miller actually played.
2. No defensive presence
Take a look at who the Sabres defensemen are and tell me if you can spot a guy that you’d refer to as a shut-down defenseman. Steve Montador? No. Jordan Leopold? Nuh uh. Tyler Myers? Not yet. Any of the guys you could pull off that roster on defense is not a guy most teams would find confident in putting out on the ice in a situation where you need to stop the other team or else. A lot of those guys are very useful and productive... But they don’t come with that physical means of play or the kind of snarl it takes to win in the playofs.
3. Not enough talent
It makes sense for a 2 seed vs. 7 seed match up to have a big discrepancy in talent and that was the case here. While the Flyers could run three pretty steady and useful lines at you to score along with a full army of quality defensemen, the Sabres had no ability to really keep up with that. Factoring in injuries to Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, things were that much more desperate even with getting Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy back for Game 7. There’s little chance either player was a full 100% and those are battles the Sabres cannot win.
4. Just couldn’t finish
In both Games 5 and 6, the Sabres held sizable leads and couldn’t finish things off in regulation. The inability to put the Flyers away once they were down and seemingly out of it was an obvious bad sign for them. Getting up by two or three goals and holding the lead has been a major issue all over the playoffs but for Buffalo, their failure to keep the lead in Game 6 was their ultimate undoing in the series. When it’s a game where you can wrap up a series, there’s no good excuse for allowing the opponent to dominate you to win the game. The combination of poor defense and a not very Ryan Miller-like Ryan Miller made this all possible. Getting sub-par performances from Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly made things even more difficult on the other side of the puck.
The Sabres can build off this defeat in a lot of ways. While their team will no doubt look a little different next season, the Sabres have hope. With new ownership in place they’ll be active in free agency and looking for forward help, most likely up the middle at center. They’ll be back at it next year and with Ryan Miller getting a bit more time off to breathe the Sabres should be that much more dangerous.