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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Sabres new top line

What a game against the Lightning, last night a big 7-3 win, was such a fun game to watch and I'm sure the boys loved playing it. I took 3 things away from the game last night; 1. We won a game in regulation! flip I'm still in shock we didn't need more than 60 minutes to get to the final score, it seemed like the Sabres had forgotten how to win in regulation. 2. Where the heck did all this offence come from? when was the last time we scored 7 goals in 1 game? I was shocked by the number of goals we put on the board, I was nervous when it became 4-2, thinking the Sabres were about to let another game slip. How about that Marcus Foligno kid? and 3. The Sabres have a new top line, although they don't have the official title of being the number 1 line; Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford are the Sabres best line right now, forget Vanek, Pominville and Roy teams now have to deal with the new best line. Let's break down the Sabres "new" number one line.

Tyler Ennis
Ennis is a great hockey player, I'm getting tired of people always talking about his size first, him and Nathan Gerbe play with a lot of heart but when it's all said and done they are both HOCKEY PLAYERS!! It is just so fun to see Ennis skating down the ice and making plays, he's having fun and taking advantage of his chances on the 2nd line. In last night's game, he tallied up 2 assists helping to pad his 5 game point streak in which he has 5 assists and 9 points. The best part of Sabres victories is the developing "bromance" between Ryan Miller and Ennis, the big hug they give each other with grins stretching from ear to ear, it just shows how this team is banding together! In 39 games this season Ennis has tallied 24 points, not bad for the 22 year old playing in his second NHL season. No sophomore jinx for Ennis. He is proving to be a great 2nd line centre, a healthy Ennis is a scary thought for the opposition.

Marcus Foligno
I honestly can't say enough about this kid! He is quickly becoming one of my favorite Sabres players. I'd like to thank @Jennilynj one of my followers on twitter, for convincing me to give Foligno a chance. I wasn't too impressed when he got called up after the Kassian trade, I was hoping Luke Adam would get the call. I didn't think Foligno was nearly good enough or ready to be a solid player in the NHL. But now that I've given him a second chance I'm happy I did.  Last night Foligno was a crucial part in the 7-3 win, now I know it sounds stupid to say someone was crucial in a 7-3 trouncing like last night but Foligno's 2 goals really helped set the tone. His first goal was near the beginning stages of the 2nd period and his 2nd goal came near the end of the 2nd period. His second goal in particular was important; it was the Sabres 5th goal of the night but it came minutes after Tampa had scored to make it 4-2. The dreaded two goal lead! Once it was 4-2 a few hearts started pounding, but Foligno came to the rescue and scored his second goal to extend the lead to 5-2 and that was all the Sabres needed.
Last night was Foligno's second two-goal game, the rookie now has 5 goals and 2 assists in 5 games since joining the Sabres on March 10. Foligno is really starting to turn heads and get people's attention; a major reason for his success in the NHL is his time playing juniors and in the minors, the Sabres took their time in letting him develop. The development of young rookies is something fans and sometimes management overlook, but it's crucial for young players to be given time to dominate in the minors, have proper coaching and be fully ready to play in the NHL.
Based on Foligno's play from the last few weeks, I can now understand and see why the Sabres were willing to get rid of Kassian. Foligno is going to be the real deal, I believe he's already better than his brother Nick (currently playing for the Senators) and may even be better than his father one day, big shoes to fill for the youngest Foligno, but something I think he may be capable of. As a Sabres fan I get excited every time Marcus gets the puck, and the opposition gets a little nervous. But right now he is having fun living out the Foligno legacy; "the jump" excites the crowd and reminds them of the days his father was the Sabres captain.

Drew Stafford
Stafford is having a rough season, after an amazing return from injury last season when he amassed 52 points in 62 games, and received a new contract, expectations were high for Stafford in Buffalo. But last night Stafford had likely his best game all season, scoring 1 goal and adding 2 assists. Since he's been paired with Foligno and Ennis, Stafford has been playing his best hockey all season; He's currently on a 4 game point streak (2 goals and 9 points). Whether people in Buffalo want to admit it or not Stafford is one of the best 100 hockey players in the NHL, but it's all about being paired with the right line mates, if you're not with the right guys you're not going to be nearly as efficient or effective.

This trio of guys have been on fire as of late, perhaps one reason, 2 of them are fighting to earn their place in the lineup so they want to put their best in. But the chemistry and the effectiveness of this line is quite amazing! If Ruff brakes up this line, then he deserves a plane ticket out of town, these guys are gelling well together and feeding off each other success. These three are major contributors in Buffalo's late season playoff surge, they're playing hard and other players are feeding off their energy, excitement and confidence. It's great to have a team full of veterans in their late 20's and early 30's but those veterans don't always play with the same passion and excitement as young kids trying to earn a roster spot, which is why you need the young guys who are playing for contracts, spots on the team and a chance at the postseason. If a team doesn't have a core of young players (Ennis, Gerbe, Foligno, Hodgson, Tropp) that are excited to play night in and night out and giving it their all, then they won't succeed.

Other thoughts from Last Night
Another happy moment from last night was Cody Hodgson got his first point as a Buffalo Sabre, he finished off the night with 2 assists and was looking good out there, he looks like he's starting to find his game again and get comfortable with his teammates. Just in time for the postseason push, now that he's paired with Vanek it shouldn't be a problem getting him rolling. And he looked really comfortable with Jason Pomminville on the power play.

Pominville is finding his game again (2 goals last night), his line with Leino and Roy is starting to gel and produce points, the Second line with Foligno, Ennis and Stafford is on fire Hodgson and Vanek should be able to ignite each other and the 4th line contributing all over the ice; All 4 lines in Buffalo are a go, Miller is back on his game, and providing the Sabres an opportunity to win night in and night out. The team is gelling and starting to play for each other and most importantly they're having fun out there on the ice! Not to mention we get Tyler Myers back next game after serving his 3 game suspension, and in his absence the Sabres got 4 out of 6 points not too shabby.

This Sabres team is really starting to click, and are just 2 points out. They're hungry for the playoffs, and anxious to dismiss the overrated talk that unmet expectations from the start of the season. The Sabres are a dangerous hockey team right now, and after dismantling the Lightning, they're proving they can and will steamroll over any team in their way of getting to the postseason. We got 9 games to make up 2 points, it's going to be an intense couple weeks as the season rides out. Looking at the schedule I see both the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals getting about 8-10 more points and the Sabres should be able to squeeze out between 12-14. With that said, hopefully we'll be seeing some more playoff hockey in Buffalo, who knows maybe even a visit to the second round. If I'm a top seeded Eastern Conference team and I see the Sabres coming in the rear view mirror I'm starting to sweat!

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