We’re nine games in, and we already have the mob yearning for Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff’s head. For the first time, their calls may not fall on deaf ears.
Ruff has found himself in a precarious position with the runaway success of his first line in the first nine games. The Thomas Vanek – Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville outfit has 41 points in that span, and has been the only three Sabres that have played well in every game. So it seems like an understatement that Ruff would want to get the line, especially Vanek, out there as much as humanly possible.
Well, maybe it’s not as obvious as one would think.
Jochen Hecht ended up playing almost two minutes more than Vanek yesterday afternoon, and more than Pominville and Hodgson. Hecht does play the penalty kill, something Vanek typically does not do, but Pominville and Hodgson do, so to have Hecht log more minutes then them is kind of concerning.
What this illustrates is the common Ruff theme of playing favorites, even when they should not be played. This has gone on since his hiring and has only gotten worse. Hecht is one of the better penalty killers on the team, but there is no reason for a 35-year old regressing veteran that takes more backhands than Roger Federer to be playing more than 20 minutes a game. This happened a lot in the past with Hecht, Paul Gaustad, Dmitri Kalinin, and Adam Mair to name a few.
So this practice is age-old with Ruff, and he’s had a job for 15 years doing it, so why is it an issue now? The Sabres’ complete and utter lack of secondary scoring has been a huge issue, but if the Vanek – Hodgson – Pominville line pots two or three goals a game, it becomes less of an issue. So how best to ensure that happens? Ice time.
It goes without saying that Vanek’s torrid start is destroying the little credibility Lindy has with fans right now. Let’s be realistic: Ruff’s system and guidance have gotten Vanek where he is now, but his apparent reservations of giving him superstar minutes – which usually equates to 23 – 26 minutes a night – is not helping his case to stay behind the Sabres’ bench.
Looking at it from a who’s available standpoint, it’s unlikely the Sabres make a change midseason unless they can scoop up a Mike Keenan or Craig MacTavish. That means Ruff likely has until the end of the season to right the ship, but if he does not, keep an eye on Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. He’s been passed over by Toronto a few times now, and despite having the unofficial “coach in waiting” title for the Leafs, the Sabres could pounce when the season is over.
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