Until the past two weeks the Buffalo Sabres had the worst powerplay unit in the league. Since the April 15th game against the Tampa Bay Lightning the Sabres have climbed four spots in powerplay percentage rankings and have scored a total of six goals out of a possible 12 chances since that game against the Lightning. While the Sabres offense in general has been better in these past few weeks, it is still the powerplay units’ play that needs explaining.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for the uptick in quality is that, for the first time since the beginning of the season, the Sabres haven’t been dealing with injuries. Thomas Vanek specifically has dealt with injuries on and off this season and since he is easily the Sabres best and most consistent offensive threat it isn’t that big of a surprise why the powerplay has all of a sudden hit its stride. Vanek’s return has also helped Cody Hodgson. Hodgson was often lost on the rink while Vanek was injured; so much so that he saw his playing time reduced and was switched to different lines. Hodgson needs Vanek to take offensive pressure and attention away from him.
However, Vanek’s return to form isn’t the only possible reason. Sabres’ defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has also performed better recently. In fact, since Tyler Myers went down with a season-ending injury Ehrhoff has found his groove. Whether Ehrhoff is more comfortable without Myers or has just taken more responsibility is unclear but hopefully he continue this form; he is finally starting to look like the player the Sabres signed to such a lucrative deal a couple years ago. It will be interesting to see if the head coach, whether it is Ron Rolston or a new coach, does when Myers returns – especially if Ehrhoff is hot at the beginning of the season and Myers has not yet returned. Could it be that Ehrhoff forces himself to play a more defensive game when he is partnered with Myers because of Myers’s unpredictability in the offensive end?
If the Sabres’ powerplay unit had played this well, or at least not nearly as poorly, all season the team could be headed to the playoffs. The powerplay is always an integral part of a winning formula and if the Sabres can continue this hot streak into next year, assuming some the personnel is still the same (which is a big assumption at this point), the fans and the city of Buffalo could see an entirely new Sabres team for the 2013-14 season.