NHL replay, more notes (cont.)
It's hard to get past the hype machine surrounding Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, with good reason: they are living highlight films every time they set skate to ice, but you can't help but wonder when Tampa Bay's Stephen Stamkos will get his rightful place in what should be a triple crown atop the NHL's standout scorers.
After all, Crosby had to go to the final minutes of Pittsburgh's final game of last season to match Stamkos' 51 goals. And if you saw the video of Stamkos's forehand-to-backhand move against outstanding netminder Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoneix Coyotoes last Saturday night, well, it's not Ovechkin scoring while lying on his back, but it's a highlight goal and one that gave Stamkos the goals (10) and points (20) lead after his first 11 games of the season. He's five points ahead of Crosby and Ovechkin -- and three goals ahead of Ovechkin and four ahead of Crosby -- even though those two have played 12 and 13 games respectively.
It's early and scoring projections are a lot like preseason predictions, debatable even under the best of circumstances, but Stamkos is on pace for 150 points this season. That's something that hasn't been achieved in the NHL since Mario Lemieux (161) in 1995-96, well over a decade ago.
Another player confounding the experts is Atlanta's Dustin Byfuglien. The Thrashers switched the former Chicago Blackhawk from forward to defense, but it hasn't hurt his scoring exploits. Big Buff has five goals so far, three of them game-winners. He scored one against Buffalo in overtime after he went flying past a partial check from center Derek Roy and then twisted defenseman Steve Montador into the proverbial hockey pretzel before whipping the puck past Vezina-winning goalie Ryan Miller. It's rare, even on a weak offensive team, that a defenseman leads a club in scoring, but Byfuglien has scored three goals and three assists in his last six games and his 12 points lead all Thrashers.
There were doubts that Byfuglien could excel at the blueline even though he played the position for a time before moving to forward, but Thrashers GM Rick Dudley didn't buy into them. Dudley has one of the best eyes for talent in the game today and he made the deal to get Byfuglien based on what he saw while working out of Chicago's hockey department before he signed on at Atlanta.
Going into Thursday night's games, the Thrashers were second in the NHL in goals scored (39), trailing only the Blackhawks (43), who have played three more games. So much for Craig Ramsay's oft-misstated label of being a defensive minded coach.
Assuming he lasts that long, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will step behind the Sabres bench for the 1000th time next Wednesday in New Jersey. We say assuming because the Sabres have been awful so far, having dropped four straight after Wednesday's 5-2 loss to Boston in Buffalo. Not only is Ruff's team last overall in the NHL, it's still winless (0-5-1) at home, a far cry from the team that won the Northeast Division last season.
We've said before in this space that the Sabres are likely to make a player move before ever moving on Ruff (he's being inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame on the evening of Thurs. Nov. 4 based on his being the winningest Sabres coach of all time), but there's no doubt that the situation is dicey.
Ruff has made a point of shouldering the blame for the Sabres' problems to date, going so far as to say: "It's my responsibility to pick them (the players) up. It's on my shoulders. First and foremost, it's mine. Pick them up, put them back together. Pick them up, get them ready to play. That's all on my shoulders."
It's a noble statement, but it's reasonable to think that a number of players seem to be tuning out their coach. Ruff made a point this week of telling both players and fans to forget about the Sabres' lousy 3-7-2 October, and that the game against Boston on Wednesday night was to be the team's refocusing point.
That hardly went well as the Sabres gave up two shorthanded goals in the first period, left rookie netminder Jhonas Enroth (in for the injured Miller) totally exposed, replaced him with Patrick Lalime (who has yet to win home or away this season) and generally failed to perform until they came up with far too little (two goals) far too late (down 4-0).
Ruff put a huge focus on the fact the Sabres' opponent was the Bruins, the team that ousted them in six games in the first round of the playoffs last spring, and his team responded with a non-effort.
"There's not a damn thing we can do about that crap, that's behind us," Ruff said before the Boston matchup in Buffalo. "There's not one person who is happy, including myself. I find it embarrassing. We've moved on. I told the team that we're going to focus on one game."
The result was arguably their worst performance of the season. Hard to say the team has "moved on" after a performance like that.