Niagara Gazette

Sports

September 22, 2011

Boyes looks to make strides

BUFFALO — Forget about Brad Boyes’ surprising 17-game goal drought, his poor postseason or that his 43-goal campaign seems like a decade ago, not four years.

Boyes, the Sabres’ $4 million trade deadline acquisition, helped save the team’s 2010-11 season, coach Lindy Ruff said.

“I don’t think we make the playoffs if we don’t have Brad Boyes,” Ruff, whose team won 14 of its last 21 games with Boyes, said Wednesday morning inside the First Niagara Center.

Boyes’ February arrival from St. Louis was significant, a harbinger new owner Terry Pegula would keep his word and spend for a winner. The 29-year-old paid immediate dividends, scoring in his first two games and five times in the first 10 contests.

Then Boyes went dry. He tallied his last regular-season goal March 19. When injuries forced Ruff to switch Boyes from wing to center, he stopped scoring. Boyes finally scored again 38 days later, a meaningless goal late in the Sabres’ 5-2 Game 7 playoff loss in Philadelphia.

His lone playoff point came too late.

But Ruff felt he had to sacrifice Boyes’ scoring to get another center. The Sabres, already down No. 1 pivot Derek Roy, had become woefully thing down the middle after a concussion shelved Jochen Hecht.

“You may have not liked his production, but he was our centerman down the stretch the last 10, 12 games, and he was a big part of why we got (to the postseason),” Ruff said about Boyes. “And if we didn’t have him, we would’ve been pretty thin in the middle of the ice. … We asked him to play a position he hadn’t played in a couple of years. I thought he did a good job for us.”

But that meager offensive output gnawed at Boyes, a center until partway through his rookie season in 2005-06. The Sabres lost two one-goal games to the Flyers.

“I’m looking at myself as someone that could’ve or should’ve made that difference,” said Boyes, who’s been back playing wing during training camp. “ … I looked at myself to be somebody that could change a game, chip in when we really need it. It wasn’t there. That’s what was the worst part … being a guy that could’ve pushed us over that line and didn’t.”

Ruff added: “He had some great opportunities. Part of it was he missed some great opportunities. Even in the playoffs, he hit a post. He probably missed two or three other ones. You go home at night and shake your head and think, ‘Those are ones I got to put away.’”

By Game 5 in April, Ruff had clearly grown frustrated with Boyes, and he suddenly stopped defending him, saying, “Once you’re in the offensive zone, you’re not a winger or a centerman. You’re a player.”

That’s why Ruff defense Wednesday sounded a bit surprising. Boyes understands the spring criticism.

“There’s still opportunities, there’s still chances,” Boyes said Tuesday about playing center. “It’s just a matter of kind of bearing down a little more, things aren’t going well then finding ways, getting to those areas. That was probably one thing I look back now, to really get in those dirty areas in the crease.”

Using Boyes at wing again will allow him to play down low near the circles and net, where he’s adept at pulling the trigger.

“The strength of Brad is he’s got a real quick release,” Ruff said. “He’s got good hands in tight. He’s got as good a shot as we have on our team, and if he can get inside and get those opportunities, he’s the type of guy that lives off that. I don’t consider him a rush-type player that creates a lot of offense off the rush.”

Believe it or not, Boyes compiled 76 goals in 164 games with the Blues over a two-year stretch from 2007-09. He’s scored 31 times in 165 contests since then, including 14 in 2009-10 and 17 last season.

Ruff has acknowledged Boyes may never reach the 40-goal mark again. But before his late-winter slump, it seemed like Boyes had found some middle ground, perhaps as a 20-goal, 60-point type player. He had 55 points last year.

If he can produce like that, he should keep his spot with the Sabres during his contract season. Remember, the Sabres are more than $3.5 million over the $64.3 million salary cap.

“We’ve got so much depth, for sure, everyone’s going to have to earn their ice time and position,” Boyes said. “You can’t really take nights off because you got a guy sitting beside you or in the room that could be going and takes that spot.”

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