The Buffalo Sabres are already one game into a treacherous road trip that has them playing nine out of the next 10 games on the road.
The Sabres are coming off a disappointing 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Detroit Red Wings, Saturday night. Though goalie Ryan Miller was stellar in back-to-back games, the Sabres were only able to come out on top on one occasion.
Miller was almost unbeatable Friday night when the Sabres hosted the New York Rangers. Miller was a complete standout as his team struggled to even compete for two periods, before tying the game at one late in the second period.
Miller made 43 saves in regulation and also stopped all three Ranger shooters in the shoot-out to lead his team to a 2-1 win.
In Detroit, we saw a similar performance from Miller and the rest of the team. The Sabres were able to strike early, but after that they were dominated for most of the game.
Again, they found themselves in a vicious cycle. They were consistently unsuccessful on entries into the offensive zone. They dumped the puck, changed lines, defended, dumped the puck, and changed for the majority of the game.
The Red wings owned the puck. And no matter how good your goalie is playing, playing like that will eventually cost you, and it did. The Sabres paid the price with under three minutes left in the third period, when Mikael Samuelsson beat Miller. And just a minute later, Marian Hossa put the game away with a one-timer from the slot.
Despite the loss in Detroit, Miller was outstanding. Stopping 45 of 48 shots from a potent offense like Detroit's.
Since the start of the new year, the Sabres are 4-1. A lot of their success is due to Miller's play. In the five games played so far in 2009, he has recorded a .951 Save Percentage and a 1.79 Goals Against Average.
That kind of play is what Head Coach Lindy Ruff expects out of Miller, and is also what Miller expects of himself.
The Sabres take on the Blackhawks tomorrow night in Chicago. Miller will get the night off as his backup, Patrick Lalime, is set to start.
The month is going to consist of a lot of traveling from coast to coast and should take a toll on the players. But besides the travel, many other factors will play into this important month of hockey.
If Miller continues his play of late, it will obviously benefit his team. But for the team to win on a consistent level, they need to play better offensively. Tim Connolly was inserted back in the lineup Friday against the Rangers. But he has not seen as much ice time as he is accustomed to.
Ruff plans to give him more ice time as the month progresses. Connolly has been skating mostly with the fourth line, but I'd expect to see him on one of the top two lines in upcoming games. His production is crucial to the team's success the rest of the season.
Derek Roy has been a catalyst for each line he's played on this season. Now, skating with Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, Roy's line is the hottest trio on the team.
Other than that, there is a huge drop off. The team hasn't seen the production they have hoped for from Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht. And play has also dropped from forwards Ales Kotalik and Clarke MacArthur, after a quick start to the season.
Connolly centering one of those pairs is a likely scenario, and it should help out significantly on the stat sheet.
Whether or not Miller will keep his terrific play going, and whether or not the team as a whole can score on a consistent basis, are two key questions that should be answered during these next few weeks.
I believe we will get a better understanding on where this team is going after this long and treacherous road test.