Buffalo surprised most critics and opponents by racing out of the gate and being one of the last teams to be unbeaten in regulation before falling in Atlanta. Ryan Miller has been the center of the team’s success thus far, and continues to be the star of the franchise. Through 21 games, he has a league-leading 1.98GAA, a .930 save percentage and 12 wins.
The Sabres are currently 12-7-2, with 26 points and are sitting third in the Eastern Conference. The first 21 games have included matchups where the Sabres have played with stellar efforts, as well as matches in which Buffalo has fallen flat. Here are some of the more memorable and forgettable games of the first quarter of the '09-'10 NHL season:
Buffalo 1, Nashville 0: In an intense goalie’s duel, the Sabres outlasted the Predators in Nashville and won on a third-period tally by Mike Grier. Miller and Rinne (NSH) both had great games.
Buffalo 6, Detroit 2: The Sabres stunned the defending Western Conference champions in Buffalo during a game that was televised by Versus. Buffalo was firing on all cylinders as the Red Wings failed to show up in Western New York. This was the game that many people began to follow the Sabres after.
Atlanta 4, Buffalo 2: The defense failed to show up to the game in Patrick Lalime’s 2009 debut between Buffalo’s pipes. The offense outshot the Thrashers 42-27, but Atlanta’s Hedberg continuously denied Buffalo goals. Former Sabres Max Afinogenov also scored against Lalime.
Buffalo 5, Florida 2: Buffalo scored five times in the first period to put the Panthers away. Three of those five occurred in the first five minutes of the game.
Buffalo 2, Tampa Bay 1 (SO): The Sabres rallied back in the third period to score with 17 seconds left, and stun the Lightning after six rounds of the shoot out. Drew Stafford tied the game, and rookie sensation Tyler Myers won the game in the SO.
New York Islanders 5, Buffalo 0: New York dominated the Sabres all 60 minutes, and won with a stellar showing in net by Martin Biron and Tambellini’s hat trick. Biron won his 200th game against his old team and Buffalo went 0-5 on the power play.
Boston 4, Buffalo 2: The Sabres defense hung rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth out to dry in his NHL debut, falling 4-2 in Boston.
Buffalo 3, Edmonton 1 and Buffalo 2, Calgary 1: Buffalo beat Western Conference teams back-to-back in one week, proving again that this Sabres squad has the mettle necessary to be a post-season contender. Dousing the Flames in a SO capped off a fantastic netminder battle between Buffalo’s Miller and Calgary’s Kiprusoff.
Florida 6, Buffalo 2…Boston 2, Buffalo 1 (OT)…Ottawa 5, Buffalo 3: All three of these games were lost because of a few fundamental errors, including lack of focus and physicality. The Sabres started with good effort then continued to slide going into the second and third periods of each game. What should have been six points for Buffalo quickly dwindled to a measly one.
In my opinion, the Sabres’ overall grade for right now is a B-. Their defense, despite not showing up for some games, remains one of the league’s best and goalie Ryan Miller continues to be a league leader in his position.
My only concern about the defense is Craig Rivet—Buffalo signed him for defensive prowess and veteran leadership, and may be lacking in both categories. He is also the captain, and might not be the best person on the squad for it. My pick for Sabres captain is Paul Gaustad. He’s the workhorse of the team, a good leader and an experienced player- he always gives his all.
The Buffalo offense has been even on scoring among players, with Clarke MacArthur and Drew Stafford both scoring six, and Thomas Vanek leading with seven. A few players also have five and four goals so far.
The Sabres are waiting on Vanek to ignite offensively and start to light the lamp more consistently—he needs to do better than last season, or at least as well, to help Buffalo score as many goals as possible.
Through 20 games, the Sabres have only scored 52 goals—22nd in the league. Buffalo is not looking for these kinds of numbers- the Sabres need power forwards that consistently light the lamp and give the defense some breathing room.
Buffalo's rookies have been invaluable this year, especially defenseman Tyler Myers. He's proven his case time and time again that he belongs in the NHL, and being paired up with Buffalo's veteran defense is helping him immensely. I'm that Tyler Ennis, who tallied his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Philadelphia, will see some more time in Buffalo if needed.
The Sabres need to regain their focus and work hard the next 20 games. Within the next quarter, Buffalo faces very tough opponents in Pittsburgh, Washington, and New Jersey, as well as Chicago in a rare Blackhawks visit to HSBC Arena.
I do have faith that right now the Sabres are slumping and that they will find the fire to propel this squad in the standings. I also believe that they are playoff-bound, as long as the team remains healthy. Buffalo has a lot of work to do this upcoming week, with games against Philadelphia, Carolina, and Toronto.
Buffalo’s GM needs to start scouting around for a reliable backup goaltender. The Sabres’ current success lies solely on the play of Ryan Miller, and might even give a false impression of the team’s ability. I’ve said it before, and I reiterate: if Ryan Miller is unable to play, this team will quickly fall apart.
I'm all for the return of Martin Biron to Buffalo.