Buffalo Sabres: Why We're Optimistic
The Buffalo Sabres have had a great season so far, and have re-energized their play on the ice and with their fanbase.
This is my first attempt at a slideshow, so let's see how this works.
I want to address the reasons that the Sabres have been so successful so far, and what this team is doing that gives its fans and supporters a reason to cheer.
There is no question that so far Ryan Miller has been the backbone of the team.
Despite a recent downturn, his play this year has been stellar, and his athleticism between the pipes have kept the Sabres in many games they otherwise would have had lost or struggled to win.
He leads the league in save percentage, at .933, and holds top five spots in every other aspect of goaltending- GAA (2.05), shutouts (four), and wins (21).
I'm having a little bit of disbelief that I'm writing this slide, but Pat Lalime has also done a great job when he's been needed.
Buffalo fans are used to groaning whenever they hear that Lalime will be starting in net, but as of late he's proven to the fans and team that he can be depended on.
Great starts and wins against Chicago and St. Louis have been bright spots for Lalime, with the highlight of his season so far being last night's game against Pittsburgh. More about that game later.
After a conditioning stint in the AHL, Lalime stepped in and surprised even the harshest of critics, myself included. His success means so much to the team—especially now that he's earned the trust of the coaches.
Buffalo can depend on Lalime, which will be crucial in the times leading up to and following the Winter Olympics.
I expect to see Lalime starting in net many more times before the year is out.
Undoubtedly one of Buffalo's unsung heroes, Gaustad has been spectacular in the faceoff circle.
He has won 62.1 percent of his 456 faceoffs (283-173), and while it's only a small part of the game, it's a part he has excelled in.
He's also a gritty, all-or-nothing player that is a great contribution on the ice and in the locker room. Buffalo has been hoping that he'll get selected to the US squad for the Olympics.
The NHL's Third Best Defense
The third in the league in terms of goals against, letting in just 88 goals in 39 games, for an average of about two goals per game.
The defense has been the reason that the Sabres have been able to stay in so many games, and also why many of the games played this season have either been low-scoring affairs or one-goal games.
The defenses' more physical play and excellence in goaltenders have allowed them their defensive success so far.
A Bit Of an Offensive Awakening
It's hard to find something positive about the 20th ranked offense in the league. They've scored 105 goals in their 39 games, but the Sabres let in fewer, thanks to the defense.
The Sabres score across the board, with no one player a clear-cut leader in scoring. All but three Sabres regulars have scored.
Granted, not the best offense ever, but in the "crash the net" system that Buffalo is running on, it's nice to know that anybody is capable or putting it past the opposing goalie.
Buffalo's scored goals in their past two games, but that is overshadowed by their lack of goal production in most games, scoring only one or two.
But they've showed some signs of life, and the revival of their powerplay has things moving in the right direction.
Tyler Myers has been the rookie sensation that no one expected. He's 6'7", about 220lbs, and the defenseman the Buffalo has been hoping for.
He's a great skater and puck handler, despite his size. He has three goals, and a shootout winner against Tampa Bay earlier in the season.
He's easily become one of the most popular players on the Buffalo Sabres, and many are calling for him to be named the league's best rookie.
He leads the Sabres in ice time per game, just over 20 minutes a game, and has 21 points so far, also leading all Buffalo defensemen.
Buffalo 4, Pittsburgh 3 (12-29-09)
There are very few games in which one can say that a team "makes a statement". However, for the Sabres fans that watched this game, it was something absolutely remarkable.
After trailing 3-0 in the second period, coach Lindy Ruff elected to pull goalie Ryan Miller and send Patrick Lalime in.
With a penalty shot, opportunistic goals and a powerplay tally, the Sabres stormed back and chased the Penguins out of HSBC Arena with four unanswered goals to win the game.
Every cylinder of this team was firing after Lalime was put in goal. The entire game's dynamic changed, and the Sabres re-awakened to dominate the game and rally for the win.
Four straight goals and the Sabres' backup between the pipes to take down the defending Stanley Cup champs? That is a statement game. It wasn't luck, or chance. That was pure, unadulterated skill and will.
I'm doing my best not to brag, but that kind of game is the type that gives fans hope. And pride. The entire team came together to show what exactly these Sabres can do.
Heading into 2010, the Buffalo Sabres have a lot going for them—and here's to hoping the Blue and Gold keeps rolling.