Sabres fans have long waited a return trip to the NHL Playoffs, and it looks like their time has arrived.
The Sabres are almost halfway through the regular season and they have built themselves a comfortable lead atop the Northeast Division, and as an added bonus they are only five points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. However, despite their position in the standings, the Sabres should consider themselves lucky because this team still has many holes to fill going into 2010. Here is a look at some of the highlights and disappointments so far.
No doubt, he is the best goaltender in the NHL right now and he has stolen a ton of games for the Sabres.
Their are however a couple of worrisome statistics to be aware of. The first one is the number of games Miller will start this year. If the Sabres do plan on going deep into the playoffs they will have to keep Miller as well rested as they can. If you combine the fact that he is on pace to play over 60 regular season games plus the Olympics, you can't help it be worried how long he will last. Another factor is his play of late. In his last three starts Miller hasn't looked as sharp/focused as he normally is, and for the first time this year he almost cost the Sabres a victory. Even though the Sabres weren't exactly stellar in that first period against Pittsburgh, two of the three goals were shots that should have been stopped (especially the weak bad angle shot from Bill Guerin). The bright side to this is that Lalime has stepped up his play since his demotion to Portland (AHL) including his ability to come in to the game down 3-0 and give his team a chance to win. Whether this is a fluke or not the Sabres wil need Lalime to be sharp if they wan't to keep Miller rested.
What can I say? He's 19 and he's already has more points this year (39 games) than Luke Schenn (a guy who was picked 7 spots ahead of him) does in his career (108 games). Myers also leads all rookies with 18 assists and in ice time. He is definitely a vital piece of the Sabres back-end for the present and the future.
While he didn't start out too hot, he has performed well over his last few starts including Tuesday's 27 save shutout relief after Miller was pulled. It is essential for the Sabres that Lalime continues his efforts in goal because as I mentioned Miller will be playing a ton of games this year.
I know he's been hurt, but with the money he is making I would expect a better performance. Considering the fact that he has less goals than he does assists, (11G, 12A) it is a cause for concern. Plus it doesn't help Vanek when he is put on a line with Grier and Kennedy.The only upside is that now that his abdominal problems are behind him he can only get better as the Sabres go into the last half of the season.
He is performing better of late, but if he continues this trend of slow starts then the population of Pominville might be all gone. We all know Pominville has the skill but for whatever reason he just can't put up the numbers. I liked his performance when he was playing on a line with Stafford and Connolly, and it worked for him in the back half of the season. Again the only upside to this is that Pominville has nowhere to go but up.
I might have put Stafford instead, but after his response to getting benched (2G 1A) against the Penguins I decided to put Hecht. After all Stafford isn't the one getting 3.8 million and producing goals equal to that of Patrick Kaleta. On the bright side he is doing better than he was last year around this time and he has had his moments. I'm hoping for his sake that he steps his game up in the second half.
Defence and Goaltending. The Sabres have given up the third fewest amount of goals this year, and that is thanks to outstanding goaltending and solid defence. The Sabres also have the seventh best penalty-kill in the league. If Miller and the Sabres defence can keep this up throughout the year, then expect this Sabres team to stay on top of the Northeast division.
The Sabres are 19th in the league in scoring, and that might not be sufficient enough. The solution is the Sabres need a spark offensively. Whether it comes from an individual catching fire (i.e Vanek) or if they acquire someone in the near future. It's nice to have good defence and good goaltending but last time I checked, to win in this league you have to score more goals than the other team.