The Buffalo Sabres open up their regular season play on Friday, October 10 against the Montreal Canadians.
To help you get ready for puck drop, I will be breaking down the team over the next few days. First off, let's start off with the players between the pipes. Bring on the goaltenders.
Starter: Ryan Miller
Miller is back in net for another year, and just signed a huge contract in the offseason keeping him in a Buffalo uniform till 2013. Last season, he showed signs of wear and tear after starting in 76 games for the team, due to Buffalo's unreliable backup goalie.
Miller was able to post a decent record of 36-27, but many of those losses came in the shootout—where his play dropped, after he was sharp two years ago in similar situations. That will need to be improved going into this season.
His overall numbers weren’t too bad, but definitely not the mark of an elite starting goaltender (2.64 GAA, .906 save percentage, three shutouts). He has had a low number of shutouts over his career, but when you have a big offensive team like the Sabres have in front of him (fourth best in the league in scoring), you don’t have to put up goose eggs every night.
If Miller can improve his game slightly, and turns into the elite goalie he should become, he should backstop the team to another playoff berth as a low seed.
Backup: Patrick Lalime
Another “new guy” on this team signed during free agency. The veteran backstop is signed for two years to try and bring some consistency from the backup spot. They aren’t looking for him to win every game—just to keep the games close that he gets into and give his team a chance to win.
Last season Lalime played in 32 games last season, going 16-12 with a 2.82 GAA and a .897 save percentage. Those numbers should be good enough to get the Sabres some wins and give Miller a rest.
As long as he plays well enough so the Sabres don’t have to really drop back and not play their offensive-minded game, he will be an upgrade over the backup of last season.
Overall, the Sabres have the guy they want in Miller and a proven vet in Lalime. This position will be one of the strong points on this team. Look for a good year from both of these guys.
Be sure to check out my work at diehardsportsfan.net (I write for the Bills and Sabres blogs) and Youcastr.com where I put on an online radio show, "The Schaefer Show" under the username buffbillsfan.