Three nights off! The Buffalo Sabres have three nights off, and I don't know what to do with myself. There's no breaking news coming out of HSBC Arena; there's no game to recap; no predictions to make. What's a Sabres fan to do? How about some thoughts of the season based on twelve games?
First, the Sabres are winning. They are sitting in first place in the Northeast Division with a nice little record of 8-2-2. If the playoffs were to start today, they'd be playing the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They are currently ninth in goals for, with 38, and tied for third in goals against, with 25. They are seventh on the power play, and third on the penalty kill.
They look like the team they were a few years ago, when no one predicted they would make the playoffs, and basically wrote them off from the beginning of the season.
They may have been written off at the beginning of this season, but they are showing, once again, why they should be taken seriously.
Let's break down the season so far.
Thomas Vanek is off to the best start of his short career. He currently leads the league in goals, with 11. He's scored short-handed, he's scored on the power play, he's scored at even strength, he's scored game winners, and he's scored in the shootout.
But more importantly, he's playing well in his own end. He's making smart plays and helping out the defense. He's getting the puck out of the zone, and not turning it over in front of his goalie. And he's being rewarded for his play with more ice time, time on the power play, and time on the penalty kill.
Sure, he still makes mistakes, but who doesn't? He's becoming the on-ice leader that the Sabres organization knew he could be when they signed him. He is most certainly becoming a very good two way player, and things can only get better
Miller is showing why he is one of the premier goaltenders in the league. He is leading the league with a 1.62 GAA and recently registered back-to-back shutouts for the first time in his career.
With the exception of one game, he has looked stellar. He is in the game. He is seeing the puck well, and he's making the stops he needs to make. He said before the season started that he was looking forward to a long career with the Buffalo Sabres; he liked the way they looked and he liked what they were doing to build the team. And I think that has helped him immensely.
He knows his future is secure in Buffalo. Buffalo has signed a capable backup goaltender, and has lightened Miller's workload. This has allowed some of the weight of the world (or at least the team) he was carrying to be lightened, and has allowed him to play the way he should be playing.
Drafted in the third round in 2003, MacArthur has spent most of his career with the Rochester Americans, the former Buffalo Sabres AHL team. Last season, he played in 37 games and registered eight goals and seven assists.
This year, he has started in all 12 games, and has registered five goals and three assists. And he's playing smart hockey. He's averaging about 15 minutes of ice time per game, and is currently skating with the second line. This young man may be about to have his breakout season.
This young man has been playing some amazing hockey. Drafted in the third round in 2004, he played in 37 games for the Buffalo Sabres last year, gathering two goals and six assists. In his 12 starts this season, he has eight assists.
He is playing some very smart hockey, and is very good at getting the puck out of the zone and down the ice. He is very good at reading the play and setting up goals. I expect he will be rewarded with a notch in the goal column very soon. He is still making some young mistakes, but he is certainly maturing and is proving to be a real bonus to this team.
Roy has been slow out of the gate this season, with only two goals and four assists. After he posted great numbers last season and showed some maturity, Buffalo was expecting more from this young man. And while he's not playing terrible hockey, he's not finding the back of the net.
Buffalo prides itself on its depth on offense, and while it hasn't affected them yet, they really need better production out of players like Roy.
Selected as a first round pick in 2004, Stafford played in 64 games last year, amassing 16 goals and 22 assists. This season, he has only found the back of the net twice, and has only one helper. It's time for him to step up.
Another player that is not off to the fast start that we expected from him. Four goals and five assists is not what Buffalo expects from the player they rewarded with a long-term contract in the offseason. He needs to start playing the type of hockey we saw from him last year.
It's tough to find too much to complain about with this team. They played a few bad games that they lost, and they played a few bad games that they won. But they have played some very good games as well.
They look like a new team. They are playing very well in their own zone. Lindy Ruff has stopped focusing on the offense and is trying to create a successful two-way team. And that is critical in this league. You are going to face teams that are great offensively and teams that are great defensively, and in order to win the ultimate prize, you need to be able to play against both types of team.
The addition of Craig Rivet on defense has helped immensely. Not only has the team accepted him as a leader, making him the captain, but he has provided some much-needed veteran experience. That, coupled with the return of Teppo Numminen has been a huge helper to this team in their own zone.
Miller has been amazing thus far, as has Lalime. Each goaltender has one loss, but they are both showing good numbers. Having Lalime as a backup is going to help Miller immensely—not only in the nets, but behind the scenes as well.
I can only see good things for this team, provided they continue to play as the team they are. If the first 12 games are an accurate predictor of things to come, Buffalo's season is going to extend far beyond April.