Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Inside The Sabres

After a shorter-than-hoped-for walk down Stanley Cup Lane in the 2006-2007 season, The Buffalo Sabres had to endure an even worse experience. During the first few hours of the free agent frenzy, the team suffered through losing Chris Drury to the New York Rangers and Daniel Briere to the Philadelphia Flyers. Also, Dainius Zubrus went to the New Jersey Devils a few days later. A team that had visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their heads was suddenly a shell of itself.

One thing the Sabres still have going for them is the young and very good goaltender, Ryan Miller. Miller wanted to take over as the dressing room leader of the Buffalo Sabres. Though he’s still young at 27, he’s an established veteran. His teammates look to him for guidance on the ice and off it.

“I’m trying to focus more on my game,” Miller said. “Early in the season, I was probably too worried about what everybody else was trying to do, trying to be bigger than my role. I was trying to do too many things at once. I can’t be a captain-type leader and talk to guys at all times. I have to go out and just do my job.”

Helping Miller between the pipes is the "old man" Jocelyn Thibault, picked up during free agency. Only 32 years old, Thibault started playing at 18 with the Quebec Nordiques, and the 13-season veteran has years of experience. As the backup to Ryan Miller, Thibault doesn't see a lot of action, but together they average a 2.61 GAA and a .900 save percentage. Those are pretty good numbers that should keep the Sabres solid in net.

But, after twenty-one games, Buffalo is 10-10-1, ranked 13th in the conference and are fourth in their division behind the surging Bruins of Boston, Montreal, and last year’s Stanley Cup finalist, the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres average 2.90 goals per game while giving up 2.76 goals. They have a 20.2% rating on the power play, ranking them 10th, and they are in the seventh position with an 85% success rate on the penalty kill. All average numbers, and hence the .500 record.

Many players on this team are above average players and just may need some more time to gel. Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Brian Campbell, and Tim Connolly lead the team in point production with modest totals ranging from 17 to 14 points. Pominville may be the Sabres most versatile forward and his abilities are allowing the team flexibility when it comes to its power play combinations. Recently, he moved from his position near the net to the blueline. He's made the switch before and is comfortable with the situation. But more importantly, the team is comfortable putting five forwards on the ice with an opposing player in the penalty box because of Pominville's defensive skills. He's the team's quarterback on a unit that features Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik, Roy and Vanek and he is the squad’s last line of defense against an odd-man rush.

Something else “odd” about the Sabres is their rotating captaincy. Jochen Hecht was captain for a while and now Toni Lydman is the man wearing the “C”. This creates a lot of leaders and some different competition in the locker room. Each player, it seems, will have an opportunity to be captain based on leadership and play.

The Buffalo Sabres are in a tough division, but with continued growth and leadership, more wins will come. It’s a shame they lost so much during free agency, but seem ready to start again and are headed in the right direction. With a strong core of players, it won’t be long until we here about them fighting for the Cup once again.

So, herd up your friends and draw your weapons! Support your team with a rousing War Room Roll call!

~ ogre1kanobe