Buffalo Sabres Midseason Report Card
Halfway through the 2008-09 season, I’ve decided to rate the Sabres to determine where they stand among the rest of the league. If I were looking for one word to characterize the season so far, inconsistency is the first word that comes to mind. After a 6-0-2 start, the Sabres looked to be back in the Championship form they were two years ago when they won 53 games and the Presidents Trophy before losing to Ottawa in the conference finals.
But the Sabres since have sunk to 21-15-5 and third in their division behind the Canadiens and the mighty Boston Bruins. Looking at just wins and losses, Buffalo is 21-20 at the midway point. In other words, pretty much average.
The season is only half over, there is a lot of hockey still to be played and nothing is written in stone yet but they need to play better – specifically at home where they are only 12-9-2. Their road record is decent at 9-6-3 but they have to be more consistent if they plan on playing late into April and possibly May.
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After 41 games here is where they stand:
It’s a toss up between Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy who are neck and neck in points but I’ll give it to Vanek who leads the team in goals and is in a three-way tie for the league lead with 27. He’s been the most effective offensive weapon, consistently scoring goals and is the team’s lone all star. Roy has been valuable as well, notching 24 assists to go with 15 goals. After a slow start he’s picked things up, scoring 14 goals and 20 assists in his last 31 games.
20.6% on the power play is not bad but they could get more production, specifically from defensemen who have scored a league worst 5 goals. At 117 goals scored, Buffalo ranks right around the league average. When they score 4 goals or more they are 15-1-1, so the key to winning is scoring goals obviously. Then again, any team that scores 4 goals or more is likely going to be doing okay.
This has been the weakest part of the team thus far. The Sabres have allowed 113 goals which –while not good – is only one more than the mighty Red Wings have allowed. The problem, simply put, is that the Red Wings more than make up for it with their goal scoring and power play conversion. Something the Sabres don’t have. Buffalo has struggled to clear the puck out of their zone all season, allowing way too many scoring chances and putting a lot of pressure on Ryan Miller.
The Sabres are 19-10-4 with Miller and 2-5-1 without him. That says it all. He’s been as valuable to the team as any player on the roster and if he had a better defense to support him, he’d probably lead the league in wins. He’s currently fifth. His 2.54 GAA is tied for 17th in the league and his .914 save percentage is 15th. He started the year off great with only 2.07 GAA during October, then struggled in November and December, but has rebounded going 4-0 so far in January with a 1.50 GAA and .946 save percentage.
Coaching | As has been custom in Buffalo for the past twelve seasons, Lindy Ruff has been very vocal when the team is lagging in enthusiasm and playing half heartedly. Ruff has called out several players during the season and most have responded with better play. Although inconsistency can be blamed on the coach, Ruff usually has the Sabres ready to play and I expect he will tighten things up as we approach playoff time.
Overall, the Sabres have played decent through the first half of the season but have not shown the hunger championship teams have. They’ve played well against the good teams on their schedule, especially on the road but lost to lesser teams they need to beat. There have been plenty of missed opportunities but they have put themselves in position to make the playoffs. Winning the division is a long shot but moving into the five or six seed is a very real possibility if they can improve the defense, keep the intensity up through the whole game, and play more consistently.
While the Sabres don’t look to be a serious Stanley Cup contender, all you have to do is be one of the eight teams in your conference to have a chance. If the season were to end today the Sabres would make it in to the playoffs as the eighth seed and would face Boston. That may not be all that bad of news for Buffalo who has played well against the east’s top team. Although the Bruins lead the league in wins and points, the Sabres have been a thorn in their side, winning 3 of 5 meetings so far this season.
ProHockey-fans.com Buffalo Sabres Correspondent
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