Can Buffalo Perform Better?

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The Sabres currently sit third in the Eastern Conference, although they are not far behind New Jersey for second, who they trail by just a point. Buffalo is well on its way to the playoffs, but some people don’t expect them to go very far.

Is there room for improvement on the Sabres team? Normally, a team that finishes third in the Conference would seem to be a good bet to go deep into the playoffs. This year, people have their eyes focused on Washington, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey in the East.

So how can the Sabres improve their game to compete with the top-caliber teams? The new playing style that Lindy Ruff utilized has worked this season with the Sabres and some fans are now saying that the team is over-achieving.

Over-achieving or not, the Sabres are a contender for the cup. They are on their way to locking up a Northeast Division title, and have Ryan Miller to lead them through the postseason. Miller leads the league in save percentage and is second in goals against.

The Sabres have allowed the 3rd fewest goals in the league, much thanks to Ryan Miller and the defense. Buffalo is also 3rd in the league in penalty killing. They are also fourth in the league when scoring first. Although the Sabres have only scored 215 goals this season, they have a plus-26 goal differential, which is second in the Conference, only behind Washington (+77).

A home ice advantage in the first couple of rounds might be the only thing that could help the Sabres improve. Buffalo is 24-10-6 at HSBC arena, where the Sabres have had a winning home record in each of the past 22 years.

I can understand that fans might want the team to improve, especially come playoff time. The playoffs bring a much more intense style of gameplay. While some players might step up, others may crack under pressure.

As long as the Sabres play the way they have been all season, they shouldn’t have much of a problem in the first two rounds. Sure, they may have to up their intensity to compete with the tougher and more potent teams, but with a solid defense and a superb goaltender between the pipes, the Sabres could advance farther than most expect.

Other than that, there is not much room for improvement. Even with the injury bug that has bitten the Sabres recently, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe should all be able to fill the gaps on offense. Over the next week, the Sabres could get Connolly and/or Vanek back, just in time for the playoffs.

If the Sabres do make it to the 2nd or 3rd round, there is a good chance they will end up facing at least one of these teams. Buffalo hasn’t performed well against them based on earlier meetings this season.

Here are a look at some of the tougher matchups Buffalo could have if they advance beyond the first round:

Pittsburgh won the season series 3-1 against Buffalo, but all four games were decided by one goal. The Sabres were in all of those games, and it would make for an exciting playoff matchup. Plus, who wouldn’t love to see Miller get back at Crosby?

The Capitals, who have been running away with the Eastern Conference, have defeated the Sabres three out of four times as well. The lone Buffalo win was a Ryan Miller shutout. The Sabres could have a tough time against the Capitals.

The Sabres have won two out of three meetings against the Devils this year, with one remaining. Despite the boring playing style of New Jersey, the Sabres found ways to win.

How far do you think the Sabres can go? Can Buffalo really perform better and step it up in the playoffs? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

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2 comments
James Ehrmann
James Ehrmann

I think this is a lackluster squad that happens to have a fantastic "defense first" system provided by Lindy Ruff, and a Vezina worthy goalie in Ryan Miller. Still, stranger things have happened. With Miller in net, sky is the limit for this Sabres squad. All it takes is a hot goaltender and a few key players to step up to create a deep playoff run. I look for Miller and future All Star stud dman Tyler Myers to really step their game up in the post season. On the offensive side of things, I'm not entirely too sure who will step up. Tim Connolly provided some magic in his last playoff run for the Sabres in 2005-2006. Pominville has been playing excellent as of late, scoring clutch goals and making key defensive plays. Hopefully his hot play can stretch into the playoffs. The biggest wildcard for the Sabres is struggling sniper Thomas Vanek. If he can kick things up a notch and get back into his groove, things could get interesting. This is a Sabres squad that hasn't reached the post season in a few years. This playoff run will reveal a great deal about the team, particularly about the group of forwards Darcy Regier has assembled. For years Sabres fans have had to stomach Regier's ramblings about "allowing this group to mature". Well, its put up or shut up time for this group of forwards. Out of all the teams in the Eastern Conference this year, Buffalo has the biggest question mark next to it. I'm willing to bet that if the team plays the way Ruff wants them to (putting forth a responsible, defensive first effort), this squad will ride Miller's coattails deep into the playoffs.

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