Another highly anticipated NHL season is just a couple of days away, and once again, the Buffalo Sabres are not favored to win the division. The Sabres haven’t changed too much from last year. A few players came and left, but for the most part, they are relatively the same.
Many experts have already submitted their predictions for the 2010-2011 season, and many have favored Boston, or even Ottawa to win the Northeast Division.
Puckmeplease.com even has Buffalo finishing in ninth in the Eastern Conference (view predictions here). That’s good enough for fourth in the division. You’re telling me that the Sabres have become that much worse since winning the division last season?
My first questions would be “why aren’t the Sabres a playoff team this year? What makes them that much worse from last season?” As I pondered whether or not the other teams in the division, such as Boston and Ottawa, have improved that much, there was nothing significant enough for me to believe the Sabres can’t win it again.
The Bruins may have improved, especially with the addition of Nathan Horton. But now Marc Savard has post concussion syndrome, which could have a heavy impact on his career. Regardless of when he returns, one hit is all it will take for him to be done with the NHL.
You could say the same for Tim Connolly, who played 73 games last year, the most since the 2002-2003 season.
Boston also has Tyler Seguin, who could make an immediate impact on the club. They also have Tuukka Rask, but he still needs to prove that he can be consistent. His 45 games played last year are not enough to determine whether or not he is an elite goaltender.
The Bruins may have some upside with these young stars and additions. Plus, they still have Zdeno Chara, who always makes his presence known on the ice.
Nathan Horton will make his debut with the Bruins this season
If you want to use the argument that the Bruins can excel based on a strong goalie, a solid defenseman, and a young top-line forward, you can do the same for Buffalo.
The Sabres have Ryan Miller coming off of a career year. They have Tyler Myers coming off an outstanding rookie season. But Buffalo also has Tyler Ennis, who proved that he can play in the NHL at the end of last season.
The Sabres have similar key factors and will be looking for revenge after getting knocked out by the Bruins during the postseason.
Buffalo added experience, grit, and leadership by bringing in guys like Shaone Morrisonn, Rob Niedermayer, and Jordan Leopold. They may not be huge moves, but I believe they are the right moves and they will all be able to contribute and fit in nicely with the team.
With what we have seen from Drew Stafford in the preseason (5GP, 2G, 9A, 27 SOG), it is obvious that he has done something to try and improve his game. With that in mind and this being a contract year, I don’t think it is too much to expect 20-30 goals out of him.
I believe that everything can click for the Sabres this year. I think they have everything in place, with the exception of a power play quarterback, but they can get by without it.
With Thomas Vanek looking to rebound from a poor season, and Ennis contributing on offense, I can see the Sabres scoring more goals than last year.
Ryan Miller may still have to carry a heavy workload, but he is certainly capable of that.
The one problem that I see with the goaltending is that the Sabres play 22 sets of back to back games this year, which is the most in the NHL.
Last year, the Sabres played 18 back-to-back sets. In the second game of those sets, Buffalo won just four, and gained 13 points out of a possible 36.
When Miller is not in net, the entire team plays differently. No offense to Patrick Lalime or Jhonas Enroth, but the team goes into safe mode when one of them are in net.
The team knows that Miller is not back there to back them up, so they will make the safe plays rather than going all out and trying to score. Many of the Sabres players also know that if they make a mistake that results in a goal, Lindy Ruff is going to get them in the locker room.
At least with Miller in net, the team doesn’t have to worry about the defensive aspect of the game. They take many more chances and, as a result, will be more effective on offense. Once they do this, the defense can feed off the offense, and vice versa.
I believe that the Sabres clearly are poised for a deep playoff run this year. I think they have an all-around solid team that wants to win this year. They want to get back to the playoffs.
Lindy Ruff and Ryan Miller have already stated that their goal this year is the Stanley Cup. While that may be the goal every year, this year seems to be different. There’s just something about it. Everything is falling into place and the best part of it all is: the Sabres are underdogs.