Perhaps one of the least talked about, yet dangerously successful teams in the Eastern Conference this year is the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres don’t really have a superstar forward or a top of the line defenseman(although Tyler Myers is quickly becoming one). What they do have is one of the best goalies in the league, and, much like the Phoenix Coyotes, a team that provides offense from top to bottom.
Offense: B For the past few seasons, Sabres fans have lamented the fact that Tim Connolly has been unable to stay healthy for an entire year. The talented young center has scored at just under a point per game pace in each season since the lockout, but injuries have held him to just 98 games in the last three years. This year, he’s managed to stay healthy, and leads the team in scoring. What makes the Sabres dangerous is that they have 13 other players with 20+ points this year. They may not put goals up in bunches, but they generally score enough to get the job done.
Defense: A The Sabres have allowed the 5th fewest goals in the league this year, and while Ryan Miller is a big part of that, their blueline deserves plenty of credit. Tyler Myers is a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, and with 46 points and a +16 rating, the big kid looks like he’ll be a very solid defender for years to come. Veterans Toni Lydman, Steve Montador and Henrik Tallinder have all performed well, and give Buffalo one of the deepest and most defensively sound corps of d-men in the league.
Goaltending: A+ Perhaps the biggest reason for Buffalo’s success this season is the guy between the pipes on most nights. Ryan Miller nearly backstopped Team USA to a gold medal at the Olympics in Vancouver, and if he plays the way he has all year long, he could give the Sabres a real chance at making some noise in the playoffs. A miniscule 2.21 GAA and a sterling .929 save percentage make Miller the top full time starter in the league, and should be enough to earn him a Vezina trophy.
Special Teams: A Like their even-strength play, the Sabres excel defensively, and are good enough offensively to win close hockey games. Their PK ranks among the league’s best, behind only Boston and St. Louis in success rates. It’s often said that a team’s best penalty killer has to be their goaltender, and Ryan Miller is a huge part of this team’s special teams success. The Sabres’ powerplay, like their offense, ranks right around the middle of the league in powerplay goals scored.