(This Buffalo Sabres scouting report comes courtesy of BuffaloSportsNow.com.)
The Buffalo Sabres have had a very interesting and surprising 2009-10 season so far. Compared to what was expected of them before the season started, the Sabres have played above any expectations. Before the season, most hockey publications had the Sabres as a borderline playoff team that would finish anywhere from 6th to 10th in the conference. Nobody knew what the Sabres had in them and people wondered if their young talent around goalie Ryan Miller would develop, despite not getting much help in free agency. Well, the Sabres showed that they can play.
Coach Lindy Ruff decided to change the team’s style from a high-scoring, risk-taking team into a low-scoring, defensive team led by Miller. The move worked wonders for the Sabres. They started the season hot and grabbed control of the Northeast Division early on. They maintained that lead for most of the season and ended up winning the division and finishing third in the Eastern Conference with 100 points.
For the Sabres, many players are getting hot at the right time. Four players that are hot as of late that the Sabres will need to play well in the playoffs are Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek. Roy has been a monster as of late by getting 24 points in his last 19 games. He has really stepped up his game after a very slow start to the season. Around the same time as Roy started picking up his game, so did Pominville. He has regained some of his scoring touch late in the season that hasn’t been seen in a while. He has 19 points in his last 18 games and recorded a hat trick vs. Tampa Bay in March. The last two players that have been hot for the Sabres lately have been Vanek and Tyler Ennis. Vanek came back from his injury Saturday vs. Ottawa on went on to score four goals. He then went on to score the Sabres’ only goal the next day vs. New Jersey.
Two players that stand out as being cold for the Sabres are Drew Stafford and Chris Butler. For these players, it’s not a story of them being in a cold streak right now, it’s about them being in a cold streak for the entire season. Stafford, who once was one of the Sabres’ most prized prospects, is now considered a scrub on the Sabres. He finished the season with only 34 points in 71 games and many people think that he shouldn’t even return to the roster for the playoffs. Butler has had an awful season for the Sabres this year. Following a season in which he led the Sabres in plus/minus at plus-11, Butler had an awful season finishing at minus-15. Ruff has lost confidence in Butler and now has Butler in a rotation with Andrej Sekera for the sixth defensemen spot.
The X Factor
This is an obvious pick. You don’t even need to watch the Sabres to know that Miller is the ‘X’ factor of the Sabres. The team feeds off of his great play in the net. You can just look at how the Sabres play when they don’t have Miller in the net to find out how important Miller is to the team. They play with more passion and look like a totally different team when he is between the pipes. He is one of the best goalies in the NHL and is line to win his first Vezina Trophy this year. He is the Sabres x-factor.
The Sabres will win if…
The Sabres will win this series if they continue to get balanced goal-scoring and production from all four lines. This series has all the makings of a low-scoring series so whatever production the Sabres get from their lower lines will go a far way to help their chances of advancing. Boston finished 30th in the NHL in goals for and Buffalo finished fourth in the NHL in goals against. It will be very difficult for Boston to score against the Sabres. The Sabres have a great defensive core led by rookie Tyler Myers and have the best goalie in the game in Miller. This series doesn’t look like it should be close on paper but in the playoffs, anything is possible.