Sabres Emerging as a Beast in the East

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The Sabres have yet to win a home game.

Well, that’s not technically true. One of their games in Europe was marked as a “home game” on the NHL schedule, but that’s ridiculous. If it ain’t your building, it ain’t your building. Those were away games for all teams involved.

CoolHandLuke 300x194 Sabres Emerging as a Beast in the East

"Cool Hand Luke" Adam has been a nice surprise for the Sabres so far - but you'd be hard pressed to sense any kind of surprise from him.

In any event, the Sabres are 5-1-0 in the infancy of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, their only loss coming at home, against the hated Carolina Hurricanes. The Buffalo News’ headline of that game read “Hurricanes Spoil Sabres’ Homecoming.” Fair enough, but consider the fact that the boys in Blue and Gold allowed two short handed goals in that game, and they really spoiled it for themselves.

So far, the best way to beat the Sabres, actually the only way, is to have them beat themselves.

Here’s some early season portents of success for the march towards the playoffs:

  • The Sabres have 10 points out of a possible 12.
  • They lead the NE Division – Toronto is one point behind (having played only one road game), Boston and Ottawa trail by 4 and 6 points respectively (and both have played seven games). Montreal is in the basement, with an épouvantable 1-4-1 record.
  • Hey – since Pegula took over, the Sabres are 21-5-4 in the regular season. Talk about a smart investor buying in at the right time.
  • Or is it that the players are the ones buying in? In 10 games, Thomas Vanek has 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists). He’s not known for fast starts – could this be one of his best seasons? Jason Pominville has 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists) – and as Sabres PR staffer Ian Ott pointed out last night, Pommers has 19 points (6+13) in his last 23 games, dating back to 3/25/11. To top that, he added that Vanek “hasn’t gone two games without a point in those last 23 games.”
  • More from Ott: “Vanek is now 5th in Sabres history with 36 GWG, two behind Andreychuk for 4th. His 210 goals are one shy of Mogilny for 10th. That’s Miller’s 23rd career shutout. Second in Sabres history to Dominik Hasek (55). Miller’s now nine wins from tying Hasek’s total (234).” Any complaints about Vanek and Miller right now are laughable.
  • Let’s not forget rookie “Cool Hand Luke,” who has put in 6 points (3+3) in six games between Vanek and Pommers.
  • Buffalo trails only two teams in points in the NHL standings, let alone the Eastern Conference standings. The two ahead of them, Washington and Pittsburgh, are at the 12 point mark (though it’s taken the Pens 9 games to get there).
  • The Sabres goals for/goals against ratio is tops in the NHL at 20GF/10GA. Take away those two dreadful shorthanded goals against in the Carolina game, and we’re looking at a ratio of 20/8. (Washington is 23/13, Pittsburgh 26/21.)
Remember, the Sabres are doing all of this on the road. As Harry Neale said just before puck drop last night, coaches “find about a lot about their team on the road.” So far, Lindy Ruff is learning some very good things about his boys.

Sure, folks will gripe that Ville Leino’s 2 points in 6 games is troublesome, and Tyler Ennis failing to register a point yet has many quick-to-judgement fans comparing him to the enigmatic Maxim Afinogenov. Brad Boyes hasn’t scored a goal yet, and has only managed a single assist. Yet these problems might be the best of signs for the Sabres: despite them, the team continues to dominate.

This is a team that can afford slumps from three of its best scorers. It is a team that floundered in Montreal, yet found a way to keep the game close, digging deep alongside Ryan Miller’s efforts before closing out the Habs 3-1. The great teams can bounce back and find victory during their worst of starts, be it in a single game or from a few players over a stretch of games.

This team has the depth to overcome a bad start to a game, and to overcome teams well enough to still lead the league in the all important GF/GA ratio and charge forward with a 5-1-0 record. On the road.

There is plenty of hockey left to be played, but the Sabres have shown us an identity made up of grit and determination as they’ve traveled the globe in the early goings. They must be chomping at the bit to get back home and win some games at the FNC.

NHL take note: this team is a contender.

Go Sabres.

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