The Buffalo Sabres have played 41 games this season, marking the halfway point. They find themselves sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, only three points behind New Jersey. Buffalo is on pace for 112 points this season, but they would have to repeat their first half performance, which will be quite a challenge.
Ryan Miller, who has carried the team to a Northeast Division lead, is on pace for 46 wins. Miller’s career high was 40 wins a few years ago, and has a good chance to surpass that total with a solid second half. He is also tied for the league lead in shutouts with five.
Leading the team in points is not who many would have expected. Thomas Vanek, who got off to a fast start last year, is fourth on the Sabres with 23 points. Although he has missed a couple of game, Vanek has not produced anywhere near what he has done in the past. Many expect him to catch fire soon, but when?
Tim Connolly leads the team in points with 32 (11 G, 21 A). Although he leads the Sabres in points, he is ranked #52 compared to the rest of the NHL. Connolly is on pace for 64 points, which would be a career high for him. Many have questioned whether or not he will be able to stay healthy, since he has not played over 50 games since the 2006 season.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Sabres would face the Montreal Canadiens, who they have beat three out of four times this season. The only team from the Northeast Division not in the playoffs would be Toronto. In the west, both Detroit and Dallas would have missed the playoffs.
Buffalo is third in the league in goals against average with 2.22. They are one of the few teams left who have yet to allow 100 goals on the season. Although the Sabres power play is ranked #24, the #6 ranked penalty kill has allowed the Sabres to win more games. The Sabres are among three other teams who have a perfect record when leading after two periods.
If Buffalo can continue to play the way they have so far, they will earn one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo will host three games in four nights this week, then the real challenge begins. The Sabres will head out for a seven game road trip, the longest of the season.
With six players in the Olympics, the team will have a busy schedule for the rest of the year. Will the Sabres be able to keep this pace? How will the Olympics affect the players? Will the team be “burnt out” by April?
We will have to wait and see.