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Opinion

Rink Observations

1. There’s a lot of ways to make sure you come out as the victor in a one-goal decision; but one guaranteed strategy is to maintain strong special teams. Prior to the game in Toronto, the Sabres were 3-9-2, with a lot of those losses being by a single goal. A lot of those losses also featured a miserable penalty kill, which at one point was ranked 27th in the NHL.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, then, that it was quite a bit more successful when the team went 2-0-1 on its recent three game roadtrip.  The Sabres killed off seven of eight minor penalties on their way to acquiring five points in the standings, including a 5-on-3 situation against New York. That 86.8%, 2nd-rank PK unit was one of the biggest reasons behind the Sabres’ 100 point season last year, and why they were able to win so many tight games.

It’s not a coincidence that the last three games were decided by one goal, either.

2. Another interesting turn of events features the past two Vezina Trophy winners; Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas. After winning the award for his success in the 2008-2009, season, Thomas struggled with inconsistency in net.

He eventually lost his starting role to Tuukka Rask for the Boston Bruins, as well as the top spot as netminder for the U.S. Olympic Team. Miller is now in the midst of his own ‘hangover’, with a .903 Save Percentage, a 2.71 Goals Against Average, and a disappointing 3-5-2 record.

Tim Thomas, on the other hand, might just be playing the best goaltending seen in years. He is blowing out the competition with a 95.9 save percentages and a 1.39 Goals Against Average, and has a perfect 8-0 record. Three of those contests were shutouts, and he allowed for more than one goal in only two games (one against Buffalo, interestingly).

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3. For as many things that the Sabres have been doing wrong, they do have a few players highly ranked in select stats for the NHL. Steve Montador is tied for 4th in the league in the +/- category with an impressive +10, and tied for second among all defensemen. Tyler Ennis is second in rookie scoring with ten points, only behind Carolina’s Jeff Skinner.

Then there’s Cody McCormick, who shares the #9 spot with Deryk Engelland of Pittsburgh for most Penalty Minutes [40]. Usually that’s not something you praise about a player, but since a lot of those minutes have from fights and game misconducts, it shows that McCormick is arguably the Sabres’ most spirited player.

4. The Sabres may be in a complete rut, but their prospects are currently tearing things up in Portland. The Pirates are enjoying an 11-3-1 record, good for first in the AHL. They were at one time riding a seven-game home win streak, while the Sabres have still yet to win a game before their fans in Buffalo.

The Pirates have three players in the top twenty for scoring across the AHL; Luke Adam with 19 points, Mark Mancari with 18, and both Colin Stuart with 15. Their top goalie, David Leggio, is 7-0-1, while Jhonas Enroth pulled his weight with a respectable 4-2 record while playing for Portland.

5. Things have turned around in a hurry for Sabres prospect Zack Kassian; in the same week, his charges for assault were dropped and he was signed to a three-year entry-level contract with Buffalo. Kassian is currently enjoying another very successful season with the Windsor Spitfires.

In only 14 games he’s collected 25 points, making him tied for seventh in the entire OHL. His power forward style has helped him towards netting nine goals already, strongly suggesting that he could one day hang around just fine in higher levels of competition. Sabres fans could very well be seeing much more of him beyond training camp and a couple of preseason games in coming years.

6. Prior to the start of the season, the general consensus among media outlets was that either Boston or Ottawa would be the frontrunner for the Northeast Division Title. At the moment, it seems like the critics got half of that right, as Boston has been playing stellar hockey early this season, but Ottawa has struggled to maintain a .500 record.

Montreal is proving to be a surprise with 21 points from an 10-5-1 record after 16 games. Even after their thrilling playoff run, many fans predicted disaster for the Habs, especially after dealing away goalie Jaroslav Halak. However Montreal, and notably goaltender Carey Price, continue to prove a lot of the cynicism wrong.

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