Although the Sabres still sit at the bottom of the NHL standings with a 12-26-4 record, there are still some positives that can be taken from the first half of the season. The hiring of Ted Nolan has seemed to spark the Sabres, as they have been playing their best hockey of the season since he has taken over.
Just this past weekend we witnessed at the World Juniors how much potential that some Sabre prospects have. Not only did Rasmus Ristolainen score the Golden goal for Team Finland, but he was also named one of the top two Dmen of the tournament, alongside fellow Sabre prospect Nikita Zadorov. Even though the Sabres have scored the fewest goals thus far into the season, they are in the top half of the league for goals against. This is due to the stellar play of Ryan Miller. By no means has this been a successful season for the blue and gold; however, there have been a few positives to look at up to this point.
The World Junior tournament was no doubt a great one for Sabres prospects. Rasmus Ristolainen scored the Golden goal and was named one of the tournament’s top Dmen. Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko won a Bronze medal for team Russia, with Zadorov being named the other top Dmen of the tournament. Ristolainen and Zadorov represent the future of the Sabres blue line and to say the least the future looks bright back there with these two. Both players have great size, to go along with great speed and tons of offensive upside. In the coming years both Zadorov and Ristolainen will be having a major impact with the Sabres.
In mid-November when Ron Rolston was fired, the Sabres record sat at 4-15-1, which is the worst start to franchise history. Ever since Nolan has been named the interim-head coach, the Sabres have played with much more energy and excitement, compiling an 8-11-3 record. A big positive with Nolan is that some veteran players have seemed to revive their games. Matt Moulson, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis in particular have started to play with more consistency in their game and are starting to produce on the score sheet as well. It’s pretty simple with Nolan; if you work hard and give 100% each shift, you’re going to get rewarded with ice time, and this has seemed to work well with the Sabres.
The biggest reason why the Sabres have been winning some games of late are due to the play of goaltender Ryan Miller. Recently being named to his second straight Olympics, Miller has been playing arguably the best hockey of his career posting a 2.64 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Once team president Pat LaFontaine names a GM, they will quickly have to decide whether to trade Miller or resign him. This really isn’t a bad spot for the Sabres to be in, as Miller’s value has gone significantly up since the start of the season. Although Miller is 33 years of age, I would have no issue with him signing for a few more years with the blue and gold. Miller still has lots of hockey ahead of him, and could be a part in the Sabres future.
It’s been a rough season for Sabres fans up to this point. With the second half of the season just underway, let’s hope we can see the prospects continue to gain experience at the NHL level and develop as players. Under Ted Nolan the Sabres should continue to string together some wins and play competitive hockey with the league’s best teams. If the Sabres can continue to play the way they have of late, expect Nolan to have the interim tag removed, as the Sabres are headed into the right direction under Nolan. Despite the Sabres sitting in 30th in the standings, there is still reason to believe in Sabre land.