The Sabres a top team midway….but why and how?

We all love our Sabres and we all know they have what most would consider a comfortable lead atop the northeast division at this point of the season; they are also in the top 5 in the league overall.

Its easy to look at the standings everyday and simply see Buffalo still on top and getting points on a regular basis. But after watching many games this season and listening to various sports reporters I’ve began thinking a bit cynical. Thoughts creep into my mind such as “who is the real superstar on this team, other then Miller”? Now we all know Tyler Myers is widely praised for his play and for good reason, Ill get to him a bit more later on.

When you look at the top teams they all have that clear cut goal scorer who at anytime can light the lamp and change the game. Buffalo supposedly had that signing Vanek to a billion dollar deal when they let Briere and Drury walk out the door, I for one am over Vanek and tired of hearing “Its a matter of time before he heats up”. NOT HAPPENING. Just watch him closely, he slowly wanders around the opposing net and makes the occasional stop in front hoping for a tip in. Yes I know that’s what he’s supposed to do, but he is also supposed to be skating around trying to create for his teammates and be that guy that draws extra attention to open someone else up to make a play.

With that being said, here’s some stats that may or may not surprise you. Vanek is fourth on the team in assists with 17, that’s half of the team leader Tim Connolly. He’s tied for the lead in goals with 14 but there are 8 Sabres with 10 or more goals. Rookie Tyler Myers has 7 goals on just 62 shots and Clarke Macarthur has 13 goals on 90 shots. Vanek is at an even 0 in the +/- category, but several other Sabres are at least a plus 8 or better.

My point is the Sabres are having a great season not because of a superstar player (other then Miller) but I believe they are one of the best true “teams”. Their main core have played together for a few years now, a couple bad apples have been weeded out and a couple key defensive additions were added this season. Although as a team statistically the Sabres are near the bottom in a lot of categories as well as individually.

We’ve all seen the shootouts, they suck at them and the stats prove it. They are 26th in the league scoring on just 10 out of 37 shots while allowing 14 out of 36. They are 26th in face-off winning percentage, but when you watch the games you see stats of players having some great percentage, particularly Gaustad.

I believe the heart of this team is obviously defense. Buffalo is undefeated when leading after 2 periods meaning they can seal the deal, they’re 3rd in penalty killing, that’s contributed to Miller, Montador, Rivet and definitely Myers. They are 14 in the PP and largely due in part to Myers and Connolly who are first and second on the team in minutes played per game (not a coincidence). Yes Vanek leads the team in PP goals, but that’s because he gets to just sit in front and wait for someone else to take a great shot and aim for his stick and watch it deflect into the net, then some announcer praises him (GAG!!) The Sabres allow 32 shots a game and average 31 themselves. That stat combined with the leading goaltender in save percentage says a lot about team and season. They have ranged from starting the game by scoring 2 goals in under 3 minutes to overcoming back to back 0-3 deficits.

As the Olympic break is upon us I would love to believe this team can go all the way. They do not have a superstar goal scorer but each night someone different comes from nowhere and becomes the nightly star. The team leaders may struggle but players like Kaleta , Myers and Pominville show up when you least expect it. Tim Connolly is on a very hot streak and looks like he may flirt with 100 pts this season. I don’t know how they do it night in and night out but Ill keep thinking they’re for real until they prove otherwise with some fall from grace. Many reporters are begging for a trade for more offense, I’m not against it but I feel this team has an identity and all they really need is they leaders to keep leading and a couple sand baggers to start showing up a lot more often and they’ll be just fine.