The month of December was billed as a defining moment for the Sabres, mostly because they had 15 games in 29 days during the month. The Sabres passed that test with flying colors with a 9-4-2 record which was good for 20 points. They were equally, if not more impressive, in January with an 8-3-3 record and yet we come away with the feeling it could have been better.
The Sabres begin February in first place in the Northeast Division and third place in the Eastern Conference. After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons everyone is happy with their current position, right? Wrong, instead of being comfortable with their current position they continue to look at the improvements they can make. I have no idea how far this team can go this spring but if they feel the same in private as they let on in public, they have the mentality that can take them a long way.
January Goal Scoring
Although the scoring numbers are not overly impressive, take a look at the penalty killing. The Sabres allowed only three power play goals in the entire month with 14 games played. As bad as the power play has been, they end the month plus-8 on special teams with 11 power play goals scored.
|PP Goals Against||1||2|
|SH Goals Against||0||0|
January Individual Stats
|#||Player||Pos||GP||G||A||PTS||+/-||PIM||PPG||SHG||Corsi||Corsi/Game||Corsi +/- Last Month|
It's typical for Lindy Ruff to juggle his lines and this season has been no different but in the month of January a top line finally emerged. Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville began clicking at the end of December and they remained together throughout the month of January and the results were impressive. Hecht and Pominville have a history together and Connolly has now assumed the role of Danny Briere.
How was Ryan Miller not the first positive I talked about? Miller played 13 games and had a 1.98 goals against average with a .937 save percentage. These are typical numbers for Miller this season and although most teams would kill to have a goalie with these numbers, we expect this out of MIller. If he fell below this stat line we would criticize him and wonder if he is starting to tire because of all the games he has played.
The penalty killing is the third and final positive I will talk about. Miller deserves most of the credit but the defense and the commitment of the forwards has to be mentioned. How many times have we seen Mike Grier dive in front of a shot, or Jochen Hecht and Tim Connolly steal a pass and fire it down the ice? The penalty killing has been a team effort and best of all, they take pride in killing penalties.
I'll start by bringing up the West Coast trip. The Sabres struggled to get points out west despite out playing their opponents for long stretches in each game. This has to put some doubt in the minds of the players and fans as the playoffs draw closer.
There has to be some concern over the play of Paul Gaustad recently. Goose had just four assists in the month of January, his faceoff statistics declined and his minus-7 rating was the worst on the team. Gaustad is an important part of the team whether he plays on the third or fourth line and they need him to become a regular contributor as they come down the stretch.
Not much in the way of surprises although nobody would have predicted that Jochen Hecht woud lead the team in goals during the month. Hecht scored six goals in January and was added to the German roster for the 2010 Winter Olympics that will take place in two weeks.
Tim Connolly had is long point streak which would rate as a mild surprise. We all knew that Connolly was a talented offensive player but nobody can predict a point streak of that nature.
Player of the Month
#19 / Center / Buffalo Sabres
May 07, 1981
Monthly Stats: 14GP, 4G-16A-20PTS, Plus-7