Ryan Miller did it again on Wednesday. Buffalo was sloppy, uncoordinated and prone to errors for the majority of the match against the Montreal Canadiens. The visitors had a plethora of exquisite chances but were thwarted by the man, the myth, the Miller, who kept the Sabres from defeat.
It was one of those nights they got the message and wouldn't allow their goaltender's remarkable work to be all for naught as they came back with two late goals to win 3-2 in a shootout. Sure to receive consideration for the Vezina and Hart trophies, Miller's importance in this rejuvenating season can't be expressed in words; you have to watch him play and see for yourself.
With the question of Buffalo's most vital person being not so much of a question as it is a given, who is next in line as the second-most valuable player? I'll throw out a few names and make the case for each of them, but the decision will be yours in the poll.
|2009 - Tim Connolly||72||17||48||65||11||26||7||1||5||0||204||8.3|
The Case: Buffalo's most talented player offensively, it's no shock that Connolly's first healthy year since 2006 when he played 63 games has created a lead in the Northeast Division and what looks like a sure playoff berth. It's almost as if the team made a key off-season acquisition because Connolly can usually make something out of nothing.
His special teams contributions are remarkable, he has underrated quickness, great hands and top-of-the-line creativity. The 28-year-old has 20 points in 24 career postseason games and there's something assuring about him being in our line-up for the first series.
|2009 - Derek Roy||70||19||37||56||3||42||6||1||5||0||186||10.2|
The Case: The pint-sized center is on pace for his smallest point total in three seasons but an offense that contributes from player to player and a defensive-first motto can afford those circumstances. Roy's work-ethic and hunger for the puck make him a superb player who can be utilized in multiple situations.
Like Connolly, he can handle his own offensively and track down opponents defensively while also having that ability to make his linemates better performers. Just ask Tim Kennedy. His face-off duties are improving but he can do much better in the dot.
|2009 - Jason Pominville||72||21||32||53||15||20||8||0||2||0||227||9.3|
The Case: With ten points in eight games, Pominville is displaying his best hockey of the year and hitting the back of the net more consistently. The release on his shot can be a thing of beauty and he also dishes out the puck to his teammates with the help of his tremendous vision.
Often a quarterback on the powerplay, the winger understands his defensive responsibilities and oozes offensive potential. Buffalo's penalty-kill may be strong, but Pominville doesn't take many minors or produce an unnecessary powerplay for the opposition. So please, don't expect to draw a retaliation call.
|2009 - Thomas Vanek||67||23||24||47||6||38||9||0||5||0||174||13.2|
The Case: Label him however you prefer, Vanek is the go-to sniper on this squad and scores in bunches frequently. The Austrian is a big body to move from the front of the net, has unbelievable hand-eye coordination and knows where to go in order to get the puck onto his stick.
Despite frustrations setting in due to his scoring woes, Vanek has shown his hunger in providing assistance where ever he can. While his goal-scoring instincts haven't disappeared, he must prove himself in the postseason which is what's crucial and above all else.
|2009 - Tyler Myers||72||10||32||42||12||30||3||0||1||0||89||11.2|
The Case: The 20-year-old rearguard has achieved virtually everything a first-year defenseman can do for his team: leads the group in goals, assists, points, plus-minus and average time on the ice. His size and reach have bailed out the defense on endless occasions while his skating is something to behold for a man that stands 6' 7".
Nearly 30 per cent of the defense's offense has come from Myers and who knows where we'd be without him? I'd be very surprised if he doesn't hold the Calder Trophy a few months from now.
|2009 - Jochen Hecht||72||19||20||39||16||31||2||0||1||0||213||8.9|
The Case: Many of the Sabres' forwards don't have digging in the corners on the top of their to-do lists in games. Amazingly strong on his skates, Hecht is perhaps the best at protecting the puck and withstanding bumps from defenseman to keep it in his possession.
Another person who can play in every situation, his bounce-back from last year's awful campaign is a fundamental reason for the team's success under a defensive approach. His penchant for bad-angle goals is astounding because it obviously brings a goal and may also take the energy out of the other squad.