Ottawa's stranglehold over the Buffalo Sabres almost makes spectators forget about the Boston Bruins, who have also taken it upon themselves to create a Northeast Division quarrel. They've won three of four meetings with Buffalo and the previous three matches have been one-goal decisions. Considered heavy Eastern Conference favorites prior to the season, Boston has received disappointing outputs from numerous forwards and their Vezina Trophy winning goaltender faltered quickly too.
Consistency is a beast that is strenuous to tame and remaining at or near the top of the standings requires success from the front offices to the fourth line grinders. Makes you realize how the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils have done it so well and so long.
Buffalo learned from their two years of postseason-less hockey to make a return to the promised land. It was 2008 where they began in an awful fashion and were unable to turn it around, followed by 2009 where they started tremendously but couldn't keep up the good efforts. Lastly, 2010 saw them take off to a phenomenal start and maintain their solid play.
Oh, and Ryan Miller had something to do with it too.
Ten additional thoughts on the game:
- There was a lot of talk yesterday about what the line of Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis and Mark Mancari should be called if they are put together. The GEM line sounds fitting to me because it refers to treasure and these three all have a future within the Sabre organization. And let's face it, putting the first letter of each last name together is the easiest way to create a nickname for a unit.
- That former Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas, will deservedly get a second consecutive start after shutting out Calgary, 5-0, on Saturday. Say what you want about Thomas' sour season, but he hasn't lost his outstanding gifts and he'll have Ryan Miller opposing him for Buffalo. Aside from a possible low-scoring game, it'll be the first time these two netminders square off. Last year's Vezina winner and this year's best bet for the title.
- Former Sabres forward Daniel Paille scored twice in the first period during Boston's last encounter with Buffalo. He hasn't scored a goal since that game and former players love to burn their old team. We have an ex-Bruin in Steve Montador who wouldn't mind sticking it to his former club too.
Mike Fisher was ejected for boarding Patrick Kaleta on Friday and Vincent Lecavalier was kicked out of Saturday's contest after spearing Tim Kennedy. Whose turn is it today, what do they do and who do they do it to?
- It took 73 games for Tim Connolly to miss any time this season and perhaps we placed too much emphasis on his healthy state. Raffi Torres and Patrick Kaleta remain day-to-day. As for Thomas Vanek, Lindy Ruff expects him to miss some time. Defenseman Andrew Ference is out short-term for Boston.
- Milan Lucic and Adam Mair had a terrific scrap in February which most deemed the latter as the winner in. With Lucic's fighting record and the fact that he's left opponent's bloodied in the past, we had to show Mair some appreciation for hit gutsy decision especially since he wasn't fully fit at the time.
Andrej Sekera on the fourth line? Apparently he was against Tampa Bay two days ago which wasn't a bad choice because of his offensive side and elite speed. I wonder what sorts of line combinations Ruff has up his sleeve today.
- Better late than never for Derek Roy to get into a scoring flow that meets his potential. With his hat-trick plus an assist versus the Lightning, the center has 17 points in 14 March matches and we can't have him stopping now with Connolly's injury.
- Buffalo's powerplay is 18th in the league thanks to three tallies on Tampa Bay's goaltenders. Our next step is reaching the top half of the bunch. Actually, a better motive would be to just keep it respectable and not run into another drought.
- Lastly, I'd like to wish Marc Savard a speedy recovery from his post-concussion symptoms. He stated in a press conference on Saturday that he doesn't wish to speak with Matt Cooke and I can hardly blame him. Cooke is complete scum to plenty of viewers and some day he'll get what's coming to him. Shawn Thornton didn't hammer him nearly bad enough because the referees saved Pittsburgh. What else is new?
This game may not be the most exciting one on the schedule, but it has important implications as Buffalo wants to remain one step ahead of Ottawa and Boston must fend off the ninth-placed Atlanta Thrashers. Last season, it was the other way around with Buffalo fighting for a playoff spot at the bottom and Boston locking up the Division. It's amazing what a year does. Or is it an American goaltender?