Sabres closing a frustrating 2013 on a high note

Rick Stewart

At the end of one of the most depressing years to be a Sabres fan in recent history, Buffalo is finally starting to play like a competent NHL team.

2013 has not been kind to the Buffalo Sabres. It saw the dismissal of both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier, saw another disappointing season end with a top 10 draft pick, saw the team become a national laughingstock thanks to their third jersey debacle, and saw the relationship between ownership and fans strained to the breaking point.

However, the Sabres are 4-1-1 in their last 6 games, and they have points in their last six home games after starting the season with infinity losses at the FNC. The team seems to have finally turned a corner under interim head coach Ted Nolan.

Since Nolan took over, the team's play has been significantly better, especially in the areas of consistent effort and shot differential. Take these two points from the ever-useful Sabres PR Twitter and their game preview from yesterday:

In the 18 games since Ted Nolan was hired, the team has taken 47.7% of all shots in their games (a minus-2.8 differential per game), up from 40.2% (a minus-12 differential per game) in the 20 games before his hiring.

The team has improved its team 5-on-5 Corsi for Percentage* from 35.6% before Ted Nolan’s hiring to 47.1% in the 18 games under his guidance. The 11.5% improvement is a significant mark, larger than the amount (11.2%) that currently separates the third- and 30th-ranked teams in the NHL.

It's not just Nolan who's made a difference, but also the players he's trusting more than his predecessor. Zemgus Girgensons has gone from about 11-14 minutes of ice time early in the season to 17-20 in his last ten, and he's paid back his coach's trust by becomeing one of the team's more reliable players, and by flashing more offensive skill than he did in the first quarter of the season; he now finds himself fifth on the team in points. He's also one of the team's best forwards in the world of advanced stats, posting the team's best Fenwick Close % amongst regular forwards.

Tyler Myers has also been given increased responsibility in his last ten games, and has averaged over 25 minutes in his last three. Though it may not seem like he's racking up the points, he is tied for seventh on the team with 11 points, and after a horrible start, has an even +/- in his last seven games.

It's a nice way to put a bow on what has been a long, frustrating year for Sabres fans, but then, of course, there's the question of whether you want the team to improve their play. Buffalo still sits dead last in the NHL by four points to Edmonton with two games in hand, but should they continue to play the way they have in their last six games, they could put that #1 pick plan in jeopardy. Ah, the dilemma of the tanking sports fan.

Either way, I think we can all say that it's been nice to watch a competent hockey team, and to see Ryan Miller once-again raise him game to a world-class level.

There's one more game to go before putting 2013 to bed, tomorrow against Winnipeg, and then we can turn the page on one of the most frustrating years in Sabres history.

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