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At the Quarter Pole

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Games Played: 24
Record: 12-11-1  25 points
Division: 5th place
Conference: T-13th place


Photo courtesy TSN.com

We are actually a couple of games past the quarter point in the season but it still gives us a chance to look back and reflect on what we have seen thus far.  It has been a strange and streaky season so far with large winning streaks and losing streaks, the team is currently on a hot streak winning six of their last seven but things haven't always been so good this year.

It's easy to complement this team after an 8-1 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night but at times you need to be a bit more critical.  Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek both signed huge contracts in the off season so of course they are both under the microscope.  The interesting thing about the two players is that they have similar stats but are looked at differently.  Roy leads the team in goals with nine and points with 19 while Vanek has seven goals and 17 points.  Those stats equal an improvement for Derek Roy over where he was a year ago while it is a significant decrease in production for Vanek who had 43 goals and 41 assists last year.  Vanek is no where near his point per game pace of last season and has received a lot of criticism for it.  The fact remains that he trails only Roy (19), Brian Campbell (18) and Tim Connolly (18) in points at this point.

The Sabres were the best team in the league playing 5-on-5 last year but that hasn't been the case so far this season.  Only three Sabres forwards have plus ratings after 24 games, Tim Connolly (+3), Jochen Hecht (+3) and Daniel Paille (+7).  Some of this stems from the lack of a back check early in the season when the team looked completely lost and from the improved power play.  I think plus minus is a slightly over-rated stat but it is hard to argue when only three players are on the plus side.


Photo courtesy sabres.com

The defensive unit has struggled a little, especially early in the season.  The number one unit of Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder were awful in the early going but they have improved considerably.  Tallinder is back on the shelf with an injury, something that we have grown accustomed to, so Brian Campbell and Jaro Spacek (yep the same Jaro Spacek) have been playing as the number one defensive unit.  

Campbell and Spacek have been a great story this season, Campbell has been named the captain for the month of December and is second on the team in points with 18 because of his team high 16 assists.  Jaro Spacek has done what he was brought to Buffalo to do and he has also been solid in the defensive zone.  Spacek has six goals and nine assists in 16 games and has four power play goals.  The most impressive stat regarding Spacek is his plus four rating.

The goaltending of Ryan Miller and to a much lesser extent Jocelyn Thibault has been serviceable.  If we were judging based on the last seven or eight games I would say it was outstanding but we can't forget some the play in the first couple of weeks in the season.  Miller has been great lately and he gives the rest of the team confidence that they have someone to pick them up when they make a mistake.  Thibault has not played much, only three games all season, but his last game was a 3-0 shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens.  It is a big help when the backup net-minder can come in a nd get a shutout.

Special teams are the story of the season for the Sabres.  Last year the Sabres struggled on special teams and were outstanding 5-on-5 and this year is a flip flop.  The Sabres currently have the seventh ranked power play in the NHL and the sixth ranked penalty kill.  The Sabres also do an outstanding job of staying out of the box, even if it is in part to a lax in calls being made.  Ales Kotalik leads the Sabres with six power play goals and Paul Gaustad and Jaro Spacek follow that up with four each.  I can't believe that Gaustad has four power play goals either but he has done a good job of being in traffic and tipping shots by Connolly.

Overall Grades:

Forwards: C
Defense: C
Goaltending: B-
Coaching: B
Power Play: A
Penalty Kill: A