The '09-'10 Buffalo Sabres are going to win the NE Division and have a strong chance at advancing to round 2.  Tonight The team manhandled an inferior Florida Panthers team to the tune of a 6-2 victory in front of a sell-out crowd at HSBC. 

The Sabres have returned to earlier season form where secondary scoring was a major contributor.  Tyler Ennis, Adam Mair, Nathan Gerbe, Hank Tallinder, and Tim Kennedy all scored tonight.  None of those players are on the top 2 scoring lines.  Jason Pominville with his team leading 24th marker on the year, was the only top line scorer to make noise.

This Sabres team is near the top of the Eastern Conference, but is lacking in the fan energy that followed the ’05-06, ’06-07 teams.  The main reason is that the team plays a less exciting defensive style.  They’re also on the lower end of the scale on physical play.  The games aren’t as entertaining as the run n’ gun Sabres of 2006.  A secondary reason for the lack of passion is that the team has no offensive identity.  It’s like a blob of scoring.  The lack of a superstar hasn’t yet hurt the Sabres, but come playoff time, let’s hope everyone can keep contributing.  Or as a 2nd option( can’t believe I didn’t think of this), even have the 1st & 2nd lines actually score goals.  That’d be real nice.   

Sabres Notes: 

I love Matt Ellis.  He is a ball of fire every shift.  His effort is noticeable.  Doesn’t take penalties(8 PIM), plays hard(+2) on the 4th line, creates chances for his linemates, and stays healthy(66 games played).  All for a team low $500,000 salary.  I’d give him a raise and 2 more years at this year’s end, when he is a UFA.

I’m going to count this as Connolly making it through a full season.  I imagine if there was anything to play for, he’d be out there on the ice.  Even with this injury, he’s played 73 of 76 games.  (17+48 = 65 points, #1 on team).  I can’t wait to see a healthy Tim Connolly in the playoffs again.  Before the concussion in ’06 he was leading the Sabres in playoff scoring.  Say what you will about defensive injuries derailing that Cup-Run.  Connolly’s absence hurt just as much. 

Ryan Miller.  Remains solid in Net.  This was not at all a foregone conclusion.   With the heavy Olympic load there was chance of injury or fatigue.  The Sabres have the best goalie in the world right now.

Raffi Torres, the jury is still out.  I was surprised to hear him admit that he may have been out of shape when he came over to Buffalo.  I’m sure he wasn’t eating Cheetos and Genny Cream Ale between games, but being in shape is kind of a requirement for a pro athlete.  I also question the “not being in shape” theory.  How do you score 19 goals in a season when you’re out of shape?  I think he was probably injured when he came over at the deadline.  At this point I would not re-sign Raffi Torres.  He’s going to command a multi-year deal at 3-4M/year.  I hope he changes my mind.  Torres is a player whose style is good for the grind style the playoffs inevitably devolve into each year.   A strong finish & playoff contribution could change my mind on re-signing the forward.

League Notes:

Steven Stamkos & Ovechkin are tied for the league lead in goals with 46.  Let’s remember the next time we complain about not having a star player; it could go either way.  You can be the Caps/Penguins and compete for The Cup.  OR you can be in Salary Cap purgatory and be forced to field half an AHL team to fill out your star-heavy roster.  I’m looking at Tampa Bay here.  They have Lecavalier, Stamkos & St. Louis, but still find themselves in the league cellar.

Question for thought:  As a Sabres fan, would you rather dominate the lower-end teams, like we’ve been doing, or… lose to Carolina, Florida, & Tampa Bay, but consistently beat playoff teams and find your way into the playoffs?  The Penguins lose to crappy teams often.  Yet they raise their game against the best of competition.  It’s disconcerting when you can’t beat Tampa and Carolina, but once you get to the playoffs, there are no Carolina’s or Tampa Bays.