|Mike Grier (Photo: Getty Images)
The Sabres are 3-0-1 so far - and without a bad bounce and the great hands of Brian Gionta, they could be 4-0.
By grabbing seven out of a possible eight points, the Sabres are garnering some attention around the League. It’s well deserved, especially after whitewashing the Red Wings (glad I am not saying that on TV) last night on a national telecast.
If you’re worried about the team getting full of itself, don’t be. They’ve been down that road before and know it’s a dead end. That’s part of the maturity Lindy Ruff and company had been touting all summer, and the work ethic that Mike Grier and Steve Montador brought in their suitcases.
With that said, maturity is not the reason for the early success. Two other ingredients have yielded the winning recipe.
Lindy Ruff was asked before the Red Wings game why Detroit has been so good for so long, was it the system? His answer, to paraphrase, was that no matter the system you have to work you tail off, and their best players have worked their tails off for the last decade or so.
That message made it to the Sabres dressing room, as the team clearly outworked Detroit en route to the 6-2 win. Actually, they got the message in the Music City. The score might have been 1-0, but the Sabres gave the Predators fits in their own barn.
The Sabres hard work has led to more time with the puck and thus more shots on goal, with a League-high average of 38.2 per game. The flip side of that is opponent’s chances. The Sabres have allowed just 91 shots against, and trail only Chicago in shots against per game, with 22.8 per game (Chicago has allowed 21.8 ). Ryan Miller
is loving that to the tune of a GAA of 1.23 and save percentage of .945. The only player ahead of him that has played at least four games is Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov with a staggering GAA of .0.98 and Save percentage of .960.
The other ingredient along with the hard work is discipline.
The Sabres are sixth in the NHL in penalty ninutes per game. Out of the 18 penalties assessed to the Sabres, eight came in the emotion filled opener against Montreal; five of those were for roughing, one for boarding, one for crosschecking, and one for interference.
Not exactly sissy stuff.
Against Phoenix; five minutes for fighting, one hooking, one tripping and one slashing. In Nashville; one tripping and one roughing. Versus Detroit; one cross checking, one high-sticking, and one unsportsmanlike.
By my count, that’s three “soft” penalties out of the 18 called against Buffalo, and remember many of the roughing penalties were coincidental. Let’s go back to the shots on goal for a moment. The Sabres lead the League in shots on goal per game. That means they have the puck, and when you have the puck you don’t commit penalties. Penalties are most often committed when a player is trying to get the puck or has been beaten.
Hard work and discipline are great things and should continue with this team. However, they do need to touch up the power play. The hard work and discipline has resulted in 22 power plays, but just four goals with the man advantage for a paltry 13.6 percent success rate. A number that is not good enough, but one you can live with as long as the wins keep coming.