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January 7, 2010 - Matt Spielman
The Sabres couldn't be happier with their place in the standings as the first half of the NHL season closed this week. First place in the Northeast Division. Second place in the Eastern Conference. Now comes the harder half of the campaign. Buffalo will go on the road for seven straight games beginning Thursday, Jan. 14 and ending Monday, Jan. 25. That may not be the worst thing for the Sabres as they carry a 12-6-0 record into the trip. Following that, Buffalo will play the Bruins twice, the Devils once, the Penguins once and the Sharks once over their next nine games before the Olympic break. Win a majority of those games, plus beat the teams they are supposed to beat and the Sabres will be sitting pretty in the playoff race. Lose a majority of those and the team could be in trouble with Miller carrying a heavy load in Vancouver for Team U.S.A. Lindy Ruff has to be commended for evolving this season and learning how to handle a backup goaltender. After sending Patrick Lalime to Portland for a conditioning stint, the 35-year-old netminder has been stellar in four appearances. His play has put to rest fans' demands to reacquire Martin Biron for the stretch run. The Sabres will need Lalime to be on top of his game with games every other night beginning Jan. 14 and ending Feb. 5. Prior to that stretch, Buffalo plays back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. The Sabres will also play three games in five nights leading into the Olympic break as well as four games in six nights coming out of the break. Hopefully the team has built enough of a cushion heading into the demanding stretch to give Miller some time off while not losing a whole lot with Lalime in net. I for one would love to see the Americans can an amazing winter with an Olympic gold medal to following up the World Junior Championship gold medal won Tuesday night. Just don't do it at the expense of Miller and the Sabres faithful.
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Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. left, watches the puck as Ottawa Senators right winger Jonathan Cheechoo tries to screen the shot during the first period of the NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y. on Dec. 26, 2009. AP photo