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Getting Back To Sound Defense
December 6, 2010 - Matt Spielman
Finally, in the first week of December it looks like the Buffalo Sabres may have solved their defensive problems.
Ryan Miller is 6-2 in his eight games since returning from a hip injury, lowing his goals against average and raising his save percentage in the process. Back-to-back shutouts also look very nice on his stat sheet.
A lot of this can be attributed to Miller, but the defense corps has to be given credit as well. Not being able to talk about Tyler Myers' blatant giveaways lately has been nice. It looks like the Sabres' top defenseman is finally getting back into his Selke Trophy form of 2009-10. Myers and Andrej Sekera have both enhanced their play lately and have given Buffalo a nice top defense pairing that can also contribute offensively. Coming into the season, it had to be expected that other defense groupings were going to take time to come together. Granted the club was convinced that Craig Rivet would find his late-20s form coming back from offseason shoulder surgery. That never happened and Lindy Ruff still has to figure out what to do about having a captain in the pressbox. That said, Jordan Leopold and Steve Montador seem to have learned each other's tendencies and have been impressive in the last 10 games or so. Shaone Morrison is a little slower than I expected when he signed on from Washington, but he is definitely playing better with Mike Weber than he did with Rivet earlier in the season. The pair is very aggressive and give the Sabres an edge on the back end.
With the defense finding its way, now its time for the Buffalo offense to step up. A five-goal outburst against Columbus was nice, but probably not the beginning of a lengthy trend. Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and whoever is on the opposite wing seem to be finding the net with regularity, but secondary scoring is still a problem. Jason Pominville has been largely non-existent this season, whether that is an after-effect of the concussion he sustained only he could tell you, but the team needs more out of the former 30-goal scorer. Drew Stafford has been in and out of the lineup all year and Tim Connolly is also injured now, which is a surprise to nobody. Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe are being counted on for scoring that they are not providing, so a roster move may be needed. If Darcy Regier can find anybody who wants some of the injured Buffalo talent, get rid of it. Rivet and Chris Butler should be made available to the highest bidder.
This coming week will be a tought gauntlet to navigate for the Sabres. A quick trip to Boston on Tuesday night is followed by West power San Jose and NHL power Pittsburgh coming to HSBC Arena on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Three wins is probably a pipe dream, but even two wins may be needed for Buffalo to consider itself a contender. It is still a long way from the playoffs, but three tough games in December can mean a lot, both in the locker room and in the public.
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Ryan Miller AP photo