It seems as every team is now at battle with the flu early this season, and the Buffalo Sabres are no different.

First to come down with the virus was forward Clarke Macarthur who found a way to play through it. Last night center Paul Gaustad was out of the Sabres lineup with the same illness. And now rumor has it that Patrick Kaleta has become the next victim.

On a night that has been set aside for tricks or treats, it seems it is only tricks that the Sabres are going to get.

Defenseman/part time forward Nathen Paetsch has been penciled in to fill in for the absence of Kaleta. Andrej Sekera is rumored to also be ready to go and will more than likely be on a line with Steve Montador.

The fourth line of Buffalo has been a pillar of strength this season. And with any luck this will not change due to the nasty trick played on the Buffalo Sabres.

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One tenth into the season, the NHL's best record belongs not to the Pens, not the Caps, not the Avs but to the Buffalo Sabres. Of course they've only played nine games compared to nearly everyone else whose played up to 13 games, but with a 7-1-1 start, they hold best record.

Slow starts, poor D and overplaying Miller has been the Achilles heal in the past couple years and it looked to be more of the same in the first few games. Then they scored 18 goals and gave up five against Detroit and New York, lost to Atlanta 4-2, and are now riding a three game win streak scoring 12 giving up five.

At least right now Miller and the defense are lights out. They've given up 17 goals over nine games. That is by far the best in the NHL by ten goals. Even playing two or three games less than the rest of the league, their average beats the next best Coyotes.

The Sabres are also league tied going undefeated on the road thus far at 4-0; the Penguins are 5-0 on the road.

So far, the goal leader is Clarke MacArthur with five goals and seven points. Vanek has four goals, Grier, Pominville and Stafford all have three.

Myers is proving to be the badass I thought he would be and doing it early. He's sitting at +8 only behind Tallinder who's +9. Myers also has two goals and three assists leading all defensemen in points.

One of their two losses came on one of their two-in-a-rows, which by the way, they are playing more of than any other team. In November, I'll say they've got the toughest schedule I've ever seen.

First they play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday every single week in November. That is a grind! Then they play Philly three times, Boston twice, Washington, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Carolina; the Sabres start this joke of a sched. with NYI on the 4th.

While it's certainly early to get too excited, I've got a vibe that Buffalo will fly under the radar and surprise some folks if the can survive November.

LETS GO BUFFALO!!!

 

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The Buffalo Sabres announced today that they have struck a deal with the Boston Bruins.

The deal sends often-scratched forward Daniel Paille to Boston in exchange for Boston's third-round selection and a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft.

Paille found himself falling out of favor with head coach Lindy Ruff, spending more time in the press box than on the ice.

The move allows the Sabres to stay under the NHL's limit on the maximum number of active players on their roster.

For Paille, this may be a blessing in disguise. He goes to a contender and leaves a Buffalo team that has all but fallen from grace.

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The 2009-2010 version of the Buffalo Sabres reverted to many of their maddening traits from last year in losing their first game of this season 4-2 to the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday night in HSBC arena in Buffalo.

The Sabres were the NHL's only team undefeated in regulation heading into this game. But the feeling here is that their flaws were masked by good luck and, more importantly, by Ryan Miller playing out of his head.

Against the Thrashers, the Sabres rested Miller and played backup goalie Patrick Lalime. In addition, they were without their best goal scorer, Thomas Vanek, who missed his second game with an upper body injury.

To put it bluntly, the this year's Sabres have same problem as last year - they have trouble putting the puck in the net. They make good plays, throw the puck at the goal, but for whatever reason, their hands turn to stone when it comes to firing the puck past the opposing goalie instead of into his chest.

When a fat rebound sits there, more often than not they fan on it, or weakly redirect it under the prone goalie's pads.

On so many occasions, the Sabres make the opposing goalie look like a Vezina trophy winner. The only Sabre with the goal scorer's knack of seeing an opening and firing the puck there with pinpoint accuracy is Vanek.

Once again, the Sabres out-shot their opponents. But whereas the Thrashers' sharpshooter Kovalchuk made the most of his chances, scoring on two of five shots, the Sabres put 42 shots on Hedberg and only managed to get two past him.

Most disheartening was the Sabres' power-play. Although Buffalo did manage one power-play goal in five opportunities, they squandered a full two minutes of a five-on-three advantage.

Derek Roy is a giveaway machine on the power-play, repeatedly skating himself into positions where he has only one passing option, and then coughing up the puck so the opponents can ice the puck.

In this instance, the Sabres gave up control of the puck and were forced to waste time retrieving the puck from their end five times during their two minute man advantage.

But the absolute low point of this game came in the third period after Buffalo had fought back to pull within one, down 3-2 with three and half minutes remaining.

Just fifteen seconds later, former Sabre Max Afinogenov streaked down the left side, undressed Sabres rookie d-man Tyler Myers with a nifty out-in move, and roofed the puck over Lalime's shoulder to ice the game.

Sabre fans have seen Afinogenov make that rush countless times as a Sabre, skating like the wind, only to groan as the puck bounced off his stick at the last second or he shot the puck wide of the goal.

But not tonight, not playing as a Thrasher against the Sabres. Tonight, Max looked like Ovechkin, while our guys had all the scoring touch of Andrew Peters.

Whether it's because Coach Lindy Ruff shakes up the line-ups too often to develop scoring consistency, a simple lack of talent, or just the curse of being from Buffalo, the Sabres appear to remain the same offensively challenged team they were last year.

They will go as far as Ryan Miller takes them.

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The Red Wings got a good, old-fashioned facewash Tuesday night in Buffalo. A regular butt kicking. The Sabres booted the Red Wings halfway back to Detroit, using a second period, four-goal barrage to beat them, 6-2.

It was utter, total annihilation, dropping the team to 2-3 on the season.

And that’s a good thing.

Don’t look at me that way. Send back the men in the white jackets. Put the thermometer away. I’m fine, I swear.

When a team has had as much success as the Red Wings have had since, oh, 1991, it’s not a bad thing to get your nose rubbed into the ice surface on occasion—to remind you that laurels are great for reminiscing about but not something on which you rest.

The Red Wings are going to have to earn it this season. For real this time.

This is still a 100+ point hockey team, and is still a Stanley Cup contender. Legitimately, as they say. Any unit that can trot out the forwards the Red Wings can, not to mention the top four defensemen that they have, is a threat to hoist the chalice in June. Period, no matter what the haters out there might have you believe.

They lost a lot of players to free agency and injury, but the Red Wings also happened to have been the deepest team in the league, so now it’s time to prove it. And they will.

But that imaginary gap, the one that has long separated the Red Wings from the rest of the league, is shrinking, and fast. Again, not a bad thing.

The Sabres dominated the Red Wings in just about every area, even faceoffs, and you wonder which is the stronger emotion for the Wings today—anger or surprise.

If it’s a mixture of both, then the Sabres’ win might just be what the Red Wings needed.

The season opened with a couple of unseemly losses overseas, in Sweden. Then some home cooking corrected things for two games. Now, in the first “real” road game of the season, the Red Wings got spanked.

Hard work is going to have to trump talent this season. A champion’s will to show everyone that it’s far too early to declare them also-rans is going to have to bob to the surface.

And yes, some anger is fine. Hurt pride can be a springboard to righting the ship.

The Red Wings got waylaid in Buffalo, and they’re smart enough to know that it will happen more and more, if they don;t correct their play.

“They were better than us,” coach Mike Babcock said of the Sabres. “In all areas. They were just better.”

But the Red Wings are still better than the Sabres, and are better than just about all the teams in the league, on most nights.

They’re just going to have to work harder to prove it, is all.

And that’s not a bad thing.

 

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In my opinion Dominik Hasek is the greatest Buffalo Sabre ever. However in almost everyone else’s opinion Hasek is second best after Gilbert Perrault. In Hasek's time with the Sabres he amassed six Vezina trophies (tied for 2nd all time), two Hart Trophies (most ever by a goalie), two Lester B. Pearson Awards (most ever by a goalie), and legions of fans. He also went on to win two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

So why is it that with all those trophies and the fact that he led them to Stanley Cup final despite a less than spectacular team in front of him he still didn't get his number retired last year? I understand that he wasn't exactly Steve Yzerman as a teammate but come on. He'll be in the Hall of Fame without a doubt and he's easily the third best goalie in the post expansion era if not better.

His slinky for a spine, unmatched intensity, and his self invented and perfected style made him one of the few players that helped fill buildings themselves. Hasek brought the fans back to Buffalo after what seemed like a lifetime of subpar play.

All this for a 4th round pick and a goalie that never played a single game in the NHL!

The Canadians raised Roy's 33 to the rafters despite a dreadful exit. Why can't the Sabres honor there past and do the same?

 

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The Buffalo Sabres opened their 2009-10 regular season schedule last night versus the Montreal Canadiens. Though the score showed only three goals scored between the two teams, there was much more substance inside the game that was worth watching.

Take for instance 19-year-old Tyler Myers. Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff openly admitted how "surprised" he was at Myers progression.the kid was no disappointment last night in his first regular season NHL game either.

Myers shows a tremendous amount of poise and skill for such a young player, and is making the decision to only keep him with Buffalo for the allotted nine games before returning to junior even more difficult for the Sabres staff.

Carey Price is another example of the  substance within the game. Though the Canadiens I think will have some major struggles generating offense, Price is showing that he is back to pre-all star form,while throwing his middle finger up to all who doubted him for almost a year.

His team has been out shot almost 2-1 in the first two games of the regular season, and without Price in the net Montreal would still be looking for their fist win of the season.

Lindy Ruff has made a difficult decision to move center Tim Conolly off the center position, and has him on the wing with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek.

Ruff decided before the season second year pro Tim Kennedy had done enough in the preseason to earn a roster spot on the team, and center the second line with Jason Pominville and Clarke Macarthur on the wings. The interesting tidbit to that is Connolly is a center and Kennedy is a natural winger.How will this play out for the entire season?

Injuries. We all know injuries are part of the game but they seem to be big problem early in the season for the Habs. Montreal's best defense men Andrei Markov was injured in game one when he severely lacerated a tendon in his leg.

Last night the Habs acquired two more injuries as forward Glenn Metropolit left the game early with an injury and blue liner Ryan O'Byrne was injured as well. The extent of those two injuries were not known at this time. But Montreal fans have to be praying they are not long term.

The line of Gionta, Gomez, and Cammalleri are going to be Montreal's best chance of putting up big numbers for this team. If they fail this could be a long season for Canadiens fans everywhere. There is a lot of money stockpiled into these three and the offense created so far has been minimal.

In the end Montreal found a way to win this game last night and Buffalo again found a way to lose. Weather Gionta scores a fluke goal or not Buffalo need to learn the art of finishing off opponents, rather than letting them hang around in the game.

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The best Buffalo Sabres goalie of all-time—Dominik Hasek—won six Vezina Trophies in his 16-year career, tied* with Montreal goalies Jacques Plante and Bill Durnan for the most solo-Vezinas in a career.

Hasek departed Buffalo-the only place he received the distinct honor of best goalie in the NHL—for Detroit in 2001, and was replaced with Martin Biron who played alongside Hasek for three seasons. But Biron was never the goalie of the future.

With the fifth Round, 138th overall selection in the 2002 NHL Draft the Sabres selected Ryan Miller, who set an NCAA record with 26 career shutouts in his three years at Michigan State. After spending three seasons with the then AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, playing part-time with the Sabres, Miller finally joined the Sabres as the headlining goalie.

In 2005-2006, Miller led the Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. That year, Miller ranked ninth amongst all goalies with .914 save percentage.

After the season the Sabres signed Miller to a three-year contract and they wouldn’t regret it. Miller has been one of the best goalies in the league the past four seasons receiving little to no support from his backups. In the past four seasons, Miller has played 246 games – 75 percent of the Sabres total games in that span. Hasek played 211 games in the same amount of time.

In his career up until this point, in six NHL seasons Miller’s .910 save percentage is just under Hasek’s .914 in the same number of seasons.

Last season Miller in his sixth season, played 59 games, went 34-18-0, had a .918 save percentage, and recorded five shutouts. The Sabres were third in the Northeast Division with 91 points and disqualified for the playoffs.

“Competitively, I want to keep pushing it up there so I'm an elite goalie," he told Buffalo News in preparing for the ’09-10 season. "There's no question people talk about my game at the top of the league and I want to keep pushing that.”

If Miller continues his play at his current rate he will surely record his first Vezina Trophy soon. His stats from last year are comparable to that of Hasek’s in his first year winning the Vezina. 

That was ’93-94, his fourth season, and he played 58 games, went 30-20-6, had a save percentage of .930 and recorded seven shutouts. The Sabres that year were fourth in the Northeast Division with 95 points and lost the Conference Quarter-Finals to the New Jersey Devils.

True, it’s a new day, the game is played differently, and there is a whole bunch of talent out there with goalies like Martin Brodeur, Tim Thomas, Niklas Backstrom, Tomas Vokoun, and many more.

But there was a whole bunch of talent back then too with arguably the best goalie of all-time—Patrick Roy—along with Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph and many more. 

So what does Miller have to do to win such a prestigious goalie award?

Well, the Sabres going to the playoffs wouldn’t hurt. Since 1981, no goalie from a non-playoff team has won the award.

And they may just do that this year, with Miller, who is fully healed from the high ankle sprain that caused him to miss 13 games last season.

“We spent the majority of the summer putting that coordination back, getting the range of motion and balancing the strength between left and right leg,” he said. “It was an interesting process but it feels good."

In an organization whose team-building philosophy is to start at the net, controlling the crease means more than stopping pucks. It means being the man.

Playoffs or not, the 29-year old Miller is the face of the Sabres franchise in this new generation.

He consistently has the highest-selling jersey for a goalie his popularity ranks among the league's stars—Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Daniel Briere. He has numerous endorsement deals—Amp Energy, Saranac Beer—is a part of the Sirius Maxim radio show, and has an extensive web site.

He does work in the community supporting those affected by cancer with Steadfast Foundation, started by him and his father. He’s also part of the NHL’s Competition Committee.

“It’s Miller Time!” has become a popular cheer every time the 6’2” 175-pounder makes one of his crowd-stunning saves.

On July 18, 2008 it was really “Miller Time”, when he signed a five-year contract extension worth $31.25 million that will keep him in Buffalo through the 2013–14 season.

Will a Vezina validate the extension or is Miller well worth it with his accomplishments up-to-date?

 * Before 1981, it was awarded to the goaltender(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season.

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