A Sabre Transformation

Here we are Sabres fans: Today is December 12th, 2009, and we are about 1/3 of the way through the 2009-2010 season. Put yourself in a time machine and go back to the summer, and think to yourself: How would the Buffalo Sabres look around this time of year, as we get ready to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year?

A good amount of Sabres fans would be thinking about the golf course for this team (and I do not mean Tiger Transgressions by the way). This group would be thinking about the 13th seeded Buffalo Sabres, and considering who can be the team’s next GM or Head Coach, as Head Coach Lindy Ruff and General Manager Darcy Regier would be embarking on missing the NHL playoffs for the 6th time in 8 seasons.

Another group of fans would think about this teams ‘Return To Glory’ with the signing of Mike Grier, and watching this Sabres team return towards the top of the Northeast Division with a high pressure offense and Tomas Vanek well on his way to a 40+ goal season, and Derek Roy right behind him on his way to a 80+ point season, watching up-and-down hockey and praying that Ryan Miller does not get hurt.

But what if I told you this? On December 12th, 2009, Vanek, the former $10 million dollar man, would be on face for a pedestrian 25 goal season, Roy would be on pace for 64 points, and the Buffalo Sabres would be 25th in goals scored with 78 goals scored, and yet they are in 1st place in the Northeast Division, and leading the race for the Jennings Trophy with 63 goals allowed.

Come again?

It is amazing to think of the transformation of Lindy Ruff’s club. Now we are witnessing a team that plays the trap, and Ryan Miller’s numbers (17-6 1.82 4 SHO) are reminding Sabres fans of Dominik Hasek in the 90’s. A big reason for this is the improved play of the defense. Led by the health of Henrik Tallinder, the surprising start for phenom defenseman Tyler Myers, and the ‘Teppo Numminen-esque’ veteran play of Steve Montador, what was once a weakness for the Sabres has now become an asset.

Now if the Sabres offense can get things going this club can be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. One player who I believe can help improve the Sabres offense is Nathan Gerbe, who showed the other night in a 3-0 win against Washington (1 goal 1 assist) that he can bring an energy to this team that seems to be missing. Let’s hope Ruff and Co realize this and keep Gerbe around. Gerbe has a little Daniel Briere in him, and he needs to stay with the big club to show the Sabres what he can bring to the table.

So as the Sabres invade Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers, one had to wonder: If the style of the Sabres post lockout, one where the Sabres offense was the strength and the envy of many other GM’s, a thing of the past? And are the Sabres now more like the Sabres of the late 90’s, heavily leaning on Miller to win 2-1 and hope for the best from the offense?

Time will tell.

NOTES: I am still recovering from the miracle at HSBC last night: Patrick Lalime made 39 saves in a 2-1 win against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks? Full moon? December 21st, 2012 arrived early?!?!

All kidding aside, I must give credit where it is due, Lalime was brilliant last night. And despite how hard I am on Lalime, I am not asking for much: Keep the team afloat and have close to a .500 record. Plain and simple. Not 5-13.

Well, I guess if Brian Campbell was expecting a video tribute and a standing ovation from the Sabres faithful last night at HSBC, he was way off. Campbell was greeted with boos last night. But I cannot blame Campbell for taking an insane contact from the Blackhawks. While he was a Sabre, he was one of my favorites, and I wish him luck in Chicago.

I was thinking if the Sabres needed a boost last night to stop former South Buffalo native and current Blackhawk Patrick Kane, perhaps a cabbie driver with 20 cents in hand was on site ready to take the ice to draw an instigator? I know I know, bad form.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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