The Senators are currently 5 points clear of the Sabres for the top spot in the division and hold a 35-12-4 record, good for 74 points. The Sabres, meanwhile, carry a 33-15-3 record.
The clubs have played three times this year, all Ottawa victories and all DOMINATING victories, as they’ve outscored Buffalo by an incredible 21-5. However, Buffalo has turned things around since the teams last met in November, going 25-6-3 since those disastrous matchups.
The building should be rocking tonight, as former Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek will be manning the pipes as a Senator for the first time at HSBC Arena. It’s only Hasek’s second game in Buffalo since being traded five years ago to Detroit. I hope the crowd cheers for Dom tonight…he really put the team on the map with his play in the mid-to-late ’90s.
The 2005/06 version of the Sabres is one of the best in the organization’s 36 year history yet most of the players are anonymous. Let’s try to change that a bit! Let’s meet the Buffalo Sabres!
25 years old, 6’3″ 160lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 24gp 17-7-0 2.24gaa .923sp
Miller is only a rookie but has taken the #1 goaltender job and made it his own with often spectacular play this year. He was derailed earlier in the season when he broke his thumb in a pre-game warmup but has come back from the injury better than ever. Miller was overlooked for inclusion with the U.S. Olympic team due to the injury and the U.S. brass regrets it, as Miller is easily the Americans best hope if they are to medal during the Torino Games.
28 years old, 6’3″ 163lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 26gp 15-6-3 2.98gaa .901sp
Marty has been a bit inconsistent throughout his career and was relegated to second string at the season’s start. He was pressed into action when Miller got hurt and looked AWFUL at first but soon ran off an impressive 13-game unbeaten streak. Biron has only started four games since Miller’s return and hasn’t won any of them. Marty is a great ‘team-guy’ but his high salary means that he might get traded at the deadline.
26 years old, 6’2″ 196lbs, Finnish
2005/06 Stats: 4gp 1-2-0 4.26gaa .844sp
Former 1st round pick Noronen has been the odd-man out all season. He received some playing time when Miller went down and was awful in a 10-4 loss to the Senators but came back in spectacular fashion in a game against the Rangers. However, Noronen got hurt before the shootout in that game and when he returned a week later, he got pasted by San Jose in a game I saw live. He hasn’t played since. He sits in the press box every night now and won’t play until either he or Biron gets traded.
26 years old, 6’0″ 190lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 48gp 9g 19a 28pts -10 12pim
‘Soupy’ has been a revelation this year. He’s been knocked in the past for being soft and too small but has thrived in the new fast-paced NHL. He’s become a fixture on Buffalo’s fantastic powerplay and has improved quite a bit in his own end. He still has more work to do there, as his -10 rating suggests but gives the Sabres a much needed offensive boost. One of the best skaters and stickhandlers on the club.
28 years old, 6’4″ 201lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 45gp 4g 8a 12pts +3 33pim
McKee is a shot-blocking machine and is second in the entire NHL in that category. His leadership and steady defensive play has been integral to the team’s success. McKee will never be known for his offensive output but is on pace for career highs in every category. He’s improved his foot speed over the past couple of years and has come into his own as one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL. An absolute rock.
37 years old, 6’2″ 198lbs, Finnish
2005/06 Stats: 50gp 0g 28a 28pts -2 30pim
People scoffed at the Sabres when they picked up the older Numminen as their main free agent acquisition in the summer. But the Sabres have the last laugh on this one, as Numminen has been great for the team. His 28 assists lead the team and he’s on pace to break his career high in that category. However, he’s also on pace for an ominous record – most points in a season without scoring a goal! I’m sure he’ll pot one before the season’s out but if not, oh well. His foot speed has declined but his hockey sense and positioning compensate nicely. Selected for the Finnish Olympic squad.
28 years old, 6’1″ 204lbs, Finnish
2005/06 Stats: 45gp 1g 10a 11pts +13 46pim
Lydman was Buffalo’s only other off-season acquisition, as he was picked up in a trade with Calgary. Toni has been extremely solid this year and owns the best plus/minus on the team with +13. A fixture on the team’s second-ranked penalty killing unit and a steady presence on the blueline in even strength situations. Still makes the occasional bone-headed play and hasn’t been much of an offensive presence. Another Finnish Olympian.
27 years old, 6’3″ 210lbs, Swedish
2005/06 Stats: 51gp 5g 7a 12pts +10 48pim
Tallinder is likely the most underrated blueliner on the team. He provides steady play in his own zone with solid positioning and an active stick. He’s also improved his skating and stickhandling and has started a number of great rushes this year. Will never be an offensive force but he’s having his best statistical season by far. Doesn’t seem to ever make a bad decision.
Dmitri Kalinin (injured)
25 years old, 6’2″ 206lbs, Russian
2005/06 Stats: 34gp 1g 11a 12pts +3 36pim
Kalinin was the defacto #1 defenseman coming out of training camp after the Sabres let Alex Zhitnik go as a free agent. However, Kalinin soon played his way into coach Lindy Ruff’s doghouse with his lackluster play and poor decisions and has struggled to regain his form all year. Seemed to be coming around but just separated his shoulder in a game last week and is now on the injured reserve list. He’s definitely taken a step back this year but is still young and hopefully can regain his form in time for the playoffs.
31 years old, 6’2″ 205lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 38gp 3g 3a 6pts -12 32pim
Fitzpatrick, a career journeyman, started the year as the Sabres sixth defenseman but his awful play in the defensive zone eventually landed him in the press box. He doesn’t seem to have the agility or footspeed to keep up to the quicker players in his own zone and has taken a lot of hooking and holding penalties this year as well. Injuries to the defense have kept him in the lineup and he actually played one of his better games on Thursday night against the Flyers but he’s not good enough for this team, to be quite frank.
Daniel Briere (injured)
28 years old, 5’10” 178lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 24gp 14g 9a 23pts -4 16pim
One of the team’s co-captain’s, Briere has been out for half of the year with a sports hernia. His rehab after surgery has gone well and he’s about to begin contact drills in practice tomorrow so things are looking up. Briere is a dynamic offensive player with fantastic skills around the net and a surgical ability to finish. He is small and easy to knock off the puck but to Briere’s credit, he never quits and will keep coming back. A true fan favourite in Buffalo.
29 years old, 5’10” 180lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 50gp 17g 24a 41pts -7 18pim
The other co-captain of the team, Drury is the only Sabre who has a Stanley Cup ring (won with Colorado). Always known for his clutch goals in the postseason, Drury has really stepped up his play over the past couple of months with Briere being injured and now leads the team in point scoring. Is a complete player: great at faceoffs, good defensive awareness and excellent hockey sense with good finishing ability. He was in my doghouse earlier in the year (he wasn’t skating well) but has turned his game around and has been a consistent performer for the last three months. Fantastic leadership skills.
27 years old, 6’1″ 217lbs, Czech
2005/06 Stats: 51gp 20g 20a 40pts -2 38pim
Kotalik is another ‘no-name’ who has exploded this year, leading the team in goals with 20 and in broken sticks! Kotalik owns a fantastic slapshot and has been utilized to great effect on the left point of the Sabres powerplay this year. He is a capable defensive player as well when he’s motivated, which thankfully has been often this year. Ales was surprisingly omitted from the Czech Olympic team.
Tim Connolly (injured)
24 years old, 6’1″ 186lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 48gp 9g 29a 38pts +3 22pim
Coming into training camp, the skilled Connolly was a question mark. He hadn’t played an NHL game in almost three years (missed a year due to terrible concussion and the lockout year) and hadn’t progressed like the team expected when he last played. However, Connolly bulked up in the summer and came into camp determined to break out. Break out he has! He’s been easily the most improved Sabre this year and was leading the team in point scoring until he was injured on a hit a couple weeks ago. He’s on the shelf until after the Olympic break. Connolly has become a complete player, playing as well defensively as he does in the offensive zone. Amazing skater, stickhandler and passer.
26 years old, 6’0″ 195lbs, Russian
2005/06 Stats: 46gp 12g 23a 35pts +1 56pim
The dynamic Afinogenov has also had a breakout year, finally using his speed to his advantage by setting up open teammates for goals. Still hogs the puck at times and is prone to taking careless hooking penalties due to some general defensive laziness but is vastly improved in that area. Easily among the best skaters in the entire league but will never be a great scorer like once thought due to just average finishing ability. Was selected to the Russian Olympic squad.
22 years old, 6’2″ 207lbs, Austrian
2005/06 Stats: 51gp 16g 17a 33pts -6 46pim
Vanek, a rookie, is the golden boy of the Sabres organization. A fifth overall selection in the draft a few years back, Vanek has great finishing skills and overall tremendous skill offensively. He’s picked up his game over the past couple of months and is finally living up to the advanced billing. He needs to give a more consistent effort and tends to get lazy in the defensive zone but again, he’s improved quite a bit over the past month. Could be a star in this league for years to come.
28 years old, 6’1″ 200lbs, German
2005/06 Stats: 51gp 14g 14a 28pts +5 26pim
The most versatile Sabre and also one of the more underrated players in the NHL, Hecht can play any forward position and is just as capable in his own end as he is offensively. Not scoring as much this year but still provides excellent work ethic and excellent leadership. A natural winger, Hecht is playing centre right now with both Briere and Connolly out of the lineup. Will be one of the leaders for the German Olympic team in Torino.
27 years old, 6’1″ 203lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 23gp 7g 8a 15pts -4 14pim
Dumont, like Briere, suffered a sports hernia this year and just came back from his injury about two weeks ago. The emergence of guys like Vanek, Pominville and Roy has likely sparked Dumont, who has returned from injury playing with renewed vigor. Has the potential to be a 30-goal scorer in this league and can play a physical role as well but tends to forget about defensive assignments. Must continue to give 100% if he’s to stay in the lineup.
23 years old, 6’0″ 178lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 29gp 12g 9a 21pts +1 10pim
Another rookie, Pominville wasn’t even considered among the top-ten prospects in the organization at the start of the year. He was actually waived by the Sabres and any club in the NHL had a chance to pick him up for free. All declined. They’re all kicking themselves now! Pominville went down to the AHL and promptly scored 19 goals in only 18 games (!) before getting recalled by the Sabres when the injury bug hit. He’s been AWESOME with the Sabres, providing timely goals and a solid work ethic in addition to surprisingly solid defensive play. A fixture in the lineup now, Pominville has likely seen the last of the AHL.
22 years old, 5’9″ 187lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 39gp 5g 18a 23pts -5 37pim
The diminutive Roy is affectionately called ‘The Little Shit’ by my girlfriend for his tenacious and pesky play. Really gets under the skin of opponents and is a very skilled offensive player as well. Like Pominville, was demoted at the start of the year to Rochester of the AHL and promptly tore up the league, garnering 20 points in only 8 games before getting recalled for good. Still has a tendency to dive a bit too much trying to draw penalties but has been effective as a #3 centre. May see playing time reduced when Briere and Connolly return, however.
31 years old, 6’1″ 220lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 50gp 5g 8a 13pts -3 18pim
Grier is an absolute truck of a player, a guy who loves to hit and is a solid leader and fine defensive player. I call him ‘Stone Hands’ for his lack of finishing ability but when utilized correctly is a very effective player. Really respected in the dressing room and always is giving a 100% effort. Teams effectively with Drury, as the two of them played college hockey together.
24 years old, 6’4″ 217lbs, American
2005/06 Stats: 48gp 7g 11a 18pts +7 43pim
Rookie Paul Gaustad, along with Connolly, is likely the best story of the year. A seventh round pick, he’s steadily worked his way into Buffalo’s plans and made the club out of nowhere in training camp. Has been an effective fourth line player and has also contributed on both special teams units. Provides endless energy and enthusiasm and has locked up a permanent spot in the lineup.
24 years old, 6’4″ 220lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 19gp 4g 4a 8pts +3 6pim
Pyatt has been an enigma ever since coming over to the Sabres in the deal for Mike Peca. Thought to have great potential as a power foward like Todd Bertuzzi, the soft Pyatt has not progressed at all over his four seasons with Buffalo. Has shown some life this year but has missed most of the season with a broken hand and is just getting back into the lineup. Will need to start producing if he’s to stay in the lineup when the other injured players return. Is capable defensively and very strong along the boards.
Adam Mair (injured)
26 years old, 6’2″ 215lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 37gp 2g 5a 7pts -1 45pim
Mair is ‘Mr. Energy’ and never takes a shift off. Not skilled but a very deceptively quick skater, Mair will hit anything in sight and is a model teammate. Currently suffering post-concussion sydrome and is out indefinitely. With all of the options at Buffalo’s disposal, it may be difficult for Mair to get back into the lineup when he’s healthy.
25 years old, 6’4″ 247lbs, Canadian
2005/06 Stats: 18gp 0g 0a 0pts E 58pim
Peters is a goon, plain and simple. Is pretty much useless on the ice, to be honest. I’m sure he’s a nice guy but the boy isn’t a good hockey player. He’s a monster of a man, however, and a legitimate tough guy. He is in the lineup now because of all the injuries but will most certainly be a constant scratch when everyone else returns.
Overall, the chemistry this team has is incredible and they are an amazingly fun team to watch play. Their ability to roll four solid lines has given opponents fits (there isn’t one ‘main guy’ on Buffalo so who do you put your checking line against?) and their goaltending, especially Miller, has been phenomenal.
Tonight is the barometer, however. Ottawa is truly the measuring stick and I expect the Sabres to come out looking to prove that they can play with the Senators. Should be a great, great atmosphere in the building!
Lets go Buffalo!!!