The 5 Most Feel-Good Stories Of The Sabres’ Season
Earlier today, Black & Blue & Gold published our list of the 5 worst on-ice stories of the season. Now it’s time to discuss what are BBG’s picks for the 5 best on-ice stories of the Sabres’ turn-around 40th anniversary!
After the jump are those stories in no particular order.
Vanek’s Invisible “C”
Thomas Vanek began his career billed as a natural goal-scorer and power play maven. Five seasons later, the Austrian superstar has emerged as the Buffalo Sabre’s unofficial captain. His point production is back to where it should be, his goal scoring is yet again above the 30-goals mark, but now his defensive play has improved by leaps and bounds and he’s become the go-to guy in the locker room for quotes after big wins and bad losses alike. His evolution from pure sniper to all-around offensive threat was one of the biggest factors in the Sabres’ turnaround.
Back-Up Goaltending They Could Count On
The Sabres have been plagued by bad back-up goaltending since the departure of Marty Biron in the spring of 2007. It wasn’t until 2010 that a legitimate back-up to Ryan Miller would emerge, with Jhonas Enroth handily taking over when called up. The young Swede with the stable of nicknames backstopped the Sabres to a 9-2-2 record when he played. In those 13 games, Enroth put up a .907 SV% and 2.73 GAA – the best stats by a Sabres back-up since the lockout. For the first time in a long time, Sabres fans won’t wring their hands every time Miller has the night off.
Scoring From The Blueline
Part of the Sabres’ success, especially during the early season slump, was the scoring by their defensemen. For the first time in 20 years, the Sabres finish the season with two double-digit goal-scorers in Jordan Leopold (13) and Tyler Myers (10). On top of that, they’ve got four defensemen with 25+ points in Leopold, Myers, Sekera, and Montador. Leopold and Montador, veteran journeymen defensemen each, set career highs for points in a season (35 and 26 points, respectively).
Call-Ups From Portland Coming Up Big
Down on the farm in Portland, Kevin Dineen has been working wonders with the Sabres’ prospects. He’s been the coach of the Pirates every year since the Sabres became affiliated with the AHL club, with one of the results being an unbelievable string of three-straight Dudley “Red” Garrett Award winners (rookie of the year). When injuries struck the Sabres this season, the call-ups all performed admirably. From Enroth sending the message with his play that he’s an NHL-caliber goaltender, to Byron showing that the team has yet another miniature, scrappy, scoring winger waiting for his chance, to Marc-Andre Gragnani scoring his clutch seeing-eye overtime goal versus the Hurricanes, to Mark Mancari’s work along the end boards against the Lightning, to Luke Adam showing the raw talent he has that needs refining, to Matt Ellis bringing his superb grinding game back to the NHL, the Sabres got important play from their youngsters at key times. Now it’s looking like three of those call-ups (Mancari, Ellis, Gragnani) will be making the trip into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This Surge Brought To You By Depth Scoring & Team Defense
It’s no coincidence that teams with no depth scoring (07-10 Senators and 05-09 Lightning, for example) don’t go very far. That’s why the Sabres’ second and third lines stepping up to provide necessary scoring was such a big deal during the team’s resurgence. On the other end of the ice, the entire roster stepped up to start taking care of rebounds and limiting shooting and skating lines in their own zone. It was a big reason why Miller enjoyed a Vezina-winning campaign last season and it’s a big reason why he and Enroth performed so well down the stretch. One week specifically, the two goaltenders together put up three shutouts combined and a large part of that was everything being kept to the outside.
The Sabres are going to need all of this and more to handle the talented Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. If everything keeps on keeping on like it did from Jan. 1 onward, the Sabres may be able to handle any team.