I can't catch up with the last year and a half of non-blogging with all the Sabres news, but I will always have faith in this team, especially in Ruff's decisions and the Regier management, despite on the flak they get. With that said, welcome to the Buffalo Sabres 2008-2009 season of awesomeness.
I mean, is it bad to have expectations for the team? Ahhh well, playoffs would be nice. Yes, definitely.
1. Ruff puts Vanek on penalty kill.
(As the meme goes.)
I think it was Mike Robitaille who used the phrase "he's got a little Miro in him" to signify players that just didn't work hard enough and never really meshed with the team. This was the complaint lodged against Vanek, especially last season. I don't believe this at all; in fact, I'm banking on him for my fantasy team, and he's been fantasy gold so far.
Seriously, for someone who scores 36 goals in an "off year," he's a major asset to the team, and I love this proactive approach that both Ruff and Vanek are taking. In the words of the coach himself:
"I told him if he worked hard and kept his legs moving, he would see penalty-killing time. My goal is to make him the best two-way player in hockey, and he has the potential to do that."
Next, Craig Rivet as captain probably came as a surprise to most fans, but then we heard the interview and read the report about how the players actually voted for him and we all felt better. And then after seeing Rivet pound Sean Bergenheim to the ice tonight (yeah, was Bergenheim just not in the mood for fighting?), I'm sure we all felt infinitely relieved that he's real captain material. (And add to that the fact that he had time to get an assist before getting kicked out for the majority of the game.)
Also, Patrick Lalime proved to be an excellent off-season pick-up. Let's face it; Ryan Miller was ridiculously overworked last season, and he's no Martin Brodeur (... yet?). After seeing Lalime keep his cool despite pressure from the Islanders and then making key saves when the game was neck-and-neck, I feel like with his presence, along with the return of Teppo Numminen and having Rivet as captain, the Sabres have solid veterans to really guide the team. I really liked that Ruff played him so early in the season too, almost to send a message to Miller, the team, and the rest of the league that Lalime isn't just a toss-out backup.
So, some hopes:
1. Sekera stops making mistakes. Okay, or at least, he stops making ridiculously costly mistakes and keeps the puck in the zone when the team is trying to get some offence going. He makes good offensive plays every now and then, but his mistakes are Kalinin-level giveaways.
2. Stafford picks up his play and becomes a real offensive threat. I saw signs of it, just like I have in the last two seasons, but I'd really like him to have a proper breakout year. Quick stat: he went +4 for the day, which was the team-best. Edit (retraction)
: ESPN's box score wasn't correct at the time of the posting -- Stafford was at zero for +/- but had four shots on goal.
3. Getting better at faceoffs. I know Gaustad's out for a few more weeks and Macarthur is getting a bit of time at center, but Roy has to get more consistent. I know he's never been that great, but as of right now, no one on the team really is consistently 55%+ on faceoffs, which is pretty essential. Another quick stat: of the 60 faceoffs in the game today, Sabres only won 20 of them.
4. That Hecht isn't hurt. I <3 the Angry German.