That is the question!
For the first time since 2006-2007, the Buffalo Sabres will reach the post season. They are on their way to clinching the Northeast Division (albeit a weak one), and Olympic All Star goalie Ryan Miller can pass the 40 win mark for the first time in his career.
But how will this team fare in the playoffs? That is the big question
No team in the Eastern Conference with a playoff berth this year has a bigger question mark next to them than the Buffalo Sabres. The top 8 teams in the East have all been staples in the post season for the past few seasons. More or less, spectators know what to expect. But it's the Sabres that leave me stumped.
Realistically, I think this is a lackluster Sabres squad that happens to have a fantastic "defense first" system provided by Lindy Ruff (enhanced by rookie phenom Tyler Myers), and a Vezina worthy goalie in Ryan Miller.
Without any true established elite players on the team, save Miller, just how far can this squad go?
I'm not entirely sure, but with Miller in net, anything is possible.
All it takes is a hot goaltender and a few key players to step up to create a deep playoff run. Defensively, I look for Miller and future All Star stud dman Tyler Myers to really step their game up in the post season.
On the offensive side of things, I'm not entirely too sure who will step up. The offense for the Sabres have struggled with consistency and effort all season. Perhaps Tim Connolly, who provided some magic in his last playoff run for the Sabres in 2005-2006, can step up and have a hearty playoff run. Jason Pominville has been playing excellent as of late, scoring clutch goals and making key defensive plays. Hopefully his hot play can stretch into the playoffs.
The biggest wildcard for the Sabres is struggling sniper Thomas Vanek. He has struggled to find a place in the Sabres new "defense first" strategy. He has only 23 goals on the season (a far cry from the typical 40 goal average over the past 3 seasons). One of the biggest factors hurting Vanek's numbers is the dismal power play for the Sabres. Last season, Vanek led the league in power play goals with 20. This year, he only has 9. A potent power play is crucial in the playoffs. If the PP starts clicking, and Vanek can kick things up a notch and get back into his groove, things could get interesting.
This is a Sabres squad that hasn't reached the post season in a few years. This playoff run will reveal a great deal about the team, particularly about the group of forwards GM Darcy Regier has assembled. For years, Sabres fans have had to stomach Regier's ramblings about "allowing this group to mature". Well, its put up or shut up time for this group of forwards. The playoffs are a perfect stage for this group of forwards to prove their worth.
Out of all the teams in the Eastern Conference this year, Buffalo has the biggest question mark next to it.
I'm willing to bet that if the team plays the way Ruff demands (putting forth a responsible, defensive first effort), this squad will ride Miller's coattails deep into the playoffs.
What do you think?
Will the Sabres forwards step up?
Can Ryan Miller replicate his unbelievable Olympic play for the playoffs?
Will Thomas Vanek (or Thomas Vanish, as some fans have "lovingly" adorned) finally catch fire for a Sabres squad desperate to score goals?
Let me know what you think.
James "Cup Crazy" Ehrmann