Pens/Sabres Conference Final?
February 2, 2010 by Big Tony
Monday night the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres put on quite a show for the national TV audience which could have very well been an Eastern Conference Finals preview (depending upon seedings of course). The back and forth affair resulted in the Penguins overcoming a two goal second period deficit to defeat the Sabres 5-4. The game itself does not represent the bigger picture—i.e. why the Sabres and Penguins could be the best two (most complete) teams in the Eastern Conference.
For the Penguins it’s obvious why they are in such a good position. Pittsburgh has star power in Crosby and Malkin, a stellar up and coming star in Jordan Staal, savy veterans like Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar, an incredible netminder in Marc-Andre Fleury, and oh yeah they’ve been to the finals each of the last two years (did I mention they won the Stanley Cup last year?). The future for the Penguins seems to be going very much the same way as their recent past. The one major hurdle the Penguins have had to overcome is the injury bug and even that has worked out quite well for them. Despite losing a lot of players for long stretches they have been able to get a lot of production out of the guys they’ve had to call up from their AHL affiliate which is what has kept them afloat. The experience these guys are getting is invaluable and it only bodes well for the Penguins not only for the rest of the regular season but also in the playoffs should they need someone to step up in a tight spot. SO despite some rough patches the Penguins have gone through this year you still have to consider them one of the favorites two in the Eastern Conference again this year.
The Sabres do not have the big flashy stars like Pittsburgh but if you’re going to be a team that has arguably only one big star you want that start to be in net and that’s what they have in Ryan Miller. There is no doubt that Miller is one of the best netminders in not only the NHL but in the entire world. Miller’s career numbers speak for themselves but let us focus on this season alone. Miller has appeared in 47 games posting a 2.10 GAA (tops amongst goaltenders with at least 20 appearances), a .932 save percentage (best in the league) and five shutouts (second in the conference behind Marty Brodeur). Having a goaltender with numbers like that is an incredible launching point for any team, and although they do not have the star power in front of him one might like they have a bunch of players who as a group are incredibly consistent. Tim Connolly leads the team in points but he cannot carry the entire load himself and that’s when a plethora of other players pick up the slack. It seems like every night another person is stepping up to make a difference including but not limited to Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville; in fact some nights guys like Drew Stafford or Tim Kennedy will step up big when they need to. By not having a big time star on their team the Buffalo Sabres need a number of guys to step up in the clutch and that’s exactly what they have been able to do thus far this year. This will keep teams off balance because they cannot simply shut down one guy and know the game is theirs for the taking. This is especially important come playoff time and that’s why I think the Buffalo Sabres are in prime position (as long as they stay healthy) to make a serious run at the Conference Title.