Could this be the year?

That’s the new slogan for this year’s NHL season. After a disappointing season last year the Sabres are back, along with the usual class of rivals (Carolina, any team from Canada) beginning anew nine months of anticipation in the hope that the real hockey season will begin, the playoffs. It’s hard to look that far ahead after only two games especially since the outlook for them is not nearly as favorable as it has been in the past seasons.

What does this mean? Well it means a couple of things. Last year they were the team to look out for, every team that played them was supposed to be wary of their fast offense, and powerful goaltending. Yet, this all proved to be false. The offense believed the press and thought itself to be irresistible. The first two games of last season proved that wrong. The goaltending while adequate was not the brick wall it was in the past season, and if starting goalie (and Dave Hahn look alike) Ryan Miller wasn’t starting the game was as good as lost.

This year seems different. On friday night they shut down the Montreal Canadians, the very team that eliminated them from playoff contention last season. They hold the Haps to only one goal, removing the seemingly impossible 35% success rate of their power play. Once that was nullified, a goal by Thomas Vanek some excellent defensive play put the Sabres in a shoot out. A situation that was the bane of their win column last season, but two quick goals to the left side of the Canadians netminder and two good saves by Ryan Miller cemented a 1-0 record and an excellent start.

Today they faced the New York Islanders, the team that beat them in their first two games of last season. The first period was a bit rough, but in the second the Sabres found their groove sinking five goals. While the Islanders didn’t play Rick DiPietro in goal (apparently tending to the century long contract he is under) it wasn’t a lack of goal tending that caused the 7-1 loss. The Sabres offense simply overwhelmed the helpless team from Long Island. At one point an Islander waved a white flag in the Penalty box.

What is different? Last season the Sabres seemed sluggish on the ice as opposed to the previous season where speed destroyed their opponents. THey didn’t display that speed today, nor on Friday. Instead the players’ movements on the ice seem as slow as last season but there is a new confidence in their steps. The best addition has been the arrival of an actual back up goalie. Miller didn’t start the game, but his replacement Patrick Lalime was more than competent in the net. The only goal against him (because Buffalo can never get a shut out) wasn’t a “soft goal” he was just beaten.

All the fighting and penalties didn’t help the Islanders, and it didn’t hurt the Sabres. They showed discipline in not taking some obvious baiting, even when short handed they spent time in the offensive zone something we haven’t seen in this city since two seasons ago. Is this the year? It’s possible, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.

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