In their last meeting, the Sabres staggered into the Garden having played the night before and Boston issued the weary visitors a 4-2 loss. This time, the tables have turned as Boston is jetting into Buffalo after taking down the Thrashers in shootouts Thursday night.
Despite a 6-2 loss to the Panthers on Wednesday night, the first-place Sabres still own a two-point lead over the second-place Senators and a three-point lead over the third place Bruins in the Northeast Division.
Die By the Blade's Andrew Boron was able to dish on all the latest from the Black and Gold's division rivals in this edition of Across Enemy Lines.
NESN.com: The Sabres are coming off a fairly ugly loss against the Panthers, something Buffalo has in common with Boston. What were some of the uncharacteristic mistakes that the Sabres made in the that loss?
Andrew Boron: Faceoffs and giveaways were the biggest mistakes that plagued the Sabres against the Panthers. Buffalo is in the top 10 in the NHL in faceoff win percentage at 51.3 percent, yet they won only 17-of-49 against Florida. Couple that with the fact that they had 25 giveaways in the game and it's no surprise that they gave up a few bone-headed goals. The team has adopted a more defensive, puck control, Red Wings-type strategy this season, and so far it has paid off. Hopefully last night was just an anomaly.
NESN.com: Is it a surprise to see Tim Connolly leading the team in points through 18 games?
A.B.: Not at all. In the past two seasons, Connolly has played in only 96 games, but has 87 points, and this year he leads all Sabres forwards in average ice time, clocking in at 18:37 per game. The biggest surprise (knock on wood) is that the injury-prone playmaker has yet to miss a game this season. He's a fantastic passer who's been shooting more this year at his coach's behest, and the offense flows through him whether at even strength or on the power play.
NESN.com: In looking at the Sabres? team stats, the scoring depth stands out. With eight players having eight points or more, can you speak to how consistent the Sabres have been from front to back?
A.B.: Actually, fellow blogger David Oleksy wrote a piece on this very topic today for Die By The Blade, and as he pointed out, no Buffalo line this season has more than eight even-strength goals or fewer than six. That's about as balanced as you can get, and the emergence of scoring on the third and fourth lines has helped to make the Sabres very difficult to match up with defensively. Coach Lindy Ruff is not afraid to roll any line in any situation because he trusts all four lines to get the job done both offensively and defensively.
NESN.com: Ryan Miller has been fantastic, but his backups (Jhonas Enroth and Patrick Lalime) are 0-2-0 on the year. With Miller likely to play for Team USA in the Olympics, is there concern about wearing Miller down by the end of the season?
A.B.: That is probably the team's biggest concern since nobody in the organization has any confidence in Lalime, who was an abysmal 5-13-3 last year. Enroth isn't the answer right now, as the only reason the AHL starter played was to fill in for the injured Lalime. The question for them is how do you balance riding the hottest goalie in the NHL while making sure he's still fresh for a full playoff run when you don't trust your backup whatsoever? The answer may be a former Sabre as there has been a lot of recent chatter about trading for Marty Biron, former Buffalo goalie currently log-jammed with the Islanders. Whether that happens or not there's more than a fair chance that the front office will address this issue before the trade deadline.
NESN.com: Daniel Paille has been a pretty solid contributor since joining the Bruins. Why do you think he fell out of favor with Lindy Ruff?
A.B.: It's tough to say, and it was a point of contention among fans when the trade was announced. Initially, the reason was because of a lack of consistent effort, but it seems like he was never really given a chance to redeem himself afterward. Ruff is the type of coach who doesn't like to mess with a winning lineup, so once you're a scratch, it's tough to break back in whether you're in the doghouse or not. The bottom line was that Paille was unlikely to see much playing time here as long as Ruff was the coach, so we were happy to see him go to a better situation. To a division rival, not so much, but it's good to see him getting some ice time.
NESN.com: The Sabres have been kind of the opposite to the Bruins this year, as they?ve been able to string together three-game winning streaks on three separate occasions. How is it that this team gets rolling?
A.B.: The Sabres over the last few years have thrived so much on confidence – when it was there they seemed unbeatable, but when it wasn't, you could tell in the first 10 minutes of a game that they were going to lose. Since the team lost Chris Drury and Danny Briere after the 2006 season, they've lacked a veteran voice in the locker room to keep things on an even keel or to get them back on track when a period or game didn't go their way. With the addition of Mike Grier, Craig Rivet, and Steve Montador over the last two years, as well as the maturation of some of the younger guys like Paul Gaustad, the Sabres seemed to have evened things out in the locker room. The team is now much better equipped to handle adversity than it was last year, and that has allowed them to win some games this year that they shouldn't have won, games they would have folded in and lost last year.
NESN.com would once again like to thank Andrew Boron for his insight. Be sure to check out his blog, Die By the Blade.