by PuckStopsHere on 10/18/08 at 09:18 AM ET
Early in the 2008/09 season, the Buffalo Sabres have been one of the best teams in the league so far. They have played four games and won each one. They have scored 17 goals and allowed only 5 so far this season. At this point in the season, they are playing better than any other team in the league. There are several reasons for this. Thomas Vanek, Ales Kotalik and Ryan Miller are playing extremely well. All are probably playing the best hockey of their lives. Another clear difference between this year’s Sabres and last year’s Sabres is that this Sabres team has been a tougher team. The Sabres lead the NHL with 29.2 penalty minutes per game. Last year, they had the sixth least penalty minutes in the league (12.2 PIMs per game). Is this increased toughness one of the reasons for the Sabres improvement?
Defenceman Craig Rivet is tied for the NHL penalty minute lead with 29. He is a newcomer to the Sabres, having been traded to Buffalo from San Jose for draft picks this summer. Patrick Kaleta is another relative Sabre newcomer who has a lot of penalty minutes. He has 27 penalty minutes. Last year, he was a Sabre for half the season. He is playing a more significant role so far this season. Adam Mair and Andrew Peters also have reasonably significant penalty minutes totals.
Penalty minutes are a poor measure of toughness, but this big a swing is likely a sign of a tougher team. The addition of Craig Rivet does make the Buffalo defence tougher. It looks like Buffalo is a tougher team this year than they were last year and that is part of the reason they may improve.
There are many reasons Buffalo might improve. The biggest one so far is the way Ryan Miller has played. Ryan Miller is a very early MVP candidate. Add an MVP candidate to any team and they will make a huge jump in the standings. Their increase in toughness helps as well, although too many penalty minutes would be a problem. I think buffalo can be a tougher team without leading the league in penalties.
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