As far as co-captain Daniel Briere’s concerned, the only thing that could derail the Sabres is the team itself. “I think the danger lies within ourselves,” Briere said after a brief team meeting Tuesday. “If we start believing we’re better than we really are, then that’s when we’re going to get in trouble.”
Trouble is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge how good these Sabres are, because their league-leading 15-1-1 start is in some ways off the charts.
Buffalo matched the NHL record by opening the season with 10 straight victories before losing to Atlanta on Oct. 28. The Sabres extended their league-record road start with a 7-4 win at Carolina on Monday.
Three more road wins and Buffalo will top the single-season record streak of 12 set by the Detroit Red Wings last spring. The Sabres have been so good that their 10 road victories have already matched or bettered what three teams finished with last season.
The Sabres lead the league with 80 goals. They’ve proven remarkably resilient: 9-0-1 in one-goal games, including three overtime and four shootout victories.
And now they’re winning while missing starting goaltender Ryan Miller (abdominal strain), leading scorer Maxim Afinogenov (shoulder), and two top defenceman, Henrik Tallinder (broken arm) and Toni Lydman (neck).
“I think I am surprised,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve got some really good players that aren’t playing. But our team does have a lot of confidence. I think it tells you that we have some good depth.”
The depth is evident in a balanced offensive attack.
Buffalo has two players in the top 10 in league scoring, led by Briere’s 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists), and is also the only team with nine players who scored 10 or more points.
Even their minor-league call-ups are producing, such as rookie Drew Stafford, who has a goal and assist in four games while filling in for Afinogenov.
Buffalo’s most recent win at Carolina was another reflection of the team’s potent attack.
After the Hurricanes rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the third period, Buffalo responded with three goals in a seven-minute span. The surge began with Adam Mair, who scored his first goal of the season.
“Everybody was happy for him to be the guy,” Briere said of Mair. “That was the turning point of the game. It was good to see somebody else.”
If blowing leads hasn’t affected the Sabres, neither has overcoming deficits. They’ve rallied six times to win from two-goal deficits, including erasing a three-goal third-period margin in a 5-4 shootout win over Boston two weeks ago.
“I think we’ve got to slow down coming back from being two goals down,” defenceman Brian Campbell said. “I don’t think that’s going to work all year. But it does show there’s a lot of character.”
The Sabres’ ability to continue winning will be tested by their schedule, with the team in the midst of playing 10 games in 17 days, a stretch that ends at the New York Rangers on Nov. 26.
“It’s been a great month,” defenceman Teppo Numminen said. “It’s been enjoyable and real special. I don’t think anybody thought this would be the start for us. But, you know, we’ll take it.”