Not to be underestimated; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Buffalo Sabres preview

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

They may be the doormats of the Eastern Conference at this point, but don't write off the Buffalo Sabres, who the Lightning face in Tampa tonight.

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Die by the Blade

You look at the Buffalo Sabres and you shake your head.. What's wrong with that crew? Lindy Ruff was dismissed as head coach of the club and promoted Rochester Americans head coach Ron Rolston to the position of head coach on the interim. Ruff, the standard for the Sabres for 15 years as head coach, can be seen as a casualty of the short season as much as perhaps finally losing the room in Buffalo.

So, turmoil in Buffalo, floundering with only 13 points in the Northeast Division, and underestimated by the Lightning and its fans at their own peril. The chips may be down for the Sabres, but they are certainly not out. In perspective, the Sabres are only 6 points behind the Lightning in the standings. Six measly points outside a playoff spot.

Now let's take into consideration the Sabres are 3-7-0 in their past 10. Disappointing for Sabres fans for sure, but you know what? The Lightning and their offensive power-house lineup is 3-6-1 in their past 10, one point better than the Sabres.

Now factor in Tomas Vanek's 12 goals 13 assists and 25 points; factor in Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson and you have enough offensive potency coming from the Sabres lineup to do damage.

The last factor is Ryan Miller in the crease, the proverbial x-factor, and his 2.94 GAA and .913 save percentage... That's better than the stats that Lightning are getting out of Anders Lindback (a 3.27 GAA and .890 save percentage).

Indeed, underestimate these Sabres at your own peril. The Sabres may be suffering weak defensive play, but they match up better with the Lightning than the first glance would have you think.

Well, at least until you factor in special teams. The Sabres have the league worst power play with an 11.3% conversion rate compared to the Lightning's 6th ranked power play unit (23.9% conversion rate). The Sabres do fair better on the penalty kill, ranked 20th in the league with a 79.1% kill-rate. The Bolts are tied for 12th with the New York Rangers on the penalty kill with an 82.8 success rate.

Ryan Malone skated this morning with the team for the first time since he was injured. No timeline on his return or what transaction will coincide that return (Richard Panik being returned to Syracuse, or perhaps Alex Killorn, or some other type move).

Mathieu Garon is expected to start in net for the Lightning. Perhaps this is the underestimation talking, or perhaps it's Garon's 2.75 GAA and .917 save percentage in six appearances this season.

With the conclusion of the game tonight, the Bolts will head back out on the road for a four game spin through the Northeast again. The opponents being the Rangers (Thursday), Bruins (Saturday), Penguins ( (Monday), and Devils (Tuesday)...

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