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Buffalo soldiers

Buffalo's Ryan Miller leads the NHL in both save percentage and goals-against average. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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Buffalo's Ryan Miller leads the NHL in both save percentage and goals-against average. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

About the only question being asked of the Northeast Division before the season was, “Who’s going to finish second?”

Maybe that’s still the most pertinent query, considering the Buffalo Sabres’ hot start.

The Sabres lead a division almost everyone thought would be dominated by the Boston Bruins, even if the B’s had some off-season losses to overcome.

But Ryan Miller’s ascent to the top of the goaltending charts has gone hand-in-hand with Buffalo’s team commitment to defense.

Through 17 games the Sabres were giving up just 2.18 goals per game, the second-best mark in the league behind the New Jersey Devils.

Scoring has been pretty spread out among the Sabres, but the team definitely relies on a defense-first approach to winning.

It will be interesting to see if Buffalo continues to occupy the Northeast penthouse once Boston gets some bodies back from the infirmary. Given the way things have unfolded so far, don’t expect the Sabres to be anxious to move.

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
L10
THE SCOOP
1
New Jersey Devils
2
14-4-0
9-1-0
No captain and team make a better pair than Jamie Langenbrunner and the Devils
2
San Jose Sharks
1
14-4-4
7-0-3
Killing penalties at a league-leading rate of 87.8 percent
3
Washington Capitals
4
12-4-4
6-2-2
Mike Knuble breaks his finger just as Ovie is ready to get back in the lineup
4
Buffalo Sabres
9
12-4-1
7-3-0
Maybe the most balanced team in the league right now
5
Chicago Blackhawks
12
12-5-0
7-2-1
Have won four straight since Jonathan Toews came back from his concussion – and the captain has four points in those games
6
Calgary Flames
5
12-4-2
7-2-1
Iggy has seven goals in six November games
7
Detroit Red Wings
15
10-5-3
7-2-1
Offense kicks into high gear with 19 goals in its past three games
8
Pittsburgh Penguins
7
13-7-0
4-6-0
Crosby didn't score in the seven games Malkin missed, but found the net in Geno's first game back
9
Philadelphia Flyers
6
10-5-1
7-3-0
Despite all the headaches he caused him, Bob Clarke says Eric Lindros should enter the Hall of Fame next year
10
Atlanta Thrashers
25
10-6-1
6-4-0
Everything is clicking right now in Hotlanta, even Maxim Afinogenov
11
Dallas Stars
19
8-5-6
4-3-3
Coach Marc Crawford is doing a nice job with a team that's an intriguing mix of youth and vets
12
Colorado Avalanche
3
12-5-3
5-4-1
An 8-2 loss to Vancouver puts Avs on three-game losing streak as they start falling back to Earth after unexpectedly hot start
13
Los Angeles Kings
8
12-7-2
5-3-2
Young defenseman Jack Johnson has just five points in 21 games and is minus-10
14
Nashville Predators
20
9-8-1
7-3-0
Maybe a two-goal performance versus the Habs on Saturday will get Steve Sullivan going
15
Vancouver Canucks
10
11-10-0
5-5-0
Henrik Sedin's hat trick versus Colorado Saturday was the first in an NHL career that's almost 700 games deep
16
Ottawa Senators
17
8-6-3
3-4-3
Pascal Leclaire needs better numbers than a 2.89 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage
17
Boston Bruins
18
8-7-4
4-3-3
Loss to the Pens was the first time in November where the Bruins allowed more than two goals
18
Columbus Blue Jackets
11
10-6-2
5-3-2
Must have next contest with Wings (Boxing Day) circled after Detroit laid a 9-1 whuppin' on them last week
19
Tampa Bay Lightning
16
7-4-6
5-1-4
Antero Niittymaki is one of the league's best goalies right now; let's see if the historically streaky stopper can keep it up
20
New York Rangers
14
11-8-1
4-5-1
It wasn't quite Marek Malik from a few years back, but Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau's shootout-winner in the seventh round against Ottawa certainly registers as a surprise
21
Phoenix Coyotes
13
11-8-0
5-5-0
Desert Dogs are really banged up on the blueline
22
New York Islanders
26
7-6-7
6-2-2
Josh Bailey's struggles culminated with a healthy scratch last week against Carolina
23
Montreal Canadiens
23
9-11-0
4-6-0
Twenty games into the season, the Habs have just two regulation-time wins on the books
24
Florida Panthers
28
7-9-1
5-4-1
Who knows, maybe having their ownership issues resolved will help the Cats get on course
25
Minnesota Wild
27
7-11-2
4-4-2
A team that has just two road wins better take advantage of the four-game homestand it begins Wednesday versus Phoenix
26
Anaheim Ducks
21
6-9-3
3-5-2
Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are on 11-game point streaks, but the Ducks can't get into gear
27
St. Louis Blues
29
6-8-4
2-5-3
2.28 goals per game just not enough to earn wins consistently in the ultra-tough West
28
Toronto Maple Leafs
24
3-10-5
3-3-4
Teams score almost 30 percent of the time Toronto is shorthanded
29
Edmonton Oilers
22
8-10-2
2-7-1
Just two wins in their past 11 outings
30
Carolina Hurricanes
30
3-12-4
1-7-2
Fourteen-game losing streak finally snapped with a shootout win over the Wild. Have these guys been downgraded to the Carolina Tropical Storms yet?

The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 each Monday based on a combination of last week’s play and a squad’s overall outlook.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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