BUFFALO (LGS) — It doesn't matter what religion you celebrate in the month of December. Be it Christian, Jewish or my personal favorite Sabrish – worshiping and following the Sabres – the month of old endings brought together a lot of families for the holidays and a lot of wins for the team. Minus a horrible ending and a subpar west coast road trip, Buffalo is in prime position to strike.
But December is all but in the books, giving way to the month of new beginnings, which kicks off with a Buffalo-style bang inside Ralph Wilson Stadium at 1 p.m. Tuesday. And that means another edition of LetsGoSabres.com Player Power Rankings is here to entertain you.
But first, warm up with a nice bowl of Campbell's soup – or Campbell's shots, if you will – as we celebrate the month of Soupy's captaincy.
As always, if you disagree with any placement, or think I'm a holiday genius despite the ugly profile picture, get back at me with your own version over on our Pavilion forums.
Happy New Year everyone and happy Ice-Bowling to you all. Now dig in.
1. Jason Pominville (2-12-14, +6): Pominville led the team in points for the month, yes. But his ability to stay out of the penalty box is ultra-impressive. Zero penalty minutes all month meant that one of Buffalo's best penalty killers was available every time. Welcome to the No. 1 spot. Now all we need is for you to score some goals yourself.
2. Derek Roy (5-8-13, +8): Roy stepped up his game as December rolled on and became Buffalo's No. 1 center. For a while he led the team in points and trails the leader Pominville by only one. Sixteen penalty minutes hurts the team, especially the ones he took against Pittsburgh Saturday night.
3. Ryan Miller (8-4-0-1, 2.54 GAA, .908 save %): Holding steady at No. 3 is the goaler, who seems hell-bent on bailing out his team, even if it kills him. During the team's season-high six-game winning streak, Miller did just that, making enough saves to win the game. Now he needs the team to pick it up in front of him more often.
4. Tim Connolly (3-8-11, E): Connolly makes the team's special teams tick. Don't think so? Look at the play of Buffalo's power play and penalty kill in the two full games he was out. They won both games, but saw a lack of purpose on the man-advantage and were running around on the kill. And Philly's penalty kill is not that good. Plus Connolly missed two games and still recorded 11 points in the month.
5. Daniel Paille (0-4-4, +1): Here's where I start placing the grit players. And none of them was as gritty as Paille. He felt the wrath of coach Lindy Ruff after the debacle in Los Angeles Dec. 6 and following a couple games as a healthy scratch came back with a vengeance. He hit everything that moved. He played his pants off. But like last season, he just can't finish. Some more goals will go a long way for our Welland boy.
6. Ales Kotalik (7-2-9, +3): The big guy's slap shot is a thing of beauty. But more impressive is how his change-up is just as effective. Ask Marty Biron if he expected that partial fan from the stick of No. 12 when he flubbed one by him to tie the game in Buffalo, eventually allowing Buffalo to win it late in the third period. Kotalik has a cannon; we all know it. It was nice seeing him shoot a lot more. And for goodness sakes alive, get him on the point for the power play. Good things happen when he is.
7. Paul Gaustad (2-8-10, +3): Goose let loose a wonderful month statistically. He is also the best screen man this team has had on the power play since a man wore No. 25 here. A man named Andreychuck.
8. Brian Campbell (1-8-9, +3): Buffalo's clear No. 1 defenseman is now Campbell, and he played like he deserved the title. December's captain shined in the leadership role, taking charge of situations on the ice. And in the rare occurrence that he was not on the ice, Campbell vocally cheered his team on while catching his breath.
9. Jaroslav Spacek (3-5-8, +3): Spaceship's month is the direct complement to his defense partner Campbell. Spacek scored big goals, got a handful of assists and laid out Daniel Briere so the entire city cheered. Then he tattooed Scottie Upshall in the same game and made the arena quake. His energy is infectious, just like Tim Connolly's sickness. Good for Buffalo that Jaro's energy won out.
10. Maxim Afinogenov (4-6-10, -2): A friend of mine made an interesting observation one night as I watched the team play. Maxim Afinogenov has three speeds, he said. Stop, go and turnover. I think Max scored later that game. Buffalo's most-tenured player turned his game around from the dreadful start he had, plowing through the competition like the Maxim of old. He didn't cut down the turnovers, posting a minus-2 this month, but he certainly had a lot more go.
11. Jochen Hecht (5-2-7, -2): Statistically speaking, this was Hecht's worst month of the season. He's a leader on the team and does the little things that result in goals. But something was missing this month.
12. Toni Lydman (1-5-6, +3): Metal-head Lydman turned it up a notch or two this month, returning to his defense partner for a little help and a bit of a statistical anomaly. He scored a goal, which he doesn't do too often, and recorded five assists. Plus, despite some giveaways that were truly offensive (see: loss to Boston Dec. 10) Lydman finished with a respectable plus-3 for the month.
13. Drew Stafford (4-3-7, E): Stafford turned around slightly, but then got hit hard. Now out with a concussion, Stafford will sit for a while. However, when he was in the lineup, his line produced. It was a welcome turnaround from the way it was the first two months of the season.
14. Thomas Vanek (5-1-6, +5): I was all set to rank Vanek high on the list this month. But then he played that horrible game against the Penguins Saturday. He's back checking hard, resulting in a shift of his plus-minus. His plus-5 for the month tied him for third-best on the team, but his production just isn't there. Vanek is playing frustrated, and it was evident every time he passed the puck instead of shooting.
15. Andrej Sekera (0-1-1, +1): Sekera played well replacing Henrik Tallinder in the lineup after his shoulder injury. He played so well, in fact, that he remained in the lineup after Tallinder recovered, replacing Nolan Pratt in the lineup. Now with Dmitri Kalinin back, Sekera is playing in Rochester. But don't discredit this guy. He knows what it takes in the NHL now, and when he returns, he will be here for a while.
16. Adam Mair (2-1-3, -2): Mair played solid for the Sabres. Never really one to score many goals, the grinder played a physical game against Los Angeles. He was the only player who showed up for that game, however. Also Mair's goal against the Senators Wednesday allowed for the potential comeback that was stymied by Martin Gerber and Ottawa.
17. Michael Ryan (1-0-1, E): Ryan spent the month of December as the random fill-in guy on offense. When a player was injured, he'd step in and fill the role needed. With Stafford on the injury list, Ryan can expect more time come January.
18. Henrik Tallinder (0-1-1, +5): Tank's plus-minus stat speaks well of his improved play in December. However, it isn't improved enough to move him far up the list. He's a guy on the All-Star ballot that has spent the season playing like a guy called up from the AHL. He could only go up from there.
19. Nathan Paetsch (0-3-3, +1): He's played on-again, off-again hockey for a while. The inconsistency this deep into the season forecasts that Paetsch may not have been ready for the season to begin. After last season's phenomenal job as Buffalo's role-playing seventh-defenseman-or-thirteenth-forward, Paetsch has had trouble adjusting to a permanent starting role. He needs to find the mentality he had last season and get back out there. He did have a good fight with Mike Richards when Buffalo hosted Philly, though.
20. Nolan Pratt (1-1-2, E): Here's where I might lose some of you readers. Pratt had a decent November and started December off fine. But he hasn't played since Dec. 12. As the team's soon to be eighth defenseman when Teppo Numminen returns, Pratt's playing time in Buffalo may be at an end.
21. Dmitri Kalinin (0-0-0, -1): It is rather unfair to rank Dmitri Kalinin. He has played six games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for 32. To think he is in game shape is silly. January will be a better judgment for Tree.
22. Andrew Peters (0-0-0, -1): Inexcusable for a guy to get paid to fight and stink at it like he has this month. He put up two stinkers against the Flyers, where he was outshined by Nathan Paetsch's fight with Mike Richards.
23. Jocelyn Thibault is ranked last in recognition of the stinker he laid in Los Angeles. The whole team was weak, but Thibault was at his worst. He hasn't seen the crease since, and no one knows if he will again. When do they play in Montreal again?