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No. 1, For the Most Part

The latest power rankings issued by the international hockey punditry, in a break from the proud journalistic tradition of accentuating the negative, focus mainly on the high points of what has been a decidedly up-and-down couple of weeks for the Buffalo Sabres.
For a team that hasn’t lost since Feb. 3 and has the best record in the National Hockey League, it hasn’t been the easiest of times.
Since dropping a 3-2 decision to New Jersey, they’ve won three straight games, two of them via shootout.
But they lost forward Paul Gaustad, and the rugged presence he brings to the lineup, with a severed tendon in his ankle, an injury that has to be even more painful than it sounds.
With the trio of victories, Buffalo nudged its edge in the Eastern Conference back up to six points over New Jersey, which had pulled within four, and jumped past Nashville for the overall points lead.
But the news that Tim Connolly suffered a stress fracture in his leg that will keep him off the ice for at least another week makes you wonder how much bad luck one guy can have, or whether he’ll ever get the chance to build on last year’s breakthrough.
Jaroslav Spacek embodied Buffalo’s tumultuous first half of February, returning from a knee injury that cost him three games, only to have a broken hand sideline him indefinitely while blocking a shot in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Calgary.
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the string of injuries intensified talk about what, if anything, Darcy Regier needs to shore things up before the playoffs. But we’ll save our own baseless speculation for another post.
In the polls, though, the wins were what mattered. Four of the five weekly power rankings under consideration restored Buffalo to the No. 1 spot heading into tonight’s game against the Oilers at HSBC Arena.
In doing so, Scott Wraight of cnnsi.com noted the Sabres’ dichotomy of fortune.

I think we’re regaining a little bite, a little attitude, a little bit of the physical tone that I thought was missing,” coach Lindy Ruff said. Of course, Buffalo then lost two key members in its next game.

FOXSports.com‘s Robert Picarello, who hasn’t had the Sabres below third all year, also returned them to No. 1 while pointing out the dramatic nature of the victories:

But it wasn’t an easy task, as the club had to win three one-goal games — two via the shootout — in order to knock the Predators off their perch.

Wes Goldstein of CBS Sportsline vaulted the Sabres past the Predators and Devils, noting Buffalo’s 9-2 mark in shootouts, the NHL’s best.
The Sabres got the biggest bump from ESPN.com, which moved them up from No. 4.
Of the surveys surveyed, only TSN.ca keeps Nashville at No. 1, with Buffalo in second. No explanation given, but it might be a big-picture thing, since the accompanying comments point out the Predators’ trade with Atlanta for defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski, as well as the injury to Gaustad.
With the next three games at home against Edmonton, Boston and Philadelphia, none of which are presently in playoff position, the Sabres are in a good spot to solidify their spot in the various arbitrary rankings and, far more importantly, in the standings.
Just staying healthy would be nice, too.

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