The Buffalo Sabres will close out the month of February with a west coast trip in the state of California.
Time is slipping away in the 2015-16 NHL season with the Sabres on the outskirts of the playoff race. With only 22 games remaining, Buffalo trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by 13 points for the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference. While mathematically there is still a chance, the odds that the Sabres qualify for the post season are very slim.
The Sabres have struggled at home this season where they’ve compiled a 11-17-3 record. However, Buffalo has a winning record on the road of 13-12-4. The Sabres will have an opportunity to continue their success on the road when they face the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Here is an early look at the Sabres’ upcoming road trip to California.
[See Also: Buffalo Sabres Must Improve Home Record]
Wednesday, February 24th: Buffalo Sabres vs Anaheim Ducks
Buffalo will meet the Anaheim Ducks, one of the Western Conference’s hottest teams, to begin their California road trip. The Ducks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Through 58 games, Anaheim is just two points behind the Los Angeles Kings in the race for top spot in the Pacific Division.
Thanks to a strong performance by Sabres’ goaltender Chad Johnson, Buffalo defeated the Ducks back in December at the First Niagara Center by a 3-0 score. Johnson was peppered with shots by Anaheim but he made 44 saves in this contest to earn the shutout.
A key ingredient to Anaheim’s recent success has been their defensive game. While ranking 25th in goals scored, the Ducks have excelled defensively allowing the 4th fewest number of goals in the NHL. Goaltenders Frederik Andersen and John Gibson each have 14 wins on the season.
Friday, February 26th: Buffalo Sabres vs San Jose Sharks
Despite losing to the San Jose Sharks at the First Niagara Center in November, Buffalo has found success against the Sharks in recent years. The Sabres won eight of their last ten games against San Jose dating back to the 2009-10 season. Buffalo will look to rebound from their recent overtime loss to the Sharks when the clubs meet at the SAP Center.
San Jose is currently third in the Pacific Division with 69 points and a 32-21-5 record. Through 58 games, San Jose has tallied 174 goals which is the fifth highest total in the NHL. The club has also converted on 22.6 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage which ranks their power play third in the NHL.
Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 26 goals, he has 55 total points, and he also leads the team with 8 power play goals. Meanwhile, forward Joe Thorton has scored 14 goals and 55 points. Buffalo needs to find a way to curb the Sharks’ offensive attack in order to get the road win.
Saturday, February 27th: Buffalo Sabres vs Los Angeles Kings
The Sabres will end the month of February by battling the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. Through 58 games, the Kings hold the top spot in the Pacific Division. However, Los Angeles has gone 4-5-1 in their last ten and have won just once in their last four games.
Kings’ forward Anze Kopitar has scored 17 goals and 51 points on the season. However, he suffered an injury during Los Angeles’ recent tilt against the St. Louis Blues and he missed his club’s next game against the Nashville Predators. Kopitar made his return on Tuesday evening against the Calgary Flames so he will be ready to roll when the Sabres come to town.
A key injury is also impacting Buffalo. Forward Ryan O’Reilly recently suffered a lower body injury and reportedly could miss three or four weeks. O’Reilly has been valuable for Buffalo logging minutes in many key situations and he’s netted 7 power play goals this season.
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Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW