Eleven points separate the Buffalo Sabres from the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference that is currently held by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sabres have 32 games remaining on their 2015-16 regular season schedule. Buffalo’s record through 50 games is 20-26-4 with 44 points. There is still time left to gain ground in the standings but this time is quickly melting away.
Buffalo has shown some signs of improvement this season. However, the club has a ways to go to get back into the playoff picture. One area where the Sabres have struggled is with winning on home ice. The club has a 9-15-2 record at the First Niagara Center this season. Here is a look at the Sabres’ 2015-16 performance on home ice which must improve for Buffalo to get back into the playoff hunt.
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Buffalo Sabres Struggles at Home Continue in January
The Sabres have struggled in a variety of areas during the 2015-16 season but these struggles are arguably the most apparent on home ice. At the First Niagara Center this season, Buffalo won three games out of seven in October, two of seven in November, and three of seven in December.
Despite Jack Eichel’s five goal and eleven point effort to open 2016, Buffalo’s struggles on home ice got worse in January. The Sabres won just one out of five games at the First Niagara Center in the month of January. Buffalo’s only home victory in January was against the Washington Capitals by a score of 4-1.
If anyone has been using their eyeballs to watch Jack Eichel, they can't possibly be mad about this season…whhooollly
— Matthew Coller (@MatthewColler) January 27, 2016
The home losses in the month of January were particularly damaging to the Sabres’ chances of making the playoffs. Divisional losses to the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, and twice to the Detroit Red Wings prevented the Sabres from gaining ground in the wild card race. Aside from a one goal loss to Detroit on January 2nd, the rest of Buffalo’s home losses were each decided by three or more goals.
Breaking Down Buffalo’s Struggles at Home
One big reason for the Sabres’ struggles at home is their lack of offense at the First Niagara Center. Buffalo is 26th in overall goal scoring with 113 goals. However, according to ESPN.com in 26 home games the Sabres rank dead last in goals scored at home. The team has lit the lamp just 50 times at home which equates to an NHL-worst average of 1.92 goals per game.
Ryan O’Reilly’s seven goals and seventeen power play points have helped Buffalo rank as the sixth best power play in the NHL. The story of the Sabres power play on the road is very different than the one at home. The Sabres have the third best road power play converting on 23.9 percent of their opportunities. However, Buffalo has the 17th best power play on home ice converting on 18.6 percent of their chances with the man advantage.
To make matters worse, the blue and gold have struggled to prevent the opposition from scoring on home ice. In 26 home games, Buffalo has allowed 67 goals against. This ties the Sabres with the Carolina Hurricanes for the sixth most goals allowed at home in the NHL.
Realistically, it will be very difficult for the Sabres to erase the eleven point deficit in the standings to qualify for the post-season. The Sabres need to string together wins in bunches while getting help from teams above them in the standings. Of their remaining 32 games, Buffalo has 15 games at the First Niagara Center. Head coach Dan Bylsma needs to rally his troops to secure wins at home in order to have any chance of getting back into the playoff hunt.
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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