There are just three games left in 2014 for the Buffalo Sabres. For the Sabres, 2014 has not yielded much success so turning the page and moving on towards the future sounds appealing to followers of the organization. After spending a good portion of this season in last place, Buffalo currently sits as the NHL’s twenty-seventh best team with a record of 13-19-3.
Buffalo will make three selections in the first round during a deep 2015 NHL Entry Draft which will help the organization continue to rebuild. Many fans hoped the Sabres would finish near the bottom of the standings to land Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. This seemed to be in the cards in the early stages of this season but the waters have been muddied by a recent winning stretch that has Buffalo currently eight points out of last place.
Regardless of the Sabres’ draft position in 2015, the club has already amassed a strong group of young talent. As we move past 2014, this talent will begin to emerge and help the organization return to playoff form. The start of Buffalo’s games in 2015 inches the club closer to the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel.
Here is a look at the remaining games in 2014 leading up to the new year. The Sabres will face off at home against the New York Islanders, away against the Ottawa Senators, and at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the year. After a nice stretch of wins, Buffalo has gone 4-5-1 in it’s last ten games so the club will look to end 2014 on a winning note in an effort to climb up the NHL standings.
Islanders vs. Sabres: December 27, 2014
Based on their performance last season, many pegged the Islanders to have a difficult 2014-2015 season. This prediction couldn’t have been more wrong. The Islanders currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference – just three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the lead in the East.
New York’s strong start has been spearheaded by an offense that gets regular contributions from a number of players. Leading the charge for the Islanders is forward John Tavares who is having a solid season scoring thirteen goals and twenty-nine points. Forward Kyle Okposo is having a similarly strong campaign with eight goals and twenty-nine points. Meanwhile, forward Brock Nelson has amassed fourteen goals with twenty-seven points and forward Ryan Strome has six goals and twenty-one points.
To be successful against the Islanders, Buffalo will need to find a way to contain these talented forwards. This may prove to be a tall order for the Sabres who are depleted on the blue line. Defensemen Tyler Myers, Tyson Strachen and Mike Weber are all on the mend so Buffalo will need others to step up in their absence.
Nolan said Myers and Strachan are still out for awhile, week to week.
— Paul Hamilton (@pham1717) December 23, 2014
This will be the first meeting between the Sabres and Islanders of the season. The 2013-2014 season series between these clubs went relatively well for Buffalo who went 1-1-1 last season. One of the first round draft picks that Buffalo has in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is from the Islanders but this likely will be a late round pick given how well New York has played thus far this season.
Sabres vs. Senators: December 29, 2014
Buffalo’s second last match of 2014 will be played against the Ottawa Senators on Monday night. The Sabres won their first tilt against the Sens in the shootout by a 5-4 margin.
Ottawa’s scoring leaders are defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Kyle Turris. Both players have seven goals and sixteen assists on the season. Senator’s goaltender Craig Anderson has eight wins and his .929 save percentage ties him with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury for the fifth best in the NHL.
— Left Wing Lock (@Left_Wing_Lock) December 18, 2014
Buffalo will need to match the offensive intensity from their earlier game against the Sens to earn another victory. Forwards Marcus Foligno and Brian Flynn each had a multi-point effort in the Sabres’ last game against Ottawa. Jhonas Enroth stopped twenty-nine of thirty-three shots in a strong effort that helped earn Buffalo’s sixth consecutive win earlier this month. Times have changed recently so Buffalo will need a strong game to get back on the winning path.
The Sabres managed to go 1-3 on the power play in their first game against Ottawa. A power play goal has been rare for the Sabres this season. In ninety-eight power play opportunities the Sabres have notched just nine goals. Their 9.2% power play efficiency is currently the worst in the NHL. Meanwhile, Buffalo was short-handed five times in their last game against the Senators. Ottawa went 0-5 in that game with the man advantage but Buffalo will need to do a better job of limiting their penalties to secure a victory against the Senators.
Lightning vs. Sabres: December 31, 2014
Buffalo will close out the year with a match against the Tampa Bay Lightning on New Year’s Eve. This will be the third of six regular season meetings between Buffalo and Tampa Bay. The Sabres have traded wins with the Lightning so far this season and Buffalo will look to bounce back after their last game against Tampa Bay resulted in a loss.
A major reason for Tampa Bay’s success this year is the club’s power on offense. Forward Tyler Johnson’s thirteen goals and thirty-seven points puts him in the NHL’s top ten in total points. The Lightning’s perennial scoring leader, Steven Stamkos, currently sits just outside the NHL’s top ten in total points with nineteen goals and thirty-six points. Containing Tampa’s top offensive threats has proven to be a daunting task for many NHL clubs this season.
Tyler Johnson having a star-making season in Tampa Bay http://t.co/qkg4twBqeS
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) December 23, 2014
In two games against Tampa Bay, the Sabres were like Dr. Jackyl and Mr. Hyde. In their first game, Buffalo gave a solid defensive effort where they severely limited Tampa’s scoring chances. Steven Stamkos didn’t notch a single point while Johnson got just one helper on Tampa Bay’s only goal and Buffalo held on for a 2-1 shootout victory.
In their second regular season tilt against the Lightning, the Sabres had a very rough night and the Lightning offense was relentless. Buffalo lost by a 5-0 score and Lightning forward Steven Stamkos had a three point night.
The Sabres will need to play more like they did in the first game when they did a good job of shutting down Tampa Bay’s offensive attack. Otherwise, if Buffalo plays like they did in their second game, it could be another long night for the Sabres against a top notch Lightning offense.
[See Also: Why Buffalo Deserves Another Winter Classic]
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