While the Buffalo Sabres missed qualifying for playoffs, the team made significant strides during the 2015-16 season.
This improvement is demonstrated in a variety of statistics but it is most clearly shown in the standings. The Sabres entered the 2015-16 season on the heals of consecutive last place finishes. In 2013-14, Buffalo had a record of 21-51-10 and 52 points. They followed up this dismal performance with another one in 2014-15 going 23-51-8 and 54 points.
The rebuilding years were very difficult to endure but in 2015-16 the club showed it is on the upswing. The Sabres’ record of 35-36-11 and 81 points shows a more than 25-point improvement when compared to each of the previous two seasons.
Buffalo earned a winning season series record against six teams in the Eastern Conference in 2015-16. Three of these winning season series records were against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres found success against these clubs for a variety of reasons and they will look to build upon this next season.
Sabres Tally 2-1-1 Record against Senators
The Sabres and the Ottawa Senators have a storied rivalry that has entertained fans of both clubs for many seasons. One of the high points for Sabres fans came just over 10 years ago when former captain Jason Pominville scored in overtime against Ottawa. This goal clinched the series and it sent Buffalo to the Eastern Conference Final. While the rivalry was intense for many seasons, during Buffalo’s rebuilding years it has favored the Senators.
The 2015-16 season helped to tip the scales of the rivalry back toward the Sabres. Buffalo won the season series against Ottawa in 2015-16 and this was the first time they accomplished this feat since the 2011-12 season. The season series was a tight one with both clubs scoring eight goals.
Buffalo won two games in regulation, dropped one in regulation, and lost a game in overtime giving the Sabres a slight edge over the Senators. Jack Eichel played a big role in the 2015-16 battles against Ottawa scoring three goals and five points. Two of Eichel’s goals were scored on the power play and one was a game winner.
Special teams played a role in the Sabres’ success against the Senators this season. Buffalo converted three of 10 opportunities with the man advantage against Ottawa. Meanwhile, the Sabres did not allow a single short-handed goal killing all eight of the Senators’ power play opportunities.
Buffalo Sabres 3-1-0 Against the Leafs
The 2015-16 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs was comparable to the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons for the Sabres. The Leafs are currently undergoing a rebuild of their own and recently won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery giving Toronto the first overall pick. With both teams recently traveling down the rebuilding road, the rivalry is poised to intensify within the coming seasons.
The Sabres fared well against the Maple Leafs this season. Buffalo posted a 3-1-0 record against Toronto which was the first time that the Sabres recorded three wins against Toronto since the 2011-12 season. Under a different scheduling format, the blue and gold split the season series back in 2011-12 but three wins gave the Sabres the edge in the 2015-16 season series.
Buffalo outscored Toronto by an 11 to nine margin. The majority of the Sabres’ goals against the Leafs in 2015-16 came at even strength. Forward Cal O’Reilly registered the lone power play goal for Buffalo during the season series. This is an area the Sabres will look to improve against Toronto next season as the Leafs killed 13 out of 14 of Buffalo’s power play opportunities.
Despite playing in only three of Buffalo’s four games in the season series, forwards Evander Kane and Cal O’Reilly led their club in scoring. Both Kane and O’Reilly tallied two goals and three points against Toronto. Sabres’ goaltender Chad Johnson appeared in all four games posting a 2.16 GAA and .921 save percentage.
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Buffalo Wins Three Against the Canes
The Carolina Hurricanes and Sabres have a storied playoff history. The clubs battled in the Eastern Conference Final during the 2005-06 season. Carolina ultimately won the series and the Stanley Cup that season. While the clubs haven’t met in the playoffs since 2005-06, they have been vying for wins during the regular season.
The Canes last qualified for the playoffs during the 2008-09 season and it stands as their only playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup. Buffalo has returned to the playoffs three times since the 2005-06 season but their last appearance was in 2010-11. Both clubs are eager to renew their playoff rivalry at the NHL’s big dance.
Buffalo has made incremental improvements against the Canes since they were swept in the season series by Carolina during the 2012-13 season. Since then the Sabres posted a 1-2-0 record in 2013-14 and a 2-1-0 record in 2014-15. Buffalo continued their success against the Hurricanes this season sweeping the season series with a 3-0-0 record.
The Sabres’ success against Carolina came in large part from strong performances by the club’s young stars. Eichel scored three goals against the Canes in the season series. Two of these goals were game winners including a thriller on March 12 that gave Buffalo the win with just one second remaining in overtime.
Sam Reinhart tallied two assists while Rasmus Ristolainen had an assist and led Buffalo with an average of 24:42 minutes of ice time against the Canes. While failing to score in nine opportunities with the man advantage, the Sabres still managed to outscore the Canes in their season series by a 10 to five margin.
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