The race for 30th place is coming to the finish line as the NHL season is drawing to a close. Much is at stake in this photo finish race as the team finishing in last place will have a 20% chance at the first overall pick and an 80% chance at the second overall pick. The other teams that finish 29th or higher in the standings still have a chance at landing the top pick but their odds are much lower.
The Sabres have held down 30th place for much of this season. Buffalo is currently in the driver’s seat when it comes to locking up this spot in the standings. The club’s main competition for last place are the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona currently has a 2 point lead on the Sabres in the NHL standings and, like the Sabres, have just 2 games remaining on their schedule.
Buffalo could have clinched last place earlier this week with a regulation loss to the Carolina Hurricanes but the Sabres pulled off a 4-3 victory. The Sabres need to lose one of their remaining two games in regulation or they need the Coyotes to win one of their last two games in order for Buffalo to secure 30th place. Therefore, the Sabres have four shots remaining to clinch last place. Here is a look at the remaining games for both clubs and how the Sabres and Coyotes stack up against their remaining competition.
[See Also: Don’t Blame Sabres Fans, Blame the NHL by Joseph Vito DeLuca]
Coyotes vs. Canucks, April 9th, 2015
The Vancouver Canucks clinched a playoff position after the Los Angeles Kings were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers earlier this week. With the Canucks punching their ticket for the playoffs, they are able to breathe a sigh of relief in their match against the Coyotes on Thursday night.
Arizona has a 2-2-0 record against the Canucks this season and Thursday’s match will be played in Vancouver. The Coyotes have won a game at home and on the road against the Canucks. Arizona won the last game against the Canucks in the shootout.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has played particularly well against the Canucks. The young defenseman has notched 2 goals and 3 points in 4 games against Vancouver so far this season. A key to this game will be for the Coyotes to improve their penalty kill. Arizona has allowed four power play goals by the Canucks in fifteen opportunities so an improvement in this area could help them earn a victory.
Sabres vs. Blue Jackets, April 10th, 2015
Buffalo will play their final game on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Blue Jackets are on fire with a 9-0-1 record in their last ten games. By contrast, the Sabres have a 3-6-1 record in their last ten games. Defeating the Blue Jackets who are currently firing on all cylinders could prove to be a tall order for the Buffalo Sabres.
Know what's going to be a fun night? 1st home game after Sabres (hopefully) clinch 30th. Everyone will be rooting for them w/no conflictions
— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) March 27, 2015
The Sabres have played pretty evenly-matched games against Columbus so far this season. Buffalo has a 1-1-0 record against Columbus scoring 5 goals and allowing 5 goals. One statistical area where the Sabres have been dominated is in the shot totals. Buffalo has been outshot by an 87 to 53 margin in their two games against the Blue Jackets.
Zemgus Girgensons, who has been sidelined due to injury, scored 2 of Buffalo’s 5 goals against the Blue Jackets this season. Other Sabres who have lit the lamp against Columbus include Mark Pysyk, Cody Hodgson, and former Sabre Chris Stewart. Buffalo won their last game against Columbus by a 4-2 score and they will need a solid effort in order to defeat one of the NHL’s strongest teams in this final stretch of the season.
Coyotes vs. Ducks, April 11th, 2015
The Anaheim Ducks have 107 points and their upcoming game against the Coyotes is the last remaining game on both teams’ schedules. While they won’t be able to catch the New York Rangers who sit atop the NHL standings with 111 points, the Ducks are in a battle with the St. Louis Blues for the best record in the Western Conference. The Ducks game against the Coyotes could implications for the final standings in the West.
Stars thwart Ducks’ attempt to clinch West crown http://t.co/NJcoYbNUIz
— NBC ProHockeyTalk (@ProHockeyTalk) April 9, 2015
While there is a 51 point difference between the Ducks and Coyotes in the standings, Arizona has a 2-2-0 record against Anaheim this season. However, Arizona’s wins came before the trade deadline when the Coyotes made deals to help them rebuild. The Ducks won their most recent game against the Coyotes by a 4-1 score which was the largest margin of victory between these two teams. Two games between the Ducks and Coyotes were decided in the shootout while the other was a one goal victory by the Ducks in regulation time.
Despite defeating the Ducks twice, the Coyotes have struggled mightily on the power play against Anaheim. Arizona boasts the NHL’s seventh-best power play scoring on 20.6% of it’s opportunities with the man advantage. However, in their games against Anaheim this season the Coyotes have gone 0 for 9 with the man advantage.
Sabres vs. Penguins, April 11th, 2015
In a surprising turn of events the Pittsburgh Penguins have struggled down the final stretch of the season. There are a variety of issues that have contributed to their struggles but at 96 points, Pittsburgh still owns the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins are currently on the outside looking in with 95 points so this game against the Sabres could have playoff implications.
Buffalo has yet to defeat the Penguins this season posting an 0-2-0 record. The Sabres were totally dominated by the Penguins in these two games losing both matches by 5 goals. Buffalo has failed to score with the man advantage against Pittsburgh and has surrendered 5 power play goals to the Penguins in 10 opportunities.
The biggest Sabre killer on the Penguins this season has been none other than Sidney Crosby. The superstar has eight, yes eight assists in two games against Buffalo this season. Crosby will be looking to score his first goal against Buffalo when the clubs square off to close out the regular season on Saturday.
Aside from Crosby, other Penguins who lit the lamp against the Sabres this season include Patric Hornqvist with 3 goals and 5 points as well as Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz who each have 2 goals and 5 points. Zemgus Girgensons scored Buffalo’s only goal against Pittsburgh and while the Penguins have struggled as of late, the Sabres will need to bring their A game to have a chance at beating Pittsburgh.
[See Also: How Sabres Can Help Oilers Land McDavid by Mark Scheig]