The Buffalo Sabres are currently in their worst losing stretch of hockey this season, with hopes of snapping their five-game streak on Tuesday. They will face off against the Vancouver Canucks who have lost their last three games and have struggled mightily this season. In a game where something must break, the Sabres are in a prime position to snap their losing streak. They have played relatively well throughout their last five games, including strong performances against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, though they weren’t able to get the results they wanted. The strong stretches of play they displayed in those games, a weaker opponent and improving health on their defense should give them optimism they can snap their losing streak.
Sabres’ Have Reasons For Optimism Amidst Slide
The current streak of winless games started with the losses against the Hurricanes and the Lightning. Though they were losses and the Sabres were not able to gain a point, they had the lead in both games and were the better team at times. It was not the result they wanted, but it was still a strong showing in a back-to-back situation against two of the better teams in the NHL. There is really no excuse for the home loss to the Arizona Coyotes, but they have been playing solid hockey lately and had won two of their last three prior to coming to Buffalo.
That game against the Coyotes did flesh out some issues that carried into the loss against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Sabres had trouble breaking out of their own zone and were careless with the puck at times. There was a significant amount of east-west hockey in the neutral zone, and they turned the puck over at an alarming rate. The Coyotes and Golden Knights were able to take advantage of that, and both came away with wins. Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins was a much better effort, but they still fell short in what became their fifth straight loss.
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It is hard to look on the bright side when the fact of the matter is they have lost five straight. The sloppy play in those games needs to be cleaned up for sure, but four of the five teams they played are likely to make the playoffs this season. With the rash of injuries they have had on their blue line, it is surprising they didn’t have a streak like this earlier in the season. Their improved play in the game against the Bruins should give them optimism they can get back in the win column and snap their streak on Tuesday.
How the Sabres Can Snap the Streak
The Sabres got some good news on Monday that Henri Jokiharju should be able to return to the lineup either Tuesday or Wednesday. Their defense has been struggling with the injuries to Jokiharju and Mattias Samuelsson this season, so getting one of them back should be a huge boost for the back end. It will also allow head coach Don Granato a little more freedom to shuffle the defensive pairs, and it would give him three right-handed defensemen to work with.
Regardless of how the pairs shake out, the Sabres’ defensive coverage will need to be sharp against the strong crop of forwards they will face Tuesday and Wednesday. The Canucks have talented forwards like Bo Horvat, JT Miller and Elias Petterson while the Ottawa Senators have Alex DeBrincat, Tim Stutzle and Brady Tkachuk. These are some of the better forward groups in the NHL which will present a challenge the Sabres must meet both in the neutral and defensive zones.
The Sabres’ offense has been performing well for the most part this season, but there needs to be an emphasis on being more careful with the puck in the neutral zone. There have been too many giveaways which have turned into scoring opportunities against. The Canucks have given up the second most goals against this season, so if the Sabres are patient with the puck they should be able to play their high-tempo game to create scoring chances.
Another crucial point the Sabres need to emphasize is a fast start. They were able to score first against the Hurricanes and Bruins which were some of their better games of late. Scoring the first goal seems to drag them into the game a little bit and give them the confidence boost needed to play their style of hockey. Jumping out to a lead against a struggling team like the Canucks could be a major key to winning the game.
The current losing streak has been a damper on the Sabres’ season thus far, but the fact that these games have been so competitive bodes well for their overall season fortunes. They can score with any team in the NHL, and with a defense still recovering from injury, there is reason to be optimistic they can return to their early season form. This game against the Canucks is a massive opportunity to get themselves back on the right foot and resume their fight for a playoff spot.
Zach Rohde is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW. Growing up in the Buffalo area during the late 2000s, the Sabres success fueled his passion for hockey. He has written about the Sabres for another site in Buffalo previously, and covered Buffalo Sports for a brief time as a freelance sports assistant for Spectrum News Buffalo before moving to a full time position in general news. Twitter: @ZachRohde