Sabres Show Signs Of Progress With Strong March

The Buffalo Sabres have had a tough go of things over the last decade, missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons and on the way to their 11th straight season without a playoff berth. For the most part during the 2021-22 regular season, things have gone as expected: the Sabres are near the bottom of the overall NHL standings, and they have had long stretches without wins on multiple occasions. March was a different month for this team though. In the month of March, the Sabres posted an 8-3-3 record in 15 games, and built up an impressive 8-game point streak before it was snapped with a 5-3 loss against the Florida Panthers, their second game in April. They have shown signs of real growth, progress, and chemistry. Perhaps that’s why general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams stayed relatively quiet at the NHL trade deadline.

Sabres Post Strongest Month In Years

The Sabres’ 9-3-3 record in March made for one of their strongest months of hockey in years. The most successful month in recent memory came back in the 2018-19 season when they won 10 straight games to take their place atop the NHL standings, before eventually cooling off and missing the playoffs. This time around feels different, though, and maybe it’s because there’s less pressure for a team that was already slated to miss the postseason anyway. It’s certainly making for an environment conducive to personal growth and development.

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“We’re starting to figure out how to play every game,” veteran forward Kyle Okposo said after a recent comeback effort against the New York Rangers fell just short in overtime. “And that’s something that’s a very hard thing to do. I’m not saying that we’re there yet, because we’re not. But we’re starting to show some glimpses of it where we’re sticking to our game no matter what.” (From ‘Sabres erase multiple deficits, extend point streak in OT loss to Rangers’ NHL.com, 3/27/2021)

Buffalo Sabres Henri Jokiharju Casey Mittelstadt Jeff Skinner Rasmus Dahlin
Henri Jokiharju, Casey Mittelstadt, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“That’s the mark of the truly good teams in this league and we’re showing signs of getting there,” Okposo said. “By no means is it a finished product.” Okposo is one player on the Sabres who has had himself a real resurgence this season, as he currently has 18 goals, 23 assists, and 41 points, his most productive season in a long time.

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Okposo isn’t the only one who thinks the Sabres are headed in the right direction, either. Even the young players are starting to get on board and notice the trend. “I said it in the locker room after [the game],” young forward Tage Thompson recalled after last week’s wild 6-5 comeback victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’ve got a really special group. I think people outside the locker room are starting to see it. You know, it would have been very easy for us to fold the tent after the first period, just kind of pack it in and give up.

Related: Sabres Weekly: Thompson, Comebacks, Point Streak & More

“But our guys in the room like to compete for each other. We take a lot of pride in the culture we’re building and what we want to be in the future. I think we’re trending in the right direction and that game was just a product of work.” That game was the story of the Sabres in the month of March, and fans are starting to feel it too. This team finally seems like it has a bright future again. (From ‘Sharpen Up: March 29, 2022 | Sabres win wild game in Chicago’ NHL.com, 3/29/2021)

Adams Stays Put at the Trade Deadline

Adams and the Sabres decided to stay relatively quiet at the trade deadline, when most people expected them to be sellers on and around that day. Adams traded defenseman Robert Hagg to the Florida Panthers, which wasn’t a huge move, but was a bit significant considering he was just acquired him from the Philadelphia Flyers over the summer and he had played quite well in the blue and gold, given his role. Other than that, though, there was not much in the way of news when it came to the Sabres on deadline day.

The reason that Adams might have stayed put is one that head coach Don Granato stated after the team’s win against the Blackhawks: “I feel like we all belong in Buffalo.”

“I will tell you with all honesty, I love Chicago, it’s where I grew up,” Granato said. “But as I said over the summer when there were other job openings, I wanted to be in Buffalo. And I told our players that after the game.” It looks as though the Sabres management, coaching staff, and players are all helping to foster a new culture in the organization, and it’s keeping them all there. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Amerks Updates & the Sabres Week Ahead

The Sabres’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans have been playing well recently, too. Arttu Ruotsaleinen, who played in 18 games with the Sabres this season and recorded two goals and two assists in those contests, was named the AHL Player of the Month for March. He scored eight goals, 10 assists, and 18 points in 13 games for the Amerks in March. Ruotsaleinen has 16 goals, 26 assists, and 42 points in 44 AHL games this season.

The Sabres play some tough opponents this week, as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Thursday, first on home ice at KeyBank Center and then in Raleigh, North Carolina. Then the Sabres will travel to Florida for their second meeting against the Panthers in a week. They are 1-1-0 in the month of April so far and look to finish their final 12 games of the regular season on a high note, with something to build off for next season.