The Buffalo Sabres started out the last week of January on a hot streak, taking their most recent contest against the Washington Capitals by a score of 4-3 in what ended with a shootout win for them. Sitting near the bottom of the Mass Mutual™ East Division, though, the Sabres needed to keep things rolling – and fast – if they wanted to claw their way into a playoff position approaching the quarter mark of the season. It turns out a pair of series against a couple of divisional opponents was the perfect opportunity to do so.
Sabres Split Against Rangers, Devils
Coming off of a shootout victory against the Capitals, the Sabres were looking to get on a hot streak. And in splitting their series against both the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils with one win and one loss against both teams, they effectively managed to do so, drawing nearer to the fourth spot in their division, where they need to finish to make the playoffs.
The Sabres started out by beating the Rangers 3-2 in their first matchup, which saw captain Jack Eichel score his first goal of the season, and rookie Dylan Cozens pot his second of the year. Cozens’ goal comes just a short while after being a healthy scratch in one of the Sabres’ previous contests, a cause for controversy after the young star netted his first NHL goal the game before.
The Rangers would go on to take the second game of their series with the Sabres, winning a closely contested overtime game by a score of 3-2.
All pressure was on for the Sabres to bounce back from that loss going into their next two games facing the New Jersey Devils, and they met the challenge head-on, downing the Devils in the shootout, 4-3. Eric Staal, Victor Olofsson, and Eichel all notched a goal to stay hot, while Tobias Rieder scored his second goal in the last stretch of games, making his case as the best Sabres’ signing of the offseason.
The team was unable to keep the momentum going into the next night, however, as they suffered a loss, 5-3, at the hands of the Devils in their next matchup.
There were some positives from the loss, however: Rasmus Dahlin scored his first goal to break out of his slow start to the season, while Olofsson and Eichel also notched goals for themselves.
Overtime Play Sloppy For the Sabres
Going 2-1 in extra time last week is nothing to be upset about, but if the Sabres are going to find themselves consistently going past 60 minutes on a nightly basis, they’re going to have to find a way to get those extra points. Earning two points instead of one on even a handful of occasions could be the difference between this team making the playoffs, or missing them.
It’s worth noting that both the Sabres’ wins in extra time last week came in the shootout, while their only loss was in regular overtime play. Much of this can be attributed to what seemed to look like a lack of urgency in 3-on-3 overtime play, perhaps due to the line combinations.
The Sabres have been decent enough in overtime over the course of the last few seasons, but they definitely have room to improve. With such an offensively lethal group of players on the roster (at least in the top-six forward group), one would think that this team could find a way to click a little better than they have been.
COVID-19 Clouds the Week Ahead
The Sabres were set to take on the New York Islanders on Tuesday, when the game was suddenly postponed due to the League’s COVID-19 protocol.
The Sabres also had another game scheduled against the Islanders on Thursday, and a pair of games against the Boston Bruins set for Saturday and Monday, Feb. 8. Those were all promptly postponed, too, as the Sabres had two players enter the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.
This postponement of games comes after the team’s Saturday and Sunday meetings with the Devils, when the Devils were missing a number of key players, and the suspicions for their absences being COVID-19-related arose.
Reports later surfaced that the Sabres had made requests to both the Devils organizations and to the NHL asking for more information regarding the Devils players in question, and those requests were denied. While the details remain unknown, much of the blame in the public forum has now shifted to the NHL. It is important to note, however, that it is impossible to know exactly what went down, and how it unfolded.
It’s settled, then: the Sabres will go at least a week without getting into any game action, and without the opportunity to climb up in the division standings and bank some more points. What’s important, though, is that all Sabres players, staff, and their families are safe and healthy, and that they stay on track to get back on the ice next week. Until then, Sabres fans can only wait and see what statements and updates the team puts out for them.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres & San Jose Sharks Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15