The Buffalo Sabres are now 6-4, going 3-4 in their last seven contests, scoring 18 goals but allowing 17 in that span. As of this evening, they sit at 8th place in the Eastern Conference with games in hand on the clubs ahead of them. The Sabres could easily be 8-2 or better, but their inability to hold on to leads has cost them in the standings, and unfortunately 3 out of their 4 losses came on home ice.
The numbers don’t lie- the Buffalo Sabres perform better on the road, having won just a single game at the First Niagara Center during the month of October. The stat sheet says two, but one of those victories came in Europe to start the season. The club is 4-1 on the road. Last season the Sabres went 0-6-1 at HSBC Arena before earning their first win in front of the hometown fans in mid-November. They won 21 games at home compared to 22 on the road during that campaign, which is strange considering every previous season since the Lockout the Sabres have dominated on home ice.
They need to find that hometown poise again, and soon since 9 out of 14 games this November are at the First Niagara Center against opponents whose rankings vary in the current standings: Philadelphia Flyers, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Phoenix Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders. Regardless of where they’re ranked in the league, each of these teams has the potential to defeat the Sabres. None are “sure wins.” The game against the Flyers is key for momentum and confidence, as are the contests against Ottawa and Boston. When the Capitals come to town, the Sabres will be able to truly gauge if they deserve to be considered one of the NHL’s elite, and contests against the Islanders and Devils always get physical and emotional. The Jets have much to prove, as do the two Western opponents Buffalo faces this month.
Luckily, the Sabres have already secured at least one home win this season, surprisingly without Ryan Miller. Jhonas Enroth led his team to a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets last week, which gave the fans something to feel good about. Unfortunately, the three losses Buffalo has at home have only given fans something to groan about. In all three home losses the Sabres held the lead, but blew it in gut wrenching fashion. On Saturday, they were beating the Florida Panthers 2-1, but allowed 2 goals in the final four minutes of the game to secure the loss. Ex-Sabre, Brian Campbell played a key role in the Panthers’ victory.
Ex-Sabre (and Buffalo native) Tim Kennedy was there, too, but he didn’t play like a million bucks. When Buffalo faced the Panthers in Florida, the “Lets go Buffalo” chant was audible during the television broadcast.
Quick comebacks by the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning have also led to home woes. Against Carolina, the Sabres were up 1-0, then 2-1 before giving the ‘Canes a 3-2 lead (on a shorthanded goal no less) in the 2nd period. A Drew Stafford goal with under 3 minutes to play tied things up, but then at 18:36, a ‘Canes power play score made sure Buffalo earned 0 points.
Against the Lightning, Buffalo squandered a 2-0 home lead, allowing 4 straight Lightning goals. The back breaker came with just 1:23 remaining in regulation on a goal you’d like to see Ryan Miller stop, but can’t blame him for letting in.
Those three loses hurt as the Sabres are presently within a point of all the teams who beat them on home ice. Losing games in the closing minutes of the 3rd period is not something the Buffalo Sabres typically do. Granted, Ryan Miller is known to give up the occasional late goal, but not like this, and this often. Usually, it’s the Sabres who are mounting the epic comeback or scoring the “nail in the coffin” goal, but a surprisingly erroneous defense in front, that flashes moments of brilliance, has forced the goalie into consistently making great plays. Depending on how Buffalo rebounds at home this month, these early losses could prove detrimental in the Spring when tie-breakers become a factor. Even worse, if the Sabres drop a number of their November home games, they’ll be on the back end of the Top 8 in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully.
The season is young, and this team has proven their resilience and productivity time and again. Look for them to rebound.
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