Watch Out! The Buffalo Sabres Are Not in Last Place…For Now?

With a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres leap-frogged the Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers in the standings. Buffalo is now in twenty-eighth place in the NHL. With game two of the home-and-home against Montreal tonight, if the Sabres can pull off another upset they are in position to pass the Hurricanes if Carolina loses in tonight’s tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The recent success of the Sabres has come with mixed emotions in the wake of the upcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft. While some fans are excited by the Sabres’ recent 4-1-0 record in their last five games, others are growing concerned that the club may play well enough to move out of the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes.

Regardless of one’s feelings about the 2015 NHL Draft and the Buffalo Sabres, Head Coach Ted Nolan has rallied his troops and found ways to win in this recent stretch. Will this trend continue or will the Sabres fall back into their losing ways? In comparison to the Western Conference, the East is more wide open so if the Sabres can continue to find ways to win they can quickly begin to move up in the Eastern Conference standings.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the Sabres are out of the woods as contenders for the NHL’s basement. This is still a team that averages an NHL worst 1.61 goals scored per game. The Sabres also have the NHL’s worst power play which sits at a 7.4% conversion rate which has been a big problem this season and hasn’t gotten much better over the last five games.

What I am saying is that the Sabres have won four of their last five after going 3-13-2 prior to this stretch. As history has shown so far this season, Buffalo has had a difficult time giving a consistent effort from game-to-game so it can easily fall back into a losing trend. However, for now, the Buffalo Sabres have put together a decent stretch of wins and if it can continue it may find itself climbing further out of the NHL’s basement.

[See Also: What Kind of Sabres Fan Are You? Part III: The ‘Tank for McEichel’ Philosophy]

A Look Back at the Buffalo Sabres’ Last Five Games

The game that got this win streak in motion was a 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The win ended a five game losing streak and it was the highest goal scoring total for Buffalo this season. The Sabres mustered up a thirty-four shot effort in the win which is no small feat for Buffalo. On October 28th, the Sabres hit a low point in a 4-0 loss to the Leafs where it set a franchise record with only ten shots in the entire game – a thirty-four shot effort cannot be taken for granted this season. Buffalo got a multi-point game from forwards Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Drew Stafford and Zemgus Girgensons in this victory over Toronto.

Buffalo’s next game was a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. Despite the lack of success last season and Buffalo’s poor start to this season, the Sabres have maintained an impressive record against San Jose. The Sharks haven’t defeated Buffalo in seven games dating back to January of 2010 and the Sabres defeated San Jose for the second time this season. The Sabres captain, Brian Gionta, came up big scoring two goals in this contest while defenseman Tyler Myers added two assists.

Jhonas Enroth played a huge role in Buffalo’s third straight victory, this time over the Washington Capitals. Enroth made forty-three saves allowing the Sabres to come up with a 2-1 victory. The Sabres scored two goals on just twenty-six shots but it was enough to record the ‘W’ with goals from Torrey Mitchell and Matt Moulson. A big part of this win was that Buffalo, for the most part, stayed out of the penalty box. The Sabres and Caps both traded fighting majors and each team was assessed one minor penalty in the third period. Washington scored on their lone power play opportunity but they only had one chance which helped the Sabres get the two points.

The Sabres had a difficult time getting anything going against the Winnipeg Jets and were defeated by a 2-1 score. This game is the anomaly in Buffalo’s last five because it is their only loss. Buffalo generated just twenty shots in this game – ten of which came in the third period. Sabres’ forward Chris Stewart recorded Buffalo’s only goal in this match. Aside from the third period, the Sabres struggled to get anything going and their last ditch effort ultimately fell short.

Finally, Buffalo put up a strong showing in their last game against the the Montreal Canadiens and earned a 2-1 victory. Buffalo played a physical game and answered the bell on several occasions. Forward Chris Stewart got into a scrap with Canadiens’ forward Brandon Prust while Sabres forwards Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson each had a goal and an assist. This was an impressive outing by the last place Sabres who played well enough to secure the win over Montreal, the Eastern Conference’s first place team.

[See Also: Top Five Buffalo Sabres Goals Through Twenty Games]


Can the Buffalo Sabres Keep Winning?

Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan has preached hard work and fundamental hockey to his club since he took over as the bench boss. The coach has said on numerous occasions that he values a strong work ethic in his players and tends to reward effort with more ice time. Buffalo’s success over their last five has come as a result of hard work and the execution of fundamentals. Nolan has had his battles with his players over the course of this season but it seems that the Sabres have finally started to embrace his message over the last five games.

It isn’t clear if the Sabres have the talent to come up with the level of effort and execution needed to win on a consistent basis. However, Buffalo is a member of the Eastern Conference which is much more up for grabs than the Western Conference. Buffalo is separated from the seventh place New York Rangers by ten points. If Buffalo were in the Western Conference, it would need thirteen points to catch the Los Angeles Kings. Also remember that there are two more teams in the Eastern Conference than in the Western Conference.

To provide some additional context, the Toronto Maple Leafs currently occupy the final Wild Card position in the East with twenty-five points. If Toronto were in the Western Conference, the club would be three points out of the playoff picture. Even with Buffalo’s difficult start, the Sabres still have an opportunity to quickly move up the Eastern Conference ladder should they continue to win.

The plan entering the 2014-2015 season was to continue to rebuild and provide the Sabres’ youngsters with an opportunity to grow. At the moment, the Sabres are only two points out of last place in the NHL and this amount can change, one way or another, in a very short time. If Buffalo continue to win then the question is, will Sabres’ GM Tim Murray allow his club to move too far out of the NHL’s basement?

The allure of the possibility of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel being drafted by the Sabres crystalized after both youngsters played in the Queen City earlier this season. The Sabres increase their chances of landing Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel if it finishes in last place. If Buffalo continues to win and move further away from last place, it will be interesting to watch how the Sabres’ management responds.

Buffalo has strung together a nice stretch of games in their last five. However, the Sabres will face some tough opponents in the next few games with matches against the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers Los Angeles Kings, and Calgary Flames. The Sabres will need to sustain a strong effort during this upcoming stretch to find ways to win.

[See Also: Home-and-Home: A Buffalo Sabres Primer for Matches Against the Montreal Canadiens]

The Sabres CAN continue their winning ways if the club continues to give a good effort and execute on offense but this is not according to plan when it comes to the rebuild. On the contrary, the Sabres can just as easily fall off and go back into a losing trend like it did earlier this season.

With two points separating the Sabres from the NHL’s basement and plenty of time left in the season, it is far too early to know whether or not the current roster will be able to move up in the standings. However, if they continue to climb the Eastern Conference ladder it will force management to respond if it intends to put the franchise in the best position possible to land a top draft pick and bring McDavid or Eichel into the fold.