The Buffalo Sabres had their best week of the season as they posted three straight wins, two over the division-leading Montreal Canadiens, and one over the, currently playoff bound, Toronto Maple Leafs. But the week didn’t start well for the Buffalo Sabres with a little war of words between Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and Patrick Kaleta.
However, rather than have this bring them down this week, it seems to have made them stronger. If the playoffs were to start today, the Sabres would still be on the outside looking in, yet with their recent results it appears that if they don’t get in, they may be a dangerous spoiler to teams currently holding playoff positions.
Beasts of the Northeast
This week, Boston Bruins coach, Claude Julien, was in Embrun, Ontario, taking in a National Capital Junior Hockey League playoff game, where his brother, Richard, is a coach. When asked about the division and specifically the Buffalo Sabres and their struggles this season, Julien responded by saying, “I don’t really know why they have struggled this season, but they seem to play us well.”
Against the Bruins this season, the Sabres scored a game-high seven goals in a 7-4 win on Jan. 31, lost 3-1 on Feb. 10, a one-goal game before an empty-netter, and won 4-2 on Feb. 15.
But after this week, the Bruins are not the only top team struggling against the Sabres. With their two wins this week against Montreal, the Sabres have now beaten the Habs in three-straight games. Montreal torched the Sabres in their first meeting with a 6-1 win on Feb. 2, but then Buffalo won 5-4 in a shootout on Feb. 7, before the overtime win this past Monday and the regulation win Saturday night.
Toronto too, has not been able to distinguish themselves from Buffalo as each team has a pair of wins against the other in the season series. In fact, the only team in the Northeast Division that has a winning record against Buffalo is Ottawa, who has beaten the Sabres in all of their meetings this season. Yet the Sabres actually have a winning record of 7-5-2 in the division, which is the best record by a Northeast team against the division.
Other Contenders Beware
Similarly, the Buffalo Sabres have a winning record against the Atlantic Division at 4-3-2. The Sabres have scored a win against every team in the Atlantic minus the conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. The only bad news is that the Sabres seem to struggle against the Southeast Division with just a 2-7-0 record. The good news with that is as of March 24, the Southeast Division only had two teams, including their division-leader, in a playoff position. The other six come from the Northeast, four, and the Atlantic, two.
While they don’t have a winning record against the teams currently in playoff position, the Sabres are 8-10-2-1, which is not a horrible record. However, against non-playoff teams, the Sabres have just a .500 record at 5-5-0-1.
So what does it all mean? Well the Sabres seem to be playing to their opponent. When they face a top opponent, they elevate their game, but when they play an inferior team they lower their game.
Looking at their schedule, the Sabres have been in many tight games. They have not been involved in a game with a goal difference of more than two since Feb. 23. The problem here is that they have lost the second most by one goal, seven and are tied for the third most two-goal losses with five.
All of these stats add up to one thing: that the Sabres will play top teams tight. Now they are faced with an interesting scenario. The Sabres three-game win streak has put them right back in the playoff hunt. The Sabres sit in 10th in the Eastern Conference Standings with 30 points, just two back of the Carolina Hurricanes for the final spot. However, the Sabres have played two more games than Carolina and the ninth-placed New York Rangers, who also have 30 points.
So while it is still an uphill battle for the Sabres to make the post season, they could make it difficult for other teams, which makes them a very dangerous spoiler. If teams take Buffalo lightly, like the Canadiens did this week, they will get beat and if Buffalo catches enough teams not respecting them, they may just turn shattering playoff dreams into realizing their own.
A Look Ahead
Buffalo has 16 games remaining. Of those 16, nine are against current playoff teams. They play four more within the division and then six with the Atlantic. They also have six against the problem-causing Southeast but the positive for Buffalo is that struggling against the weakest division might be the easiest thing to correct. If they can turn things around and take advantage of those games against the Southeast, and continue to be above .500 against the Atlantic and Northeast there is a very good chance that this team could not just be a spoiler but also sneak into the playoffs.
An avid sports enthusiast, Darren presently is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the Golf Association of Ontario. He has served as a Sports Editor with Etcetera Publications and colour commentator on TV Cogeco’s junior hockey coverage. He has covered a wide range of junior and professional sports including: hockey, golf, baseball and football to name a few.