By Franklin Heinzmann
BUFFALO, N.Y.- With just under 20 games to go in the regular season, the Buffalo Sabres are within a few points of a wild card spot. That’s something Sabres fans have been unable to truthfully say in the past six seasons. While the team may have stringed together ten wins in a row earlier in the season, it’s time for a reality check: The Sabres are far from where they need to be in order to make a serious push for the playoffs.
As of writing this, the Sabres have not won back-to-back games since they beat the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes, two of the worst teams in the Western Conference, on Dec. 11 and 13 respectively. That means that the Sabres have played at best .500 hockey since then.
One of the reasons the Sabres have played so poorly in the last few months is that they lack in depth. Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart – the players on the first line on an average night – have combined for 58 goals this season. They account for 42.9 percent of the goals the Sabres have scored this year. Skinner, Eichel and Reinhart are also three of the five forwards who have scored at least ten times this season. To provide some context, the Stanley Cup favorite, Tampa Bay Lightning, have nine forwards who have scored double-digit goals, and three of them have at least 30 goals.
The Sabres also have a bad habit of imploding. According to @BuffaloHockeyCentral on Twitter, the Sabres have given up at least two goals in less than three minutes in 11 of their losses this year. You rarely see teams that are as uneven keeled as the Sabres are this year make the playoffs.
As bad as the Sabres have been as of late, there are signs of life. The team has already beaten its point total from last season, their penalty kill (83.0%) is ranked fifth in the league, and most importantly they have two franchise players to build around in Eichel and wunderkind D Rasmus Dahlin.
Assuming the Sabres can resign Skinner to a long-term extension (if they haven’t done so already) this offseason, use their two first round picks wisely, and bring in a few more players that can score, then their future looks bright.
Statistics as of February 27, 2019.