On Heels Of Crushing Defeat, Buffalo Sabres Approach Crucial Stretch Of Schedule
Photo Courtesy of Bill Wippert/Getty Images.
By: Connor Nielen (@ConnorNielen)
In what has become customary fashion, the Buffalo Sabres again succumbed to the latest installment of ‘heart-breaking loss roulette’ on Sunday afternoon. A valiant home effort against a lethal Penguins squad, one in which the Sabres fought back from an early two-goal deficit to take an eventual third period lead, made the unpleasant 4-3 result all the more insufferable.
While they failed to meet the ultimate objective that is earning a pair of much-needed points in the standings, there were a lot of positives for the team to take away from this game. From top to bottom the Buffalo bench competed with a level of intensity that has been long awaited by its fans; what is challenging now is finding a way to sustain it.
The Sabres again find themselves stuck in the all-too-familiar territory between “legitimate playoff contender” and “re-building bottom-feeder”, running the risk of another disappointing 9th-place finish when the dust finally settles in the Eastern Conference.
As observers clamour over what actions they believe could best remedy the team’s struggles, suggestions ranging from a change in personnel (many have called for the dismissal of head coach Lindy Ruff and/or GM Darcy Regier) to a complete face-lift of the roster itself (trade rumours involving disgruntled Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly refuse to go away), but what will be most telling in terms of the direction this team is going to go in lies in what is immediately ahead of it.
Buffalo has been afforded a major opportunity in that the division-rival Ottawa Senators have had their lineup somewhat depleted, losing stars Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza both to significant long-term injuries. The Sens presently sit just 3 points ahead of the Sabres, making them a prime target to overthrow in their pursuit of a playoff berth.
What should be especially appealing at the moment is the quality of the team’s next five opponents, who are: Winnipeg, Toronto, the Islanders, the Lightning, and Florida. Each of those match-ups are particularly favourable for the Sabres (even at Tampa Bay, a place where the Sabres have performed pretty well recently, winning 4 of their last 6 games there), so obtaining as many points as possible in an effort to make up ground in the standings is crucial right now.
It would heavily be in the team’s best interest to capitalize on earning these make-up points now instead of leaving it until the back-end of the schedule as they have in previous years. When a team takes care of business by winning its own games, the rest has a tendency to work itself out.