The Buffalo Sabres have played 54 games going into tonight's match up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And it's a key game right now as Tampa sits in 13th place, two points behind 11th place Buffalo with a game in hand.
As for the Sabres, they're eight points behind 8th place Toronto with one game in hand and nine points behind 7th place Ottawa with three games in hand.
Thanks to parity and the three-point game, there will be much maneuvering and jostling in the standings from now until the end of the year.
Fact is Buffalo still has Winnipeg and Washington (who is constantly switching the division lead with Florida) to jump over just to knock on the playoff door.
Going 5-0-1 in their last six games while earning 11 of a possible 12 points has moved the talk away from the "Fail For Nail" campaign to a possible run into the playoffs. Forget that there's still the possibility of yet another, pesky first-round loss to think about. That's way to far away.
The NHL season is a long grind and there's talk that should the Sabres make the playoffs, they won't have enough energy left to make an impact. And here's where injuries come into play.
Buffalo is icing the same team now that they did to start the season save for some minor moves--defenseman Mike Weber in for Marc-Andre Gragnani and Luke Adam as the 13th forward.
But, should the Sabres continue to roll and climb into the top-eight, a good chunk of their team--including key players--will have played, roughly a 70-game season (or less) which should have a positive impact come April.
Call it the "glass half-full" approach if you want. Or if you so desire, you could add that it's half-full with the koolaid coming from the Sabres brass. But, it's a simple fact.
Barring any weird things happening between now and the end of the year, Jason Pomminville will have played in all 82 games. Four others--Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek and Jordan Leopold--will be right around 80 games, but wear and tear, as with Pomminville, should be minimal since none of them, save for Vanek maybe, play a rough and tumble style.
The next group should be in the mid to upper 70's in games played--Robyn Regehr, Paul Gaustad, Andrej Sekera and Matt Ellis.
Projected games played for the season if they play all 28 remaining:
- Christian Ehrhoff--71
- Nathan Gerbe--71
- Ville Leino--71
- Brad Boyes--69
- Patrick Kaleta--66
- Tyler Myers--62
- Tyler Ennis--48
Cody McCormick suffered an "upper body" injury last night so his status is in question. Weber and Gragnani were left out because they've been alternating the #6 d-man slot. Jochen Hecht is out right now and may be done for the year.
In goal Ryan Miller could play in a total of 63 games. But that would mean him playing every game until the end of the season. Back-up Jhonas Enroth should see action in at least five or six more which would put Miller in the 58-game area.
Take it for what it is, but if the Sabres can continue to climb, the toll of an 82-game schedule will be less because of the inordinate amount of injures incurred earlier in the year.