Heading into Beantown last night the Sabres were at an early season crossroads. Lose and they're way off of the pace. Two points and they're still in the playoff mix.
It's a 48-game season and everyone is playing within the conference. Last year they struggle vs. the Eastern Conference going 28-26-10. Within the Northeast Division they were even worse--6-11-3. If they want any hope of making the playoffs they'll need to kick it in the conference and battle hard within the division.
The four game winless streak put them in a bit of a hole and if they want to continue to climb they'll need to come through in a couple of areas which are interrelated--faceoffs and shots against.
The Sabres are last in the league in both categories and it makes sense, if you can't win the draw the other team has the puck. Having the puck means more shots.
In last week's loss to Carolina, Tyler Ennis won a defensive draw with the game tied and under five minutes remaining in the third period. Unfortunately Andrej Sekera inadvertently iced the puck. Canes' center Eric Staal won the next one, got it back to the point where Jay Harrison found the back of the net for the game-winning goal.
With three centers 23 and under, it's not surprising that their faceoff percentage is low. The key will be to continually increase that percentage and Assistant coach Kevin Adams has some work to do in that department.
Seven games in, the Sabres are skating, shooting and scoring. Unfortunately, their defense is a mess. Coach Lindy Ruff is still trying to find combo's while the individual defensemen are still working themselves into game shape, each with varying degrees of success.
Ryan Miller's been the key to goals-against as he's been pretty solid save for the clunker vs. Toronto on Tuesday. Last night in Boston, he was magnificent and nailed the 3rd-star of the game despite giving up four goals.
As their record states, the Buffalo Sabres are middle-of-the-road, and in most team stats, they're there as well.
We won't get a real good feel as to where they are in relation to the league until next month as everyone will be settling into their rhythm.
For now, though, they should be happy with where they're at. Take away a couple of breaks in each of their first two games--Philly and Toronto--and they'd be in real rough shape.
The playoff push started with the first puck drop. No time for slackers.
Team stats for the month.
- January--3 (T-13th)
- January--7 (T-15th)
Eastern Conference Standing:
Northeast Division Standing:
- January--3.29 (7th)...(#1 TB-4.83)
- January--31.9 (7th)...(#1 CAR--38)
- January--3.29 (24th)...(#1 OTT--1.71)
- January--34.3 (30th)...(#1 STL--20.3)
- January--24% (11th)...(#1 NYI--37.5)
- January--82.8% (12th)...(#1 CHI--91.3)
- January--42.1% (30th)...(#1 BOS--60.1)