First, the bad news. The Buffalo Sabres came out of a 5-9-0 month of February with a record of 8-12-1. They plummeted from 9th in the conference to 14th, from 15th in points to 27th and took a dive in goal differential going from T-12th to T-27th at minus13.
Oh, and a little something happened along the way, head coach Lindy Ruff, in his 16th season as the Sabres bench boss was fired and was replaced by interim coach Ron Rolston.
The good news?
Under Rolston, who was bumped up from his gig coaching the Rochester Americans, the Sabres are 2-2.
March will dictate a lot of things like whether or not the team officially bottomed out in their 4-0 home loss to the NY Islanders (landing in the bottom of the eastern conference, 29th in the league,) in Rolston's first home game, his second game behind the bench, and his second loss to start his tenure (it was also the second home game in a row that the Sabres were booed off the ice.) And it will also dictate whether the Sabres are buyers or sellers (or some hybrid again) at the trade deadline.
For now, though, we get to review a pitiful month of February.
Were it not for the torrid pace of Thomas Vanek and solid offensive production from his linemates during the month of January (3-3-1 record,) this Sabres team would be out of the playoffs by now.
February marked a precipitous decline in goals/game dropping from 3.29 down to 2.48 which placed them T-22nd in the league. A big contributor to that decline was a putrid powerplay which scored only three goals for the months, none coming from defensemen. For the year they're at 12.3% on a 9-for-73 conversion rate which places them 28th in the league.
Conversely, the team looks to have stopped the bleeding on defense. It's still poor, but it's a notch up from wretched, which is a positive.
The Sabres have given up the most shots in the NHL (711) and the most shots/game (33.9). Oddly enough, their goals against average has dipped slightly from 3.29 to 3.19, yet their ranking has gone from 24th to 27th.
Their shots against has improved slightly buy they still remain last in the league in that category. To say that goalie Ryan Miller has been under siege all year would be an understatement.
On the positive side under interim coach Rolston, the defense is playing much better. As evidenced in their 2-1 win over goal-scoring machine Tampa Bay (1st in goals/game, #1 in powerplay goals,) they managed to keep most of the shots to the perimeter and shut out the Lightning powerplay including :45 of 5-on-3.
In addition, although defensive-zone turnovers, missed assignments and lack of compete does appear at times, it's nowhere near the levels from earlier in the month and their "Keystone Cops" moments have become less frequent.
"Baby steps," as Rolston put it, "baby steps."
All-in-all, the team is where it is because they are who they are, right now.
Forget the early part of February, they should take their 2-2 record under Rolston into March as a sign of some very good progress and build upon that moving forward.
Rolston has a ton of things for this team to work on and he started with the back-end, which showed improvement the last two games.
One thinks that he'll start working on the powerplay in earnest as soon as he feels comfortable with his defense. That is a key area for the team moving forward and will greatly impact the goals-for.
That Nathan Gerbe scored two goals for the team in last night's 4-3 SO win over Florida is a big positive. Contributions from others in the secondary scoring department (hello, Drew Stafford) will also be another key.
If they can keep their goals against down, or improve upon it, and get their offense going a little more, they could be a bubble team come month's end due to the parity of the mid-bottom half teams. But it's still a tall task. Even though the Sabres are only four points out of the 8th spot, they have six teams to jump to get there.
Two in a row, especially on the road, is a good start and they'll need to put together a nice streak just to get back into the mix.
For now, we'll just take the more positive approach--under Rolston the team is 2-2 heading into the month of March.
- January--3 (T-13th)
- February--8 (T-23rd)
- January--7 (T-15th)
- February--17 (T-27th)
Eastern Conference Standing:
Northeast Division Standing:
- February--T-27 (-13)
- January--3.29 (7th)...(#1 TB-4.83)
- February--2.48 (T-22)...(TB--3.55)
- January--31.9 (7th)...(#1 CAR--38)
- February--29.6 (12th)...(CAR--33)
- January--3.29 (24th)...(#1 OTT--1.71)
- February--3.19 (27th)...(CHI--1.70)
- January--34.3 (30th)...(#1 STL--20.3)
- February--33.9 (30th)...(STL--22.9)
- January--24% (11th)...(#1 NYI--37.5)
- February--12.3 (28th)...(ANA--29.3)
- January--82.8% (12th)...(#1 CHI--91.3)
- Februrary--80.5 (17th)...(BOS--93.9)
- January--42.1% (30th)...(#1 BOS--60.1)
- February--45.8 (30th)...(BOS--57.4)