Friday, January 27, 2017

Is it a mirage? Or is it real?

Published by, 1-26-2017

As of right now, one could make a case for either side as the Buffalo Sabres are in Dallas looking to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games against the Stars. Buffalo dominated a seemingly disinterested and mostly somewhat disengaged Dallas team in a 4-1 matinee win on January 16.

And therein lies the rub.

That solid performance came on the heels of two poor road losses which was proceeded by a 3-0-1 record to begin the 2017 calendar year. After defeating Dallas, the Sabres then travelled to Toronto and ended up losing a winnable game against the Maple Leafs. It was a game in which head coach Dan Bylsma pulled goalie Robin Lehner, the first time Bylsma had made that move all season, in favor of Anders Nilsson.

Nilsson started and won the next game at home vs. the Detroit Red Wings and when Lehner got the nod for the following game at Montreal, no one was sure what to expect from him as they faced off against Carey Price and the division-leading Canadiens. However, Lehner out-dueled Price allowing one less goal on the same 38 shots and also one-upped the former Vezina winner in the highlight department.

Was that a season-defining game for both the Lehner and the Sabres?

For Lehner it wasn't as he allowed four goals in his next outing at Nashville on Tuesday, but the team still has it going as the Sabres erased a two-goal third period deficit and beat the Predators in overtime 5-4. It was the third game in a row where they came from behind in the third period and went on to win the game in overtime.

So here we stand on the precipice of the All-Star break with that as a back-drop to a 7-3-1 January with the Sabres on a three-game winning streak with some positive signs that this team is starting to get its act together.

Amongst the signs:

--a roster that's close to full health, and that includes players who've been ramping their games up since returning from injury
--a defense-corps that's making a difference in the offensive zone with nine points (2g+7a) in the last three games, as John Vogl of the Buffalo News points out
--consistency from the likes of top-liners Ryan O'Reilly (1+3) in the last three and Kyle Okposo (3+1) in his last five games plus four goals and two assists from Jack Eichel in his last five games
--three straight overtime wins, something the Sabres have done only once before in franchise history according to Sabres PR the last of which occurred from Nov. 5-11, 2006
--secondary scoring from players like Brian Gionta (2+2 in his last four games) and Zemgus Girgensons, (1+2 in his last four)

There's an overall sense of confidence with the team right now, and there should be. But they should be wary of letting their guard down.

The Sabres had one three-game winning streak before, back in late Oct./early Nov. and were doing so without Eichel in the lineup. They proceeded to go 1-5-2 after that. Upon Eichel's return they went on a strong 5-2-1 run only to be humbled by a 1-4-2 close to the 2016 portion of the season. The most troubling part of those two down stretches (2-9-4 combined) is that nearly all of those losses and only one win and came against divisional/conference foes. Buffalo was a combined 1-8-4 vs. the east in those two stretches.

That's why their 49 points in 47 games has them tied with six other teams for last in the conference yet only five points from a wild card spot. Parity-extraordinaire.

Do they have the wherewithal to separate themselves from the pack?

They might, but we're not sure. We've been witness to too much inconsistency from this club to say anything definitively. A win tonight will go a long way towards furthering that notion while a loss will bring us back to where we were a couple times already this season. Snagging a point would mean that they'll extend a point streak to four games for the third time this season, which isn't bad save for the fact that we'll be right back where we started from.

Is this team for real? Or not?

***** has Bylsma saying Nilsson gets the start in net "because we wanted to get him a start with the All-Star game coming up."

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