The Buffalo Sabres, after tying a dismal NHL record with 18 consecutive losses, have gathered 8 out of a possible 10 points in their last 5 outings, carrying a record of 3-0-2 starting with their final loss of the losing streak coming in overtime against Philadelphia. They went on to break said streak in monumental fashion rattling off a 6-1 victory against the same Flyers squad, and they have looked like a different team since they got back in the win column.
Unfortunately for fans in Buffalo, this is all far too little too late. The most recent surge still hasn’t brought the team to their 10th win of the year. They sit on a cumulative record of 9-23-6, leaving them last in the East, 8 points behind the 7th place Devils, their most recent victims. They face New Jersey again next and will have a very good chance to secure that illusive 10th victory.
The hotter the Sabres get, the more trouble that spells for their divisional rivals. The Flyers and the Rangers sit 6th and 5th, respectively, tied with 41 points, just 5 points back of the Bruins who occupy the final playoff spot. Buffalo will face Boston six more times before the season draws to a close in May. They will meet the Rangers twice and the Flyers one more time. If they can steal 3 or 4 wins from the Bruins, they could really help a team like the Rangers sneak into the playoffs, as they seem to have gotten hot at just the right time. They just as easily could steal points from the Rangers and Flyers down the stretch. The Sabres are looking to play spoiler and they could be a nightmare for the teams in the heat of the East division playoff battle.
What’s most impressive about this run is that Buffalo has been without their star player, captain Jack Eichel. Add to that former Hart winner Taylor Hall has been a shadow of himself, and held out of the last game amidst trade rumors. It’s hard to believe a team facing those circumstances can win games against teams in playoff contention, yet the consistent play of Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson, as well as the emergence of some of their young players has allowed them to do just that.
Rasmus Dahlin is starting to live up to the hype of being a first overall draft pick. His defensive game has been rounding out quite nicely over the last few games, he eats up at least 20 minutes a night, and he’s 5th on the team in points with 15 through 38 contests. Casey Mittelstadt has picked up his play since the streak was snapped, he’s on a 4 game point streak, collecting 5 points in that span.
None of these recent wins would be possible if it weren’t for the rock solid play of goaltender Linus Ullmark. He has a .919 Save% despite playing behind the 27th ranked defense that allows an average 32.2 shots on goal each night. He now has 3 straight wins, posting a Save% of at least .900 in each victory. He stopped 31 of 32 shots in the win that broke the losing streak. If the Sabres didn’t have this guy, they most likely would have earned the (dis)honor of the longest losing streak of all time.
This season will go down in infamy for Sabres fans, but all is not lost as there’s still plenty of time to develop the youth, win some games against good teams, and build confidence in the organization going into next year. Another good draft could be the key in turning the ship around in Buffalo and there’s no doubt they’ll be picking very high in the upcoming draft. Western New York, may the draft lottery gods be with you.