Sabres season is on 'E'

The team is getting worse as playoff chances plummet

Howard Simon
February 18, 2019 - 5:22 pm

Photo: DREAMSTIME.com

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I was trying to think of an analogy that I could use to give you my thoughts on the Sabres season at this point. I’m going with the gas tank in your car. You know how the light on the fuel gauge will come on when you are almost out of gas? The car is still running, but the needle is registering empty and you know its just a matter of time before you run out of gas. Kind of like Cosmo Kramer in the Seinfeld episode “The Dealership”. 

The light is on in the car that is Sabres playoff chance. The Sabres car is operating on precious fumes and is in dire need of some gas, or in this case an extended stretch of winning.

During the recently completed critical seven-game homestand, the Sabres managed to procure just seven of the 14 available points. Sadly, that 50-percent rate is actually better than where the Sabres have been since the 10-game win streak. Buffalo is 11-17-5 since the streak ended with a loss in Tampa Bay. That’s 27 out of 66 possible points, which comes out to 41-percent. After the 10th straight win, which boosted the Sabres to an NHL best 36 points, their chances of making the playoffs were around 90-percent. All they had to do was play slightly better than .500 hockey for the rest of the season and it's quite likely their playoff drought, currently at seven years, would come to an end. According to Sports Club Stats, the Sabres' playoff chances are now at 4.3-percent. Nobody was planning a Stanley Cup parade during that win streak, but 90-percent to 4-percent is a Grand Canyon-esque drop.

The Sabres haven’t won back-to-back games since December 11th and 13th. To put that in perspective, this Sabres team is approaching the 2014-15 Sabres, who were put together for the express purpose of losing and finishing with the worst record. The tank team won games on December 13th and 15th, and didn’t win consecutive games again until February 24th and 26th. It was a stretch of 31 games before that second straight victory. If you look at the Sabres' schedule for the rest of this month, it's entirely possible this group out-does the tank team. It's been 27 games since a win over the Arizona Coyotes, which came two nights after a come-from-behind triumph over the Los Angeles Kings.

The biggest problem has been the breakdowns in the defensive part of the Sabres' game, and blame can be spread all around from the goalies to the defensemen and to the forwards. Forwards have been too slow to get back. Defensemen have been caught taking a chance in the offensive zone. Defensive zone coverage has been horrendous, at times, with too many players puck watching and losing assignments, and the goalies haven’t been good enough to cover up for mistakes made in front of them.

After recording the 10th straight win in that streak, the Sabres were 17-6-2. In those first 25 games, Buffalo gave up three goals or more in 11 games, or 44-percent of their games played to that point. Over the last 33 games, the Sabres have given up three or more goals on 23 occasions, or 69-percent of the time. 

Do you remember all of the close games they were winning? They were 10-0-2 in one-goal games, seven of which came during the win streak. Now we all knew they couldn’t sustain that and we're catching some breaks that would surely start going the other way. But the Sabres have won just five of their last 17 one-goal decisions. 

Do you remember how excited we were that defensemen were scoring goals? How about a combined 14 of them through the first 25 games of the season. Over the last 33 games, just 12 goals have come from blue liners.

While the defensive shortcomings are the biggest issue, it isn’t the only one. The Sabres' passing has been abysmal, at times. Dump ins seem to be rarely recovered, checks aren’t finished. Players, with very few exceptions, aren’t driving to the net in the offensive zone. The Sabres are getting worse as the season has gone on, and that should lead to an internal discussion about whether or not Phil Housley is the right coach. If that does happen, and I’m not sure that it will, I wouldn’t expect it until the offseason.

Now you might be thinking what’s up with all of this doom and gloom? After all, the Sabres are only six points out of a Wild Card spot and still have 24 games left to play. But what can you hang your hat on? What would give any of us a reason to believe they’re about to go on a winning streak or play near .700 hockey the rest of the way, which is what they’d probably have to do to earn a playoff spot?

If they can’t beat the New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils, how are they going to fare against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs (twice), a red-hot Philadelphia Flyers team and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the coming weeks?

One..two..three..four..five..six..seven..the playoff drought is headed to eight.

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