For the past few weeks, every Buffalo Sabres fan has been having the same internal debate: How long do we wait before we can write this season off as a lost cause?
For some of you, it already happened a few months ago, for others it happened more recently. But for some Sabres fans, the team has hung close enough to 8th place long enough that you still haven't reached that point, and all of a sudden the blue and gold find themselves just six points out of the playoffs with 22 games to go.
With the trade deadline looming and the team playing some of its best hockey in a long time over the past few games, we thought it would be interesting to look at this idea from the fan perspective. So, regardless of what you think Darcy will or should do at the deadline (we'll get into that later) or whether you want them to Fail for Nail/Mikhail or not, let's take a look at reasons why this Sabres team could absolutely push for the playoffs, and reasons why it's an unrealistic pipe dream.
Why The Sabres Could Make The Playoffs:
- They're finally healthy. Yes, it's been an excuse that's been trotted out all year, but that doesn't make it untrue. Aside from Robyn Regehr's day-to-day injury, Buffalo is finally back at full strength for the first time since the beginning of the season, while other teams now have to battle the injury bug. As WGR's Brian Koziol tweeted out last night:
#Sabres are 18-11-2 when 6 of 7 top D play, allowing 2.48 GA. They are 8-16-5 in other 29 games and allow 3.41 GA.
That's a pretty gigantic difference, but you can see the evidence in their past few games. Combine that with the fact that their forward lines don't consist of mostly AHL players anymore, and you've got a recipe for success.
Head after the break for more reasons why it's realistic to hope for the playoffs, and the reasons why you shouldn't.
- Ryan Miller is Ryan Miller again, and so is everyone else. Another reason why Buffalo was mired in the NHL's basement for so long was their poor goaltending. Ever since Miller was injured with a concussion against Boston, he hadn't looked quite right. Pucks were sneaking behind him that he usually stopped, and the Sabres couldn't ever seem to hold any team to under three goals. However, after a rocky month or so, Miller looks to be back in form; he has a .929 save percentage and a 2.03 GAA in the month of February, stealing games and making big saves at the right time - just look at last night's win over the Islanders for your evidence. Any team needs solid goaltending to compete, and Buffalo has it once again.
In addition to Miller coming back to life, players such as Derek Roy, Tyler Ennis, and Tyler Myers are starting to work their way back on to the scoresheet after taking a few months off. The Sabres need more than #26 and #29 to score if their going to make a run, so getting secondary scoring will be huge for Buffalo.
- Nobody else in the Eastern Conference seems to want it. Let's face it, the Eastern Conference is not very good this year. The Sabres did everything they could to bottom out throughout December and January, yet even while sitting in last place in the East they were only seven points out of the playoffs. Now, they sit only six behind Toronto and Winnipeg for the final playoff spot, but teams like those two, Ottawa, and Montreal are all trending downward in the second half of the season. Yes, they have teams to leapfrog, but none of those teams seem to be taking charge of their own destiny. The Sabres will need about 33 points in those 22 games to reach 92, so it's still a tough mountain to climb, but if the bottom of the East keeps playing .500 hockey, then that number could be lower. Lindy Ruff's teams have a penchant for making late runs, so it's not out of the question that they could do it again.
Why The Sabres Won't Make The Playoffs:
- They don't have the offensive firepower. Even with everyone healthy, the Sabres are still 23rd in the NHL in goals for: they currently have 145, which puts them on pace for 198 for the season. That would be 33 behind their next lowest total since the lockout, the 231 goals they scored in the 2009-10 season. You've got to score to win games, even with an improved defense and an un-concussed goalie, and right now the Sabres don't get enough pucks in the net thanks to guys like Stafford, Gerbe, Boyes, Leino, and Ennis who are mired in career-worst (or close to it) seasons.
- They're still too far out of it. Even if they go on a "heroic run to 8th," to borrow a phrase, the Sabres still have to leapfrog at least four or five other teams to get there, and the 33 points in 22 games needed means they have to go something like 14-3-5. Also, did we mention that the Sabres play 14 of those final 22 games on the road, where they have a 11-16-0 record this year? It just doesn't make sense to think that they can have such a dramatic turnaround and that every team around them will continue to wallow in mediocrity.
What do you think, Sabres fans? Which way are you rooting? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.