It’s been a long time since the Buffalo Sabres started off a regular season hot out of the gate. Slow starts and early signs of a flawed hockey club have become commonplace around these parts. In fact, it’s been seven years since the Sabres had a winning record in their first 20 games of a season.
We’ve seen with other teams that getting off to a slow start doesn’t mean you eliminate yourself from playoff contention, but it does remove a lot of room for error. The NHL season is a long 82-game marathon, but always starting for the back of the pack adds a lot of stress to the team.
It's no secret that the #Sabres have had some pretty slow starts over the years. Earlier today, Jack Eichel made it clear. If this team is going to be competitive, they can't be playing catch up all season @WKBW pic.twitter.com/TtqFRRmNuH— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) October 1, 2018
I went back and looked at the Sabres record in the first 20 games of each of the last five seasons and it’s crazy to see the early holes they dug themselves into.
- 17-18 season: 5-11-4 | 14 PTS | 35 percent of possible points earned
- 16-17 season: 7-8-5 | 19 PTS | 47.5 percent of possible points earned
- 15-16 season: 8-10-2 | 18 PTS | 45 percent of possible points earned
- 14-15 season: 5-13-2 | 12 PTS | 30 percent of possible points earned
- 13-14 season: 4-15-1 | 9 PTS | 22.5 percent of possible points earned
As I mentioned, the last time the Sabres had a winning record in their first 20 games was all the way back in the 2011-12 season. They started the season 12-8-0, picking up 60 percent of the possible points that could be earned. Buffalo finished that season with 89 points and just missing the playoffs.
We’ve hit the ‘new team’ stage of the Sabres life cycle this season. General manager Jason Botterill made a lot of changes to his club in the offseason. They could feature up to nine new players who were not in the opening night lineup last season when they face the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
It may take some time for all the new pieces to gel, but it feels important for them to get off to at least a decent start this season. They don’t need to be the best team in the league but cannot start 1-6-2 like last season.
Getting off to a good start takes some pressure off the head coach and new players on the roster. It also avoids the “here we go again” headlines from circulating early on as well.
The NHL did a good job trying to get the Sabres off to that good start with the schedule. They’ll open the season with the first four games on home ice against the Bruins, New York Rangers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Colorado Avalanche.
Unfortunately, they pay for that favor in their next five games with an early season west coast trip. They’ll face the Arizona Coyotes, Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks. The positive spin on this is to get one of these trips out of the way early while the legs are fresh to start the season.
If the Sabres want to carry the “#ActionsSpeak” season motto their promoting and convince fans it’s different now; getting off to a good a start would be ideal.