On October 26, 2006, the Buffalo Sabres equalled the NHL record 10-game winning streak to start the season, originally set by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993. The team finished with 113 points; tied with the Detroit Red Wings for best in the league. That Sabres squad lost in the Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators. This is the last time I remember being genuinely confident in a Sabres team.
Twelve years ago, Jason Pominville finished fourth in scoring. Sabres captain Jack Eichel was 9 years old when Buffalo won their tenth in a row. Now Pominville is helping to usher in a new wave of Sabres optimism, and currently sits third in points with 17. He’s got two game-winning goals - still clutch for the team, over a decade later. Over the last 10 years of Buffalo sports, leadership has made many decisions based on nostalgic attachments. Pominville is arguably the only one that has worked out.
Perhaps it’s coincidence that Pominville, who once served as team captain, has returned to form. Perhaps not. What is true, though is that many of the things that have plagued the Sabres over the last decade have seemed to evaporate. No longer does the team fall apart after going down by a goal...or two...or three. Rarely does this iteration of the Sabres give in to weaker opponents. Do they have off nights? Of course. Do those turn into off weeks? Off months? Nope. Not yet, at least.
Less than 2 to play in the 3rd...— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 18, 2018
BAH GAWD THAT'S POMINVILLE'S MUSIC pic.twitter.com/OFD2S1OY5W
Things certainly aren’t perfect. A lot of one-goal, come from behind games litter Buffalo’s list of successes. But it is also true that the idea of a come-from-behind win has been a mythical creature the Sabres failed to slay hundreds of times since 2006.
Recently, in a matchup against the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres proved they could start a game with a lead and finish strong. It was still difficult to buy in; Buffalo faced a below-average backup in Louis Domingue. It was an ugly win in which the Sabres generated only 19 shots on goal. Tampa Bay controlled play for much of the game. Buffalo won, regardless.
This win was followed up by two more - each time, the stakes grew. After beating the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout (against the team’s backup) Minnesota got serious and gave Buffalo their starter. Devan Dubnyk has spent the last few seasons redefining the importance of goaltending to a middle-of-the-pack team. Buffalo won, regardless.
At the outset of the season, the Die by the Blade writers predicted a few things for the season. I predicted that Buffalo would send three players to the All-Star Game. I still think that Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Rasmus Dahlin have a shot of getting that call.
I also said the team would finish four games above .500 - 86 points. I hesitate to budge on this because every Buffalo bone in my body is waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I also have to confess that I’d be very, very happy to be wrong.
In the end, the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres have appeared to relish the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. If it means our beloved team cracks the top eight and races into the playoffs, I’ll wear that hat proudly as I cheer them on from the barstool of my pub of choice.