The Buffalo Sabres have spent the better half of this season giving hockey fans in the area a gift many have been longing for – a winning hockey team.
Safe to say out of the gate, this team has been nothing short of a gift.
What started off as a hot streak turned into sustained success and a comfortable lock on a playoff position heading into the holiday break.
Looking at this team though, it is hard to determine just what the identity of this year’s team actually is.
This team is not as good as their ten-game win streak early on but not as bad as their five-game losing streak that followed.
As you wonder “well obviously”, this is something that must be examined.
Buffalo came firing out of the gates and was laying down teams left-and-right. No team was too big, no victory was too hard to obtain. On the flip side though, the team’s fancy stats told a different story.
The Sabres were giving up too many chances and putting themselves in a situation where luck almost always was winning out and giving them a leg up.
This rolls us over to their five-game losing streak - in which the Sabres continued those poor habits but they stopped catching those lucky breaks that helped them out for ten straight games.
With young talent filling the nightly lineup and their penchant for playing things so close to the vest, many have dubbed this squad “the Cardiac Kids” – and why not?
This team has a drive in them that has not been seen by a Buffalo Sabres squad in almost a decade.
While the youth movement continues, Jack Eichel appears to have taken a hold of the locker room as they move full-speed ahead toward a possible playoff berth.
As many teams progress throughout the season, it is clear that with positives come negatives. Even the best of teams in the NHL struggle in some aspects.
For Buffalo, that is no different.
Offensively, the Sabres have one of the top scoring lines in the league with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner lighting up the score sheet on a nightly basis.
The downside? When the top line is held quiet, the team finds themselves scrambling for anything.
Buffalo is more than in a secondary scoring drought and it is quite alarming.
Granted, with the continued success of their top line, Buffalo has only had five games this season in which Eichel, Reinhart or Skinner have all recorded zero points.
In those five games, the Sabres are 0-5-0 with an average of 0.80 goals scored and 3.80 goals allowed.
It is the players who are tasked with sprinkling in goals that have come up painfully short.
Vladimir Sobotka has zero points in his last 15 games, with his last goal coming 22 games ago - November 8th against Montreal.
Tage Thompson has one point in his last 11 games, with his last goal coming 12 games ago – November 29th against Tampa Bay.
Jason Pominville has one point in his last 12 games, with his last goal coming 14 games ago – November 17th against Minnesota.
Kyle Okposo has one point in his last 13 games, with his last goal coming 20 games ago – November 13th against Tampa Bay.
Casey Mittelstadt has one point in his last 11 games, with his last goal coming six games ago – December 13th against Arizona.
Evan Rodrigues has two points in his last 15 games, with his last goal coming six games ago – December 13th against Arizona.
Conor Sheary has two points in his last 10 games, with his first goal in 17 games coming in the Sabres latest victory against the Anaheim Ducks on December 22nd.
Whether it is a call-up from the Rochester Americans or Jason Botterill begins working the phones a little earlier than expected, something must give with this lineup and their lack of secondary scoring.
As the season progresses and the playoffs approach, the Sabres would be foolish to continue to their attempt of always relying on their stars to score the goals.
Botterill has the fire power to make lineup-altering moves that will not only help the franchise in the short-term but the long-term as well.
Whether it is a rental or a young, cost-controlled asset, they will need to be more productive than the current product if the Sabres want to face anything more than a potential one-and-done in this year’s playoffs.