After their 10-game winning streak concluded, the Buffalo Sabres seemed as sure of a thing as ever to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Following last night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres fell out of a playoff spot and continue their downward trend.
Buffalo finds itself playing dull and unlucky hockey, while other teams jockeying for position are hitting their mid-season stride.
The Montreal Canadiens are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games. The New York Islanders are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. Both of these franchises currently occupy the two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.
What about the Sabres? They are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Not very conducive to a team with postseason aspirations.
Looking at the Atlantic Division, Tampa Bay has all but run away with the division. With 72 points in 45 games, they are on-pace for 114.7 points.
Aside from Tampa, the Atlantic and Wild Card is still wide open.
Point projections over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/LTCEpr3jfG— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 13, 2019
How can Buffalo get themselves a stronger hold on a playoff spot? The story has not changed – it is all about goals, goals, and more goals.
The story of the season has become the offensive inability to find a higher gear. We know how great Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner have done, but it is everyone else who appears to be holding the Sabres back from a potential playoff berth.
When looking at the stat sheets, the story continues to be an ugly one.
Since December 1, Reinhart leads the Sabres with 21 points in 18 games (4 goals, 17 assists). Eichel is second with 17 points in 15 games (10 goals, 7 assists), while Skinner comes in third with a healthy 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in 18 games.
Aside from the big three, there are no offensive players above five points in the 18 games since the first of December - Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary both have five points (one goal, four assists).
With that being said, Buffalo’s offense actually appears to be on the upswing, when looking at fancy stats.
Charting Hockey’s charts point out that the Sabres’ expected goals for rate over time bottomed out at 1.628 on December 27. That rate has steadily been climbing to around where Buffalo has hung out for most of the season, around the 2.10 area.
The stat sheet confirms a small uptick in production, but nowhere near it needs to be should Buffalo expect to make the playoffs this spring.
Is it a trade that is necessary?
Increasing trade rumors continue to swirl around the entire NHL but as our own Anthony Sciandra pointed out, with Buffalo’s insistence on obtaining younger, cost-controlled players, “hitting the panic button now is simply not in the team’s best long-term interest”. That is as true of a statement as one can pass along at this point.
Call-ups appear likely as well, with the appearance of C.J. Smith in the Sabres line up, but it appears the slow burn continues with prospects like Smith.
Fans and players alike want to see on-ice progression this year, but the song remains the same – goals lead to wins and wins lead to the playoffs.
What do you think - will the Sabres be able to hang around the Wild Card race and edge their way back into the postseason?