The Sabres' have a tall task ahead of them

January 24, 2020

(WGR 550) - As Jack Eichel prepares to take part in the fastest skater at the NHL Skills Competition on Friday, he and his team got very little help in the standings since last they played in Nashville on Saturday. Eichel will also play in the NHL All-Star game Saturday in St. Louis.

Columbus and Florida went into the break with a six-game winning streak. Philadelphia won five out of seven games and Carolina won five out of eight and got points in six of those games.

Many are trying to do the math on what the Sabres have to do during the rest of the season to try to sneak in, but none of that math matters in the least unless three teams falter.

Before we can even talk about a playoff spot the Sabres must pass Toronto and Philadelphia.

In the Atlantic Division the Sabres are tied with Montreal at 51 points. That’s six points in back of fourth place Toronto. The Leafs are the only team that played poorly going into break losing five of six games. Buffalo won five of eight and are still six points behind.

Florida holds down the Division’s third playoff spot, 10 point ahead of Buffalo. Tampa Bay is 11 in front of the Sabres and Boston leads Buffalo by 19 points. In the Wild Card race Buffalo has to pass Philadelphia which is nine points ahead of the Sabres and then look at the two in playoff position right now. Carolina leads Buffalo by 10 points and Columbus is 11 ahead.

What doesn’t help in the division is Buffalo has won one-of-10 against the Bruins, Lightning and Leafs. They are 4-0-0 against the Panthers and Canadiens, but have lost all three games against the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Flyers.

The Sabres do hold two games in hand on Columbus and they also play them two more times. The Sabres play the Canadiens three times, Carolina and Philadelphia twice and Florida once. Honestly I don’t think they can afford not to pick up points in almost all these games.

Coming out of break the Sabres have nine of 10 games at home. The Sabres are 14-5-3 in their own building and 8-15-4 when they are not. They’ve played five more road games, but that disappears once they get back. Despite the horrendous road record, Buffalo did win two of their last three away from home before break.

If the Sabres have any chance of going on a run, they almost have to equal what St. Louis did last year plus Linus Ullmark has to keep making the big saves when his team needs him. In 2020 he’s done that going 5-2-0 with a .932 save percentage. His .914 season save percentage is not going to cut it.

Jeff Skinner could be back after the break and he will need to find his scoring touch right away.

Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson are supposed to be adding offense to this team and they can’t wait any longer.

Buffalo can’t be 23rd in the NHL in points percentage, they can’t be 19th in goals for average, they can’t be 16th in goals against average, they can’t be 26th in shots per game, they can’t be 20th on the power play and they can’t be 26th on the penalty kill.

What can happen is Jack Eichel being ninth in the NHL with 62 points and fifth in goal scoring with 28 goals. Another thing that can happen is Sam Reinhart to continue his red hot 2020.

In eight games this year Reinhart has five goals and five assists for 10 points. Eichel has three goals and six assists for nine points.

There are some advantages to the Sabres playing seven defensemen almost every night. The minutes are well distributed and it’s helped Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin really play well.

The two it hasn’t helped are Brandon Montour and Colin Miller. The two of them might be on the left side for one shift, then the right side for two and so on. Montour then gets out at forward where he’s never played before. They can never get into a groove with a partner and it just isn’t easy playing all over the place. I have no idea what they have in Montour, but I’m sure there’s much more than what we've seen.

Miller was their best defenseman through 10 games and then he’s been all over the place. I just don’t think those players will ever be at their best until things can settle down around them.

As far as I’m concerned, Zach Bogosian wants to be traded. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it also means he’s not fully invested in this team. Let him practice and that’s it. Put Montour on the right side with Lawrence Pilut or Dahlin and leave it alone. Let’s let Montour get into a groove and I think we’ll see his best.

Buffalo returns to the ice for practice on Sunday afternoon and will host Ottawa on Tuesday.