Is there anything left to this Sabres season?

March 2, 2018

The trade deadline has come and gone.  Evander Kane went with it.  Jack Eichel is still sidelined by ankle injury.  But there's still 18 games left in the Sabres season.  Is there anything worth keeping an eye on?  Of course there is.

I'm not going down the tanking road again but lets face it, the race for last overall and a guaranteed top four draft pick is on.  Arizona is last in the NHL with 48 points and 19 games left.  The Sabres, going into tonight's matchup in Florida,  have 51 points with 18 games remaining. 

As a reminder, the team that finishes last overall has an 18% chance of winning the lottery and ending up with the top pick in the draft.  That top pick is expected to be star in the making defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Since you can't drop more than three spots in the order, the worst team drafts no lower than fourth.  A big Sabres-Coyotes showdown is looming March 21st at Key Bank Center.

Will the Sabres play better at home?  Their home record/performances led general manager Jason Botterill to release a little anger on the door of a suite in the press box recently.  They've picked up 35% of points available in home games so far(9-18-4).  On the road the Sabres have earned 43% of the possible points(11-15-7).

How will they fare against the top teams on their schedule?  Did you know the Sabres beat playoff bound teams Boston and Tampa Bay a combined four times last month?  Eight of their remaining 18 games are against teams that are currently in a playoff spot including all four season meetings with Toronto.  Buffalo also faces Nashville twice and Vegas and Tampa once each.  A strong record against those teams might ease some of the pain from this season.

Can Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart both keep up their strong play?  O'Reilly has 21 points(9 goals, 12 assists) in his last 23 games.  This after getting 25 points(9 goals, 16 assists) in his first 40 games.

Through the first half of the season Reinhart looked like a guy who was playing himself out of Buffalo.  But the former second overall draft pick has turned it up a few notches.  He has 20 points(7 goals, 13 assists) in the last 20 games.  In the first 44 games, Reinhart was almost invisible with just 13 points(2 goals, 11 assists).

There are some other questions as well like whether or not Eichel is able to get back and play before the season comes to a close.  Saturday marks three weeks since he suffered a high ankle sprain. 

How does Casey Nelson look?  The Sabres overhauled defense group has struggled mightily this season but Nelson has provided a solid, steady presence back there of late.  He could solidify a top six spot for next season.  

Speaking of next season's band of blueliners, will it include Victor Antipin? Can he actually play on a regular basis for the next month? Antipin, who is on a one year contract, has played in just 39 of 64 games.

Does anyone come up from Rochester for a look see?  There are some likely candidates like CJ Smith(when he's healthy), Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching, Brendan Guhle and newly acquired Daniel O'Regan but my guess is the Sabres brass will do everything they can to leave the Amerks roster alone as they prepare for the AHL playoffs.

There's one big question that doesn't involve anyone in Buffalo or Rochester right now.  Does Casey Mittelstadt turn pro?  The Sabres first round pick in last year's draft is having a good initial season for the University of Minnesota and performed very well for Team USA during the World Juniors. Hopefully he decides to leave college and is wearing Sabres blue and gold on opening night in October.