Look… Streaks aren’t just for windows anymore…
If I could bottle the excitement I felt when the Sabres were on that 10-game winning streak in mid-late November and leading the NHL, I would have something to drink and curb the disappointment that followed when the streak went in the opposite direction, dropping five straight entering December.
I personally watched from the nosebleeds in mid-December as they took it on the chin from the Florida Panthers, a middle of the road team at best. The highlight of attending was joining in with the rest of the home crowd to boo the Panther who took out Skinner and received only a less-than-appropriate punishment in return.
The question on my mind, and likely at the forefront of every Buffalo hockey fan, as I look to the new year and the end of the season is simple — can this team end our playoff drought?
We’ve found ourselves staring up at the entirety of the Atlantic Division four of the past five seasons. (And let’s not kid ourselves, the one other year we landed in seventh.) As a town that wholeheartedly embraced the tank and walked away with a brand spanking new Captain and some other crucial elements because of it, I think we’re due.
One of the key issues Phil Housley faced stepping into the head coach position was a reorientation of the organization toward winning. Having spent so many years losing, we’d lost the taste of winning. You can detect some of the shift away from that mentality in our come from behind wins. You can see some remnants of that mindset in our blown leads. (See also that Florida game)
Despite the inconsistency, Buffalo find themselves sitting at the third position in the Atlantic, five points behind Toronto and eleven behind Tampa Bay. Of course, this only puts us three points ahead of the Bruins and four ahead of the Canadiens, nipping at our heels from the Wild Card slots.
Up front, we have two true All-Star threats in the form of Jeff Skinner and Captain Jack Eichel. Skinner’s found the back of the net twenty-six times, putting him just three shy of league-leader Alex Ovechkin for goals. Eichel’s assisted on thirty-four goals, netting another fourteen himself. We need more production from our other lines and if I had to spotlight someone in need of a turnaround, it’s Kyle Okposo and a need for him to return to his own All-Star form.
On defense, we have a solid pair of Rasmuses — Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen. Dahlin has shown real flashes of his expected brilliance and I think they’ve easily outshone his youth.
Unfortunately, neither of our keepers find themselves on any of the top lists, though they’ve had moments where they have also shined. Linus Ullmark has thrown two shutouts up onto the boards, though his goals against is 2.71 and Carter Hutton’s is 2.58 in nearly two times the number of games. For reference, Pekka Rinne leads the league with 2.15 (with also only two shutouts.) The league average is 2.86.
For me, the scariest element from our stat line has to be our +6 Goal Differential. That doesn’t read dominance that we see from champions. That reads, for lack of a better term, skating by.
The questions that linger about the team remain resiliency and consistency.
The Pegula Era finally shows real signs of promise.
The players and the coach feel like they’re nearly in place if not there and just in need of a little seasoning.
I think we’ve found the formula to win and there’s good reason to be optimistic about the team’s future. This is, unfortunately, not quite a Stanley Cup Champion team yet, though I’d love to be wrong about that.
…But that’s just me and my view from the nosebleeds.