Often twitter-embattled Sabres beat writer Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News had a rather positive response to a tweet yesterday that read, "Kiss the playoff push bye-bye" after the Sabres dropped a 3-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets at home that afternoon. A typically cynical Harrington stuck to the hard numbers and offered up this in retort, "Look at the standings, people. TWO points out."
Worms meet can opener.
Harrington's been defending that quote for the last 19 hours as a very restless Buffalo Sabres fanbase struggles with the fact that their team, which was once at the top of the league, is treading water and presently outside of a playoff spot. As the curtain closed on the loss to the Jets yesterday evening, Harrington was left to throw life preservers to an anguished fan base on the verge of drowning in their distress, which is quite ironic as the longtime sports writer has unabashedly focused his ire upon the team beginning at the top with ownership and hitting every rung on the way down.
The problem most are having is that after squandering a 10-game winning streak in November, one that got them to the top, the Sabres are squandering a seven-game homestand. At present they're 2-2-1 at KeyBank Center while alternating wins and losses dating back to a win January 16th in Calgary. The time-frame, which bookends a 10-day, late-January hiatus from games for their bye week and the All-Star Game, has been about treading water which can be either good or bad, depending upon your point of view. Bad in that they're not making up any ground and good in that prior to this recent 4-4-1 run, Buffalo struggled mightily going 6-11-4.
Buffalo fans looked at this homestand as a way to get back into a playoff spot as the Sabres were posting the NHL's ninth-best home record at 14-6-3 heading into it and look at the schedule had many projecting (hoping) that the team could snare 10 points out of the deal. Right off the bat the 30th place Chicago Blackhawks put the kibosh on those thoughts with at thorough 7-3 lashing of Buffalo on February 1. The Sabres rebounded vs. Minnesota but lost in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes who, with the extra point, would surpass the Buffalo in the standings. After coming back with a solid 3-1 win vs. Detroit on Saturday, Buffalo fell yesterday to the Central Division-leading Jets who were on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) and weren't very happy with that. Winnipeg did what they had to do to come away with a win despite the Sabres winning the analytics battle.
The good news, which is something Harrington futilely tried to point out, is that Carolina and the Pittsburgh Penguins, holders of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, both lost yesterday and the Sabres remained two points out of a wild card spot. He also pointed out the Penguins overall record which was 28-20-7 while the Sabres was 27-21-7, or pretty damn close. The Metropolitan Division, where both Pittsburgh and Carolina reside, has been very competitive with only the NY Islanders in a spot that somewhat separates them from the crowd. The Islanders are five points ahead of second place Washington and only five points separates the Capitals and three other teams including the fifth-place Hurricanes.
Last Monday morning Buffalo was three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card berth. As of today their only two points back of the spot now held by the Penguins, with Carolina one point either way in the middle. However, as Buffalo continued to tread water with eyes fixed forward on the teams ahead of them, there are two teams creeping up. In addition to the Philadelphia Flyers who've been red-hot as of late (9-0-1 in their last 10 games,) the NY Rangers have gotten themselves into the mix with a 6-3-1 run in their last 10. Philly is only four points behind the Sabres and the Rangers are only five points behind.
It's a classic case of NHL parity. As the heavyweights of the league separate themselves from the rest, the jumbled masses are battling it out with each other and staying alive, in part, because of the loser-point and three-point games. Every team in the Metropolitan Division except for the Blue Jackets have at least six overtime losses while every Atlantic Division team in the wild card mix, including Boston, who's third in the division, have at least six overtime losses.
The Sabres have two more games before leaving KeyBank Center and they're against the two New York teams. Buffalo squares off against the Islanders on Tuesday before concluding their homestand Friday against the Rangers in a game that represents a four-point swing against a direct playoff competitor. Carolina finishes off a six-game road trip in Ottawa on Tuesday before facing off against Edmonton at home on Friday.
Pittsburgh plays in Philadelphia tonight, and the best we can hope for in Buffalo is that there's no three-point game. The Pens head home to face off against Edmonton on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets are on a three-game winning streak (after dropping five in a row) and face a tough challenge at home to start the week as they take on the Capitals tomorrow and the Islanders on Thursday.
With Tampa Bay still running away in the East (14 points ahead,) here are the teams of interest to the Sabres who have 61 points on the season:
NY Islanders (1st, Metropolitan)--72 points
Toronto Maple Leafs (2nd, Atlantic)--71
Boston Bruins (3rd, ATL)--70
Montreal Canadiens (4th ATL, 1st Wild Card)--69
Washington (2nd MET)--67
Columbus (3rd MET)--65
Pittsburgh (4th MET, 2nd Wild Card)--63
Carolina (5th MET)--62
Buffalo (5th ATL)--61
Philadelphia (6th MET)--57
NY Rangers (7th MET)--56
Who's hot in their last 10:
For last week's standings click here