The Sabres will head into the Christmas break with a very solid 20-11-5 record no matter what happens tonight vs. the Anaheim Ducks. A 10-game winning streak assured that but as of late they've tailed off considerably. Buffalo followed that win-streak with a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and are now 3-2-1 in their last six games after losing to the Washington Capitals 2-1 last night. At a post-streak pace of nine points from their recent 3-5-3 record, the Sabres would end up with around 93 points, or in a heated battle for a playoff spot.
That's how costly it can be when you only win three of your last 11 games.
Through it all Buffalo has played some good hockey over the last few weeks, most notably against the Stanley Cup champion Capitals, whom they played twice on the road in a span of seven days. In their first meeting on December 15 the Sabres, in a game they could have definitely won, lost 4-3 in the shootout and last night the also lost by a goal, 2-1. It was another game against the champs they could have definitely won, or at least tied as they really ramped up the pressure in the third. However, they ran into a wall in Caps goalie Brayden Holtby.
The game was reminiscent of a game back in early November at Madison Square Garden where the Rangers "King" Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 of Buffalo's 40 shots on goal for the 3-1 win. Last night Holtby and company snuffed out every chance Buffalo had save for a puck that pinballed to Johan Larsson just outside the crease before he chipped it home. There were opportunities galore for the Sabres but they could not get another past Holtby even with a 2-minute powerplay near the end of the game. In all he stopped 36 of 37 Buffalo shots on goal.
The good news is that the Sabres are getting healthy on the back end. Last night saw the return of d-men Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut who'd missed nine and three games, respectively, with injuries. It gave Buffalo bench-boss Phil Housley three solid pairs at even strength with 5v5 ice time ranging from Zach Bogosian's high of 16:18 to McCabe's 12:04. Housley also mixed up his bottom-nine forwards and generally speaking, every player was skating well and getting shots but couldn't score, which has been a problem for this group.
What it came down to last night, other than the Sabres only scoring one goal, was a couple of mental mistakes. The first came on the powerplay when Washington caught Buffalo's d-men flat-footed and scored a shortie and the other was on a miscue by goalie Carter Hutton behind his net. Other than that they held Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL's leading scorer, to zero points, one shot on goal and a minus-1 rating in just over 20 minutes of ice-time and they held a potent Capitals offense to only two goals. It was only the second time in their last 16 games that Washington was held to less than three goals, the other time being the game before in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sabres return home tonight to take on the Anaheim Ducks who are concluding a five-game road trip. Anaheim is 2-2-0 thus far and their looking to continue a run where they've won 11 of their last 15 games.
Tonight represents a chance to get out from under a two-game losing streak before the Christmas break.
Game time is 7 pm at KeyBank Center.