When the Buffalo Sabres hit the road to take on the Winnipeg Jets last night, they were in a prime position. The Sabres were facing the team directly ahead of them in the race for the playoffs, and a regulation victory would have placed them just 2 points away from the final playoff spot. Unfortunately, Buffalo came, they played, they lost – by a score of 4-1.
The Sabres did not lose due to a lack of effort. The hustle was there, as the team grinded away for most of the first period. Instead, Buffalo was plagued by poor decisions with the puck, and a lack of finish. Various scoring chances were wasted by players electing to make an errant pass or hang on to the puck too long, rather than shoot. In the defensive end, the Sabres were ineffective in the areas of simplicity, such as chipping the puck up the boards and out of the zone. The period may have ended scoreless, but Buffalo had great chances.
Then, the ‘Second Period Sabres’, after being absent for a few games, made their triumphant return. A lucky bounce went to the Jets, as an Evander Kane shot went off of Christian Ehrhoff’s skate and directly to Kyle Wellwood, who promptly finished the play and put Winnipeg up 1-0. The goal was helped set up by Tyler Ennis failing to get the puck out of the zone. Five minutes later, Aaron Gagnon put the Jets up 2-0 on his first NHL goal. Defensemen Adam Pardy and Mark Pysyk appeared confused flubbed their coverage’s on the goal. The final dagger came in the closing seconds, as Andrew Ladd snapped a scoring drought of a dozen games, putting Winnipeg up 3-0 with 25 seconds left in the period.
In the third period, Kevin Porter was able to get the Sabres on the board, but the team was unable to capitalize on any other chances after that. Blake Wheeler sealed the win with an empty net goal, snapping the Sabres 3-game winning streak, and giving Buffalo 3-straight losses as visitors to Winnipeg.
This loss is a culmination of a confusing season for Sabres fans. The team opened the season with high expectations, played poorly and inconsistently, which led to the firing of long-time head coach Lindy Ruff and the shedding of team captain Jason Pominville at the trade deadline. At that point, many Sabres fans seemed to be rooting towards a low finish in the standings, in order to obtain a high draft pick. Recently, the current Sabres, which are a mixture of spare parts, youngsters, and AHL call-ups, have performed well and pushed the team into the playoff picture, mathematically. At the moment, Buffalo has the youngest team in the NHL.
One of the biggest problems with the Sabres in the game against the Jets, were the performances of the few veterans that the team still has. Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford were both a minus 4. Christian Ehrhoff was a minus 3. Ryan Miller was unable to outperform Ondrej Pavelec. If this team somehow makes the playoffs, they will absolutely need players like Vanek, Stafford, Ehrhoff, and Miller to step up and perform.
The loss also dropped the Sabres to a miserable record of 2-9-2 against the Southeast Division, which is arguably the worst division in the NHL. If Buffalo had success against that division, such as 9-2-2, they would currently be sitting in 4th place, instead of 11th. The team has just 8 games remaining. Five of those games are against teams that they are battling for the final playoff spots, so if they can somehow pull of victories in those games, a playoff berth is still quite possible.