The Buffalo Sabres are the kings of the NHL right now, and a strong finish to what has been an easy month is imperative, as the schedule gets tougher in November.
Pinch yourselves, Buffalo Sabres fans.
Go ahead – give yourselves a little pinch, just to make sure you are not dreaming – because you’re not: the Buffalo Sabres REALLY are in first place in the entire NHL today.
Given how quickly the Sabres went from hot to not during the 2018-19 NHL season, it is surreal to see this team in possession of the most points, best win percentage, and best goal differential ten games into the 2019-20 season. Whether new coach Ralph Krueger, general manager Jason Botterill, or the players themselves get the lionshare of the credit for this hot start, we’ll leave that for you to decide right now! The season is still young and there will be room for analysis soon enough, but the bottom line is this: the Buffalo Sabres are hot right now, and there is reason to believe that they can finish the month of October holding fast to the number one spot.
Consider the Sabres’ final three opponents this month: the Sabres play the New York Rangers (2-4-1) and the Detroit Red Wings (3-6-0) on the road, and then return home to close out October against the Arizona Coyotes (5-2-1). It is a given that on any given night, any team in the NHL can win, so Buffalo cannot take any of these next three games for granted. Still, you have to like Buffalo’s chances of winning at least one of the two road games, and if they can take advantage of the road-weary Coyotes, who will be wrapping up a four-game East Coast road trip, the Sabres could earn four if not all six of the remaining points available in October.
Finishing October with 20+ points would be huge for this team, for two reasons, the first of which is obvious: confidence. There was no way of knowing this before the season began, but the NHL handed the Sabres a gift on a silver platter, in the form of a first month of games in which the Sabres would face only three teams playing .500 or better hockey. The fact that Buffalo beat the teams that they were “supposed” to beat has to fill the players with the sort of confidence they will need to navigate a grueling 82-game season, as it can argued that the Sabres saw their playoff aspirations dashed as a result of failing to take business against the inferior teams in the league last season. (To see a head-to-head breakdown of the Sabres’ 2018-19 season, head here. Be warned: it’s not pretty.)
The other reason the Sabres absolutely need to take care of is October business? The November schedule, which is a doozy. For starters, the Sabres will play back-to-back games five times in November, including a stretch of five games in seven nights to close the month out that begins AND ENDS with back-to-back games. Playing that many games with zero days of rest would be bad enough, but when you combine that with Buffalo’s strength of schedule in November, you begin to realize that Buffalo might be lucky to play .500 hockey next month. After all, Buffalo faces the Tampa Bay Lightning (winners of the 2018-19 Presidents’ Trophy) three times; the Toronto Maple Leafs twice; and the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames, and Boston Bruins one time each, with every single one of those teams having played in the postseason last year.
To make a long story short: the Buffalo Sabres have taken advantage of a pretty easy slate of games to open the season. Even so, it is absolutely imperative that the Sabres finish the month of October strong and start stockpiling points like squirrels storing nuts for the winter, because from here on out, stuff is about to get real, really fast.