3 X-Factors that will make or break the rest of the Sabres season

Each year, there is that underperforming team that is way more talented than its record in the NHL, and the Sabres have been that team for all of 2023-24.

Feb 15, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) skates with the
Feb 15, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) skates with the / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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The Sabres haven’t enjoyed a strong season to date, but although they are a good 10 points from even a wild card, let’s not assume just yet that they are completely out of it. On March 20th, 2023, the Blue and Gold sat eight points outside of a wild card, and they closed the gap with relative ease, ending the year just one point out.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the second team in the wild card at the time, and they ended up collapsing. With that being said, the Sabres still hold onto hope even throughout a season when it has looked like all hope has been lost on more than a few occasions, including Thursday night’s debilitating loss to the Florida Panthers.

If they want to regain that ray of hope, here is a trio of X-Factors that can make their season. But if they fail to capitalize on the following X-Factors, they unfortunately won’t see their playoff drought end just yet. 

Goaltending has been a ray of hope in an otherwise inconsistent season

Nobody, not even the most faithful and optimistic Buffalo Sabres fan, would have predicted Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to record four shutouts by mid-February, a remarkable 2.51 GAA, and a 0.913 save percentage. Last year, Luukkonen looked like he was at least a season away from being even a remotely effective goaltender in the NHL, but few netminders in the game today have shown so much improvement.

Luukkonen’s ability to lock down the net has given opponents headaches many times this season, and his efforts have kept things manageable for the Sabres pedestrian scoring units. If he stays consistent and healthy down the stretch, the Sabres, at the absolute least, will be in most games that he plays in.

And if Luukkonen can get even better, as has been the case throughout 2023-24, then his presence will make the Blue and Gold’s job a lot easier should they at least remain on the outside looking in.