And I thought the New Jersey loss was deflating. I had an intense statistical analysis ready to go that predicted the Sabres making the playoffs, however, the last few games could not have been predicted by statistics. They’ve lost back to back TO BACK games against the 12th, 13th and 14th place teams in the Eastern Conference. They'e now won 10 of the last 31 games against the Panthers, but more relevantly they’re now 11-18-5 since the end of the win streak. I don't mean to upset you. I promise.
But maybe you don’t know that their next 6 games are against teams that are tied with them or better. They’ll play games against the 1st, 5th, 3rd, 11th, 6th, and 3rd (again) place teams in the East. The 11th place team is Phili and they’re one of the hottest teams in the league right now and if the Sabres can only get past Cory Schneider and James Reimer three times in two games, they’ll get easily shut out by rookie sensation Carter Hart.
The thing is that I’m not giving up hope. Don’t ask me why because I’m not really sure. We have a coach who trusts Matt Hunwick and Vladimir Sobotka more than Nathan Beaulieu and CJ Smith and that’s extremely troubling. But the fact of the matter is that the Sabres have statistically a very good chance the go on a run at the end of the season. I’ve analyzed the remaining schedules and despite the next 6 games, they still have the second easiest remaining schedule of the teams they’re “battling” with for a Wild Card spot. And there’s another key factor going into why I think they have the best opportunity to get some points down the stretch. Thanks for bearing with me so far.
Here Are The Stats
The Sabres have the second easiest schedule of the teams that they’re fighting with for a playoff spot: Carolina, Philadelphia, Montreal, Columbus and Pittsburgh. As you can see in the chart above, Montreal and Columbus have the third and second hardest schedules respectively which is actually extremely important. With those two teams locking down the final two Wild Card spots, they could be in trouble going into the final month of the season.
Strength of schedule isn’t the most important factor here as we cling to hope for a potential Sabres run and I promise that isn’t because the Sabres can’t seem to beat even the most vulnerable opponents.
What I’m looking at as important going down into March is games against other teams in the hunt. The Sabres only have 6 games against the teams that I’ve mentioned in this article (tied with Montreal) which is the lowest amount compared to the Penguins who have 10, and who they play twice. The fact of the matter is that with the other 5 teams having a combined 19 games against each other, there are only so many points to go around which is actually a big deal.
In terms of the other teams in the hunt, no one has been able to run away and establish themselves as a playoff team. Naturally, it doesn’t look great that the Sabres are the only team under .500 here. On the other hand, the three teams who would be in the playoffs if they started today are playing just about 1 point/game hockey right now. I want to stress that I’m not saying that Sabres will make the playoffs, but we can’t act like the teams they are chasing have earned the right to play past the first week of April either.
Lastly, Columbus is a huge question mark as we approach the Trade Deadline this Monday. General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen could be shipping off Panarin and Bobrovsky by Monday. If they were to lose two players that have basically carried them to this point where they hold the last Wild Card spot, their playoff chances would drop immensely, opening the door for Carolina, Buffalo or Philadelphia.
The Sabres have their work cut out for them, but I really don’t expect Botts to be silent at the deadline. He knows he doesn’t need three 1st round picks this year. His time as Sabres GM could be over if players drafted in 2019 aren't NHL ready in the next two seasons. If I were him, I’d be willing to deal one or two of them in exchange for a young Top 6 Forward, Top 4 Defenseman or both. However, I’ll save some more of that for my Trade Deadline Day Wishlist.
Thanks for reading and God help us all because This Train Never Stops