Flashbacks to Sabres teams in this last half decade crept into my mind last night. The Sabres up one under two minutes to go. The game gets tied up, the Sabres end up losing in overtime and two points turns into one.
It stung less a few days prior when Buffalo came from behind to tie it against Columbus, only to have Artemi Panarin do Artemi Panarin things and snipe one on Linus Ullmark in overtime. The general consensus was the Sabres pulled out a point, but last night was leaving a point on the table. Do that enough, coupled giving up late goals to lose games in regulation, you’ll find the season slipping away.
This is no call to panic or comparison to recent dreadful Sabres teams, but ultimately the opening stretch of the season begs the question: When faced with adversity, will this year’s Sabres fall back into old habits? That can’t be answered yet and only time will tell as this team grows together. Last night wasn’t necessarily 2013-2018 Sabres bad, but holding down a lead and getting the two points is important to taking the next step as a team. It’s also important to note Calgary is pretty stacked this season, it was rather surprising they came into last night’s game 6-5-1. But I digress…
The next 5 games will provide a look into the mental side of the team. They have winnable matches against Ottawa twice, New York (Rangers), Montreal and Vancouver. Will close games be closed out? Will they become less assertive and play on their heels? That’s what I’m looking for. I’m willing to say coming away with anything less than 7 points is a disappointment. I’ll give them 3-1-1 because hockey is based on luck than any other major sport.
Why am I putting so much importance into 5 games at the beginning of November? Well, after their game against Vancouver, Buffalo plays Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Stumble through the next five and continue that against strong teams on the road (starting in Winnipeg), the season could start a downward trend and possibly snowball out of control.
The next nine games are not the end all be all for the season by any means, but teams can dig themselves a hole this early in the season. Look at teams like Florida (2-4-3), St. Louis (3-4-3) and Los Angeles (3-7-1). They already have an uphill battle ahead of them to climb back up in the standings. Buffalo is in a better spot than those three teams right now, but one bad stretch and they can see their position in the standings slide. Before I get too ahead of myself, the focus should be on the home and home series with Ottawa.
The Senators started the season strong with a 4-2-1 record, but have slipped to 4-5-2 after dropping a 5-1 decision to Arizona to wrap up a rough three game Western road trip. On paper, the Senators should be in the bottom third of the league this season, which is a good mental test for the Sabres. Playing down to the competition can be their worst enemy. Taking their foot off the pedal will come back and bite them. Buffalo needs to stick to their game plan for a full 60 minutes. Playoff caliber teams take care of business against struggling teams, so this will be a good test for the Sabres.
On the other hand, coming out of the next five games with at least 7 points and the four tough match ups after with 4 points, that could put the Sabres somewhere around 11-7-3 and 24 points after 21 games played. To put that into perspective, it took the Sabres 47 games to get to 24 points last season. That’s a vast improvement, which is what fans are looking for in the early stages of the season.
These next five games set the Sabres up to send a message to the rest of the NHL that the Sabres have arrived and are ready for success. Will they put themselves in a position for a push to playoffs (or at least play meaningful hockey in 2019) or will the season dwindle away from poor stretches against beatable opponents? With 15 games in 30 days, November will show the direction of the Sabres are headed and if old habits creep back into the team.
It’s clear the Sabres are on an upward trend, but the next month will show how much that trend translates into production. It’s not and never should be a question of effort, now it’s time to see results.
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