It’s that time of year again. The snow begins to melt, the leaves begin to grow and in the NHL the dash for the final few playoff spots intensifies as teams look to scrap together as many points as they can in the few remaining games of the NHL regular season and the Buffalo Sabres are no exception.
With Sabres up by two points over the Hurricanes for 8th place the Sabres don’t have much breathing room in the Eastern conference.
In their final 11 games of the season, the Sabres play a number of key games including a crucial one on March 29th against the New York Rangers. Other matchups include a date with the Devils and Leafs, both teams who are chasing the Sabres.
Combine those games with others against the surging Capitals and the first place Flyers and you’ll find that the road to the playoffs won’t be easy for the Sabres. That being said, there are a number of reasons for Sabres Nation to remain hopeful of a playoff spot. Here are my top 5 reasons why the Sabres are a lock for a playoff spot:
1. The Tyler factor
With the amount of skill that Myers and Ennis posses, you can bet they will play an integral part in the Sabres march to the playoffs. Despite having a mediocre sophomore year, Myers has started to pick up his game just in time for the playoffs.
His point totals may not be Norris trophy worthy, however his offensive totals have gone up in the last few weeks and his defensive play on the ice has improved dramatically since the start of the season. He has regained his confidence and looks much more poised with the puck which is a great news for Sabres fans.
Though he is referred to as “Tyler 2”, Ennis is no less important to the Buffalo Sabres than Myers. Tyler Ennis is having a great rookie season with the Buffalo Sabres, registering 18 goals and 44 points thus far. His speed and deking ability have people comparing him to the likes of Daniel Briere.
Ennis has really picked up his game here in march putting up 9 points in 10 games (5G 4A). If he continues to play at the level he has been over the last little while, he will certainly be a tough player to stop down the stretch and in the post season.
2. Don’t panic, we’ve got Vanek.
You can sit there and ramble on about Thomas Vanek’s contract all you want, the fact still remains that he is the best player on this team. Vanek has continued to be effective for the Sabres putting up 61 points in 70 games (25 G 36 A) all without the help of his number one centreman Derek Roy.
In the absence of Roy, Vanek has shown much more consistency and has also added some playmaking into his repitoire. With Vanek playing as well as he is, the Sabres have a great shot at locking up that seventh seed and making some noise in the playoffs.
3. Lindy Ruff.
Let’s face it, you don’t get to coach for 13 straight years in the NHL unless your an excellent coach and once again this season Lindy Ruff worked his magic. Entering a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Sabres were a dismal 3-9-2 and sitting at the basement of the eastern conference.
At that point fans were starting the ‘who to draft first overall’ debate and who would be the next coach, but Lindy never quit on his boys and they didn’t quit on him. Since the new year, the Sabres are an outstanding 20-10-4 and since that game against the Maple leafs they are an even better 32-19-6. Now more than ever in the NHL you need great coaching to be successful and Lindy Ruff has proven once again that he is still one of the best in the game.
4. New owner, new hope
The only people more excited than Sabres fans about the change in ownership are the players and with good reason. Terry Pegula has brought new hope for success and prosperity for the organization and the players have really fed of that as the team has gone an impressive 8-3-2 since Mr. Pegula took over.
Another thing that should be taken into account is the new change in philosophy. Mr. Pegula has made it abundantly clear that he will do whatever it takes to bring a stanley cup to Buffalo and that could include many changes in the locker room. Fact is any time you have a new boss you want to make sure you impress him and that could be the situation with some upcoming free agents on the squad looking for a raise (i.e Drew Stafford).
Despite not being able to live up to last years phenomenal performance, Ryan Miller showed on Saturday night why he’s still one of the best in the game recording his sixth straight 30 win season. He kept pace with his counterpart Cam Ward throughout the entire night and gave his team a chance to win a game. His numbers may not be MVP worthy, but if Miller can get hot, the Sabres will have no trouble getting into the playoffs and who knows, maybe he becomes the Jaroslav Halak of this year’s playoffs.
Then there is Jhonas Enroth. A top prospect in the Sabres organization who up until last year was thought to just be dangled as trade bait by the organization. The Sabres decided to keep the diminutive goaltender and it has paid off.
Enroth has provided Lindy Ruff something that he hasn’t had since Martin Biron, a consistent back up. Just like Biron, Enroth’s numbers don’t make your jaw drop but he has proven that he can hold his own here in the NHL which will help ease the pressure of Ryan Miller (who at one point this year made 31 consecutive starts).
An honorable mention is in order for Sabres’ goal scoring leader Drew Stafford and newly acquired Brad Boyes, who is having no trouble at all fitting into the Sabres system. That being said, as long as these five key components of the team continue to go well for the Sabres, it would be difficult for them not to make the playoffs.