Sluggish start can be overlooked

12 points.

That was the difference of missing the playoffs last season. The Sabres were never really close to making the playoffs, but six more wins would have knocked the Detroit Red Wings out of that third division spot.

The focus coming into this season was to finally get back to the playoffs, something the team has not done since the 2010-11 season. In order to do that, they’ll need to be somewhere around 12 points better than they were last year if they even want to compete for a final playoff spot.

They’re not off to a good start, but it’s no reason to be concerned just yet.

Their record is a bit worse than that of last year’s, but they do have the same number of points.

LehnerThis year through 15 games: 5-6-4 (14 points)
Last year through 15 games: 7-8-0 (14 points)

This year’s record could have been better if they didn’t blow a three-goal lead or drop all four games that went past 60 minutes. Still, the Sabres are in better shape than they were last year, and here’s why:

At this point last year, the Sabres went on to drop six of the next seven games, giving them an 8-12-2 (18 points) record through 22 games.  To match or surpass that 22-game comparison to this season, the Sabres would need just four points in the next eight games, which isn’t a daunting task, despite the issues we’ve seen thus far.

To further the comparison to last year, that 8-12-2 start last season was with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane completely healthy. This year’s rough start comes with those two missing significant time with injuries, along with Zach Bogosian, Hudson Fasching, Nicolas Deslauriers, Dmitry Kulikov and Tyler Ennis.

With all of the injuries and the constant carousel of players being called up and sent down, it’s no wonder the Sabres can’t develop any chemistry on the ice.

Eichel doesn’t have an exact return date, but the Sabres could still be well ahead of last year’s pace by the time he does make his season debut. His presence on the ice will help all around.

Some players haven’t show up yet and are struggling early. Kane hasn’t done much since returning and Reinhart hasn’t been the same without Eichel. Both of those factors could improve when No. 15 returns.

The injuries aren’t an excuse for losing 10 of the first 15 games, but they’re not helping anything, either.

The fact that the Sabres are only four points out of second place in the Atlantic Division is astounding. With the exception of the Montreal Canadiens, the whole division is a mess.

ReinhartIt’s been a brutal start to the season and the games have been tough to watch at times, but fans need to realize that it’s not as bad as it appears.

The goaltenders have been performing well, with exception of the shootouts. Robin Lehner has a .923 save percentage, good for 9th in the NHL for goalies who have played 10 or more games. Anders Nilsson has played extremely well as a backup, posting a 1.96 goals against average and a .942 save percentage.

While they’re not scoring much, the Sabres have allowed 2.33 goals per game this season, which is 5th best in the league.

The special teams are also excelling:

The Buffalo power play is ranked 11th in the league at 20.4%.
The Buffalo penalty kill is ranked 10th in the league at 84.2%.

Dan Bylsma has stated that the team has been playing well, but they’re just not getting the results yet.

The Sabres do need to improve and find ways to win games, but there is no reason to worry about them as of now.

Kevin Freiheit
Kevin Freiheit
I founded Buffalo Hockey Central in 2008 and have poured hours and hours into this site. Luckily, we have a great team of writers and designers who have helped keep this up and running despite a ton of out-of-pocket costs. We do this because we enjoy it, and we're desperate to see the Sabres win the Cup someday, but they have to make the playoffs first.
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