41 games down, 41 games to go. The NHL season being half over provides an opportunity to catch a breath and assess where your team is and where they might be going. As I sit down to do this today I realize that I have only written about the Sabres in this space once or twice since the season started. That could likely be explained a couple of ways. One is that the NHL season is so long that there didn't seem like much urgency to make a point in November that probably can still be made in February. Another is that this group of Sabres has managed all to often to put me to sleep. This is in part a league problem as the style of play in the NHL has once again deteriorated. Changes to the roster would have helped though, and once again, nothing of substance was done in the off-season and I'm left wanting key players on the team replaced. Woo-hoo.
I'll go ahead and put that aside and dive in. The Sabres still have not managed to dig themselves out of the mess they made with their hideous 3-9-2 start. They closed the first half of the season on a 4-0-1 run that got them to 41 points, exactly half of the points that were available to them. How much better will the Sabres need to be in the second half of the season to have a shot at a playoff spot?
Last season Philadelphia and Montreal made it in the East with 88 points. The season prior to that, 93 got it done for the Canadiens. In '08 Ottawa and Boston got in with 94, '07 saw the Islanders get in with 92 and in '06, Tampa Bay was 8th with 92.
What does that all mean? Montreal is 8th currently and already have 49 points through 42 games. Let's say you need to get to 95 points. That means you would have to see the Sabres find their way to piling up 54 points in their remaining 41 games. That's 13 more than in the first 41, or 6 1/2 more wins. Maybe you can catch Atlanta. They have 51 points but have played 4 more games than the Sabres and still have to come to Buffalo twice.
To do it, the Sabres will need to start winning games against the teams ahead of them in the East in regulation. They'll need Drew Stafford to stay healthy and score 30-35 goals. They could use 40 from Vanek. Hecht will have to keep playing like a savvy veteran rather than the disinterested check collector he has looked like most of the season. They could use one of the kids to get hot, Myers to dominate, and Leopold to keep scoring. I'll stop before I get to the time machine Rivet needs. Most of all, they'll need Ryan Miller to be even better than he was when he was at his best last season on his way to winning the Vezina. This is because I see this group of Sabres as much leakier defensively than last years team. The mess that makes falls in front of Miller.
So that's what they're up against. Let me tell you, I do not like their chances. I think it's much more likely we are talking about what moves we want the new owner to make as opposed to figuring out who we would most like to see in a first round playoff series.