I’m not sure if you can quote Yogi Berra for a story about hockey but what why not give it a shot. “Its dejaz-vouz all over again” for the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve put together a shaky first half of the season for the second straight year. They have the exact same record, 18-18-5, after 41 games this season as they did at the halfway point last season.
As you all know, Buffalo did a complete 180 in the second half of the 2010-2011 schedule, going 25-11-5 and finally earning a playoff spot in the second to last game of the regular season. Everyone wants to know can they do that again?
We asked that question to Head Coach Lindy Ruff during his weekly show on WGR this morning and not surprisingly, his response was yes. As the team gets healthy, Ruff reasoned, the structure of their game will be better.
I respectfully disagree with the longest tenured Head Coach in the NHL because I don’t think its that simple. Injuries are just one part of Buffalo’s troubles and their current 11th place standing in the Eastern Conference.
Those troubles have been well documented and in no particular order they feature inconsistent goaltending, career worst when it comes to Ryan Miller and a lack of consistent scoring outside of Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. In addition it isn’t like the Sabres are rock solid at home but have to find their road game or vice versa. They’re mediocre on whatever ice surface they step on.
Last season, the month of January is where the Sabres kick started their season, winning 3 of their first 4 games and ending the month 8-3-1. A strong lead in for the Terry Pegula takeover in February which provided more energy for the club.
So far this month, the Sabres are 1-1-1. The 1 win came when the Sabres hung on for dear life against a struggling Edmonton team in the midst of a 7 game road trip, that played the night before in Chicago and was down 3 of its best defensemen as well as rookie of the year front runner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins due to injuries. The loss came against the Carolina Hurricanes, the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference although they are now 2-1 versus the Sabres. The loser point was at the hands of a Winnipeg team that is one of many the Sabres are trying to catch.
You can argue those were 3 of the “easier” games on this month’s schedule. Still to come later this month are games with Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis all of whom have 53 points, tied for 2nd most in the Western Conference. There will be opportunities against the teams just ahead of Buffalo in the standings including this big home and home set with Toronto. If you want to kick start this season and rekindle whatever magic you captured last season, it would behoove the Sabres to start by taking these next 2 games.