Back on December 27th, the Sabres lost a game in Calgary 5-2. Approaching the halfway point of the schedule, the defending Northeast Division champs were a puzzling 14-18-4 and 10 points out of a playoff spot. There was a players' only meeting just after the game with the Flames and whatever was said must have been inspirational because the Sabres have been a different team since. By the way, that post loss meeting came just 4 days after the team found out that Derek Roy, the leading scorer with 35 points in 35 games, would be out for the rest of the season.
So what happened? Why have the Sabres been able to turn the season around and put themselves in a playoff spot with 6 games to go? The short answer is they’ve played a little better defensively, improved their offensive output thanks in part to much better secondary scoring and they have been able to bounce back quickly from a loss, something that would come in very handy tonight.
Over those first 36 games, the Sabres earned just 44% of the points available. Over the last 40 games, they’ve grabbed 66% of the points. Their average goals for is up and goals against has gone down. The power play is about 4 percentage points better as is the penalty kill success rate. Buffalo has done a much better job of not digging a hole, scoring first in 65% of the games over the second half of the season. It happened only 38 percent in the first half so they were playing from behind much more.
As far as individuals go, Tyler Myers improved play is a big reason for the about face from the team. Not necessarily his point production which is slightly better but his plus minus rating which was minus 8 going into the December 28th affair in Edmonton. It's plus 7 since then. Thomas Vanek’s overall game is another key factor. His goal total is identical, 13 in the first half and 13 in the last 40 games but Vanek has doubled his assist total so he is averaging a point a game. A minus 12 three months ago, Vanek is a plus 11 since then. If you compare goal scoring numbers, you will find Jason Pominville had 6 in the first half and 13 in the second half. Jochen Hecht had 3 and now has 9, Drew Stafford had 10 and is now at 28, Paul Gaustad had 3 but now has 10. Nathan Gerbe tops the list though, with only 1 goal in the first three months and 13 since the calendar flipped to 2011.
A final note about this team bouncing back from a defeat:
Starting with that win in Edmonton, the night after being beaten in Calgary, the Sabres are 9-2-2 following a loss. They haven’t dropped back to back games since February 18th and 20th.