When a team misses the playoffs by as narrow a margin as is the case with the Buffalo Sabres, there is a tendency to do “what if” and find a game or two that will then make you crazy. In the minutes after the Sabres fate was sealed on Thursday night, there was 1 game that came to my mind.
It was November 12th in Boston when Milan Lucic knocked out Ryan Miller. Obviously there were lots of games(66 to be exact) left on the schedule but it was the injury to Miller sustained in that collision that will always make me think of that game.( I’m still obsessing over Scott Gomez injuring Miller 3 years ago so I don’t get over these things easily.)
The Sabres were off to a good start at 10-5 and the night before had drilled Ottawa 5-1 for their 4th straight victory. I don’t know if that incident with Miller affected him because no one came to his defense or if it at least temporarily fractured the locker room but I do know the concussion sustained by Miller changed the course of the season.
Remember it was the 2nd concussion suffered by Miller in about 10 months. He came back in 3 weeks but he sure didn’t look right. He admittedly had a hard time focusing and staying mentally sharp and in hindsight, maybe the Sabres should have given him more time to recover and just stayed with Enroth. He was only 3-5-1 in Miller’s absence but in 4 of those 5 regulation losses, Buffalo scored 2 or fewer goals.
From the December 7th overtime loss at home to Philadelphia through a January 21st defeat in St. Louis, Miller just didn’t seem right as he recorded a 5-9-2 record. Numerous injuries to other teammates is partly to blame but if Miller was completely healthy and at the top of his game, he probably would have had a better shot at stealing some additional points for a beat up hockey club.
As far as some other what ifs:
What if they hung on and beat Colorado in regulation instead of losing in a shootout?
What if they didn’t go 0-3 in Toronto?
What if they didn’t go 1-3 against Tampa Bay?(0-2 at home)
What if they did better than 0-3-1 against Philadelphia?
What if they didn’t set a franchise record with a 12 game road losing streak? 24 points up for grabs from December 17th in Pittsburgh through January 21st at St Louis and the Sabres got zero points. Injuries had taken a number of regulars out of the lineup but they managed to go 3-1-1 over that time in home games and you’d think they could have done better than score a measly 17 goals in those 12 road losses.