The Buffalo Sabres went out west for a long six game road trip. They came home 3-3. So, now that the teams' longest road trip is done, where does the team stand?
Any time a team can finish a long road stretch .500, they are usually considered successful, especially when four of those games are out west. However, not all schedules are the same, so let's recap the Sabres' last six opponents.
Florida: 24-18-8, 8th, Eastern Conference
Buffalo went into a playoff contender's house and won in a shootout, 3-2. Considering it was Buffalo's fourth game in six nights, this was a respectable win, and had they lost, I don't think coach Lindy Ruff or the fans would have been too surprised.
Tampa Bay: 17-24-11, 12th Eastern Conference
The second half of the routine Florida trip, Buffalo came out with one of their worst games of the season. They were flat all game, and goalie Ryan Miller struggled mightily, giving up five goals. The Sabres lost 5-3 to a pitiful Lightning team that's going through a mess of a season.
Edmonton: 25-22-3, 9th Western Conference
In their first game out west, Buffalo came out flying, taking a 2-0 lead just 71 seconds into the game. Buffalo's offense had their best game of the year, dropping 10 on the Oilers before it was all over. Drew Stafford scored a hat trick and Tim Connolly notched tow goals as the Sabres won big, 10-2, over a playoff contender in the tough western conference. The Sabres could not have performed better here.
Calgary: 30-16-4, 3rd Western Conference
The Sabres followed their torching of Edmonton with a trip across Alberta to Calgary. Buffalo, however, lacked the lightning they had the previous game and once again came out flat. Defenseman Chris Butler had multiple giveaways leading to Flames' goals and Ryan Miller had a subpar game as the Sabres fell 5-2. One positive note, Connolly and Stafford each scored for the Sabres, so the duo provided the sabres with seven goals in two games.
Phoenix: 24-24-5, 11th Western Conference
The Sabres overcame a poor first period (in which Miller played fantastic) to outplay the Coyotes the rest of the game and leave Phoenix with a 2-0 victory. The Sabres played very well defensively in the second and third periods, and Miller earned his fourth shutout of the year. An impressive win over another western playoff contender.
Anaheim: 26-23-5, 5th Western Conference
Buffalo came into Anaheim looking to finish their road trip above .500. The team that showed up, however, looked exhausted and flat. The team did manage to scored a goal with five minutes or so left in the third to bring it within one, but couldn't get the equalizer, and fell to the Ducks, 3-2, with Patrick Lalime taking the loss.
What did we learn about the Sabres from this trip? Here we go:
- The line of Thomas Vanek, Connolly, and Stafford is the real deal. The trio contributed 11 goals and 18 points to the offense in the six game trip.
- The team either cannot win with Patrick Lalime in net, or they just don't play for him. While the Sabres were thoroughly outplayed by the Ducks, they only lost by one, and two bad goals against by Lalime had many fans thinking that this was a game Miller could have stolen for the Sabres. Obviously, nobody expects Lalime to be as good as Miller, but he has to be able to come in and win a game now and then. Instead, he's pretty much a guaranteed loss, and he never looks good in his starts. The Sabres need to address this need at backup goalie, or they'll end up in the same situation they were in last year, fighting for a low playoff spot and Miller wearing out from overuse.
- This team has enough talent to go on the road and stay in games even when being outplayed. The Flames were dominating the Sabres and led 2-0, but the Sabres were able to answer with two quick ones to tie it, before just wearing out in the third. However, if they can keep these games close, anything can happen.
What we don't know following this road trip, however, is how good the Sabres really are.
The Sabres were 3-3 on the trip, but lost to the two best teams on the slate. This makes me wonder whether this team has what it takes to make a playoff run, and if they somehow pull off a cup run, whether they stand a chance against a western conference opponent.
Lastly, Tim Connolly's eight goals in his last eight games (including the home games immediately preceding and following this road trip) have me CAUTIOUSLY excited, because when this guy is healthy, he makes the team that much better. But I don't need to remind you of Connolly's health issues.
So where will the Sabres be at the end of this year? The next couple weeks will be a good indicator. Five of the Sabres next six games are at HSBC Arena, four of which are against division opponents. This stretch will be vital if the Sabres intend to solidify their position in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.