I was pondering whether or not to write a new article this week and I have found that I have a lot on my mind regarding the Buffalo Sabres and their current playoff race. I will briefly touch on a bunch of topics and also give my opinion on the team's current status in the Eastern Conference standings.
No suspension for Lapierre?
Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta has recovered from a minor concussion sustained in Saturday night's win against the Montreal Canadiens. Kaleta, who has already missed time with a head and neck injury earlier this season, was hit from behind by Canadiens' forward Maxim Lapierre.
Kaleta was cleared to practice Tuesday and is expected back in the lineup when the Sabres face off against the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night.
The hit by Lapierre, in my opinion, was dirty, illegal and deserving of a suspension. Instead, Lapierre received a two-minute minor penalty and upon further review from the league, the incident was dismissed.
Lapierre crunched Kaleta from behind, without letting up, right into the boards midway through the game. All Lapierre could see was Kaleta's numbers and yet he still went ahead and hit him. Kaleta's face and head dangerously crashed into the boards and could have caused a serious injury. Luckily, it did not.
If the league is going to try and eliminate dangerous hits from the game then why is this play going unpunished?
It is absolutely ridiculous that all Lapierre received was a two-minute minor penalty when he should have been suspended for at least a couple of games. The league dropped the ball big time on this one. Again, just my opinion.
Max a healthy scratch against Montreal?
Saturday against Montreal, forward Adam Mair returned to the lineup. As a result, Maxim Afinogenov got the night off. For the first time in my life, I will actually stick up for Max.
No reason was given from coach Lindy Ruff on why he was benched. If he was a healthy scratch that is downright wrong. Max has been playing some of his smartest, and best hockey of the entire season. He has been a great addition to the second powerplay unit and has also been a nice compliment on the third line alongside Dominic Moore and Daniel Paille since returning from an injury. Max has three points in his last four starts.
This guy was finally playing somewhat like the way we all expect him to play and in return, he gets benched.
Yes, Mair scored a pivotal goal in the game but there are others far more suitable for benching than Max at this time. The first line has been horrid the last 12 games or so.
Thomas Vanek still hasn't "returned" from his jaw injury and is still wearing a protective shield. Vanek has just six points in 12 games since returning from the injury.
Derek Roy is also struggling to put the puck in the net with only two goals in 10 games, but Drew Stafford has been by far one of the most invisible Sabres during the month of March. Stafford has no goals and just two assists in his last nine games; Worthy of a benching? I'd say so.
Teppo Numminen in, Andrej Sekera Out
Teppo Numminen will return to the Sabres blue line Wednesday night. Andrej Sekera will be a healthy scratch. Ruff said that Sekera has been struggling mightily of late and thinks that watching the game from the press box will help the the youngster regroup mentally.
Sekera admitted that he has completely lost confidence in his play and is struggling with his game. Sekera saw limited ice time against Montreal.
Numminen, 40, will start his first game since March 10.
Numminen has also been nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Everyone who knows hockey is probably well aware that Nummimen overcame heart surgery over a year ago, costing him all but two games last season.
I think Numminen has a legitimate shot at winning the award but he will have some pretty stiff competition with Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik.
The playoff race
If the Sabres were scoreboard watching Monday and Tuesday night, then they are likely very disappointed with what they saw.
The Eastern Conference Standings, seeds 7-10, now look like this:
7. New York Rangers- 77 GP, 40-28-9, 89 points
8. Montreal Canadiens- 76 GP, 39-27-10, 88 points
9. Florida Panthers- 77 GP, 38-28-11, 87 points
10. Buffalo Sabres- 75 GP, 37-30-8, 82 points
The Sabres have one game in hand on Montreal and two games in hand on both the Rangers and Panthers. But no matter what the standings say now the Sabres likely will have to win all seven of their remaining regular season games to have a shot at the postseason.
Here are the remaining games for each team (Wednesday, April 1):
Florida: vs. Atlanta, vs. Pittsburgh, @ Philadelphia, @ Atlanta, vs. Washington
NY Rangers: @ Carolina, @ Boston, vs. Montreal, vs. Philadelphia, @ Philadelphia
In my opinion, Montreal has the weakest schedule left, in terms of their opponents. They will get to play three games in a row against bottom feeding teams.
The Rangers have a very tough schedule with only five games remaining and could very well lose all five games. The Sabres play only two teams that are not in playoff contention. Washington, New Jersey, Detroit and Boston all look like very tough match ups for the Sabres.
At this point, I would love to see the Sabres win out and have a chance to make the playoffs but it just may be a little too late. Ryan Miller has been a great boost for the team but the Sabres will need to play almost perfect hockey in their remaining games to even have a chance.
Let me know what you think on all the topics and feel free to comment!