The Buffalo Sabres have made some major headway in their quest for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Going 8-3-1 in the month of January, the Sabres are now within six points of a playoff spot, sitting in 10th place behind the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes and the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers.
The Sabres had dug themselves into a pretty deep hole early in the season, at one point being in last place in the league in late October. However, since November, the Sabres are 20-14-3 after going 3-7-2 in the month of October. They have been playing catch up ever since.
The Sabres seem to be on the rise only weeks after it seemed that they were headed for a top pick in the draft. Just 14 games ago, the Sabres lost their leading scorer Derek Roy, who had 35 points in 35 games before the injury. At that time, they were four games under .500 and normally followed up a good win with a bad loss.
While Roy was emerging into a top center, players like Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, and Tyler Ennis were underachieving of what was expected of them at the beginning of the season. However, since Roy went out in late December, these players have stepped up.
Thomas Vanek has overtaken the points lead on the team with 41 points in 49 games, scoring 18 goals. Jason Pominville seems to have regained form from the concussion he suffered earlier in the season. Tyler Myers has slowly, but surely, been developing his defensive game at the fragile age of 19. Tyler Ennis has done the same with his offensive play.
One player who has overachieved this season is Drew Stafford, who has answered criticism of his play by scoring in clutch situations, specifically against Boston on New Year’s Day. Unfortunately, Stafford has had durability issues this season, but that has not stopped Buffalo from keeping on a torrid pace since the new year began. Buffalo has collected 17 of a possible 24 points in their past twelve games.
Buffalo is sneaking up on a floundering Atlanta Thrashers team, who have tripped up a bit after a good start. With three games in hand on the Thrashers, it’s conceivable to think that the Sabres may have an outside chance to catch Atlanta and pass them in the race to the playoffs. In order to do that, the Sabres must continue to keep collecting points night in and night out.
The Sabres are a prime example of why NHL teams must have a good early season in order to at least think about the playoffs. Most people have probably heard this over and over, but the entire season is a grind, and if a team does not come out of the gate winning more than half of its first few games, it may be a long season for that team. However, the Sabres are working on overcoming adversity and seem to be doing fairly well with it.
How they overcome it after the All-Star break remains to be seen.