Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres are showing they’re not up for finishing this playoff race, because not only are they losing, they’re getting run out of buildings.
In their last 11 games, Buffalo has the second-worst record in the National Hockey League. When it started, they were sitting in a playoff spot by points percentage.
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Buffalo is 28th in goal scoring during that time, only averaging 2.55 goals per-game. Defensively, only the Columbus Blue Jackets are worse, as Buffalo is allowing 4.73 goals per-game.
Also in that stretch, the Sabres have allowed 10 goals once and seven goals twice. They've allowed a league-high 53 goals.
Why is all this happening?
First off, their stars have been awful.
Secondly, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Eric Comrie and Craig Anderson can’t make a big save.
Luukkonen has lost all five of his games with a 4.15 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage. That’s 21 goals against in five games.
Anderson has won one of four games with a 3.78 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage.
Comrie went 1-1-0 in two games with a 6.51 goals-against average and an .847 save percentage.
You need saves, and they aren't getting them on a regular basis.
There’s a combination of things at play here.
This team is the most unaware team I think I’ve seen when it comes to defensive zone coverages. Opponents are wide-open in the middle of the ice, and the Sabres have no clue they’re there, especially defensemen joining from the point.
It took the Boston Bruins just 15 seconds on Sunday to get Patrice Bergeron alone in the slot to make it 1-0. Peyton Krebs and Kyle Okposo were close by, but had no idea he was there and didn’t react until it was too late.
There are no secrets. These two teams have played four times, and Bergeron had six goals and eight points, The Sabres know what he’s going to do, and they just make it easy on him.
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has said he’s not playing hurt, but he is also not an excuse maker.
From what I’m seeing, he has to be hurt. In these 11 games - nine of which he played - he reverted back to two seasons ago, where he struggled on almost a nightly basis. He has no goals and one assist, and is minus-13. He hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 23, and in his last six games, he has no points and is minus-12.
I’m not going to sugar coat it, Dahlin was awful against the Bruins. Garnet Hathaway got one of the easiest goals of his life as he came with speed and blew right past Dahlin.
Kale Clague was too far away from his partner, so he offered no help, and the Sabres needed to get a save from Luukkonen and didn't.
Dahlin and Clague were both running around on Boston's third goal, vacating the middle of the ice. Victor Olofsson was just gliding back into the zone, and Jake DeBrusk had a layup.
So now the Sabres are down 3-0 after one period to the best team in the NHL. It took the score to reach 4-0 for Dahlin to be grabbed and rag dolled by Bruins tough guy Trent Frederic for this team to respond.
I was looking for Jordan Greenway to step up, because this is one of the reasons general manager Kevyn Adams traded for him. The next time on the ice, Greenway didn’t even get close to him, but Riley Stillman did, as he showed he has a pulse and leveled Frederic.
This should come as no surprise, as just over four minutes later, Dylan Cozens showed up and gave Frederic an early beating until Frederic returned the favor near the end of the fight.
One of the reasons Greenway is here is because they don’t want Cozens, Dahlin and Tage Thompson sitting in the penalty box defending themselves. They’re more valuable on the ice.
Buffalo then put heat on Jeremy Swayman, but he was determined to get his second-straight shutout. Had the Sabres bore down on their chances, this game easily could’ve been 4-4.
Jack Quinn was excellent in this game, but passed up three Grade-A scoring chances to pass. Cozens threw a pass to a wide-open Casey Mittelstadt for, what appeared to be, a tap in, but Swayman read it and got across.
When it mattered, Swayman made numerous big saves, while Luukkonen didn’t.
The habit of letting frustration set in so much they quit playing happened again. Boston tacked on three more goals that were open guys putting pucks into open nets. The Sabres just stood and watched as it all happened.
Many of you didn’t agree with me, but I never thought the Sabres were going to make the playoffs. When the eight-game losing streak was over, they had nine points to make up and six teams to leap over.
People kept telling me they have so many games in-hand, but you have to win those games. I’ve been around this league too long to think it’s likely to happen.
The St. Louis Blues went from last place to Stanley Cup champions during the 2018-19 season, so I always said it was possible, but not probable. Even when they got into the eighth spot, you knew they weren't going to win forever, and that all the teams around them weren't going to lose forever.
You can’t have stretches where 16 points were available and you got none, and now when 22 points were available and you got six.
Thompson hasn’t scored in eight games. They don’t have enough depth to have Thompson with no goals in eight games, have Dahlin playing the way he is, and also have Mattias Samuelsson hurt.
Alex Tuch was hurt for much of this current stretch too.
Going through this is just like getting into the playoffs and being swept. You have to hope that by going through this, the youngest team in the NHL will know how to react next year when big games happen.
This also gives head coach Don Granato and Adams a good idea of what they need to do with this team, and who they can move forward with. Darcy Regier used to get married to his players and the Sabres still haven’t won the Stanley Cup.
Adams can’t fall into that trap.