The Morning Skate: Sabres stuck in the middle as deadline nears

The bottom of the Eastern Conference is little more than a cluster of teams trying not to make playoffs.  Seven points separate eighth place from fifteenth and even the Southeast Division leading Panthers are a point better than eighth at this point.

Buffalo are still well within striking distance of a playoff spot, as are the Islanders. New York sits six points behind Toronto and Buffalo is seven back of the Leafs. There is still plenty of hockey to be played, but with the deadline looming you have to wonder how some teams in the East will move forward based on their current roster.

The Sabres are stuck in the middle. They’re only seven points out of a playoff spot and could conceivably push that gap to one point if they were to sweep this week’s games and get some help. While that isn’t the most realistic scenario, the ability for the Sabres to snag six points is well within reach. This team did cobble together a short streak of points recently. A strong week would likely set the team up to try and make one final push for the playoffs. Dropping three or more points could potentially set the table for a trade deadline of selling.

Personally, I just want to see this team play some strong, consistent hockey. Their last six-goal performance on national television was followed with two average efforts. If this team is serious about making a run, they need to prove their capable of being dominant for a number of games.

Highlighted Matchup

The Gaustad line vs. the Tavares line. Buffalo made Frans Nielsen look like Gretzky last time these two teams met. His success was mostly thanks to some poor defensive efforts. Buffalo has three points in their last two games, a big part of that has been the success the team has had in shutting down their opponent’s top line. Paul Gaustad is quickly making himself a commodity many teams will want at the deadline and Pat Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe have been effective in their roles. If this line is capable of another shut-down effort there is a good chance of grabbing two points.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NYI: Al Montoya

Last meeting

Sabres 4 – Islanders 3 SO, Nassau Veterans Coliseum, 2/4/2012

*no stats today*

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