Interesting how quickly things can change. The Sabres came out of the All Star Break and bye week with a slate of 10 favorable games and 10 points to make up in the standings. Not even 50 minutes into Tuesday night’s game, the penalty kill was 0-for-3 against the league’s worst power play and Linus Ullmark was helped off the ice after falling awkwardly in his crease.
Tuesday’s loss doesn’t change the favorable schedule, but it certainly feels like they took what was left of the season, doused it in gasoline and set it on fire. Tuesday’s loss was ugly, lethargic and entirely predictable. Anyone who has followed the Sabres over the last decade could’ve told you how this was going to go. Lengthy layoff, playing a poor opponent on the second half of a back-to-back in a must-win situation? Just about anyone could’ve given you the plot to this one before puck drop.
Games like Tuesday have been emblematic of the Sabres going back before the tank years and probably even to the seasons that immediately followed the departures of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. Over a decade later and moderately important games are about all each season ever has to offer. The best it’s been in recent years was sitting one point out of the playoffs coming out of the bye in 2016. All that followed was Kyle Okposo’s stint in the ICU selling spare parts at the deadline and an 81-point finish.
I guess my point is that they’ve been a heck of a lot closer than they were prior to Tuesday and still managed to burn everything to the ground.
Even if the Sabres hadn’t laid an egg on Tuesday, they’re looking at an awfully tall hill to climb to get back into contention. As favorable as the next 10 (now nine) games may be, the Sabres need a legitimate win streak and a whole lot of help to even sniff the playoff race.
Of course, they’ll also probably come out on Thursday night with their hair on fire, win a “statement” game and we’ll still have no clue what to make of them. That’s hardly a scientific read on Thursday’s outlook, but in a more real scenario, some of the online sports betting sites reviewed by SBD have the Sabres early odds as favorites to win the match in case you’re looking to do some betting on the game. Toss a few bucks on the Sabres and Canadiens on Thursday night, it would be fitting of this team to turn Tuesday’s result on its ear.
It’s frustrating to see the same beats play out over and over again. Whether it be the fallout from a single game like Tuesday’s or seeing a season slide away after a hot start early on. Maybe the Sabres manage to wrap this run of their schedule with an 8-1-1 record. Maybe they even break off a 9-1-0 run before getting hit with a murderer’s row of opponents after the deadline. Stranger things have happened, and it would be refreshing to have them claw their way back into the conversation.
I can’t imagine that would be much more than a consolation prize at this point, but just being in the conversation by the deadline might push Jason Botterill into a position to make a notable addition to his roster. One that would provide the Sabres a player with some term who would be on board when things finally get figured out. Though I’m not sure what’s a bigger pipedream, cobbling together a long enough winning streak to get into contention or a trade big enough to move the needle.
No matter what the result, the Sabres failed the first test on Tuesday. If things don’t change in a meaningful way, and soon, they’ll be sitting on another failed season.