Well, today’s the day. After four days off for the bye week, the Sabres will be back on the ice tonight for practice in Colorado as they prepare to play the Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Saturday night.
In case you need your memory jogged as to where the Sabres stand coming out of the bye week, here’s a bit of a refresher on where they left off:
– Buffalo played a stretch of 11 games in 18 days since the beginning of February into the bye week, going 6-3-1. That included a three-game winning streak against Ottawa, Colorado and St. Louis before falling in their final game against Chicago on Sunday.
That streak was enough to get the Sabres back into the playoff race – they came as close as one point out from a wild card spot – but it was hard to know where they stood because most of their competitors had games in hand. With the four days off, it’s become clearer: Buffalo sits six points back both from third in the Atlantic Division (held by Toronto) and the second wild card (tied between Boston and the Islanders). We’ll get into last night’s scores later.
– Evander Kane has been one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL. He leads the team with 21 goals, including goals in each of his last two games, and all of them have come since Dec. 3. Only Montreal’s Max Pacioretty has more goals (23) in that span.
What makes Kane’s streak more impressive is that all but one of those goals have come at even strength. His 20 even-strength goals lead the NHL since Dec. 3 and ties him for sixth in the League this season. Michael Grabner leads the League in that category with 25, but he’s played 10 more games than Kane.
– The Sabres have been riding Robin Lehner in net, and for good reason. Lehner has started the last seven games for Buffalo, and 11 of the last 12. He’s been especially strong since the calendar turned; of goalies with at least 10 starts since Jan. 1, Lehner ranks third with a .930 save percentage.
– Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said to expect Zemgus Girgensons (middle body) and Derek Grant (shoulder) to return from injury sometime after the bye week, so we’ll see if either player makes the trip to Colorado and Arizona. Buffalo was also dealing with a knee injury to William Carrier.
(UPDATE 11:17 a.m. – The Sabres have recalled forwards Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues and assigned Grant to Rochester in a corresponding move.)
It’s nice to not have to worry about games in hand, and that’s the situation the Sabres find themselves in after Toronto, the Islanders and Tampa Bay played game No. 60 last night (Boston played game No. 61). The Maple Leafs lost to the Rangers in a shootout and the Lightning lost to Calgary (snapping a seven-game point streak), while the Islanders shut out Montreal and the Bruins won in Los Angeles.
So, coming out of the bye, Buffalo will be six points back from two separate playoff spots through 60 games.
Florida, four points ahead of Buffalo, hosts Calgary tonight at 7:30 p.m. and then the Sabres have a chance to begin their final push against the Avalanche tomorrow