The Buffalo Sabres Ride A 9-Game Winning Streak To The Top Of The NHL Standings

The Buffalo Sabres Ride A 9-Game Winning Streak To The Top Of The NHL Standings
Atlantic Division Update: Stanley Cup Champion… Buffalo Sabres?
There is a new team at the top of this weeks PHT Power Rankings, and it is probably not a team you expected to be there at any point this season.

It has been a long time coming for Sabres fans after watching years of terrible hockey. Just for some perspective on where this team was prior to this season, no team in the NHL (Vegas excluded) had won fewer games than Buffalo over the previous five years. And its not just that the Sabres were at the bottom of the wins list during that stretch. They were at the bottom by a significant margin, having won 18 fewer games than the next worst team (the Arizona Coyotes). Heck, even the Edmonton Oilers won 30 more games than them. If you are 30 wins behind that organization, you know things are bad.

Well, Patrice Bergeron is injured and expected to be out for at least four weeks, which is a huge blow. In his absence, David Pastrnak has tied his point record with a total of 26. The Bruins played three games this week. They lost the first in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings, won the second in OT to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and won the third on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. A win over the Habs feels just a little sweeter than any other win, doesnt it? David Backes got on the board for the first time this season, while John Moore got his first goal as a Bruin and helped them beat the Habs on the power play. This week could have been a bit better, but we have a lot to celebrate! Here are the highlights from Saturdays game to give you a nice start to your week.

The 7-Eleven Power Rankings: Sabres keep finding ways to win

Thanks to a nine-game winning streak entering this week, the Sabres now have one of the best records in the league, are off to their best start in more than a decade, and with 16 wins in their first 24 games have positioned themselves nicely for a potential run to the playoffs.

During the five-year stretch between 2013-14 and 2017-18 there were 20 teams that won at least 16 of their first 24 games. Only two of them, the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens and 2017-18 St. Louis Blues, failed to make the playoffs that season. And the Canadiens failure to make the postseason was due mostly to a devastating injury to starting goaltender Carey Price.

The Montreal Canadiens lost four straight games this week, isnt that a wonderful thing? The Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, and your Boston Bruins all beat the Habs this week. An American Thanksgiving miracle! It looks as though Shea Webber will be making his return to the Montreal lineup in the very near future. Do you think he will have a noticeable impact? The Habs are certainly not bad, they have one of the top lines in the NHL, but they are going through a rough patch. Itll be interesting to see what his return will bring to Montreal.

So, yes, Buffalo, its not too early to start believing in your team. It might finally be good again.

The Detroit Red Wings are no longer in last place. Good for them, I guess? Of the three games they played this week, one game went to OT, while the other went into a shootout. They beat the Bruins by a goal in OT, lost 3-1 to the Washington Capitals, and fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Buffalo Sabres. The Red Wings would be a more solid team if they could get their power play issues sorted. The power play that once brought them out of the hole they dug themselves has failed to produce goals moving into November. Dylan Larkin still leads the team in points with 20.

1. Buffalo Sabres — Do I honestly believe the Sabres are the best team in hockey this season? No, I do not. But for the purposes of this weeks power rankings I have to give some love to a team that as of this moment has one of the best records in the league and has won nine games in a row (and 10 of 11). Buffalo fans, youve watched a lot of disgustingly bad hockey over the years. You deserve a fun team to watch, and you have earned it. Enjoy this.

The loss of Auston Matthews to injury has allowed other members of the team to step up and produce points. Matthews is not just out of the top point producer spot, he also is out of the top four. His absence has allowed Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, and Kasperi Kapanen to step up to the plate. This week the Leafs won two of the four games they played. They lost to the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets, but beat the Blue Jackets once prior in the week. Their second win was a 6-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They just keep finding more stars in the draft where other teams do not. The latest example is Brayden Point who enters the week as one of the top-five scorers in the league.

3. Nashville Predators — Injuries are starting to mount for the Predators but they have enough depth to overcome them for a short period of time in the regular season.

The Buffalo Sabres would be in first place in the division if it werent for the Tampa Bay Lightnings 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Out of the four games the Lightning played this week, they won three of them. They lost 3-2 to the Nashville Predators, but would go on to beat the Florida Panthers, Chicago Blackhawks, and New Jersey Devils the rest of the week.

4. Boston Bruins — Speaking of great teams and depth, that has always been the big question for this Bruins team. Well, they are currently playing without Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Charlie McAvoy and do you know what they are still doing? Winning. Jaroslav Halak deserves a ton of credit for the way he has played this season, but to be without one of the best two-way centers in the league and their top two defenders and still find ways to scratch out two points on most nights is a big accomplishment. Especially in that division. Since Bergeron went down the Bruins have collected seven out of a possible eight points.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the league and have only received 11 total games from Auston Matthews and William Nylander, their second-and third-leading scorers from a year ago. Imagine what they will look like when they both get in the lineup.

The Florida Panthers got their eighth win of the season this week against the Ottawa Senators. They beat them 7-5, which was a big deal for them. They lost 7-3 to the Lightning and 4-1 to the Hurricanes before heading to OT against the Chicago Blackhawks. That game wrapped up with a 5-4 Chicago victory. The Panthers tried, at least, right?

6. Minnesota Wild — With 20 points in his first 20 games this has been a great bounce back year so far for Zach Parise.

Apparently, William Nylander will have his contract issues figured out by the end of the week. Do you think itll actually happen? Will he be staying in Toronto? Who knows. What we do know is that the Bruins face them next. Hopefully they can capitalize on this organization as they attempt to finalize a frustrating contract dispute.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Remember When Patrik Laine had just three goals in his first 12 games? He now has 16 goals in his past 10 games, including three hat tricks, one of which was a million dollar five-goal game.

8. Washington Capitals — Here come the Champs! They have won six of their past seven games and are starting to quickly climb the standings.

9. Colorado Avalanche –– I had the Avalanche as a mystery team two weeks ago, and they still kind of are. But that top line is absolutely unstoppable.

The No. 21 Edmonton Oilers climb five places from a week ago after going 1-1-1 in California under new head coach Ken Hitchcock. Meanwhile, the No. 27 Vancouver Canucks fall seven spots after a 1-3 week despite finally snapping an eight-game losing skid. The Ottawa Senators own the biggest dive of the week, dropping 11 spots to No. 28 from No. 17 after giving up 19 goals in three straight losses.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Cam Atkinson is red hot right now offensively with a seven-game goal scoring streak. This is still one of the more interesting teams in the league to watch from a distance given their status as a likely playoff team, and the fact their two best players are free agents after the season. Not an enviable position for their front office to be in.

The Nashville Predators remain stuck in the No. 2 spot followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning who stay in the No. 3 position after both teams went 3-1 last week. The Toronto Maple Leafs fall out of top spot to No. 4 after going 2-2 last week while the Colorado Avalanche round out our panels top five, moving up seven places following a four-game winning streak.

11. Vegas Golden Knights — This is a very strange team. As a second-year franchise they are not particularly deep and injuries have crushed them this season, but they are also playing a lot better than their record indicates. They are starting to get the results now. Given the sorry state of the Pacific Division I still think they have a great shot to win it this season. The schedule really softens up for them over the next couple of weeks as well.

Besides the Canucks and Senators, the other basement dwellers in the NHL this week include the No. 29 Arizona Coyotes, who were ranked No. 12 just three weeks ago but have again run into scoring problems, the disappointing St. Louis Blues at No. 30, and the Los Angeles Kings dead last at No. 31 for a fourth consecutive week. 

12. Calgary Flames — Matthew Tkachuk just keeps getting better offensively and, somehow, more annoying for his opponents.

Canadas best teams this week include the No. 4 Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets at No. 9, the Calgary Flames at No. 10 following a 3-1 week and the No. 13 Montreal Canadiens, who slip four spots after going 0-2-2 last week as their struggles in overtime continue.

13. San Jose Sharks — Do not like where they are at this point given the talent they have on the roster, but they have got to start getting more out of Martin Jones. Getting him back to his expected level would do wonders for this team.

14. New York Islanders — Their MVP so far is Thomas Greiss. That is not something I expected to be typing at any point this season.

Making the biggest leap of the week are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who jump 11 spots to No. 19 from second last a week ago after going 2-0-2 thanks in part to Sidney Crosby returning to the lineup with three points in a 5-1 victory over Dallas.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins — It has not always been pretty but with six out of a possible eight points in their past four games they might be starting to get back on track. Their record when they have all three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Derick Brassard in the lineup is what should be expected of them this season. It is when one of them is out that everything seems to go wrong.

Aaron Dells last four starts have all been in shutout games – two wins, two losses. The two wins were at home, the two losses on the road. The Sharks have been outscored 18-3 in their last three road games.

16. Detroit Red Wings — Give this team some credit, after a miserable start to the season they are 9-3-1 in their past 13 games. Not sure it is going to last, but they have been better than expected.

17. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist in the month of November is 5-1-1 with a .924 save percentage. King Henrik can still dominate at times.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — I feel like the middle of the pack is a good spot for this team. They go through stretches where they look like a team that is going to realize its potential, and then they still have moments like their game in New York on Saturday night where they look like the team they have been for the past seven years. Overall, though, they are 5-2-1 in their past eight games.

eval(ez_write_tag([[728,90],thehockeywriters_com-box-3,ezslot_1]));While its undeniable that the Sabres as a team are experiencing a revitalization of sorts, certain individual players on the roster are quietly reviving their careers, contributing in a big way to the teams success so far. As carry-overs from last season, these particular players werent necessarily seen in a positive light among fans. That rhetoric has changed quickly as theyve made notable contributions to the Sabres success so far.

19. Dallas Stars — It is awfully difficult to replace one of the leagues best defenders (John Klingberg) and a pretty good starting goalie (Ben Bishop) when they are out of the lineup due to injury.

His advanced statistics indicate that hes producing shots despite a low distribution of offensive zone starts. With a zone-start ratio of 15.49, he actually has the lowest proportion of offensive zone starts on the entire team. That metric alone makes his individual Corsi-for per-60 of 12.47 (good for fourth on the team) even more impressive. His relative Corsi of 2.16-percent ranks him fifth among Sabres forwards and also marks a massive improvement from the -6.41-percent that he posted last season.

20. Montreal Canadiens –– Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still massive surprises, but the Canadiens have suddenly lost eight of their past 12 games, including four in a row.

eval(ez_write_tag([[300,250],thehockeywriters_com-medrectangle-4,ezslot_2]));After this season, Larsson is set to become a restricted free-agent. Just two months ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he wouldnt receive a qualifying offer, but hes making a strong case to become part of Jason Botterills long-term plan as a steady presence in the bottom-six. If he continues his current pace, hell be hard to let go as an affordable veteran option.

21. Florida Panthers — Starting to look like that five-game winning streak a couple of weeks ago was just a mirage. Probably one of the most disappointing teams in the league, especially when you consider how much Mike Hoffman has produced for them.

Kyle Okposos situation is unique. After signing a seven-year, $42 million free-agent contract with the Sabres in the summer of 2016, his tenure in Buffalo got off to a rocky start. In 65 games he posted 45 points, but the real story lies beyond the statistical surface. At the end of the 2016-17 campaign, Okposo endured a life-threatening health ordeal that not only caused him to miss games toward the end of that season, but jeopardized his career as well.

22. Ottawa Senators — Their games are the NHL answer to a Big XII college football game. Nobody plays defense. Or shows much interest in playing defense.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — The Ron Hextall era is officially over. Sometimes the Flyers looked great, sometimes they looked awful. Put it all together and you have a completely average team.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Ducks goalies have the fourth best overall save percentage in the league. They are only 15th in goals against average. Do you know what that means? The team in front of the goalies is playing horribly.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — Dylan Strome may never be the player he was expected to be when he was selected third overall in 2015, but I love the Blackhawks gamble to trade for him. Maybe he and Alex DeBrincat can recapture some of the magic they had during their junior days.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They were starting to look like they were turning a corner, and then they lost eight out of 10 with the most recent two (a 5-1 loss to Colorado, followed by a 6-1 loss to Calgary — both at home) being especially ugly.

Still, fans were skeptical as to whether or not he would ever be the player he was during his time with the New York Islanders which of course, earned him such a hefty contract with the Sabres. During preseason action, he had the look of a man on fire. He was faster and more aggressive, inspiring fans to start believing in him once more.

27. Vancouver Canucks — The best possible outcome for Canucks fans this season is continued development and highlights from Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser (when he is healthy), and a team around them that still keeps them in the Jack Hughes derby. That is happening.

28. Edmonton Oilers — The Ken Hitchcock era is not off to a great start with back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles.

30. St. Louis Blues — The Ryan OReilly trade has worked out great. Unfortunately for the Blues that is the only thing that has worked for them this season.

31. Los Angeles Kings — Ilya Kovalchuk has not recorded a point in nine games and spent Sunday night on the fourth-line, logging just six minutes of ice time. Yikes.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


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