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.

Three Buffalo Sabres Veterans Revitalized for 2018-19

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.

The Buffalo Sabres are hot right now. Can you believe it? They are currently on a nine game winning streak. Some of their victims this week were the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, and Detroit Red Wings. Sure, two of those were OT wins, but a win is a win in this competitive of a division. Theres a similar point situation going on in Buffalo as there is in Tampa. Jack Eichel has five goals but 23 assists. Jeff Skinner leads the team in goals with 18 and only eight assists. Prior to Tampas victory over New Jersey, the Sabres sat on top of the NHL. This season is crazy, guys.

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.

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.

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.

Nikita Kucherov beat out Brayden Point for first place in point production. Though Point has 15 goals while Kucherov has nine, Kucherov has a total of 21 assists on the season to give him a total of 30 points. He had a total of seven assists this week alone! The Lightning have a strong offensive core that are providing them with a lot of point production so far this season.

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.

The rivalry was alive and well on Saturday night in Montreal. Check out all the highlights from the #NHLBruins thrilling 3-2 win over the Habs: pic.twitter.com/a4qTsoVUsc

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

That newfound drive has carried over into regular season action where he has posted 14 points in 24 games thus far. If he continues at his current trajectory, hell finish the year with 48 points, which would represent his highest total as a Sabre. Statistically, that jump isnt exactly Earth-shattering, but his presence as a steady veteran beside Casey Mittelstadt on the second line has surely helped the 20-year-old center adjust to NHL action. If that chemistry continues to grow, perhaps Okposos cap hit wont look like such an albatross on the Sabres ledger moving forward.

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.

eval(ez_write_tag([[728,90],thehockeywriters_com-box-3,ezslot_2]));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.

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.

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.

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.

eval(ez_write_tag([[300,250],thehockeywriters_com-medrectangle-4,ezslot_3]));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.

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

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.

Shifting gears toward the defense (a group that is largely the same from last season, save for one Swedish wunderkind), one player stands above all others at the most improved from 2017-18. Nathan Beaulieu was Botterils first trade acquisition last offseason when he sent a third-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the then 24-year-old blueliner.

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.

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.

While he certainly hasnt been an offensive catalyst with three points in 18 games this season, Larsson is emerging as one of the teams top possession players, and hes done a fantastic job of matching up against some of the top forward groups in the NHL.eval(ez_write_tag([[580,400],thehockeywriters_com-medrectangle-3,ezslot_1]));

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.

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.

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.

Well start with a player who has been with the team since the beginning of the tank-era. Johan Larsson was seen by many as a potential waiver candidate as fans prognosticated the Buffalo roster this summer. Known as a penalty-kill specialist who wasnt particularly adept in the offensive zone, the 26-year-old appeared expendable.

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.

As of right now, the Buffalo Sabres sit in first place in the NHL. Before the start of the season, even the most optimistic of fans wouldnt have expected the team to hold a 16-6-2 record through 24 games. Currently riding a nine-game winning streak, this is the strongest team that the franchise has fielded in over a decade.

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.

Last year it took the then 29-year-old veteran quite a bit of time to regain his form. In his first 10 games back, he only managed to produce two points. Fortunately, the Okposo of old began to re-emerge toward the end of last season where he produced seven points in the last eight games of the year.

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.

Like Larsson, he too is set to become an RFA at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. With a current cap hit of $2.4 million, the Sabres may not be willing to invest in a new deal, especially considering all of the young defensive talent in the pipeline who are still on entry-level contracts.

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.

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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.

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.


Posted in Buffalo