Give Sabres props for the way they're rolling now, but what does it really mean?


Staff member

Can we just enjoy the Sabres for what they are now? Especially given the way the wins are piling up?

Unfortunately, no.

Taken in the micro view of sitting amid the roars of KeyBank Center on Saturday night, you have to give this team full marks for its eye-popping 7-2 destruction of the Vegas Golden Knights.

But the macro perspective leaves you shaking your head.

This is a team that has swept the defending Stanley Cup champions in the same season it got swept by the woeful Anaheim Ducks and lost a 9-4 game to the even more pathetic Columbus Blue Jackets.

It's morphed into a team that in the span of a week posted wins over Carolina, Tampa Bay and Vegas and lost by one goal at Florida, which currently leads the Presidents' Trophy race.

The Sabres are 5-1 in their last six games, 6-2 in their last eight and 14-9 in their 23 outings since Jan. 1 – a 100-point pace over the entire season.

That's the kind of team we all expected them to be. But they're still 10 points out of a playoff spot and likely out of runway left to make a legit push. So what in the world was going on in October and especially December? So many lost points they could use now.

At 29-28-4, the Sabres are over .500 for the first time since Nov. 10, when they were 7-6-1. That was 47 games ago.

This game was flat-out fun. The Sabres played with pace and their forecheck was ferocious. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen again was the man in goal, badly outplaying Vegas counterpart Logan Thompson.

The Jack Eichel-less Golden Knights were left in the dust.

"That pace is definitely for us," said coach Don Granato. "When we're tight, we don't have that. ... We don't have that free confidence. We wanted to play with pace and thought we've been doing that better recently."

And Granato's charges weren't totally derailed in the second period when a 2-0 lead suddenly became a 2-2 tie in a span of less than three minutes.

"We saw the game plan was working for us in the first period and a bit (of the second). There wasn't a need to panic," said captain Kyle Okposo. "... There was nothing wrong with how we were playing and we just wanted to make sure we continued that. It was definitely a mature response."

Zemgus Girgensons scored a big goal late in the second and Okposo's rebound tally at 2:20 of the third started a four-goal outburst as the Sabres dominated things in the offensive zone over the final 20 minutes.

"I think we had some great O-zone momentum there getting pucks on the net, recovering and just kind of kept building," Girgensons said. "There were a bunch of good shifts by every line in the row."

A spritz of honesty here: This isn't the Vegas team we saw last spring, nor the one that started this year 11-0-1 and was 20-5-5 until the Sabres pulled off their December upset in T-Mobile Arena. Since then, Vegas has struggled with inconsistency and has been hit hard by injuries.

Eichel might be back as soon as Monday night in Columbus but captain Mark Stone might not be back at all. The Golden Knights' forward depth is so perilous that it might make dealing for Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel an absolute necessity. Their normally solid defense corps was oddly leaky and Thompson was no antidote in goal to struggling Cup winner Adin Hill.

Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams has to follow the straight and narrow path when evaluating this team. The 2024-25 season starts this week at Friday's trade deadline. It seems like there will be takers for Okposo, Girgensons and Erik Johnson. Can Adams find a way to get a Jordan Greenway kind of player with term to help next year's team right now?

When he spoke last week in Florida, Okposo sounded amenable to a move that would get him to the playoffs. Girgensons, the longest-tenured Sabre, said after Saturday's game he's had conversations with Adams "and that's between us." My translation: He'd love a first chance at the postseason, too.

It's going to be an ultra-busy week, starting with Sunday's visit by Winnipeg. The Jets' equipment was already piled in the hall of the visiting locker room Saturday night waiting for Vegas to clear out after Winnipeg rallied for a 5-3 win in the afternoon at Carolina and flew here from Raleigh.

There's games at Toronto and Nashville – which might be on a nine-game winning streak. There's Friday's deadline and then Saturday's visit by Connor McDavid and Edmonton, which was 20 points behind Vegas in November and is now one up on the Golden Knights in March.

It's really a shame this team isn't likely to get back in the race now. But maybe that's the point, too. The pressure is off. It's easy to play this well. Where was this hockey earlier in the season?

"What are you going to do, worry about the past? For us, we keep moving forward," Jeff Skinner said after a three-point night. "We've got another game (Sunday).

Quick turnaround and we try to keep the good things in our game going."

Right now, there's a lot of them.