The plan for the Sabres’ new regime was to create a winning atmosphere in Buffalo. Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine sought to change the mood in the dressing room one point at time.
It’s been working. The Sabres have earned at least a point in 10 of their last 14 games, going 6-4-4.
“What you’re trying to do is really change the culture,” Nolan said. “We don’t want to be a fly-by-night team that plays good at certain moments. The top, elite teams learn to do it on a consistent basis. We’re getting a little bit more consistent, and we’re growing.”
While the Sabres are still in the cellar at 13-27-6, the accumulation of points has put a window in the basement. They can see 29th place now.
With that being the case, an important question pops up. Has the Sabres’ new plan laid waste to their original plan, which was to secure the first pick in the NHL Draft?
The definitive answer won’t come until the Sabres complete the 36 games left on their schedule. The answer right now is the plans can co-exist. Buffalo can feel better about itself and still select the best player in the draft.
Though other teams can certainly fall back, it looks like a three-way race among Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary for the No. 1 overall pick:
• Buffalo has 32 points through 46 games. It hosts Columbus on Saturday.
• Edmonton had 35 points in 49 games and visited Minnesota on Thursday night.
• Calgary had 38 points in 47 outings entering its home game with Winnipeg on Thursday.
The schedule is kinder to Edmonton and Calgary the rest of the way. The Oilers have 19 home games left and 12 road games. Calgary has 17 home games and 16 on the road. The Sabres have 16 home games and 20 on the road, including a crushing conclusion. Buffalo will play 10 of its final 14 games away from First Niagara Center.
The Sabres are a league-worst 4-14-3 on the road. They have just one regulation victory away from Buffalo, a 3-1 decision in Florida on Oct. 25.
In fact, the Sabres have only five regulation wins in their 46 games. Their ability to finally extend games past 60 minutes is what’s contributed to their point surge. Six of the last 10 have gone to overtime. Only four of their first 26 did.
“We’re definitely playing a simpler game,” goaltender Ryan Miller said. “It keeps us in more hockey games. You’re going to pick up points that way. That’s the secret to the NHL now is just hang around and be in the games, then you try and separate yourself.
“That seems to be the way NHL, aside from two or three teams that really stand out. We’re just playing a little bit more like we need to.”
Three-point games are indeed the trend in the NHL. Entering Thursday’s schedule, overtime came nearly 26 percent of the time (184 of 709 games). Last season, just 11 percent of the games featured overtime (162 of 1,440).
The Sabres may find it tougher to get to OT after the trade deadline. Their already woeful scoring could take a hit if pending free agent Matt Moulson is dealt. The goaltending could become less reliable if Miller is sent away.
The rosters in Edmonton and Calgary could also become weaker, but the Oilers actually improved it Wednesday. They are last in the league in goals allowed at 3.51 per game, but they acquired Ben Scrivens from Los Angeles. The goalie had a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 19 appearances with the Kings.
Calgary has the same problem as Buffalo. It can’t score. The Flames rank 29th at 2.17 goals per game while the Sabres are last at 1.67. To put the difference in perspective, the Flames would need to get shut out 14 straight times in order for Buffalo to move into 29th.
The Sabres are finally trending upward. They feel good about their game, as they should. Despite the improvements, they can still fulfill the dream of building through the top of the draft.
The partnership between Steve Ott and the Buffalo Zoo, which brought stuffed otters to Sabres fans, went swimmingly – except for those people who waited to get one.
All the stuffed animals, dubbed “Ott’s Otters,” disappeared quickly. The team introduced the furry creatures Wednesday and had tremendous immediate response. The Sabres put the limited number of remaining otters on the shelves in the Sabres Store at 10 a.m. Thursday, and they were gone in a matter of minutes.
The otters, wearing Ott’s jersey and accompanied by his autograph, sold for $25. All proceeds are set to go to the Buffalo Zoo.
“This program is a great way for our fans to show their love of the Sabres while supporting such an important community asset in the Buffalo Zoo,” Ott said. “As a big animal lover, I’m excited to be involved in a program that will help raise money and awareness for the Buffalo Zoo.”