The standings don’t sugarcoat anything. The Buffalo Sabres sit in 25th place in the National Hockey League and have been hovering near that spot consistently all season.
So with a month of games remaining and no playoffs in sight, the Sabres set different kinds of team goals.
Like catching Montreal.
The Canadiens still have playoff hopes. After beating the Dallas Stars in overtime Tuesday night to snap a four-game losing streak, the Habs moved seven points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild-card spot. But the Sabres are looking to play spoiler. The Habs sit with 68 points (sixth place) in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres, in seventh with 63, have a chance to catch the Habs, especially with two head-to-head games remaining.
The teams meet in Bell Centre at 7:30 Thursday night, then meet for the final time this season March 16 in Buffalo.
“I know we’re looking at it as an opportunity to maybe catch them in the standings with two games,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after an hourlong practice at First Niagara Center on Wednesday. “We’ve had some success against them earlier in the year. We know where we’re at in the standings. We know where they’re at and we want to use these two games as a possible way to catch them.”
The Habs, who started the season as the hottest team in the NHL, won the first meeting, a severe 7-2 drubbing on Oct. 23.
But the Sabres have won the last two, including a 4-2 win in Montreal on Feb. 3 and a 6-4 win in Buffalo Feb. 12.
Does past success inspire confidence?
“No, I don’t think so,” said Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian. “The beauty of the NHL is any given team can beat any given team on any given night. The 30th-place team can beat the first-place team. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I think if you’re too worried about the competition you kind of forget about what you have to do as a team. We have to go in there with our game plan, our mindset. Go in there, play a good road game and go from there.”
Marcus Foligno has a slightly different outlook. The forward has four points in his last two games against Montreal, including a three-point night (two goals, one assist) in the last meeting.
So does Foligno feel a bit of confidence when playing the Habs?
“Big time,” Foligno said. “I think the way I’ve been playing, I want to get on the board and I don’t want to let these couple games go with slides any more.
“I think I need to have some results where it’s repetitive numbers from me. Against Montreal, it’s a team I like to play against. Some guys, it’s like that. You feel comfortable against certain teams. You know what you can bring. Going to Montreal, it’s always fun to play them in Montreal. You get a little jacked up for those games and I’m sure I’ve got to bring a better effort.”
Foligno has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) with offensive streaks. He has bunches of games with no points, then a few breakout games, then back to a scoreless stretch. He is currently on a three-game pointless skid. Bylsma likes Foligno’s game but wishes he would use his strengths better.
“I think Marcus has played real big and real strong for us,” Bylsma said. “I’d like to see him cash in a little more by going in harder at the net. The one play,” in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Rangers “Rasmus,” Ristolainen “at the end of the first period got the puck to the net. It dropped off the goalie right there and Marcus had gone to the net but continued to the corner. I’d like to see Marcus establish himself as a big-frame body guy at the net and tap it in, being a factor, scoring at the net more.”
email: amoritz@ buffnews.com