I know many people disagree with this statement, but I fully believe it, and will vehemently defend it; the Buffalo Sabres are a playoff team. They have the scoring depth, they have the goaltending, and they have right system. Again, many people do not agree, and see the Sabres as a two player team depending on the success of Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. This is an uneducated, inaccurate statement. While I cannot disagree that these two players play pivotal roles on our team, I do not agree and would not even remotely compare this team to that of the 1998-1999 cup team that relied solely on staunch defense and Dominic Hasek.
The first, and most important, point to success is the level at which we play the lower end teams. We cannot post losing records to Atlanta, the NY Islanders, or Florida. It is no secret that the Sabres have played to the level of their competition for the last two years, and arguably the end of the 06-07 campaign. If the Sabres had just gone 1-3 against Atlanta last season, they would have made the playoffs, pushing the Rangers into the 9th seed. One win seperated us from the playoffs and the links.
Now, instead of remembering games like that of San Jose, where we tied the game with just seconds remaining and won in extra time, we remember the losses to Atlanta, most notably the overtime losses. This cannot happen this season, or we will come up shy of the playoffs. The Sabres have to do what the other good teams do and beat lesser teams. Going with what I predict the East will turn out as let us take a look at the possibilities:
9. Ottawa (4-2)
10. Carolina (3-1)
11. Toronto (5-1)
12. NY Rangers (3-1)
13. Florida (3-1)
14. NY Islanders (3-1)
15. Atlanta (3-1)
Record against the last 7 teams: 24-8 (presuming there are no OT finishes)
Here's our record against the other teams that did not make the playoffs in the East last season: 13-10-5
That is 31 points. the other 60 cames from Eastern playoff teams and the Western Conference.
Our record against the rest last season: 28-22-4
Simply put, that cannot happen again. You make the playoffs by beating the teams you should beat. You split the season series with teams like Boston and Washington, not the Tampa Bay of last season and the Islanders. You especially do not lose to the Thrashers in OT everytime you play them.
If the Sabres grab 48 out of a possible 64 points, I defy anyone to say we are going to miss again. That leaves 50 games left, 32 of which will be against Eastern Conference playoff teams and 18 Western Conference opponents. Assuming the Sabres go 25-25 in those games, that leaves us with a record of 49-33, and 98 points, without even thinking about overtime losses. 98 points will get a team into the playoffs. Posting a winning record against the East's non-playoff teams is essential and the numbers prove that.
Easier said than done, I know, but it has to happen. To make it happen, the leaders and veterans have to lead the way. People like Craig Rivet, Mike Grier, Ryan Miller, and Thomas Vanek have to demand it does. Not only do they need to lead by example with their play on the ice, they need to demand 100% out of their players every night.
The leaders need to take control of the locker room like the former captain, Chris Drury. After a loss, Drury would go in front of the media and the fans and answer to them. By doing so, even if it was not his fault, he took responsibility for the loss. By doing so, Drury shielded the younger players from taking confidence hits and allowed them to focus on their own game.
Drury waited until the cameras were off and they were together as a team to call out other players, effectively allowing the team to police itself. There needs to be more of that on this team, and it is why the presence of leaders and veterans is necessary.
If this happens, Sabres fans will have more hockey to watch than the past two seasons have given them.