If the Buffalo Sabres haven't yet hit rock bottom, they at least have a pretty good view of it.
The Sabres have lost four straight games – including the first two under interim coach Ron Rolston – and now sit in dead last in the Eastern Conference. At 6-12-1, the Sabres are only one point ahead of Columbus in the race for last place in the NHL.
With only 29 games left in this truncated season, Buffalo may have already played itself out of playoff position. Any slim hopes for the postseason would be well-served by a strong showing by the Sabres in their two-game Florida swing, which begins tonight in Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m., MSG).
Save for a late fight after goalie Ryan Miller was run, the Sabres looked completely deflated and defeated in a 4-0 shellacking Saturday at the hands of the New York Islanders. Rolston feels the mental part of the game is what's holding back the team he inherited less than a week ago from Lindy Ruff:
"The work is there. The care is there. Right now, it's just the psyche part. It's important for them to stay on and stay positive."
Positivity is hard to come by, though, when you've only won three out of 12 games in the month of February. And it'll be even harder to scrounge together in the weeks ahead. Buffalo plays only six home games out of 17 games in what's left of February and March.
If there's to be any rebound this season, it will have to start in the defensive end. The 3.3 goals against per game put the Sabres 28th in the NHL, with Ryan Miller somehow playing one of his better campaigns so far in spite of the atrocious numbers (6-10-1, 2.94 GAA). Buffalo has consistently given the puck away at inopportune moments that have led to game-changing or game-clinching goals throughout the season.
"Until we commit to a simple game, we're going to keep getting the same result," defenseman Tyler Myers said. "It’s frustrating because we're doing a lot of great things out there, but simple things just like getting the puck deep - until we start committing to doing that for a full 60 minutes, its going to be tough."
Getting any more victories will be tough unless the anemic power play begins to produce. At 11.3 percent, Buffalo's power play is last in the NHL – although a chance at redemption is at hand against the Bolts (9-8-1 record), who allow nearly as many goals per game (3.2) as Buffalo.
But Tampa's offense (a league-leading 3.8 goals per game) could quickly put the game out of hand against Buffalo's reeling defense. Steven Stamkos leads the league with 13 goals and 29 points. Rookie standout Cory Conacher – who played his college hokey at Canisius College in Buffalo – has seven goals and 17 points so far. Vincent Lecavalier and Benoit Pouliot have added six goals each. Anders Lindback (7-4-1, 3.27 GAA) has played the majority of the time in goal.
The Sabres recalled defenseman Adam Pardy on Monday, possibly the result of Alexander Sulzer leaving Saturday's game with an injury. Pardy had an assist in one NHL game this season. For the Rochester Americans, he has a goal and four assists with a +1 rating.
Tags: Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Hockey, NHL
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