Well I suppose it should figure. The Sabres finally thump an opponent and can't move up in the standings. Going into last night's games Buffalo was only two points out of eighth behind the Caps, who were playing the otherwise reliable Red Wings. But as luck would have it, Washington breezed past Detroit 5-3 while the Sabres smacked the Lightning 7-3.
This is why it's so hard to close even a two-point gap down the stretch. It's hard enough to compel the hockey gods to smile on you while you pray for teams to lose after you flop in OT; it's even harder to expect them to come through when you win and stand to gain ground.
I figured Buffalo's season was pretty much over after they coughed up two big points during back-to-back overtime losses against Colorado and Florida, so you have to give them credit for a big win that at least allowed them to keep pace with the Caps. However, there is almost no room for error in a homestretch that features games against the Rangers, Caps, Penguins, Flyers, and Bruins.
Given the remainder of Buffalo's schedule, I'm not sure it would've even mattered if Buffalo had been able to move into a tie for eighth last night. In a perverse sort of way, I think this makes the rest of the games easier to watch since I'm not expecting them to make the playoffs. Less stressful and all that.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not rooting for the Sabres to win; I'd actually like to see them make the postseason.
Come to think of it, you know what? I'm not sure I actually want them to make it. I love watching hockey and I prefer to watch my team whenever possible, but I think failing to make the playoffs will be better for the team in the long run.
I think we've concluded that Darcy is going nowhere, so I'm wondering if a failed season wouldn't encourage Regier to be even more aggressive in the offseason than he's already planning to be. After all, squeaking into the playoffs would seem to lend even more validation to the idea that the big prize was ours for the taking if not for all the injuries. As I've said in the past, injuries obviously contributed to plenty of losses, but any good, hardworking team with leadership and depth shouldn't fall into the abyss because of them, either.
Regardless of how things shake out the rest of the way, there have been some very nice developments this season for the Sabres:
- I think Tyler Ennis's games lost to high ankle sprains were a lot more detrimental than most people originally thought, and it's pretty clear he needs to play center.
- Paul Gaustad's loss was really not much of a loss at all, and I can't wait to see how Regier parlays the first round pick he got from Nashville in return.
- After at least three seasons of keeping us wondering, Andrej Sekera has finally turned into the reliable defensemen most were expecting. He logs a lot of minutes, has started to limit turnovers, runs the power play and, most importantly, has gained enough confidence to realize he belongs. Instead of demonstrating bursts of potential, he's started to play consistently well on a nightly basis. That's all you can really ask.
- Brayden McNabb is already a stud. His addition to the regular roster will immediately improve the D next season and likely make another top six defenseman expendable for use as trade bait in order to bolster other areas of the roster or add more depth to the organization.
- Holy Marcus Foligno. Where did this guy come from? This could all just be beginner's luck, but at only 20 years of age Foligno has been among the most dominant players on the ice for the Sabres the past week or so. I think we're starting to see why Regier was so comfortable trading Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson.
- Speaking of Hodgson, who just turned 22, he should become a pivotal piece to the Sabres puzzle in the near future. Fundamentally sound and possessing what appears to be a good work ethic, he kind of resembles a young Chris Drury. He's probably not going to put up 30 goals a year, but it can't be easy getting traded to a new team with only a quarter of the season remaining, yet he already appears to be very comfortable at center and communicating with his new teammates. I don't know if this trade will end up being Briere for Gratton, but it could honestly be close.
- But back to Foligno. This kid deserves a little more elaboration. At 6-3 and over 220 pounds, Foligno is a force. He's just as strong on the puck as Kassian is and appears to have an even better knack for the net. Now here's something I've always wondered if I'd ever write on a Sabres blog. Back when Kassian was first brought up I googled some of his hockey fights. I can't remember who he was fighting, but I recall that it was a guy who was older and who'd spent considerable time in the NHL. Kassian mostly wrestled him to a draw, but in the background of the video was Marcus Foligno pummeling another player pretty handily. It's funny now to recall that, at that time, I thought the person who posted the video might have been focusing on the wrong guy.
This sounds a little pretentious to say now that Kassian's been traded, but I wondered more than a few times since training camp -- Erik can corroborate this -- whether he was a little overhyped. I also wondered if the Sabres organization was always a little concerned about his reputation, given that he's been arrested for a bar fight and suspended a couple different times for borderline dirty hits before he got to the NHL. Granted, this is all speculation, but I guess I'm just saying that if the Sabres were at all concerned about any of this stuff over the past couple years, Marcus Foligno probably made their decision about Kassian pretty easy.
I can't believe I'm going to say this because it's probably way too early and I'll end up looking like a moron, but if I had to pick one player that Marcus Foligno resembles, I'd have to say Jordan Staal. Foligno isn't a center, of course, but he (by all accounts at present, at least) is strong on the puck, very responsible defensively, and unafraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net (which, as we've already seen, tends to result in goals).
At the start of the year, I don't think the Sabres figured that Foligno would be playing such a big role down the stretch. But at the same time, I don't think they figured they'd be fighting just to make the playoffs, either. I doubt as well that they thought Ville Leino would struggle so much and that Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, and Ryan Miller would have off-years.
However, if this season has revealed anything, it's that this team right at this moment has a very nice mixture of veteran leadership and reliable young talent, both of which are imperative to success and eventual championships. It's also interesting to note that Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis, two cornerstones to the Sabres' future who are closer to being veteran leaders than rookies, are still only 22.
If Regier can pick up Ryan Getzlaf during the offseason and this team can learn to play with some emotion and grit from the first game to the last, the future is now.