With the All-Star break on the horizon, the Buffalo Sabres need to dig deep to somehow go 3-0 in the upcoming week. As inconsistent as they have been and despite being depleted by key injuries, they are still in the playoff hunt.
Vegas Comes to Town
For the first and only time this season, the Vegas Golden Knights visit the Key Bank Center for a Tuesday night matchup with the Sabres. The game starts a difficult stretch against three Western Conference opponents, two of which are on the road.
In only their third season, Vegas is again in the playoff race, currently sitting in a wild card position but within one point of the top spot in a crowded Pacific Division. The Sabres catch Vegas at a weird time as they just wrapped up a seven-game homestand, the last three were losses. They make the trip to the east coast to begin a whopping eight-game road trip, with the All-Star break in between.
I can’t tell you what Vegas team is set to show up in Buffalo. However, I know that they are capable of playing excellent hockey. It’s worth noting that the Knights have only existed for three years and have already built a roster that, on paper, outmatches a Sabres team that is celebrating 50 years.
Vegas is skilled, fast, but also has a unique physicality to their game that can wear you down. Not to mention, Marc-Andre Fleury is elite in net. It makes for a difficult task, but the Sabres need two points. They also need to build momentum before heading to Dallas and Nashville. If Buffalo lays an egg at home, it could get ugly in the mid-west.
Off to Nashville and Dallas
The Predators have been underwhelming this year, and it led to the firing of their head coach Peter Laviolette. They are in a similar spot to Buffalo, as they try to keep their heads above water in the wild card race.
I expect this game to be ugly and low scoring, which would play to the Sabres’ advantage. They are reeling from injuries to some of their best forwards, making it that much more difficult to find goals. If they can jump out to an early lead, they are capable enough to keep Nashville at bay.
It may not be pretty, but a 60-minute effort will be necessary to leave the Music City with two points. Regardless of their game against the Golden Knights, the Sabres need to stay focused as they hit the road.
Similar to the Nashville matchup, I believe the Dallas game will be a defensive struggle. The Stars pride themselves on tight-knit defense, and will make it difficult for Buffalo to create any sort of time and space.
On the positive side, the Sabres catch Dallas on the back of a four-game, west coast road trip. There could be a lull as the All-Star break looms, and Buffalo needs to pounce if that is the case.
Why This 3-Game Set Is Vital
Every game is important for Buffalo right now, but these next three are vital for any chance of sniffing the playoffs. With all three games against Western Conference teams, they may win all of them but gain no ground due to the fact that they aren’t taking points away from any of teams they are fighting against.
This three-game set is about keeping tabs on the teams above them. The home game against Vegas is the most crucial of the three, mainly because of the tailspin that could ensue if the Sabres fail to show up. A bad game could bleed into the next two.
We have reached that point of the season where you can cut the remaining schedule into increments, and if one of those increments goes awry, the season could hang in the balance. We have reached that point with the Sabres, and this stretch begins the constant evaluation of their playoff chances. Let the fun begin!