The Buffalo Sabres blew a tire going into the All-Star break. After winning ten straight games in November, the Sabres have been struggling to prove that their run was legit. Right now it looks like that was all a mirage because Buffalo have played like a below average hockey team since that point. They have won just 7 of their previous 23 games to push them out of the playoff picture. At any rate, they are still in the picture, but behind the Penguins as the final team out in the Eastern Conference.
Not many teams would be able to sustain that kind of a downturn and be only 4 points out of a playoff spot. However, it’s pretty clear that the Sabres are living off of that ten-game winning streak. Without that and their season might be in the toilet already. If the Sabres do continue to slip, it’s going to be disappointing for a team who thought it was all coming together.
They limped into the break with losses in four of their last five games. The lone win was a 4-3 overtime win against the Flames. Instead of generating some momentum, the Sabres had a letdown against the Canucks with a loss by the same score, 4-3. With Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark struggling, the offence has been struggling to keep up.
For a minute there it looked like the Sabres had a great problem to have. Hutton and Ullmark were both playing reasonably well, allowing the Sabres to go in either direction. The Blue Jackets lost their last two games before going into the break, botching an opportunity to lead the Metropolitan. It’s a highly competitive division, with little separating the Islanders, Capitals, and Blue Jackets. Every game is going to be important for Columbus at this point. Head below for our free Sabres vs. Blue Jackets pick.
Buffalo Sabres vs. Columbus Blue Jackets Pick
It’s more than just poor goaltending for the Sabres, it’d be nice to get some help from the defence as well. However, Hutton allowing 5 goals on 12 shots in his last start presents to excuses for him. He’s let in some soft goals that can’t be blamed on anyone but himself.
Ullmark was in net for three of the Sabres previous for games and he was off as well with 12 goals allowed. The Sabres likely go back to their starting netminder, Hutton, in net against the Blue Jackets this evening. I don’t believe the Sabres are going to give up on him that quickly. If he can find the groove he was in earlier in the season, they are going to be a team to look out for again.
The entire team has been struggling in their own zone recently, though. Note that the Sabres have gotten hit for 3.5 goals allowed on average in their previous ten outings. The Blue Jackets have averaged over 3 goals during that time, and are well over 3 goals per game with 3.4 goals in Columbus at Nationwide Arena. I think there definitely is room for improvement defensively if they want to make a run at going deep in the playoffs, though.
There are still rumours swirling about the future of Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus. Along with Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin is getting some attention in the trade market. Both are unrestricted free agents in the offseason, so the Blue Jackets are forced with riding them through this season or risk getting nothing in return. There is a market for both of them, though Columbus looks like a team heading for the playoffs, adding to what is going to be a difficult decision.
Bobrovsky has been spotty this season, with a 2.91 GAA and 0.904 save percentage. The two-time Vezina winner is having one of the most inconsistent seasons of his career. Although, when Bobrovsky is hot, he could steal a series for the Jackets. He went into the break allowing at least 3 goals in six of his last seven appearances for an average of 3.4 goals allowed in his last seven. In their first meeting this season, the Jackets survived in overtime by a score of 5-4. I don’t know if we get to 9 goals, but I could see a 4-3 final in Columbus on Tuesday night at Nationwide.