The Buffalo Sabres have pulled within 6-points of an Eastern Conference playoff spot with their 2-1 win over the New York Islanders, Tuesday.
Tyler Myers opened the scoring just over a minute into the game when he crept in from the point and chipped a loose puck over a sprawling Kevin Poulin.
Thomas Vanek netted what proved to be the game-winner early in the second period to put the Sabres up 2-0 on his 22nd goal of the season from Derek Roy and Jason Pominville.
Ryan Miller was stellar in the win stopping 30-of-31 shots, despite allowing a soft goal late in the third period to Frans Nielsen, who sped in off the left wing and beat Miller with a slap shot to the short side. “I’m getting pretty good reads on the play,” Miller said, “And when I have one-on-ones with the guy, I can focus on challenging that and it all kind of blends together.”
The Sabres are 5-3-2 in their last 10-games and winners of two straight. Their recent inspired play has fans wondering where this type of urgency has been all season long.
Although the recent dedication to team defense and solid goaltending have brought them closer to the playoff picture, they are still 12th in the East and only 2-points ahead of Carolina who are last in the conference.
It is curious to think whether the looming NHL trade deadline has lit a fire under some of the Sabres whose names have been thrown around the rumor mill lately.
Derek Roy is one of the players’ that has been mentioned as possible trade bait, he also has 5-points in the last 2-games, including assists on both Sabres goals Tuesday. “It’s easy to play with those guys [Vanek and Pominville],” Roy said postgame, “They’re smart, they know where to go on the ice to score goals.”
Regardless of who he’s playing with, this is the type of production Sabres fans expect from a guy that is paid to be the team’s first line center.
The other name that has been heating up the trade rumors is center Paul Gaustad, who didn’t register a point, but played a solid physical game logging 16:23 minutes of ice time.
Line mates Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta combined with Gaustad shutting down the Islanders top-line all night along with their high energy and physicality. “That was the key to the game for us,” said Head Coach Lindy Ruff, “If you Look at the last 3-games, the job they’ve done, go back to the Montreal game shutting down the [Erik] Cole line, then the Pittsburgh threesome there, even when they threw [Jordan] Staal up front.”
Tyler Ennis has also been a pleasant surprise since returning from an injury riddled first half of the season. Since his return Ennis has been manning the center position where he has been able to thrive, speeding up and down the ice and creating chances offensively.
As perplexing as it can be to watch these Sabres struggle for long periods, then turn around and thump a team like Pittsburgh on Sunday, then back it up with a win over a team that has had their number recently in the Islanders, speaks to the lack of mental and physical toughness of this team.
They just don’t seem to have the consistent intensity it takes to be a playoff club. While the playoffs are becoming more of a possibility, the Sabres should still be looking to move some pieces for the future and continue to battle to make the playoffs, or not.
The NHL’s trade activity spiked in intensity last Thursday when the Ducks and Oilers exchanged prospects, later that day Lightning GM Steve Yzerman dealt former Sabres deadline pickup Dominic Moore and a 2012-7th round pick to San Jose for a 2012-2nd round pick.
Philadelphia made a move for some defensive help from Dallas in the form of Nicklas Grossman in exchange for a 2012-2nd round pick and 2013-3rd round pick.
Then Friday, Yzerman made his second of a series of moves that set up the Lightning’s next two off-seasons. Sending Pavel Kubina to the Flyers who continue to attempt to shore up the hole left in the blue line by Chris Pronger’s absence. In return the Lightning received Jon Kalinski, a prospect out of Bonneyville, Alberta and a 2013-2nd round pick and 2013-4th round pick.
The Nashville Predators made the move of the day when they acquired towering defenseman Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens in a swap that sent two prospects including forward Blake Geoffrion, grandson of Hall-of-Famer ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion, who also played for the Canadiens and a 2012-2nd round pick.
It only took Yzerman 4 more days to make his biggest move yet. Tampa Bay sent Steve Downie to Colorado for budding defenseman Kyle Quincey, then immediately shipped him to Detroit for a 2012-1st round pick and defensive prospect.
The Lightning, who are a point ahead of the Sabres in the East, are making the right adjustments and looking towards the future by moving pieces that are valuable, but not back-breaking.
Like the Lightning, the Sabres don’t need to rebuild, they need a shake up and Sabres GM Darcy Regier should sit up and take notice, that if you are willing to be reasonable, you can get a reasonable return in the trade market.
As the action heats up and the Sabres attempt to claw their way back into contention, it’s seem less likely that they will be sellers. Should they decide to hang a ‘For Sale’ sign on their roster, it seems there are buyers willing to part with high picks for NHL experience.
Both teams the Sabres are chasing in the standings took losses in overtime on Tuesday. Toronto (65-points) lost to New Jersey when goalie Jonas Gustavsson let in a softie from the blue line off the stick of defenseman Mark Fayne 1:18 into the extra frame.
Winnipeg (65-points) fell to Philadelphia as Wayne Simmonds scored with 10-seconds left to tie it, then Jaromir Jagr scored late in overtime to complete the comeback win for the Flyers.
With a continued resurgence and a little luck the Sabres just might have a shot at the last playoff spot in the East, but for now their team focus should be one period at a time and that begins Friday when the Boston Bruins come sniffing around the First Niagara Center.