The Buffalo Sabres (33-29-8) have battled from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to make their way within 4-points of the 8th and final playoff spot with just 12-games remaining on the regular season schedule.
Unfortunately a huge blow was dealt to the team when Tyler Myers, one of the leaders of the month-long resurgence was levied a 3-game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety, Tuesday.
The suspension is the result of a hit-from-behind Myers delivered to Montreal Canadiens forward Scott Gomez on Monday night in the Sabres 3-2 overtime victory. “Looking directly at Gomez’s back, Myers hits Gomez from behind, causing him to crash violently into the boards,” said Brendan Shanahan, Senior Vice President of the NHL Department of Player Safety, “This is a clear violation of the boarding rule.”
Shanahan justified the hefty suspension based on the facts that; Gomez sustained an injury as a result of the play and that he had his back turned when Myers delivered the hit behind the Sabres net.
The 3-games Myers will have to sit out are arguably the most meaningful games of the Sabres season thus far. As they attempt to navigate the long road from the basement to the playoffs, he is a necessary cog on the Sabres blue line that will be severely missed.
To help lessen the impact of Myers absence, the Sabres should promote defenseman Brayden McNabb from Rochester, who proved early this season that he can bring a physical presence and be relied upon to play valuable minutes. McNabb will be counted on immediately as the Sabres battle tonight with the Colorado Avalanche, who are in a four-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles.
The Avalanche (37-30-4) who have earned 78-points on the season and are 7-3-0 in their last 10-games, come into First Niagara Center riding the hot play of rookie sensation and leading goal scorer Gabriel Landeskog (19-goals). Landeskog has been playing on what is arguably the Avalanche’s first line alongside deadline acquisition forward Steve Downie who has 11-points in his first 10-games with the team and leading scorer Ryan O’Reilly (51-points).
As for the Sabres, they will need to continue their streak of gritty wins that began just under a month ago with a 6-2 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since that Sunday victory they are 9-2-1, including a tough Western swing where they picked up 6-of-8 possible points from contests with Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Despite the Sabres leading scorers being part of a core group that has been drafted and developed together, the team will be relying on the younger talent over the next 12-games to help push this team into the playoffs. Of the nine players on the Sabres roster under 26-years old, the two young 22-year old centers, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson will play the most vital roles in the stretch run for this team.
Ennis has been a buzz saw since being moved to center from the wing, flying coast-to-coast, showing off his speed and puck handling abilities, but Hodgson has struggled to net a point in the 8-games since being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks for top-prospect Zack Kassian.
If Hodgson can find his niche in this lineup and Ennis remains healthy and at full-tilt, the Sabres could find themselves swiping that final playoff spot right out from under the Washington Capitals (36-28-6), who completed a comeback shootout victory against the New York Islanders, Tuesday.
Another two young players who will be counted on, but in a much more physical capacity are; Corey Tropp and Marcus Foligno. Their play has been phenomenal since being called up to the big club and they will need to continue their high energy style to help spark this team that has had a propensity to disappear for stretches at a time.
As much as the young players will be relied upon, it almost goes without saying that Ryan Miller will need to continue to be stellar in order for the Sabres to hunt down the Capitals as well.
Before the All-Star break when the Sabres struggled to muster up any semblance of a fight for a win, Miller’s numbers were a paltry; 12-15-2, 3.07 goals against average, .899 save percentage, with 1-shutout.
Since the All-Star break, Miller has been in All-Star form posting a stat line of; 13-3-3, 1.89 goals against, .938 save percentage, including 4-shutouts. In three career games against Colorado, Miller has posted; a 0-1-0 record, 2.55 goals against, .913 save percentage and no shutouts.
On a day where the Bills are striving to make Buffalo sports history by signing a big ticket free-agent, the Sabres will look to embrace that same sense of urgency set forth by the football team’s front office and continue to surge this city to the playoffs.