Pat LaFontaine’s lockout-shortened season was shorter than most. The Hall of Famer was coming off major knee surgery and played just 22 of the Buffalo Sabres’ 48 games in 1995.
It was still chaotic. He recalls traveling from games to airplanes and back to games, with little in between.
“I do remember that’s all we did,” LaFontaine said. “I don’t remember practicing as much because we were trying to make up for some games.”
It will be even more frenzied this season.
The 1995 Sabres had one additional back-to-back situation (10-9), but this edition will have fewer days off. The 1995 Sabres had two days between games 11 times, and they had four three-day breaks. This year, Buffalo has two days between games seven times and only two three-day breaks.
“Rest will be important,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “It really is a light practice, real meaningful practices this time of year. ... The players will need a day of rest during the week, so it’s going to be a lot about playing.”
Once the games started in 1995, for the Sabres in January and LaFontaine in March, there was a sense of urgency.
“It was almost like playoff time all the time,” LaFontaine said. “In many ways, if you have a 48-game season, you don’t have a lot of time to waste. You want to grab the points.”
The Sabres started 3-0, but they quickly transformed into a .500 team. The importance of streaks in a short season came to light during the final few weeks.
The Sabres were 17-18-6 on April 19. The division-rival Hartford Whalers were 18-18-5. Buffalo closed with a 5-1-1 run to finish in seventh place and make the playoffs, where it lost to the Flyers in the first round. Hartford went 1-6 and missed out.
As could be expected with less time for teams to distance themselves, the playoff races were tight. Only five points separated seventh place from 12th in the Western Conference. The fifth-place team in the East earned 52 points, while the ninth had 46 and the 11th 43.
The 1995 season can also be remembered for a major dip in scoring. Teams combined for 6.48 goals per game in 1993-94. They averaged 5.97 in 1995. Goals returned the following season with 6.29 per contest.
Ruff, who as an assistant with the Florida Panthers in 1995, wants the Sabres to remain levelheaded despite the increased significance of every goal, point and streak.
“What I think you really have to be careful of,” Ruff said, “is not putting too much into the wins and not too much into the losses.”