PHILADELPHIA — Welcome to the final week of what will certainly rank as one of the most memorable seasons in Buffalo Sabres history, for what obviously are most of the wrong reasons.
They’ve gone through a franchise-record 44 players, replaced the coach and general manager, hired a president of hockey operations and then saw him resign or get fired, depending upon who you believe. On top of all that, they’ve lost more than any team in Buffalo history.
The Sabres have five games left in these eight days, starting tonight in the Wells Fargo Center against the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo took Saturday off after Friday’s 3-2 loss at Detroit, its second one-goal loss in two nights.
The Sabres clinched last place overall in the NHL for the first time in 27 years with Friday’s defeat. They need to get one point in their final five games to break their current tie with the 1971-72 team for the fewest points in franchise history.
The Sabres are 21-47-9 for 51 points. The ’71-72 club, in the second year of the franchise, went 16-43-19 (counting ties rather than OT losses). So it also had 51 points.
Is one point a lock, you ask? Well after tonight, the Sabres host Detroit on Tuesday, play Thursday in New York against the Rangers and Saturday in Boston before finally getting a team at their level when they host the New York Islanders next Sunday.
Another big subplot for the final week is Buffalo’s offense, or lack thereof. The Sabres have a good chance to set the NHL record for fewest goals by a team since the expansion era started in 1967.
They currently have scored just 141 goals, 10 behind the mark of 151 set by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sabres are actually listed for 148 in the NHL standings but that counts shootout-deciding goals.
The Sabres’ paltry average of 1.83 per game is lowest in history to that Tampa team’s 1.84. The franchise record-low for goals had been 190 in 2002-03 and that is going to get shattered by this group.
The Sabres have some truly mind-numbing numbers offensively.
They have just 91 goals in five-on-five situations all season in 77 games, a paltry average of 1.18 per game.
No other team entered play Saturday with fewer than 122 – and the top 15 teams in the league in five-on-five scoring were all at 140 or above.
The Sabres and Lindy Ruff-led Dallas are the only teams in the league this year without a single goal in a five-on-three situation. They also entered Saturday with NHL-lows of 37 goals in the first period and 44 in the second. They have 57 in the third, which was one more than Vancouver.
The Sabres have been shut out 10 times and held to one goal in 23 other games. With injuries and the trade of Matt Moulson stifling the offense, they have not scored more than three in any of their last 16 games.
Still, they have played much better in their last four games after the 6-1 stinker March 27 in Nasvhille.
Since then, Buffalo has lost in overtime to Tampa Bay, beat New Jersey in a shootout and dropped one-goal decisions at St. Louis and Detroit in games in which they had their opponents on their heels in the final minute pressing for a tying goal.
“We’ve been really talking to the team about the compete level,” said coach Ted Nolan after Friday’s game. “We don’t care about the skill sets and position. We want to see who wants to compete and who wants to be a big part of this team going forward and turning it around.”
The Sabres will skate this morning and should have more updates on the injuries to Drew Stafford, Henrik Tallinder and Marcus Foligno. Matt Hackett had a good bounceback final 40 minutes in goal in Detroit, blanking the Red Wings, after Nathan Lieuwen was strong in St. Louis, so Nolan could go either way in goal tonight.
The Flyers are coming off Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Boston and are in danger of sliding into a wild-card slot for the playoffs after spending the last couple of weeks thinking they were probably locked into a first-round matchup with the New York Rangers.
The Flyers are just two points ahead of Columbus in the battle for third place in the Metropolitan Division with five games left. If they slide out of it and manage to hang on to a wild card, they would be looking at a first-rounder against either Boston or Pittsburgh.
A matchup with the Bruins would be particularly onerous, as Saturday’s loss meant the Flyers were swept in a season series by Boston for the first time since 1989-90.