Monday, February 08, 2010


At the halfway point of the current National Hockey League season, the Buffalo Sabres had a 13-1-4 record in one-goal games.

Fans -- and probably more than a few players, coaches and executives -- pointed to that statistic and said that the Sabres were showing their grit and character by winning the close ones, that it was a good omen for the postseason.

Me, I knew better.

The Sabres had been lucky. Really lucky.

I've looked over all sorts of sports statistics over the years, and one fact continues to be driven home, year after year. Good hockey teams don't win a large share of one-goal games. They win a large share of five-goal games.

In other words, you let a bad team hang around for 60 minutes, there's a good chance that every once in a while a puck will bounce in a funny way and complete an upset. That's happened to the Sabres a few times lately. A good team pounds you into the ground.

The Sabres have hit a flat spot lately, going 2-7-1 in their last 10. Most of their lead in the Northeast Division is about gone, as Ottawa has been hot. According to the NHL standings of the moment, the Sabres have scored 14 more goals than they have allowed. That is behind Washington, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. You'd think that would be about right. (By the way, the Senators are -1 for the season, which means you'd expect them to fade a bit in the won-loss department soon.)

Still, the Sabres figure to win their division once they get their current woes straightened out. What's more, they'd better. If the Sabres finish second in the Northeast, they'd probably have to play either New Jersey or Pittsburgh in the first round. Anyone in Buffalo feel good about their chances there?

I didn't think so.

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