So now that we know that we know nothing about Miller’s status, where do we place our expectations for this team? As recent as two weeks ago we thought this team could wind up in 4th place in the conference; and while that’s still possible numerically it doesn’t seem likely while missing Miller and Vanek.
So where does this team stand? Right now they’re in 8th place, just a point out of ninth and three points from fourth place. According to the 90+ Points or Bust standings from Mirtle, the Sabres need to finish the season 11-10-1 to hit that mark and finish in 8th place.
That doesn’t seem impossible, but for me that’s about as far as my expectations go. With Miller going down the focus shifts from climbing the standings to merely surviving, and when Patrick Lalime is your starting goaltender you can’t ask for much more than .500 at best. Jonas Enroth is not going to save this team, and I doubt Darcy makes a trade that mortgages the future and puts Lalime’s roster spot in jeopardy in the long term. We know he’s a character guy, and Lalime fits the locker room very well.
Now it is still possible that the right players step up, and maybe Hecht and Pominville get it together and take over for Atlas while Lalime goes on a hot streak. Still, expectations have to drop quite a bit from now on, and it’s not impossible this team finishes in double digits once again. It’s a scary thought, but it has to be considered right now, doesn’t it?
It’s not pessimism at this point, it’s reality. Mirtle said it himself, “Carolina’s been coming on as of late and has to be considered likely to grab a spot unless the Sabres can get some solid goaltending from their backup(s).” The Rangers may fall from the sky before Buffalo even have the chance, but who knows how they react to a new head coach. The only solution for the Sabres is to get their two best players healthy again, and the timetable for that may run longer than we can afford.
This won’t just be on Lalime’s head, either. This team has relied on Ryan Miller to keep them in far too many games, and that’s a luxury they no longer have. The Sabres have always talked a big game, but this is where we will see if they can hold down the fort all on their own.