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Puck Drop: March Recap: Sabres, Flyers Flounder

Maybe the Soothsayer’s famous warning to “beware the Ides of March” wasn’t just meant for Julius Caesar. The Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers would have certainly appreciated that advice, as the two teams gave their fans two of the more bizarre months in recent memory in the worst way possible.

We’re at a point now where I almost feel bad for Sabres fans. First, it’s Jack Eichel, their star center, reportedly wanting to leave. Next, their solid start to the season was interrupted because of a COVID outbreak, after which everything went downhill. A shaky start out of the reset would quickly see the wheels fall off, as the Sabres lost 18 straight games from February 25 to March 29 (0-15-3 over that span). Those 18 consecutive losses tied the longest losing streak in NHL history, set by the 2003-04 Penguins (the longest winless streak in NHL history is 30 games, suffered by the 1980-81 Winnipeg Jets, but that streak included seven ties). The skid, then at 12 games, cost coach Ralph Krueger his job on March 17. It took rookie coach Don Granato seven tries to get his first career win, and the Sabres now own a paltry .278 points percentage, good for dead last in the NHL and .100 worse than Anaheim and Ottawa (29th and 30th in the league). That mark also places them .178 behind New Jersey (27th), a gap so large it is roughly the same as the one separating Carolina (1st; .729) and St. Louis (16th; .543). However, Buffalo did escape March with one win, beating the Flyers on March 31.

The 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the last-place Sabres was, somehow, not Philadelphia’s worst loss of the month. It wasn’t even the second worst. Those two distinctions belong to the games Philadelphia played against the New York Rangers on March 17 and 25, in which they lost by a combined score of 17-3 (9-0 and 8-3, respectively), and Mika Zibanejad set the NHL record for most points in back-to-back games against an opponent (3G/3A/6P in each game). Much of Philadelphia’s struggles fall to goaltending: in March, Flyers goalies posted a horrific .833 save percentage, which would have easily been in last place among goalies with more than one start in 2019-20. However, not all the blame lies with the goalies. They have received no help from their defense (see picture above), leading to a GA/G of 3.63 this season (30th in the NHL). Flyers coach Alain Vigneault could be joining Ralph Krueger in the unemployment line, with calls for and speculation about his firing growing daily, despite the Flyers being just 3 points out of the playoffs. Yes, March was that bad for the Flyers. Whether or not Vigneault remains behind Philadelphia’s bench in the future, I am sure he and his players are happy to see the calendar turn to a clean slate in April, as are the Buffalo Sabres.

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