The first five weeks of the season couldn’t have gone any worse for the Buffalo Sabres.
The last one has been much more to their liking.
Buffalo hopes to step out of the Eastern Conference basement with its fourth straight victory Wednesday night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
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There isn’t a high level of expectations for this year’s Sabres, but a 3-13-2 start was far worse than anything the organization could’ve envisioned.
A dreadful offense and porous goaltending were the chief culprits behind the team’s dismal play.
Buffalo (6-13-2) scored a meager 22 non-shootout goals in those 18 games and went 3 for 55 on the power play. A suspect defense corps offered little help to goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth, who combined for a 3.33 goals-against average.
The last week, however, seems to have signaled a change for the Sabres, who have outscored opponents 12-4 during three consecutive wins.
"In the last couple weeks, things have slowly started turning," coach Ted Nolan told the team’s official website. "And when you get wins through your work and you see the results, it makes you believe a little bit more."
Nolan’s club had some good fortune on its side Saturday at Washington, winning 2-1 despite being outshot 44-26. Enroth made 20 of his season-high 43 saves in the second period and Torrey Mitchell scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:42 remaining in the third after a perfect bounce off the back wall.
”I’m not a big believer in luck. I believe the harder you work the luckier you get, if there is such a thing,” Nolan said. ”We kept trying to do the same things over and over again, and it’s nice to see that when you do that and have some perseverance, you get rewarded for it.”
Secondary scoring has helped put Buffalo in position for its first four-game win streak since a five-game run from March 19-27, 2012.
Leading scorer Tyler Ennis has continued to produce with two goals and six points in his last five games, but the line of Mitchell, Brian Flynn and captain Brian Gionta has also found some chemistry lately. Flynn has a goal and two assists during the win streak, Mitchell has scored twice over that span and Gionta has his only two goals of the season and an assist.
Winnipeg (11-9-3) opened its three-game road trip with a 4-2 victory over Columbus on Tuesday, getting two goals from Evander Kane and another strong performance by rookie goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Hutchinson turned aside 32 shots to improve to 4-0-1 with a 0.85 GAA and one shutout in his past five appearances. That impressive run could mean another night on the bench for No. 1 netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who is 0-4-0 with a 3.33 GAA in his last five starts.
”I’m feeling really good about where my game is right now,” Hutchinson said. ”I feel I’m reading the play well. I’m able to read those seam passes and know where players are on the ice.”
Both of Kane’s scores came on the power play, Winnipeg’s first goals with the man advantage in eight games.
”It’s nice to finally get one on the power play, and hopefully that can start a trend,” Kane said.
The Jets have won seven of eight against the Sabres, but the lone loss came in their most recent visit to Buffalo on Dec. 17.