The Buffalo Sabers have gone from worst to first, and the rest of the NHL knows.
With a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night, the Sabers have a score of 36 points. That made Buffalo the first team to finish the previous season with the worst record and lead the NHL in points after 25 games, according to the sports bureau Elias. Five teams are tied for first place after the worst record, the most recent being the Bruins from 1967-1968.
The Sabers are on a run of 10 consecutive wins, one of the longest in franchise history. It's the best NHL run since the Columbus Blue Jackets have won 16 straight victories from November 29th to January 3rd, 2017.
Nine of the 10 games were decided by a goal and that of Tuesday was the seventh decided after the regulation – and third in a row.
"When the match is tight, we feel confident, if we lose we do not panic," said defender Rasmus Ristolainen, who opened the scoring with a breakaway around Brent Burns. We believe. "
Buffalo finished the 2017-18 season with a 25-45-12 record (62 points), but won the draw for Swedish defender Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick.
"Of course, it was very emotional last year," he said. Nathan Beaulieu, who also scored for Buffalo on Tuesday. "I think everyone has personally taken this season off and it shows."
Dahlin, an 18-year-old athlete who skates smoothly, averages 19 minutes per night and leads all NHL rookies with 11 assists. He's not the only Buffalo player to set the tone. Jeff Skinner, who scored the overtime winner on Tuesday, leads the league with 14 goals (equal) and Ristolainen's 82 moves lead all NHL defensemen.
The turnaround is not a total surprise. During the summer, ESPN interviewed 58 players, front-office managers and coaches, and asked them the same question: which team has the ability to surprise this season? Of the 58 people interviewed for the question, 29 independently identified Buffalo.
"They have been a very active team this summer," said a managing director. "And when you inject so much change, you expect to see different results."
Indeed, Jason Botterill, general manager of Buffalo, decided to change the culture this summer. Botterill orchestrated a transaction that sent one of the best players in the team, the Ryan O'Reilly Center, to St. Louis. In return, the Sabers received two veteran clubs in Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund, the talented young forward Tage Thompson and two draft picks, including a first in 2019. Botterill also bought Conor Sheary, Sidney Crosby's old winger in Pittsburgh , for the cost of taking on the contract of defenseman Matt Hunwick. Botterill caught Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer from Carolina, and also picked up free-agent goalie Carter Hutton.
Skinner flourished by playing on center wing of the Jack Eichel franchise, scoring 19 goals in his first 25 games. Hutton, meanwhile, posted a saving percentage of 0.920 and 2.50 GAA in 18 starts. Thompson has scored three goals in his last five games.
The Sabers have not reached the playoffs since 2011. Phil Housley, who enters his second season, is the fifth coach to occupy the bench substitutes since that time.
"It's hard when you lose so much, because you're questioning everything you do," Eichel told ESPN before the season. "I've never lost my love for the game, but it's become a lot harder to do it every day when you lose, everything is negative, and you're just trying to find the positives in what you're doing … I just thought that there was too much complacency and that there was a lot of "Happy to be here. Who does it work if I work on my game? I'm already in the NHL. "I think it's pretty contagious and it can cause a lot of problems."
In the same interview, Eichel said, "I think things are really going in the right direction, I can say it with confidence now."
Associated Press contributed to this report.