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Hamilton: How the Sabres can get back in East Division race after return from shutdown

All signs point to the Sabres returning to play Monday night against the New York Islanders, after a two-week hiatus.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the Sabres return to play Monday against the New York Islanders, I think they have to just ignore where the Isles are at in the standings.

New York has points in its last six games going 3-0-3 and is five points in front of Buffalo. The Sabres have played three fewer games and have a points percentage of .500. The Islanders are at .577.

Just one regulation win on Monday would put Buffalo ahead of the Islanders in points percentage, .545 to .536.

Ralph Krueger is out of NHL COVID-19 Protocol and was on the ice for a few minutes Sunday before watching the rest of practice from the stands. He said, “We need to scrap ourselves back into the race. I think it’s important not to look at the standings right now, that we take the next block of 10 games and make sure coming out of that we’re in a good position.”

If the Sabres just look at the standings it’s too overwhelming and I think it could hurt their game. The one thing I can tell you is if the Sabres want any chance of getting into the final East Division playoff spot, they must start getting goals from Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Taylor Hall. They have three goals between them and that won’t get it done.

Rasmus Dahlin came out of the Protocol as a person that had close contact with somebody that tested positive. He said on Sunday that he never tested positive and stopped living with Casey Mittelstadt on February 1, when this all started. Mittelstadt is still in the Protocol and we don’t know if he tested positive.

I think what you saw on the ice Sunday is what we likely will see on Monday against the Islanders. You’d have Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton in goal. The defense would be Dahlin, Colin Miller, Matt Irwin, Henri Jokiharju, Brandon Davidson and Will Borgen. The forwards are Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, Victor Olofsson, Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Sam Reinhart, C.J. Smith, Cody Eakin, Kyle Okposo, Steven Fogarty, Riley Sheahan and Tage Thompson.

That would leave Jonas Johansson and Jacob Bryson for the taxi squad. Buffalo would have to add two more to that.

Sure, the Sabres could get more players off the COVID list on Monday. I always say you never know, but I think it would be difficult to put a player into a game the day he comes off the COVID-19 list.