The Sabres look to become the first NHL team to start with 11 consecutive wins when they host the Thrashers on Saturday in a game featuring the Eastern Conference’s top clubs.
A 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night gave the Sabres their 10th straight win to open the season and 15th in a row in regular-season games dating to 2005-06.
“It’s enjoyable, but at the same time it’s not our goal,” Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said of the record. “But now that we’re there, we were thinking we might as well go for it.”
Only the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs got out of the gate this quickly, but their regular-season success didn’t mean much come playoff time when they were bounced in the Western Conference finals.
Atlanta (7-1-3), meanwhile, is playing like a team that could challenge Buffalo for conference supremacy throughout the season. The Thrashers’ seven wins and 17 points mark the best start through 11 games in team history.
Three weeks in, the Sabres own an eight-point lead over Montreal in the Northeast Division. Their closest pursuers overall are the Thrashers, who trail by three points and can make sure Buffalo merely shares the record with Toronto.
“It’s not something we’re talking about much as a group or at all,” said Sabres center Chris Drury, who has 10 goals. “It would be nice. It’s not going to be easy. Atlanta is a great team.”
This run doesn’t wipe away Buffalo’s disappointment of the Game 7 loss in last season’s conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina, but it could set it on a path to make this season better. The longest winning streak in a single season is 17, set by Pittsburgh in 1992-93.
The Sabres have scored 49 goals in 10 games. Maxim Afinogenov, the NHL’s No. 1 star last week, has five goals and nine assists in the past six contests.
Atlanta lost 3-2 in a shootout to Philadelphia on Thursday after falling 5-4 in overtime to the Hurricanes on Wednesday. The Thrashers had won their previous four games.
They finished their second set of back-to-backs this season Thursday and will be playing the fourth game of a five-game, eight-day road trip.
Goaltender Johan Hedberg was replaced by Kari Lehtonen after overtime Thursday, but Lehtonen couldn’t duplicate last season’s success when he went 5-0 in shootouts. He is 1-2 in shootouts this season.
“We feel that the guy who can make a difference in a shootout is Kari. He’s our No. 1 guy,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.
Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk has a point in six straight games, registering seven goals and six assists in that span. He has eight goals and eight assists in 16 games against Buffalo.
These teams split their four-game series last season, but Atlanta outscored Buffalo 9-2 in winning the last two meetings.