Confusion over Buffalo Sabres slump: it’s not a losing streak

TORONTO – When is a loss not a loss?

In the NHL, when it’s in overtime. Or in a shootout. Not that this is new by any means, but the NHL’s post-lockout standings format continues to confuse some people.

The latest case involves the Buffalo Sabres. They are not, contrary to some media reports, on a team-record 10-game losing streak. The NHL officially deems Buffalo’s current slump as a 10-game winless streak because five of their games during the stretch have gone to extra time. They’re 0-5-5 in their last 10.

“It’s not a losing streak,” Benny Ercolani, the NHL’s longtime chief statistician, said Thursday. “It’s a winless streak because some of those games didn’t go in the loss column. Once they go into overtime, they get a point and it doesn’t go into the loss column. It’s nothing new.”

So officially, Buffalo’s franchise record losing streak of eight, set Jan. 15-Feb. 13, 2003, remains intact.

“That’s correct,” said Ercolani.

The NHL went to the current standings format when introducing the shootout for the 2005-06 season. Any defeat in overtime or in the shootout goes in the third category called “overtime.” So it’s win, loss or overtime.

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What no longer exists in the NHL is an undefeated streak. Only winning streaks, losing streaks, or winless streaks.

The Sabres don’t have to worry about coming close to the NHL all-time record of 17 losses in a row, shared by the 1974-75 Washington Capitals and 1992-93 San Jose Sharks. But 20 more games without a win and the Sabres would match the NHL record for a winless streak, the 30-game mark set by the 1980-81 Winnipeg Jets (0-23-7).

Buffalo’s last win was a 6-5 shootout victory in Philadelphia on Dec. 22. This is Buffalo’s longest winless streak since Oct. 25-Nov. 19, 2002, when they went 12 games (0-9-3) without a win. That’s also tied for the longest winless streak in franchise history. The Sabres went 0-8-4 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 20, 1991.