Sunday, December 4, 2016

Gearing up for the Bruins today

Published by, 12-03-2016

Wake up you slumberous Sabre waifs, game time is 1:00 pm today and it's against the hated Boston Bruins in a rivalry that dates back to the Sabres inception--the high-flying Buffalo Sabres vs. the Big, Bad Boston Bruins. And it could be a tad contentious to say the least.

One of my earlier memories is this gem featuring Jim "Schony" Schoenfeld vs. Wayne Cashman at the Aud. To put it into perspective, in 1972 when this incident occurred the Bruins were coming off of two Stanley Cups in the previous three seasons and being in the same division as the Sabres, they weren't about to give the fledgling franchise one inch. Intimidation ruled back then, and the Bruins were the best at it at the time.

But the Sabres wouldn't back down and Schony was the point man in defense of the crest. The fiery red head was a fifth overall pick of Buffalo's that summer and would have non of what the Bruins were dishing out and when Cashman flew into the Buffalo zone to negate an icing call, Schoenfeld checked him through the boards.

Here's the rest compliments of Dan Conroy:

Although it was a lot of fun to watch, those days of dropping the gloves in an instant are long gone and for a while, so was the Sarbes/Bruins rivalry. It takes two for a rivalry and unfortunately for Sabres fans Buffalo hasn't been up to the task. In their last 10 meetings Buffalo is only 2-4-4 and only 3-5-2 in their last 10 at home.

Boston still holds the hammer as proven by a 4-0 win in their first meeting of the season at TD Garden on November 7. The Sabres had won four of the last five prior to the trip to Boston but were thoroughly outclassed. It was a loss that would begin a 3-5-2 tumble to the bottom of the division prior to the return of Jack Eichel.

Jack's back, however, and for the first time this season he'll be facing his hometown Bruins.

In Eichel's first game ever against former favorite team last December, the North Chelmsford native poked the bear to the tune of two goals and two assists in the Sabres 6-3 win in Boston. Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly spurred the Sabres come from behind win scoring four of Buffalo's five unanswered goals. After that game, however, the B's have shut Eichel down. In three meetings after that Eichel had zero points and was a minus-5.

Gearing up for the game today:

--Defenseman Brendan Guhle has been recalled from the Prince George Cougars on an emergency basis. Quick. Do you know where Prince George is on the map? It's north of Vancouver just a few hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean. Guhle had been with the Prince Albert Raiders in Saskatchewan before a trade sent him west to Prince George. He arrived in Buffalo at 1:30 am. The Sabres were able to call up the junior player because of injuries to defensemen Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges and Casey Nelson.

--Head Coach Dan Bylsma said they recalled Guhle because he was a left-handed defenseman and because of his skating ability. The 19 yr. old Guhle impressed at camp in 2015 and was one of the last Sabres cuts this past training camp. He'll be paired with Cody Franson today. When asked by the gathered media whether there will be any restraints put on the youngin, Bylsma said "he needs to use his (skating) abilities to be effective. It would be a mistake to anchor himself behind the goal line."

--How did Guhle hear about his promotion? "Coach said I was traded to the Sabres," was how he put it to the media.

--Robin Lehner gets the start for Buffalo in net after missing his last start because of a minor hip injury. From Sabres PR, Lehner has faced Boston more times than any other NHL team. In 14 career games against the Bruins, he has logged a .923 save percentage and a 2.74 goals-against average.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

One!...Two!...Three!...Four!...We want more!

Published by, 12-02-2016

It was a goal-chant that began back in the 70’s at the old Memorial Auditorium when the Buffalo Sabres were scoring plenty of goals in a high-flying NHL as teams routinely scored well over 300 goals in a season. After a Sabres goal the crowd would chant One!...We want two. When they scored a second goal they'd chant One!...Two!...We want three. And so on.

For Buffalo at the time it meant the electricity of Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault centering the goal machine known as The French Connection. In the 1975-76 season the Buffalo Sabres scored 339 goals (in 80 games) which placed them tied for second in the league. Buffalo opened the season on an eight-game winning streak with six of those games played at the Aud. In those six games the Sabres scored 4, 8, 7, 5, 9 and 3 goals, respectively, which had the home crowd doing a lot of counting.

Shades of that era returned for the 1992-93 season when Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny lit it up to the tune of 129 goals combined that season. Buffalo's 335 goals in 84 games tied them for sixth in the league. And during the 2006-07 season, the Sabres would be known as the team built for the new NHL with centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury leading an aptly named "Ferrari Sabres" to a league-leading 308 goals (82 games.)

Mixed in between those three eras, however, were periods of fits and starts, lock-down defensive game-plans and often times either player ineptitude or lack of talent that left the team and fanbase mired in mediocrity or worse. It didn't make for a fun atmosphere and often times the goal chant was either forgotten or shackled by apathy.

All of those darker eras made their presence known in one way or another through the first 21 games of this season as the Sabres were besieged by injuries, especially to Jack Eichel, and they couldn't score if their very existence dependent upon it. Buffalo slogged through those games scoring at a measly 1.81 goals/game clip oft times lulling their fans to sleep. The Sabres were looking like a team that was destined for the bottom third of the league, an area they'd been stuck in for four years.

That all seemed to change when Eichel returned to the lineup on Tuesday in Ottawa. With him back on the ice the Sabres found more energy, speed and drive and proceeded to pull off two wins in a row while also scoring more than two goals in a game. Even though they still hadn't gelled as a team, collectively looking as if they were still finding their legs as a team, they were able to come away with a 5-4 victory over the Senators on Tuesday in Eichel's first game of the season before following it up with a 4-3 win over the NY Rangers.

Last night versus the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers was Eichel's first home game of the season and he brought something to the ice that Sabres fans haven't seen in a while--moxie. Sure, there was some of that last year, but it was a season where the 19 yr. old Eichel was still getting a feel for his team, his coach and the league in general. Yet even so, he still managed a team-leading 24 goals and was second with 59 points.

Eichel hit the ice these last two games like a greyhound out of the gate and the sheer energy he brought radiated throughout Sabreland from his team mates and coaches, to the last row of the 300's and out to any Sabres fan watching. Not since Perreault have we seen a player that electrifying.

The Rangers are a proving to be throwback to those high-flying NHL eras where the ice seemed wide open and the goalies looked real small in net. They're scoring at a clip that places them 11 goals better than their nearest competitor and with one of the best goalies in the league patrolling the crease, they represented a big challenge for Buffalo last night. Yet, the Sabres came away with a come-from-behind victory. New York went into the third period with a 3-2 lead, but for the first time all season (13 games) the Rangers lost as Eichel scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in the third.

The cool part about the Eichel effect is that it's all-encompassing at this time. Every player on the team seems to have found another gear and has been at the very least just a bit sharper on the ice. Eichel's first goal of the game came on a speed rush along the wall by Kyle Okposo who made a nifty reach-around pass to spring Eichel for a clear shot to the net. He made no mistake as he blew a snapshot by Henrik Lundqvist. Earlier in the game, the Sabres forecheck really gave the Rangers fits and sustained pressure lead to Buffalo's second goal by Brian Gionta which tied the game at 2-2. The Eichel/Okposo/Sam Reinhart had started the o-zone pressure which lead to Gionta's goal.

Those were the skill goals.

The other two Sabres goals, the first and last, came courtesy of fortuitous bounces which often times is a result of hard work and maybe a touch of moxie. Lundqvist had a center-ice tip from Johan Larsson jump over him and into the net while Eichel's second goal came from a deflection off of a Ranger's skate at the top of the crease. That second Eichel goal, however, also had the Eichel effect on display.

Lundqvist is in his 12th NHL season and is possible (probable?) Hall of Fame material, but on that play he was sprawling in desperation like a rookie while being fully aware of Eichel at the bottom of the faceoff circle to the right of his crease. It's not often where you see a goalie with the poise "King Henrik" go down so fast on a shooter, especially laying out like he did. But it happened. Eichel sent a cross-ice pass and it deflected in for the game-winner.

Buffalo has scored nine goals in two games since Eichel returned to the lineup. In 13 games prior, stretching back to the beginning of November, the team totaled 21 goals. The energy is back at KeyBank Center and the atmosphere is fun again. The only problem is that the goal chant was conspicuously missing last night. Perhaps the fans have forgotten about it as it's been so long since they've been able to get past number 2.

Hopefully with five out of the next six games at home, they can get that chant going again.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Buffalo Sabres 2016-17 Team Stats--November

Published by, 12-1-2016

For many Buffalo Sabres fans the season began on November 29th when Jack Eichel came back from his injury. Unfortunately the season officially began 21 games prior and injuries have put them into a hole heading into December.

It's a good thing that the Eastern Conference is wide open right now. Except for a some powerhouses like the NY Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division plus the Montreal Canadians and surging Tampa Bay Lightning in Buffalo's Atlantic Division, flux is the key word for the rest of the conference. Despite a rough November which featured a 5-6-3 record, the Sabres are only six points out of third place in the division and just four points out of a wild card spot. However, with the three-point game creating league-wide parity, the Sabres need to jump five teams to get to third place in the division and seven teams to make into the second wild card spot.

And so it goes.

It's a minor miracle that Buffalo was able to come out of November as well as they did, considering at one point they were missing their top two centers in Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, a top-six winger in Evander Kane and two of their top-four defensemen--Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov. Five Rochester Americans were on recall to hold the fort at one point and they did the best they could.

The Sabres offense took a beating in last month without Eichel and O'Reilly anchoring the top two lines. Head coach Dan Bylsma did some serious juggling and at one point with Kane also on the sidelines had a whole line playing a notch above where they should be. Buffalo's goal scoring dipped below their tank-era futility-mark of 1.87 g/am and hit 1.63 in 13 November games prior to Eichel's return for the last game of the month. Although the five-goal outburst got them back up to 1.95 g/gm on the season, the Sabres are dead last in that department. Take out the powerplay which finished the month at a fifth-best 22.7% clip and it's disastrous.

Defense and goaltending salvaged November for the Sabres as they slightly reduced their goals-against to 2.45 ga/gm (10th) despite averaging two shots-against per game more for the month. The absence of Bogosian and Kulikov, however, took it's toll on the penalty kill as it dropped from an 86.7% kill rate to 78.7% going from seventh to 25th in the league.

For as jumbled as it's been for the team through the first quarter of the season, if the last game vs. the Ottawa Senators is any indication, Eichel's return is huge for the offense as the rest of the lineup falls into place. The Sabres still have issues on the back-end with Bogosian and Kulikov out of the lineup--especially on the penalty kill--but that can be helped by more offense and more speed on the back check.

The Sabres play six of the next seven at home beginning tonight against the offensive juggernaut known as the NY Rangers. The Rangers are averaging a league-best 3.67 goals/game so far this season and have a league-best goal differential of +29. And not only do they bring it with speed and skill, they also have themselves one of the best goaltenders in the league--Henrik Lundqvist.

That, my friends, represents a pretty stiff challenge for the Sabres to begin the month of December.

Buffalo Sabres Team Stats/League Rankings...(Leader):


--October:  3 (T-23rd)...(MTL, 8)
--November:  8 (T-28th)...(MTL, NYR, 16)

--2015-16: 35 (23rd)...(WSH, 56)
--2014-15: 23 (30th)...(ANA, 49)

Atlantic Division Standing

--October:  7th...(MTL)
--November:  8th...(MTL)

--2015-16:  7th...(FLA)
--2014-15:  8th...(MTL)

Eastern Conference Standing

--October:  12th...(MTL)
--November:  15th...(MTL)

--2015-16: 14th...(WSH)
--2014-15: 16th...(NYR)

League standing/Points

--October:  20th/8...(MTL/17)
--November:  28th/21...(MTL/34)

--2015-16:  23rd/81...(WSH/120)
--2014-15: 3 0th/54...(NYR/113)

Points Percentage

--October:  .500 (T-15th)...(MTL, .944)
--November:  .477 (26th)...(MTL, .739)

--2015-16:  .494 (23d)...(WSH, .732)
--2014-15:  .329 (30th)...(NYR, .689)

Goal Differential

--October:  -1 (16th)...(MTL, +17)
--November:  -13 (25th)...(NYR, +29)

--2015-16:  -21 (20th)...(WSH, +59)
--2014-15  -113 (30th)...(NYR, +60)


--October:  2.50 (21st)...(NYR, 3.89)
--November:  1.95 (30th)...(NYR, 3.67)

--2015-16:  2.43 (25th)...(DAL, 3.23)
--2014-15:  1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)


--October:  27.4 (28th)...(TOR, 34.7)
--November:  29.4 (20th)...(PIT, 33.9)

--2015-16:  29.5 (17th)...(PIT, 33.2)
--2014-15:  24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)


--October:  2.50 (12th)...(MTL, 1.44)
--November:  2.45 (10th)...(SJS. 2.09)

--2015-16:  2.62, (15th)...(ANA, 2.29)
--2014-15:  3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)

Shots against/Game

--October:  30.6 (20th)...(WSH, 25)
--November:  32.5 (26th)...(LAK, 25.4)

--2015-16:  30.6 (22nd)...(NSH, 27.3)
--2014-15:  35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)


--October:  25.0 (7th)...(NSH, 35.7)
--November:  22.7 (5th)...(CBJ, 27.8)

--2015-16:  18.9 (12th)...(ANA, 23.1)
--2014-15:  13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)

Penalty Kill

--October:  86.7 (7th)...(MIN, 96.2)
--November:  78.7 (25th)...(CAR, 89.7)

--2015-16:  82.6 (9th)...(ANA, 87.2)
--2014-15:  75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)

Faceoff Percentage

--October:  54.7 (3rd)...(ANA, 59.3)
--November:  51.5 (5th)...(ANA, 56.8) 

--2015-16:  49.4 (21st)...(ARI, 54.7)
--2014-15:  44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016-17 Individual Stats--November

Published by, 11-30-2016

Well. It wasn't exactly how Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma wanted it to go but, who cares? His team got a big two points, from a division rival no less, and did so by scoring five goals, a number which matched their total from five of the previous six games. Save for a four-goal outburst against the Calgary Flames, Buffalo could only muster one goal in each of their games from November 15-25 while on their way to an 0-3-2 record.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a last place spot some fans had them headed towards--Jack Eichel came back from injury. Anticipation was revved up, the team responded and Eichel proceeded to return with a goal and an assist in less than 10 minutes of the opening period last night against the Senators. From thence the Sabres would alternate between two-goal and one-goal leads but finished on top with a 5-4 win in Ottawa. "It was a little bit of haphazard game," Bylsma told the gathered media afterwards, "and there were more goals (that could have been.) Those aren't very easy on the heart."

Perhaps it was the price the team had to pay to get them out of the deep goal funk they'd been in all season.

It was only the second time in 22 games the Sabres have scored more than four goals in a game, only the third time they managed to score more than three. Of course the other 21 games were played without Eichel. The Buffalo powerplay which had been keeping the team afloat prior to his return was on fire last night going 3-5. Kyle Okposo, Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly all scored with the man advantage while Sam Reinhart and O'Reilly scored at even strength. Rasmus Ristolainen the final piece of Bylsma's top PP unit, one he'd envisioned at the beginning of the season before Eichel was lost to injury, had two powerplay assists.

Last night was a desperately needed shot in the arm for everyone in Sabreland as slogging through 21 games alternating between a Ted Nolan-type defensive struggle and tank years ineptitude made for some difficult hockey to watch. How bad was it? In 13 games prior the Sabres managed a total of 18 goals or 1.63 goals/game but somehow they managed to compile a 4-6-3 record to keep from falling off the cliff. Even with the two outbursts against Calgary and Ottawa, the individual stats are looking pretty ugly for the month of November but here goes.

Two players, Okposo and Reinhart, had pretty much been carrying what little offensive load there was to carry in November and last night's game furthered that. O'Reilly's two-goal, three-point night against Ottawa jettisoned him into the mix on only eight games played for the month. All three ended up appearing in the top scoring categories for the team.

With the powerplay doing a lot of the heavy lifting on offense, 5v5 play was under the bright light and it revealed some huge blemishes. Evander Kane, fresh off an injury that kept him out 11 games finished a minus-5 for the month as did Brian Gionta who saw his plus/minus for the season go from a plus-3 to minus-2. Johan Larsson rounded out the bottom three with a minus-4 for the month.

On the bright side, rookie Will Carrier finished a plus-2 in 12 games. O'Reilly was the only other Sabre (save for Eichel in his one game) to finish the month in the plus column (plus-1.)
Buffalo's goaltending was stout throughout the month of November with only a few klunkers out of 14 games. Back up Anders Nilsson's stats came back to earth a little bit but he came up with a 2-1-1 record this month including a huge 2-1 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nilsson got the win last night in relief after Robin Lehner exited with a lower body injury that Bylsma labeled "day to day."
Lehner has been shouldering the bulk of the goaltending duties and despite a 3-5-2 record for the month, his GAA is down to 2.40 from 2.61 while his Sv% is up to .921 from .913.
Jack's back and so is the Sabres speed. Although I appreciate the lighter load compiling these individual stats, I wouldn't mind a little more work due to increased scoring.

Buffalo Sabres 2016-17 Individual Stats:

--October: Okposo, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 7;  Moulson, Brian Gionta, 5
--November: Okposo, Reinhart, 8;  O'Reilly, 5

--October: Okposo, Moulson 4;  O'Reilly, Brian Gionta, 3
--November:  Reinhart, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, Moulson, Foligno, 3

Powerplay Goals
--October:  Moulson, 4;  O'Reilly, 2;  Okposo, Sam Reinhart, 1
-- November:  Moulson, Okposo, 2;  Eichel, Reinhart, O'Reilly, Larsson, Franson, 1

--October:  Ristolainen, 7;  O'Reilly, 4;  Reinhart, Okposo, Franson, 3
--November:  Okposo, 5;  Reinhart, Ristolainen, 4;  Kane, Franson, 3

Primary Assists
--October:  O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 3; Gionta, Zemgus Girgensons, 2
--November:  Okposo, Kane, 3;  Reinhart, Gionta, 2

Powerplay Assists
--October:  Ristolainen, 6;  Okposo, 3;  O'Reilly, Reinhart, 2
--November:  Okposo, 4;  O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 2

--October:  Gionta, +3;  Okposo, Franson, +2
--November:  Carrier, +2;  O'Reilly, +1;  Reinhart, Grant, Fedun, even

Plus/Minus (Bottom)
--October:  Tyler Ennis, -4;  Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Grant, -3
--November:  Kane, Gionta, -5;  Larsson, -4

Goalies (composite)

Robin Lehner
--October:  2-2-1; 2.61 GAA; .913 Sv%;  0 shutouts
--November:  5-7-3;  2.40;  .921;  0

Anders Nilsson
--October:  1-1-1;  1.96 GAA;  .937 Sv%;  1 shutout
--November:  3-2-2;  2.20;  .939;  1

Linus Ullmark

Jack's back? A very good possiblilty at Ottawa tonight

Published by, 11-29-2016

It's been just about seven weeks since Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel was sidelined with a high ankle sprain the day before the season opener. For the Sabres, there were times where it had to feel like seven months.

Buffalo is in Ottawa to take on the Senators tonight. The Sabres have compiled a 7-9-5 record in Eichel's absence and despite slogging through the schedule and finding themselves last in the division at the quarter-pole, hold the forks as there's enough flux in both the division and the conference to keep hope alive.

Although Eichel's injury wasn't' the only major injury to the Sabres, it had the most affect. In his absence the ice tightened up and Buffalo finds themselves scoring at a rate that's below the tank years. Their 1.81 goals/game is dead last in the league while their minus-14 goal differential is last in the conference. Kyle Okposo is the team's leading point producer with 13 ranking him tied for 92nd in the league while Matt Moulson leads the Sabres in goals with seven placing him tied for 43rd.

On a positive note offensively, the Sabres have the 11th best powerplay in the league converting at a 20% clip while Moulson's six powerplay goals rank him second in the league, one behind Montreal's Shea Weber.

The difference between the 5v5 doldrums and an efficient powerplay? Space. And that's where Eichel will help immensely 5v5 as teams will need to accommodate for his speed and skill and are forced to back off when Eichel on the ice. Buffalo should find a little more space in the offensive zone. What they do with it remains to be seen, but it can't get much worse, can it?

No one player makes a team, but in the case of Eichel rejoining the Sabres, his presence makes a huge difference as the forward ranks fall into place. With him back in the lineup, Sam Reinhart goes to his right wing with Evander Kane opposite forming a scoring line that opponents will need to focus upon. Not many teams have two stout checking lines so while the best checkers are occupied with the Eichel line, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson should draw an easier assignment. And visa versa.

In fact, there's a whole line that's been playing a notch or so above where they should have been the entire season. The two-way line of Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno have been in the top six either as a line or as individual components all season because of the Eichel injury (and the Kane injury as well.) They drop down to a more comfortable slot as the third line.

There are still issues facing the club, however, and much of it stems from the back end. Top-four defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov are still out with injuries leaving Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun, both Rochester call-ups, trying to hold the fort as a third pairing. Although they've acquitted themselves quite well, with a full compliment of defensemen, only one would be in Buffalo in a reserve role.

As with the offensive zone, just a little extra space in the d-zone will help the defensemen with their outlet passes. Although it hasn't been a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, any speed this team can get through the neutral zone will be a big plus.

The team is still not saying Eichel's a 100% go, even though Eichel has declared himself ready, but all indications are that he will be in the lineup tonight. Head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 this morning saying that it's "a possibility." Everything has gone well so far and if Eichel wakes up this morning without any ill effects, he should be a go. Or as Kris Baker of tweeted, "99% yes. 1% if he wakes up missing a limb."


Some other notes for tonight:

--Buffalo's fourth line looks to be Derek Grant centering rookie Will Carrier and Zemgus Girgensons on the right side. Girgensons has been struggling mightily ever since Byslma took over last season and the coach was very sympathetic with his plight. "He's a player who's looking for ways to have success," he told WGR host's Howard Simon and Jeremy White. "Zemgus is one of our hardest workers, he'll go right through the endboards for you. I almost feel he needs a break, a puck off a shin pad to relieve some of the pressure he feels."

--Eichel's injury occurred during practice in front of the net while tangling with Girgensons. It was a weird injury that Girgensons really didn't have a lot to do with. They weren't grappling or anything like that, but Eichel was in an awkward position when his skate got caught in the ice and his ankle twisted. Although fairy tale endings rarely come true, it would be cool to see Girgensons get off the schneid (no goals in 18 games, one all season) with a goal in Eichel's return not only for himself, but for the team as well.

--The Ottawa Senators presently sit second in the Atlantic Division with 29 points on a 14-7-1 record which is 10 points above Buffalo but the Sabres have fared well against their rivals going 1-0-1 so far this season. Buffalo beat Ottawa 2-1 at Canadian Tire Center on November 5 and four days later lost 2-1 in a shootout at KeyBank Center. Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner was in net for both games and is now 2-0-2 in five career appearances against his former club with a .956 save percentage and a 1.30 goals-against average, according to Sabres PR.


In the shootout loss to Ottawa, Lehner gave up two goals on two shots while Buffalo went 1-3 on a goal by Sam Reinhart. Lehner's troubles in the shootout have been well documented here, but the Sabres shooters have been struggling as well.

Only five Buffalo players have scored in the shootout since the beginning of last season. Reinhart leads the team with three goals in five total attempts (60%,) Cal O'Reilly is one for two (both this season,) Matt Moulson and the injured Tyler Ennis are both one for three and have yet to shoot this season while Jack Eichel is one for six (all coming last season.)

Ryan O'Reilly (0/6) and Evander Kane (0/4) have yet to take a shot this season while Kyle Okposo has four shots in four shootouts for Buffalo this season but has yet to score a goal.

The Sabres are 1-3 in the shootout this season after finishing only 2-7 last season. Oddly enough, in the two season's prior to Bylsma, the team went a combined 15-5, while the year prior Buffalo was 7-4.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Scoring rut is eating away at Sabres

Published by, 11-26-2016

After last night's 3-1 loss at Washington, the theme of the post-locker room interviews centered around frustration as the Buffalo Sabres have eclipsed the two-goal mark only once in 13 games. The goal-scoring problems had head coach Dan Bylsma visibly frustrated and rather melancholy after the game while Ryan O'Reilly sat slumping in the lockerroom laying the blame for the Capitals game at his feet.

"It's frustrating," said O'Reilly into the camera. "There's not much you can do. You've got to bear down a little bit more but it's frustrating. Scoring goals again is the problem."
It's not a lot of fun for Sabres fans to watch either.

This edition of the Buffalo Sabres started out the month of November by going 10 games without scoring more than two goals. Miraculously they managed a 3-5-2 record to keep them from falling to the bottom of the league. However, the lack of goal scoring is disconcerting, especially when Bylsma and Co. have at their disposal a number of 20-goal scores like O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Moulson as well as Sam Reinhart who scored 23 goals last season.

Only one other time in the last three-plus seasons has the team had a streak longer than 10 games like that. From October 17-November 11, 2014 that edition of the Buffalo Sabres went 13 games without scoring more than two goals. That ugly stretch featured a 2-9-2 record, a six-game stretch where they were shut out four times and scored only three goals, five goose-eggs total and only 12 goals scored in those 13 games.

Of course that was a team in serious decline with a depleted roster who's top three goal-scorers for the season were Tyler Ennis (20,) Zemgus Girgensons (15,) and Matt Moulson (13,) a trio that comprised the Sabres top line. Defensive-minded Ted Nolan was behind the bench and the team would have nine stretches of three or more games where they scored two goals or less going a combined 6-30-3.

There was another stretch during that same season where the team went 0-9-0, was shut out twice and scored a grand total of nine goals, but other than that, that stretch of futility to begin this month is reaching lows not seen since the Sabres were in the McEichel hunt.

Buffalo seemingly has lost any sense of identity during this month. Bylsma had a team on the rise last season and had them playing an up-tempo game while trying to get his defensemen more engaged in the offensive zone. That plan went to pieces as forward Jack Eichel was joined on the injury report by two capable puck-moving defensemen in Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov and O'Reilly. Bylsma tried to go all Ted Nolan in the process and managed to eek out a good number of points. But the struggles scoring have the team and individual players doing things they shouldn't.

When forward Evander Kane went down after cracking four ribs in the opener, he returned to the ice sooner than the normal six-week recovery time. "I think we all wold ave liked Evander to have had six weeks off to fully recover and heal," Bylsma told John Vogl of The Buffalo News, "I don't think you can disregard what breaking four ribs does to your body."

Yet that's what they did. Bylsma said that Kane has been playing much better the last few games and it's showed even though he still hasn't cracked the scoresheet with a goal.

Bylsma's also been shuffling the lineup, and rightfully so, as he tries to shake this team out of the doldrums, but nothing seems to be working. They're getting opportunities but with each passing game, missed opportunity or ringing of the post (of which there's been many) they're squeezing the stick a little tighter. And as the slump continues, players start trying to do too much.

Last night was a good example as O'Reilly admitted to as much. "I'm really frustrated, trying to find a way to put the puck in the net," he told the gathered media post-game last night. I'm trying to cheat a bit more, trying to create and it clearly didn't work." O'Reilly was on the ice for the Marcus Johansson goal that increases Washington's lead to 2-0 and was out of position on the goal that put Washington up 3-1. "I've got a lot of fixin' to do," he said, "those goals (against) were my fault, trying to play that way."

O'Reilly's always hard on himself, almost to a fault, but there are plenty of other players who need to get it together and it's something permeating the whole locker room. Said Reinhart. "It's frustrating. I don't know one guy in the locker room that isn't."

Reinhart scored the lone goal for Buffalo last night while on a line with Okposo, who had the primary assist and O'Reilly, who was on the ice. Other than that, the scoring troubles continue.

Things will improve with Eichel back in the lineup, something that should happen sometime in the coming week, but those looking for a Saul to Paul transformation for the Sabres might just want to temper their expectations. Eichel will help with team-speed and teams will be backing off a bit more when he's on the ice but it's still a matter of him getting into game-shape and the forward group finding chemistry with the new line combos Bylsma will be putting together.

Then there's the defense, which is another topic of conversation as Bogosian and Kulikov are still out and the entire defense combined has scored only one goal in 21 games.

Until then, the Sabres will be trudging along and hopefully they can get off the schneid when they visit Ottawa on Tuesday.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Black Friday notes as Buffalo visits Washington tonight

Published by, 11-25-2016

The Buffalo Sabres are in DC tonight to take on the Washington Capitals. Here's what we've got for today:

--An extra inch is needed around the waist after a Thanksgiving feast all the deliciousness one could imagine. *thumbs up!*

--Jack Eichel was on the ice practicing with the team for the first time since injuring his ankle. Head coach Dan Bylsma said Eichel will not be with the team in Washington telling the gathered media, "[Eichel] returned to practice yesterday, that was the first attempt, the morning skate. He won't go with us tomorrow, he'll get a better skate here and then he'll return to practice with us on Sunday." The other day WGR's Paul Hamilton tweeted that Eichel circled a date for his return but wouldn't reveal it. Methinks a December 1st return against the NY Rangers and ol' buddy Jimmy Vesey might be a good one. Kinda gets him primed for the following game vs. his hometown Boston Bruins too.

--Speaking of Vesey. Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a third round pick to the Nashville Predators for Vesey's rights. The former Harvard Crimson star and 2016 Hobey Baker winner opted for the bright lights of New York City when he signed with the Rangers. At one point a good number of fans in Buffalo wondered why Murray would spend a third round pick trying to lure Vesey to the Sabres. The former third rounder has seven goals so far this season which would tie him with Matt Moulson as Buffalo's leading goal scorer.

--Speaking of goals and scoring, the Sabres haven't done very much of it so far this season. As of right now they're averaging 1.85 goals/game, or as John Vogl of The Buffalo News pointed out, the exact same 1.85 goals/game the team averaged over the two seasons when they were at the bottom of the league. For proper contrast (and probably one of the main reasons why Vesey signed in NY) the Rangers are averaging a league-leading 3.90 goals/game.

--Moulson's seven goals ties him for 34th in the league with the likes of Cam Atkinson (CBJ,) Rickard Rakell (ANA) and former Buffalo Sabre, Paul Byron (CGY.) Buffalo's points-leader is Kyle Okposo with 12 which ties him with 24 other players for 92nd in the leagued. There are 17 players in the NHL who are producing at a point/game clip or higher lead by Sidney Crosby at 1.36 and Connor McDavid, 1.29. The nearest Buffalo Sabres are Ryan O'Reilly (0.64) and Okposo (0.63) who rank tied for 105th and tied for 108th, respectively.

--"Disco Dan" Bylsma is juggling his lines once again. He promoted Marcus Foligno to the top line saying with R. O'Reilly and Okposo, "I thought we needed a little spark with some speed and some physicality on that line," Not sure where the speed is coming from but Foligno has been playing some pretty good hockey as of late. Bylsma's also  keeping Johan Larsson and Evander Kane together saying, "I thought with Larsson and Kane, they've had some brief times together - they've had some time together last year; they had a few games earlier in the year together - and I thought that gave us some good speed up front." Captain Brian Gionta was on their wing. And he finally gave William Carrier a promotion putting him on a line with Sam Reinhart and Moulson. "Carrier stepped in in the third period (against Detroit) and added [speed] as well," Bylsma told the media.

--Dropping down in the lineup is Zemgus Girgensons. The "Lioneater" has been eating anything but this season as he once again is having trouble establishing himself in Bylsma's system (the same one that has this team at a 1.85 goals/game clip.) Girgensons started the season as a third-line center and played much of the year there before being bounced to the wing. He was on Cal O'Reilly's left wing on the third line during the short two-game win streak for Buffalo last week but was moved to right wing on that line against Detroit. Bylsma's new configuration has him playing right wing on the fourth line and, as has been the trend all season, without any special teams time.

--Maybe Bylsma wants Girgensons in a purely defensive role as he's only managed to produce one goal this season, which places him in a category that all but seven Sabres currently on the roster are in. Of the many players parading through Buffalo this season because of injuries, only Moulson (7,) Okposo (6,) O'Reilly, Gionta and Foligno (4 each,) Reinhart and Larsson (3 each) have lit the lamp more than once. Girgensons joins three others with one goal each while 12 have yet to score their first goals of the season.

--After some pretty shoddy defensive work where the Sabres were giving up four goals a game, Bylsma worked with his players on playing better defense. From the 4-1 Tampa Bay loss through the Detroit game on Wednesday, the Sabres have given up only eight goals against yet only two players who played in all four games were not on the ice when an opposition player scored--Foligno and Girgensons.

--At 19 points in 20 games, the Sabres aren't deep in the abyss this season, but neither are they hawking a playoff sport right now and it has Bylsma lamenting lost points in he overtime and shootout. He has only himself to blame for the early overtimes struggles. After blowing a third period lead in Calgary early in the year, Bylsma's system of trying to change from defense to offense on the fly in OT was a disaster and they lost to the Flames. In their other overtime loss against the New Jersey Devils, the Sabres were the victim of a rare overtime penalty shot that Devils' defenseman Andy Greene scored on just 0:29 into the extra session.

--That goal by Greene, who has scored 37 goals in 660 NHL games, went five-hole on Sabres backup goalie Anders Nilsson. The 6'6" Nilsson was left in disbelief after the goal but redeemed himself just over a week later when he stymied Pittsburgh's Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and  Kris Letang in a 2-1 shootout win for the Sabres. The win over the Penguins stopped a six game winless/three-game losing streak for Buffalo and was their first and only win in the extra sessions so far this year.

The Sabres will face the Capitals for the first of three times this season. The Sabres managed to pull off a 4-1 victory over the Caps last season. Former Sabres' Phil Varone and Tim Schaller opened the scoring in the first period while former Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson stopped 33 of 34 shots in the victory.

Buffalo has played Washington rather well over the course of the last few seasons going 4-3-3 in their last 10 vs. the Caps and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 at Verizon Center.

Things you should know from Sabres PR:

  • The Sabres have won on the day after Thanksgiving in each of the last three seasons.
  • Girgensons has three points (1+2) in his last three games against the Capitals.
  • Kane has six career two-point games against Washington, including a goal and an assist in his last meeting with the Capitals on Jan. 16.
  • Okposo has 10 points (5+5) in 12 career visits to Washington.