Monday, October 24, 2016

Fasching, Nelson back as Buffalo readies for the Flyers

Published by, 10-23-2016

Forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson got the call from Buffalo to return to the Sabres after helping the Rochester Americans to a division sweep of the Toronto Marlies (TOR) and Binghamton Senators (OTT.) Both players were on Buffalo's opening night roster and accompanied the team on the recent western Canada swing before being sent to Rochester on Friday.

Fasching played the first two games for the Sabres--a 4-1 loss vs. Montreal and a 6-2 win at Edmonton--but was held off the scoresheet and finished a minus-1. Nelson played in only one game, for Buffalo replacing an injured Dmitry Kulikov. Against the Canadiens Nelson skated 11:47, did not register a point and finished the game a minus-1.

Both Fasching, 21, and Nelson, 24 did have an immediate impact in Rochester as Fasching jumped on a puck in the neutral zone and roofed a wrister on a breakaway to stake the Amerks to a 2-1 lead over Toronto and Nelson scored on the powerplay to give Rochester a two-goal, third period cushion as the Amerks won 5-2. Last night at Binghamton, neither registered a point in Rochester's 3-1 win over the Senators.

The Sabres and Amerks have alternating schedules from now until Saturday when both teams will be playing. The action this week is with the Sabres as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in the last of a four-game road trip. On Thursday Buffalo welcomes the Minnesota Wild.

Rochester is off until Friday when they travel to the outpost known as St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada for a two-game stint against the Ice Caps (MTL.)

At forward, Williamsville native Cole Schneider is off to a roaring start and made a pitch for a call with three goals and eight points in five games for the Amerks while on defense Taylor Fedun has been making his presence known with a goal and three assists in five games.

With Jack Eichel and Evander Kane both out with long-term injuries, the Sabres will be doing some juggling until either they return or GM Tim Murray decides to trade for forward help. Buffalo has the top-six on defense in place and are simply in need of a reserve d-man unless injury hits one of those six.

With Fasching and Nelson getting the call it would seem as if both are the preferred choices for Buffalo as they tray to navigate some pretty choppy waters early in the season. Both have played well and have contributed to the Sabres and both are getting valuable time in Buffalo skating with the regulars.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Look for some yo-yoing between Buffalo and Rochester this week

Published by, 10-22-2016

It started yesterday at noon when three players--forwards Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching plus defenseman Casey Nelson--were sent to Rochester. All three had just finished a western Canada swing with the Buffalo Sabres and represented the cavalry for the Americans this weekend beginning with a game against the rival Toronto Marlies last night.

After a sluggish start the Amerks slowly came to life scoring twice late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead as Fasching scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway late in the stanza. Nelson also contributed after Toronto closed the gap in the third as he sent a top-shelf wrister that put the Amerks up 4-2 late in the third period. Daniel Catenacci scored an empty-netter as Rochester improved to 2-2 on the season.

As with all AHL teams, Rochester is at the mercy of the parent club. Injuries in Buffalo have taken top-six forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane out of the lineup forcing the Amerks into a feeder role right off the bat as two forwards from Rochester were needed to replace them. Add in the strong play of Derek Grant who forced his way on to the Sabres roster with an impressive training camp and that's three forwards from the planned Amerks roster that were missing opening weekend.

The Amerks started their season last weekend with three games in three nights, minus Fasching, Nelson and center Grant. Somehow they came away with a win in the opener against Hershey (WSH) but after Baptiste was recalled last Saturday, the Amerks proceeded to drop a home-and-home with Syracuse (TBL.) The Crunch outscored Rochester by a 10-4 margin in those two games and outshot them by a combined 74-42. The Amerks were outshot in all three games last weekend by a combined 103-54.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Next stop, Philly. What we learned from the western Canada swing

Published by, 10-21-16

The Buffalo Sabres are off until Tuesday when they finish their four-game road trip with a stop in Philadelphia to face the Flyers. Buffalo just completed a western Canada swing where they went 1-1-1 and outscored their opponents 11-8.  Heading into Vancouver last night the Sabres special teams were on track with the powerplay clicking at a 25% rate while the penalty kill had not allowed a goal and was nine-for-nine. They left Rogers Place with a 19% conversion rate after going 0-5 on the PP vs. the Canucks while their PK dropped to 92.8% after allowing their first goal against as Vancouver went 1-5 with the man advantage.

Numbers change, obviously, throughout the course of the season as hot start cools and vise-versa. Good teams can go in a funk or get stronger. Strong teams sometimes take a while to get going while bad teams offer glimmers of hope but just don't have the horses to compete and in the end succumb to lack of talent.

The Sabres are coming off of a good season where they pulled themselves out of the basement. Last year they started out rough, steadied the ship and began to make serious progress by the end of the season. This season looked to be promising but it was undercut by two key injuries in a span of about 24 hours. Jack Eichel went down with a high-ankle sprain at practice the day before opening night and winger Evander Kane crashed heavily into the boards in the opener and cracked three ribs. Both are out long-term.

In their absence lines have been shuffled, roles have changed and through four games head coach Dan Bylsma has stabilized things and is in search of consistency. The Sabres got schooled in the opener by the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 then proceeded to blow out the Edmonton Oilers on the first game of this road trip, 6-2. They played sporadically good hockey vs. Calgary but blew three one-goal leads, including twice in the third period, then proceeded to lose in overtime 4-3.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ice-time shows Buffalo not taking points for granted this early in the season.

Published by, 10-20-16

Often times, a teams playoff destiny can be traced to points lost or gained in October and November, especially a team like the Buffalo Sabres this season who some consider a playoff bubble team. Although losing a point here or there doesn’t seem like a lot in an 82-game season, they can add up and Buffalo is not taking anything for granted at this early stage of the game as the line up and ice-time indicate.

Do you remember when head coach Dan Bylsma said that the team would be paring back defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s 25:16 average time on ice per game last season? It's actually up through three games this season to 25:21. Center Ryan O'Reilly was suffering from back spasms for opening night to the point where he would only take faceoffs from the right side. Amongst forwards he's averaging a league-leading 22:30 minutes of ice-time per game or about :45 seconds more per game than he did last season when he also lead all forwards in ATOI. Other players like defenseman Jake McCabe, who lead all Sabres in plus/minus last season, has seen his ice-time increase after earning time on the powerplay (2:07 PPTOI) as has forward Sam Reinhart who is skating on the top line and playing and extra 1:37/game thus far.

All four were definitive contributors last season. As mentioned, Ristolainen lead the team in ice-time and O'Reilly lead the team in points while Reinhart was second in goals (23) as a rookie. With the Sabres missing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane the responsibility of carrying the load rests mainly on their shoulders and they've done yeoman's work thus far as Buffalo heads to Vancouver with a 1-1-1 record.

Assistant captain O'Reilly is well aware of the importance of every point and after losing to the Calgary Flames in overtime on Tuesday he let it be known he was none too happy. "We were lucky to get one point really. The way we played was pathetic at times and it starts with myself. I had so many chances, I have to bury them. That was really nothing what we wanted. We could have walked away with a win here and we have to respond now."

It was the second game of a three-game western Canada swing for Buffalo which is a pretty tough situation to begin with for a relatively young team. The Sabres also played a Flames team that was desperate for a win after starting the season 0-2-1. And it didn't help that Buffalo had a couple of things go against them during the game but facts are facts and the bottom line is that they had a one-goal lead three times, including twice in the third period, but couldn't lock it down.

The Sabres face a surprising Canucks team with a quirky stat. Vancouver is 3-0 with all three wins coming after never having the lead in regulation.

Buffalo has not fared all that well against Vancouver going 1-8-1 on the road in their last 10. The Sabres last won in Vancouver was March 13, 2012 and they're coming off a 5-2 loss last year that capped off an o-fer, three-game western Canada swing as they were outscored by Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary by a combined 13-7. This season through two games the Sabres have outscored the Oilers and Canucks by a combined 10-6 and have three points to show for it.

Game time is 10:00 p.m. ET and rumor has it that backup goalie Anders Nilsson may be in net for the Sabres. In net for Vancouver will be Jacob Markstrom (2-0, 1.97 gaa, .913 sv%) as former Sabre Ryan Miller remains on the sideline with an injury.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Some positives for Buffalo after letting a point slip away in Calgary

Published by, 10-19-2016

The Buffalo Sabres gave up three one-goal leads last night against the Calgary Flames and eventually lost in overtime 4-3. Although disappointment was the prevailing theme after the game, there were a lot of positives to take away. Sure the Sabres blew three one-goal leads, including two in the third period, only to lose in OT, but they've managed points in back-to-back games on this road trip and now stand 1-1-1 on the season after an ugly opening night loss. There was frustration in the locker room overall for losing a point but the team in general has to like where they are right now.

First off, Buffalo was able to get a point in the second game of a four-game road trip. After grabbing two points on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres managed to come away with another one with their OT loss against Calgary. Last season on the same western Canada road trip, which will end in Vancouver on Thursday, Buffalo went without a point.

The team in general looks to be at ease with head coach Dan Bylsma's systems. Often times last night we saw an entire group turn in unison and head up ice in what looked like synchronized skating. Even Zemgus Girgensons, who has been struggling for various reasons, which included having trouble with his place in the system, found himself in the right spot twice and scored a goal on the second one. There were lapses and at times, especially on the overtime goal, where the team was caught chasing, but for the most part they played in unison.

Buffalo's special teams are excelling. The penalty kill has yet to allow a goal in three games. They successfully killed off three penalties in the first two games, which is also a tribute to playing in control, then they held the Flames scoreless on six opportunities. And last night with the team down two men for two minutes an errant Calgary high-stick caught Ryan O'Reilly and the players on the ice played keep-away for nearly 30 seconds to burn off time on the delayed penalty. The powerplay has been doing it exactly as diagramed and is 4/16 through the first three games with at least one PP goal in each. Matt Moulson, who had a horrendous season last year may have found a spot in and around the net on the top PP unit. He has two goals on the season, both on the powerplay.

It's not surprising that O'Reilly and the rest of the Sabres on the ice were aware of the delayed penalty situation last night and played keep-away. Most of the team is playing smart hockey especially the O'Reilly and his linemates--Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo--on the top line. O'Reilly and Reinhart have innate hockey sense to be able to play with anyone in any situation, as we saw that last season, but what we've seen so far is that Okposo brings those very same traits and the three on a line has been a joy to watch.

Sabres forward Marcus Foligno has been playing quite well since Bylsma reunited him with center Johan Larsson and right-wing Brian Gionta and he may have found out just how far playing angry can take him. After sending a puck off the referee's skate last night that landed on the stick of Calgary Flames forward Michael Ferland, who scored to tie the game, Foligno's rage at the ref turned positive 2:39 later. Foligno got the puck at center ice with a head of steam, pulled off a nifty move against two Flames defenders and sent an angry wrister that smoked Calgary goalie, and former Sabre, Chad Johnson. Ah, vindication.

That said, the players weren't happy with the loser point last night. Captain O'Reilly, who's always hard on himself as he strives for perfection told the gathered media after the game, "We were lucky to get one point really. The way we played was pathetic at times and it starts with myself. I had so many chances, I have to bury them. That was really nothing what we wanted. We could have walked away with a win here and we have to respond now."

Foligno, who yelled at the ref and slammed his stick on the ice after the turnover had a cooler head post-game. "You can yell all you want but the ref has the right to be there," he said. "It's a bad bounce and you just suck it up."

The refs didn't exactly have a great game as evidenced by the OT goal. Reinhart took a cross-check from behind and into the boards behind the Buffalo net in what's normally a penalty. But the refs let it go, Buffalo's players started chasing and Sean Monahan found himself all alone in front of goalie Robin Lehner who had no chance on the play.

Speaking of Lehner, despite his pedestrian stat-line of 1-1-1 with a 3.33 goals against average and .890 save percentage, he has looked good. His off-season work-out plan looks to have made him quicker and he's come up with a big save or two every game thus far.

The Sabres are hurting without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane who accounted for 43 goals last season, but on the positive side of it, the team is sticking to the systems in place and as a whole is coming to the rink with their work boots on. After the stinker in the opener, in general the Sabres have put together two pretty strong games.

Buffalo leaves western Canada after their game with Vancouver tomorrow and will fly home before they head out to Philadephia for a tilt with the Flyers Tuesday, October 25th.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Buffalo lights up the Oilers as McDavid's words proves prophetic

Published by hockeybuzz, 10-17-2016

The Edmonton Oilers headed into yesterday's game against the Buffalo Sabres having beaten cross-province rival Calgary by a combined 12-7 score with a gameplan that hearkenened back to the 80's glory days of Wayne Gretzky and Co. Phenom Connor McDavid lead the charge for the Oilers with three goals and three assist in back-to-back three-point games but midst the euphoria surrounding the Oilers start, McDavid threw a cautionary note to the gathered press after practice Saturday .

“You want to want to win the game any way you can and it’s definitely nicer winning it 7-4 than losing 7-4,” he said. “If you’re going to win 1-0 or 10-9 it’s about getting it done but ultimately we do need to tighten it up. I don’t think you can expect us to get 5-7 goals every game. That’s not the type of hockey that’s successful.”

Seven goals is what the Oilers would have needed last night to beat Buffalo after the Sabres exploded for six goals in a 6-2 win at Rogers Place. Even though Buffalo was without Jack Eichel and winger Evander Kane, who are sidelined with long-term injuries, the cavalry did come in the form of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov who both made their Sabres debuts last night.

Okposo got his first goal as a Sabre in the first period on a beautiful feed from linemate Sam Reinhart then proceeded to chip in primary assist on the first of Ryan O'Reilly's two goals. The Oilers who tie it up at 2-2 late in the first period but the Sabres scored four unanswered against a Edmonton team that was described by their head coach, Todd McLellan, as "The Bad News Bears."

Except for that stretch late in the first period when the Oilers tied the game, Buffalo was pretty much in control from start to finish. It was a team game through and through for the Sabres with every player strappin' on their work boots to get the job done. Buffalo frustrated the hell out of Edmonton all night to the point where the Oilers Patrick Maroon crashed the net hard and tried to get to goalie Robin Lehner by bumping into him. He was swarmed and in the process McDavid, who was right there in the crease got forcibly cleared out by Buffalo defenseman Josh Gorges. McDavid was having trouble with Gorges all night as he was held without a point and finished the game with only one shot on goal.

Lehner was stingy all night as he seemed hell-bent on not letting anything past him. It began early for the fiery Swede as the kicked out his leg to stop a point-blank shot from Jesse Puljujarvi less than two minutes into the game. Not long after O'Reilly stole the puck in the Edmonton zone, got it over to Reinhart who slithered a pass to Okposo who buried it into a wide open net.

Chemistry is often talked about and head coach Dan Bylsma may have found himself a top line in O'Reilly, Reinhart and Okposo who worked well together all night. Last year both O'Reilly and Reinhart seemed to be able to work with whatever linemates Bylsma gave them and Okposo looks to be the beneficiary moving forward.

Bylsma also tapped into a successful line from last year when he reunited Johan Larsson between powerforward Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta. Larsson was his usual dogged, pesky self while Foligno rumbled across the ice all night while Gionta used his veteran savvy to score twice. The first was on a nice tip off of a shot from Jake McCabe at the point and while his second came from the hard work of Foligno and a nice feed from Larsson. That line finished the night with two goals, two assists and a plus-four rating.

The second of three games on this western Canada road trip is tomorrow at Calgary. Goaltender Brian Elliot was the victim in Calgary's first two losses at the hands of the Oilers allowing 10 goals on 55 shots (.818 save percentage.) Former Sabre Chad Johnson was in net on Saturday at Vancouver and was much better allowing only one goal on 31 shots but the Flames fell in the shootout.

On the same western Canada swing last season Buffalo was outscored by a combined 13-7 in three regulation losses to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"McEichel II" is on hold as Buffalo faces an offensive juggenaut in Edmonton

Published by, 10-16-2016

They were the top two picks in the 2015 NHL draft and ended up in different conferences--Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers in the West and Jack Eichel for the Buffalo Sabers in the East. However, despite being over 2,000 miles apart will forever be joined as "McEichel" and their paths will cross only twice per NHL season lest the two teams make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The NHL has to be thrilled right now as the not only does the league have McDavid and Eichel, but also rookie Auston Matthews playing at “The Center of the Hockey Universe” in Toronto.  They couldn’t have asked for much more as three franchise-type teenagers are in place to lead three troubled franchises as the eventual faces of the league for years to come. McDavid looks to be heir-apparent to Wayne Gretzky, Eichel and his blue collar roots looks ready to carry the load in Buffalo while Arizona-native Matthews, the crowning jewel of a Commissioner Gary Bettman's non-traditional market expansion, is set to take his place atop Mount Maple Leaf as the savior of an Orignial Six franchise.
Those three represent merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to burgeoning young talent hitting the ice in the NHL. There’s Dylan Larkin in Detroit, Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in Colorodo Max Domi in Arizona, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in Toronto as well as Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin, New Jersey’s Taylor Hall and defensemen Aaron Ekblad (FLA,) Victor Hedman (TBL,) Shayne Gostisbeher (PHI) and Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, to name a few.