Friday, November 27, 2015

Having Zemgus Girgensons back would be a boost

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are in the midst of a five game winless streak that began with an OT loss to the San Jose' Sharks 10 days ago. And, coincidently, the Sabres have been without center Zemgus Girgensons, who went down with an upper-body injury in that Sharks game.

Pending the morning skate, Girgensons is set to return tonight as the Sabres take on the Nashville Predators at the First Niagara Center. For a guy who has only one goal and one assist on the year, there's a lot of anticipation surrounding his return. "The scoring chance differential with Zemgus on the ice for us is pretty substantial," head coach Dan Bylsma told the media after yesterday's practice. "He's got one goal and one assist [but] what Zemgus has brought us is that differential in the matchups he's gotten.

"We've missed him considerably."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not there yet.

Reprinted with permission from

For the second time in three weeks both the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres played on the same night and after a Buffalo sweep on November 12th both teams lost last night. The Bills had a primetime spot on Monday Night Football and lost a heavyweight bout against a perennial Super Bowl contender in the New England Patriots while the Sabres began a three-game homestand with a loss to the St. Louis Blues, a team they haven't beaten since December, 2009.

The Bills were on the road in Foxborough, and were much more composed against the Patriots this time around, but the end result was the same--a 20-13 loss. The Patriots have now beaten the Bills 28 of the last 31 meetings. Despite definite signs of progress on defense and with a running game that has improved as RB Lesean McCoy has gotten healthier, when matched up against a championship caliber team like the Patriots, they're not there yet.

Over at First Niagara Center the Sabres were hosting the Blues for the second time in four nights to finish their series. Buffalo is in the midst of a rough stretch where they're playing some of the big dogs of the Western Conference in an two week span. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in overtime November 14th then finished 0-2 vs. the West leading Dallas Stars and 0-1-1 against the Blues in their next four-game stretch. They'll bid adieu to November with two games against the Nashville Predators, who are fourth in the West right now, sandwiching a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Buffalo Sabes at the quarter pole.

Reprinted with permission from

At the quarter-pole of the 2015-16 season the Buffalo Sabres might be a little better than many expected them to be, especially when you consider the schedule-maker did them no favors. After 20 games the Sabres are 8-10-2 which places them 7th the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference, 22nd in the NHL.

Buffalo has already completed their four-game season series with the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning and, predictably, came out on the short end with a 1-3 record. They’re also in the midst of rough patch against some Western Conference heavyweights. Buffalo just completed their season series with the conference-leading Dallas Stars (0-2,) play the No. 2 team in the conference, the St. Louis Blues, tonight to finish their season series (0-0-1,) has played the 3rd place San Jose Sharks (0-0-1) and have two dates with the fifth-seeded Nashville Predators this Wednesday and Saturday to finish that series. All in a two-week span to finish the month.

A cupcake schedule this was not, but then again, when you're coming off of two consecutive last place finishes, there's no such thing as an easy game.

Although this team is far better than what hit the ice the previous two or even three seasons, they need to bring it every game and have done so for the most part. They've been consistent in the effort department, which has been enough to gain the respect of the opposition, but the results have varied thus far. Which is to be expected.

How the Sabres got to a respectable record this early in the season has been the more interesting aspect of the season thus far as the team has relied upon a banged up defense and a goaltending tandem that features a back-up and a 22 yr. old rookie sharing duties.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Some changes are needed on the Sabres powerplay

Reprinted with permission from

After seeing the Buffalo Sabres get shutout at Dallas vs. the league's No. 1 team, the overall feeling I got was that the Stars schooled 'em. Not so much in an overpowering, in your face trampling, but more like schooled them on how the little things matter in a big way.

The Sabres played the Stars fairly tough. Dallas has an extremely fast team that plays in overdrive the entire game. On a few occasions the Sabres were able to nullify the Stars' speed by putting a body on the man while at other times they were able to disrupt the play with good defense and proper angles. There were also times where Buffalo was able to show off some of their own speed and skate right with them. But, most of the time the Sabres were just trying to keep up and often times the Stars went into overdrive on the transition after gaining possession of the puck by great stickwork and/or beating Buffalo to loose pucks-- the little things that vets will do to a young team like Buffalo has.

Yet, the Sabres were in it most of the game until the Stars' Jamie Benn scored on the powerplay at the 7:11-mark of the third period. Benn's quick marker off the rush less than two minutes later sealed the 3-0 victory for Dallas.

As mentioned in the last blog, entering last night's game the Stars were 9-1-0 when leading after one period, 6-0-0 when leading after two. Buffalo would fall behind in the first period once again for the fourth game in a row (0-2-2 during that stretch,) but had a glorious opportunity to tie the score in the second as they had yet another 5-on-3 for :54 to begin the period. All for naught as they couldn't get anything going.

Perhaps they had too much time to strategize between periods or perhaps they just didn't have it together. For the first 1:06 of the Stars first penalty, Buffalo registered zero shots on goal as the Stars 20th-ranked penalty kill unit bottled them up pretty well. The Sabres started the second period with :54 left on their two-man advantage and guessed it, zero shots on goal.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sabres continute a tough stretch against the leaders of the western conference

Reprinted with permission from

The Dallas Stars are hot right now having won four in a row and eight of their last 10. Overall Dallas is off to a 16-4-0 start, best in franchise history. The Stars are leading the league in scoring at 3.55 goals/game, they have the league's second highest scorer in Tyler Seguin (28 pts.) and it's third in defending scoring champ, Jamie Benn (27 pts.) plus they have 23 yr. old John Klingberg who's sixth in scoring while leading all defenseman with 22 points.

Dallas has good size, a great mix of vets and youth, and is coached by Lindy Ruff an 18 yr. veteran behind the bench who has won 669 regular season games. Ruff's Dallas team has size and skill and likes to dictate the pace with speed. And if they get the lead on you, look out. Dallas is 9-1-0 when leading after one period, 8-0-0 when leading after two.

If the Sabres want to beat the league's best team tonight at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, it would behoove them get on the scoreboard first. In their last 10 games they're 4-0-0 when scoring first, 1-3-2 when they fall behind.

The Sabres are no slouches when playing with the lead either. They're 4-1-0 on the year when leading after one period, 6-0-0 when leading after two. And in a bit of a twist from early predictions, the Sabres have been carried by their goaltending and defense. With all the firepower acquired in the off season, Buffalo ranks 27th in the league in scoring at 2.21 goals/game. Their goalie tandem of back-up Chad Johnson, who will get the start tonight, and rookie Linus Ullmark have helped lead the team to 18th overall in goals-against average (2.68.)

The Sabres are getting shots to the net, but they're having trouble lighting the lamp, and even the powerplay, which is ranked 4th in the league sputtered mightily during the last game at St. Louis as they went 0-4 including a goose-egg on two 5-on-3's. They also faltered on the penalty kill allowing two goals on three chances. Add it up, and with better special teams play, the Sabres may have gotten out of St. Louis with two points instead of the one they got via the shootout.

This isn't an indictment on the team as it's best to keep things in perspective. Despite being near the quarter-pole on the season, this young Sabres squad (2nd youngest in the league) is still learning about each other and still acclimating their play to head coach Dan Bylsma's system. They'd been without their No.2 defenseman, Zach Bogosian, until the Dallas game on Tuesday and they lost Evander Kane for 10 games while he nursed a lower-body injury. Kane came back for Thursday's game at St. Louis and was a plus-1 in 20:55 all-purpose minutes.

The Sabres are in the midst of a tough stretch where they're facing some of the best teams in the western conference. Beginning with Tuesday's home match-up against Dallas, come Saturday November 28th, they'll have faced the Stars twice, the Blues twice and the Nashville Predators twice with Carolina thrown in for good measure. Those three western conference teams are a combined 40-14-4 at this juncture of the season and presently sit one, two and three, respectively, in the conference. (Carolina is dead-last in the east and tied for last in the league with Edmonton.)

Like the Buffalo Bills playing the New England Patriots this Monday night, if the Sabres want to be the best, they'll need to beat the best and they'll have four opportunities in the next week to see just how they measure up.


Today was an optional pre-game skate that was run by assistant coach Dave Barr, according to WGR's Paul Hamilton. He went on to tweet that all the players were on the ice.

Game-time is 8:30.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Bogosian effect.

Reprinted with permission from

Prior to defenseman Zach Bogosian stepping on the ice for the first time this season, the Sabres blueline didn't look complete. Not that it does right now as there are still holes to fill, especially now that Mark Pysyk is sidelined because of injury, but adding a No. 2/3 minute-eater helps solidify things up-top on defense.

"To have [Josh] Gorges and Risto (Rasmus Ristolainen) as a pair, Zach and Jake [McCabe] as a pair, it increases our ability to skate and play at that [top-level] speed," said head coach Dan Bylsma to the media on Wednesday prior to the Dallas Stars game.

Bylsma didn't hesitate giving Bogosian minutes upon his return. In his first game since April and against the western conference-leading Dallas Stars, he skated 21:03, second amongst defenseman to Ristolainen's 22:09 and last night Bogosian's 23:43 TOI trailed only Risto's 26:51 in their shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

What wasn't mentioned by Bylsma about Bogosian's presence is how he will probably be helping out the penalty kill. Before the Stars game the Sabres were 28th in the league with a 75% kill rate (11/44.) The top pairing on the PK remains intact with Ristolainen and Gorges but Bogosian bumps Cody Franson out of the picture and now slips into the second PK-unit with McCabe. After watching Franson screen his own goalie for the Blues' second powerplay goal of the night, I was left to wonder why Franson was even out there on the penalty kill.

The Sabres have allowed 13 goals against while shorthanded and these are the number of goals scored while each of the top-five penalty-killing d-men were on the ice (Bogosian and his two games excluded) along with the total penalty kill minutes played by each:

Ristolainen--6 goals...47:19 PK TOI
Mike Weber--2....12:33

Franson is on the ice for a PK goal-against almost every two minutes. Ristolainen who leads the team in PK TOI is on the ice for a goal every (approximately) four minutes. McCabe a goal every 11 minutes or so.

Simple math, simple numbers.

In a crucial five-minute kill thanks to a boarding major by Tyler Ennis, Sabres in-game host Brian Duff pointed out that Bogosian skated 2:45 of it. And after the Blues scored just :34 into the major penalty, Bogosian had a shift of 1:45, took a :37 break then followed up with another :45 shift. St. Louis was held to only one goal.

The only other Buffalo penalty of the game was McCabe's two-minute hooking minor. With him in the box, Franson was forced into PK duty and soon the Blues had their second goal of the game. One :22 PK shift by Franson, one goal.

Although this isn't a knock against Franson, as he was signed by GM Tim Murray to be more of a powerplay specialist, one should question why he was on the PK more than a player like Pysyk who's forte is smart, defensive work.

That said, with Bogosian back in the lineup, Franson's number probably won't be called for PK duty as long as the d-corps is healthy. Which is a good thing.

It should also be pointed out , however, that the PK unit dropped a notch to 29th in the league with a 72.9% kill rate since Bogosian's return two games ago.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On the ultimate 3-on-3 line, Gus, plus...

Reprinted with permission from

Wayne Gretzky was on Hockey Hotline today for a brief appearance talking about an array of things including the NHL's new All-Star format and you could sense "The Great One" salivating at the prospects of having with that much ice to work with. He would eventually got who his linemates would be in a 3-on-3--Paul Coffey and Mark Messier. That line just might be the ultimate 3-on-3 line and it got me thinking what other trio's could come close.

Immediately Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr came to mind at the forward slots and with Paul Coffey as their d-men, it would rival Gretzky's trio. You could through in the Pens Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with, probably, Kris Letang, but Letang is not close to the caliber of Coffey.

For Buffalo, Gilbert Perreault and Rene' Robert were a dynamic duo from the early days while Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny from the early 90's might have been even more dynamic. But finding a d-man close to those pairings was rather difficult. With Perreault and Robert one could fit in Jocelyn Guevremont while LaFontaine and Mogilny may have been joined by Doug Bodger.

Fun with hockey trios.


Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons won't make the two-game road trip that starts in St. Louis tonight and finishes in Dallas on Saturday as he's still recovering from the hit he took in the San Jose game this past Saturday.

Despite his paltry offensive numbers, head coach Dan Bylsma said he's missed on the ice. “He’s a big factor to our team in how we use him and where we use him and the quality of competition he plays against,” Bylsma said after practice yesterday (via Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News.) “Right now we’ve seen a pretty straight matchup with Ryan O’Reilly’s line, especially at home, against the top line of the opposition. But on the road it really was Zemgus and Ryan sharing those duties with not getting the last change, so his quality of competition has been high.

“We’ve used him against other team’s top lines, and he’s come out on the positive side of the possession with his line. That says a lot about what he has been bringing to our team and maybe a little bit past the goals and assist that he does have.”

It's assumed that he'll continue in that role when he returns from injury.


Speaking of injuries, one player is returning tonight while another will be out when the Sabres hit the Scottrade ice tonight.

Evander Kane, who's missed the last 10 games due to a lower body injury, will be back in action. According to reporters he's been flying at practice and has been chompin' at the bit to get back on the ice. "I feel fresh and ready to go," Kane said (via,) "... I'm well-rested. I've been all over our training staff to let me play. Tonight's the night, so I've got to go out there and prove (the training staff) right.

"I got the news [Wednesday]. It's because of them I was able to come back in three weeks and change."

Kane is joining defenseman Zach Bogosian who just came back from an injury to play against Dallas in his first game of the season. The two, if anyone needs reminding, were the key pieces in the Tyler Myers/Drew Stafford trade with the Winnipeg Jets.


Just when the Sabres thought they had a completer blueline, WGR's Paul Hamilton tweeted earlier today that defenseman Mark Pysyk will not play because of an injury to the upper part of his lower-body.

Have fun with that one boys and girls.

Carlo Colaiacovo took his place on the third pairing with Cody Franson at practice. The other pairings remained the same from the previous game with Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges up top and Bogosian with rookie Jake McCabe on the second pairing.

The lines for this morning's practice were, according to

Matt Moulson, O'Reilly, Brian Gionta
Kane, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Tyler Ennis
Nicolas Deslauriers, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn

Goalie Linus Ullmark will get the start.


One final note, Buffalo is on a three-game win streak on the road putting them 4-3 on the road this season. They're 4-6-1 at home.