Monday, September 28, 2015

Buffalo rolls through Ontario with weekend wins

Reprinted with permission from

Although it's only preseason, Buffalo Sabres fans are sure to like what's transpired thus far. After back-to-back, split-squad wins at Toronto and Ottawa, the Sabres stand at 3-1 with three more games slated before the season begins on October 8th.

In looking at the roster prior to Tuesday's preseason opener at the Minnesota Wild, the results thus far were somewhat anticipated. Sabres GM Tim Murray shored up the top-six with the acquisitions of Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly while also adding second-overall pick Jack Eichel at the 2015 NHL Draft. With those additions, as well as an up-tempo style favored by new head coach "Dancin'" Dan Bylsma, the Sabres had the look of a team that was ready to eradicate the offensive ineptitude from the collective consciousness of Sabreland. And they've done that thus far.

Perceived weaknesses on the back-end and in goal were areas of concern as they construct of the defense is still a work in progress. With top-four d-men Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian out with injuries, most of the defense was playing a notch or two higher than their capabilities and it showed in the goals against.

Not to be discounted in the 15 goals against in four games thus far is goaltending, which was cause for concern heading into camp. Robin Lehner came in as the starter with Chad Johnson as the back-up. Lehner has done nothing to solidify his spot and looks like a goalie who hadn't seen live action since suffering a concussion back in February. Johnson was also felled by injury in late February and hasn't seen action since. Both, obviously, are a bit rusty to say the least.

Buffalo has scored 17 goals so far this preseason with 12 of them coming this weekend. Tyler Ennis was the star of the weekend recording a hat trick last night at Ottawa. Ennis has been buzzing around the ice all preseason and looks as if he's in mid-season form already. Perhaps it's an extra shot of adrenaline he gets when looking at his line mates. He had Kane and O'Reilly on his line in his first game then Kane and Eichel for last night's game. In two games Ennis has the three goals and added two assists while averaging about 21 minutes of ice-time. He also has been credited with five hits.

Perhaps adrenaline has been a big part of Kane's hot play as well. Or maybe it's finally hitting the ice after surgery which has sidelined him since February. Regardless, the Kane we've seen thus far looks like the one that scored 30 goals in the 2011-12 season for the Winnipeg Jets. My God can he fly. And he can finish too. He has three goals while averaging over 22 minutes of ice-time.

Eichel is everything he was touted to be and hopefully he'll make those still ticked about losing the draft lottery forget about the other guy that went first overall. He centered a line with Kane and Ennis that featured blinding speed. The "JET" line combined for 11 shots on goal last night scoring on four of them. With Eichel's three assists last night, he now has a goal and four assists in two preseason games.

Other notables up front include Sam Reinhart who tallied three assists at Toronto, all of them primary assists. Bylsma put him on the wing which may have helped matters. Zemgus Girgensons has a goal and two assists in two games and Nic Deslauriers has been a pleasant surprise with two goals and an assist in a bottom-six role.

And Johan Larsson is picking up where he left off last season and is forcing himself into the starting lineup. Larsson has a goal and an assist, is a plus-2 and seems to have really begun to bring his gadfly-like game to the NHL.

Larsson's short-handed, empty-net goal with :11 seconds left in the game last night continued a streak for the Sabres. They have now scored short-handed goals in each of their four preseason games. Others with the shorties are Eichel (MIN,) Kane (vs. OTT) and O'Reilly (TOR.) Keep in mind that Girgensons had three shorties in 61 games last season.

On defense, Brendan Guhle has shown the inconsistencies of an 18 yr. old but has shown enough skill and skating ability to have one believe that this will be his last season in junior. Jake McCabe has also shown inconsistencies but to a lesser extent. He looks ready to make the team and could be placed in a third-pairing role, but methinks one more year in Rochester playing all-situations, top-pairing minutes would do himself and the organization well.

Chad Ruhwedel had a real rough game vs. the Senators in Buffalo, but shored things up when the Sabres visited Ottawa last night. He'll be ticketed for Rochester as well but should get call-ups throughout the season.

The best of the defensemen thus far has been Mark Pysyk.

Pysyk is known for a smart, steady game who's first pass out of the zone is exceptional. Murray and company had been wanting to see more offense from the 23 yr. old, and they got it at Toronto when he registered a goal on the powerplay and two assists.

Split squads will be ending this week as more will be sent to their proper developmental leagues or released outright as the team whittles away the preseason roster.

The process continued on Thursday as six were sent on their way:

--C, Colin Jacobs (2011, 107th overall) was loaned to Rochester. He's on the first year of his three-year entry-level contract.
--C, Eric Cornel (2014, 44th) was returned to the Peterborough Petes (OHL)
--D, Josh Chapman and G, CJ Motte were released from their tryout contracts with Buffalo but is still under contract with the Rochester Americans.
--D, Spiro Goulakos and G, Keegan Asmundson were released outright.

The Sabres next game is vs. Toronto on Tuesday at First Niagara Center.

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