We are now five games into the regular season for the Buffalo Sabres and after their loss last night at
the team stands at 1-4 on the young season. Although Tampa Bay got off to a great start in the first
period last night, the defending Eastern Conference Champion Lightning held the fort, regrouped and
pulled off the 2-1 win. Buffalo
Inconsistency in a young team like Buffalo’s is not all that uncommon and with the influx of new personnel it’s not unusual to see the team look lost as they get a feel for the team, the coaches and their linemates. Although five games is enough time to get a general idea as to how everyone might fit into the equation, it's a long process in a long season.
On the good side, head coach Dan Bylsma has two pairings up front that seem to be working very well—Ryan O’Reilly with Tyler Ennis and Jack Eichel with Evander Kane. Both pairings have shown well despite a revolving door on one wing and have dominated at times.
Last night the line of O’Reilly, Ennis and rookie Sam Reinhart controlled the first period which lead to Reinhart’s first career NHL goal as the 19 yr. old took a feed from Ennis and shot a quick one past 6'7", 215 lb. goalie Ben Bishop. All told those three accounted for 15 of the Sabres' 32 shots on goal. Ennis lead the way with a team-leading seven, O'Reilly had five and Reinhart three. It's something that bodes well for Bylsma's plan of using pairings up-front.
The duo of Kane and Eichel played well and created chances themselves while generating three and four shots on goal, respectively, but were unable to light the lamp versus the Lightning. Their linemate last night was 36 yr. old Brian Gionta who once again tried furiously to keep up the two speedsters. Finding a third for the Kane/Eichel duo has been a bit troublesome as the two possess blinding speed and in order for them to use it to their advantage, the other winger needs to get themselves into the play, which is somewhat difficult if you're an average skater.
Bylsma started out the season putting Reinhart on that line for the season opener at home against the Ottawa Senators was soon demoted while Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons finished out the game in his spot. Game-2 started with Jamie McGinn on that line but Foligno ended up with the bulk of the duties with Ennis, Reinhart and even Nic Deslauriers rotating in for a stint or two.
In Buffalo's only victory of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets Bylsma kept the line of Kane/Eichel/Foligno intact for the entire game while sticking with O'Reilly/Ennis/Girgensons as the other line. But when the Sabres hit the road for their first trip of the season, he switched things out on the Kane/Eichel line as he moved Foligno out and replaced him with Gionta for the two games in Florida.
Things have been much more stable with O'Reilly/Ennis and it's not all that surprising as it's easier to keep up with them. Matt Moulson played the entirety of game-one while Girgensons played on their line for the majority of games 2, 3, and 4. And last night it was Reinhart on their line.
It's worth noting that the Sabres have scored nine goals in five games this season, but only four of them have come at even strength with Eichel as the only top-six regular to score an even-strength goal. Kane, who had a goal disallowed after a coach's challenge, is without a goal on 15 shots, has two assists and is a minus-3. Girgensons has zero points, nine shots and is a minus-1.
Many had thought that the defense and goaltending would be a major concern, but Buffalo has held up rather well behind the blueline even though they're missing defenseman Zach Bogosian whom Bylsma considers a 25-minute, all-situations d-man and starting goalie Robin Lehner who was lost in the first game. All-in-all they're ranked 19th in the league in goals-against with 14 while allowing third-best 25.6 shots per game. The worst of the group stats-wise is, somewhat expectedly, Cody Franson who's without a point thus far and is a minus-4 in five games.
The Sabres are off today and will hit the ice for a couple of practices before they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the First Niagara Center on Wednesday. The Leafs look like easy pickings as the Sabres beat them twice in the preseason by a combined 10-4.
It would be a good time for Bylsma to go with what's worked well thus far in the top-six. Reinhart earned another shot on the line with O'Reilly and Ennis while Kane and Eichel looked their most dangerous with Girgensons on their line.