Thursday, December 31, 2015

Notes for tonight--Amerks at F'N Center, Gus gets his shot on PP

Reprinted with permission from

The Rochester Americans are hosting the St. Johns Sea Dogs (MTL) tonight at First Niagara Center and two local players will be hitting the ice.

For the first time ever in a pro game situation, Justin Bailey, son of former Buffalo Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey will make his debut in downtown Buffalo for the Amerks. The former 2013 second-round pick (52nd-overall) has 10 points (3+7) in 30 games for Rochester this season, but the big (6'4", 206 lb.) powerforward has been making real solid progress in his first pro season.

While on Sabres Hockey Hotline this morning he told co-host Andrew Peters that he was tentative early on in his rookie season but in the last 10 games or so he said his game has "changed a lot" and that he's been able to play his game. "I think the way I've been playing," said Bailey on the Hotline, "is the way I want to play. For me, when I'm skating and using my speed that's when I'm playing my best hockey."

That was something that wasn't lost on long-time Amerks broadcaster, Don Stevens.  "For a guy his size," said Stevens, "he's got outstanding speed. Now he's going hard to the net and he's getting in front and mixing it up. He's a big boy, that's the way he's got to play, and now he's figuring out how to play that way."

Also skating on the First Niagara Ice tonight is old friend Patrick Kaleta.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Buffalo not quite ready for primetime. Caps blank Sabres

Reprinted with permission from

I found it rather interesting that Fox Sports Live tapped into the Washington Capitals/Buffalo Sabres game with a lead-in of Alexander Ovechkin vs. Jack Eichel. "The present and the future" is how they presented it.

I'm sure Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Edmonton's Connor McDavid would have something to say about it. That is if Crosby and his Penguins were playing at the extremely high level the Capitals are right now and McDavid was off of the injured list and on the ice with Oilers teammates.

Washington rolled into First Niagara Center last night on a 14-1-1 streak with head coach Barry Trotz having his club dialed in. You remember Trotz, a fine coach who was tabbed as the Nashville Predators first head coach and proceeded to spend the next 15 seasons there. His teams in Nashville were noted for lock-down defense and mediocre offense which lead to seven playoff appearances but no advances past the second round.

After a mutual agreement to part ways in 2014, Trotz and his highly structured systems came to a Washington Capitals team that was floundering. Trotz was the third coach hired by the Caps since Bruce Boudreau was fired in November of 2011 and nobody knew how to get a team to play up to it's skill-level. Washington boasted the most prolific goal-scorer of the 2000's lockout-era and had loads of talented skaters, not to mention an up-and-coming stud in net in Braden Holtby, yet couldn't put it all together.

After one-and-a-half seasons under Trotz, they seemed to have gotten it together nicely.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Evander Kane addresses allegations. Sabres prepare for Caps.

Reprinted with permission from

In case you haven't heard, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane is the subject of a sex offense investigation as reported by Lou Michel and Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.

Michel and Graham reported that three police sources said the Buffalo Sex Offense Squad were investigating an incident that occurred early Sunday morning at a downtown hotel near the First Niagara Center. From their article, a Buffalo police source said, “We have an investigation ongoing. We are not naming the suspect, and we do not expect it to be resolved in the very near future.”

Kane missed practice Sunday morning for "personal reasons," the club said, but he was front and center today to address the allegations in front of the gathered media.

Jon Vogl, who was there for the media scrum reported that Kane addressed the media briefly saying, "Obviously, you guys are all aware of the situation that occurred or that’s going on right now," the Sabres forward said in First Niagara Center. "There’s not a whole lot I can say. I just want to say I’ve done nothing wrong. I look forward to clearing my name.

"I respect the legal process and unfortunately at this time there’s not much more I can talk about it."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Jack Eichel rocks Beantown in big team-win for Buffalo

Reprinted with permission from

Might as well get this out of the way first--Jack Eichel was a beast last night.

There were plenty of contributors to Buffalo's 6-3 win over Boston, most notably Ryan O'Reilly, as the Buffalo Sabres stunned TD Garden with five unanswered goals in the third period. But for the 19 yr. old kid from North Chelmsford, MA this night belonged to him.

As mentioned in the previous blog, Eichel looked tired before the Christmas break and probably left more than a few casual observers wondering what all the fuss was about. You could see his speed and could tell that he had loads of talent, but there hadn't been any mind-blowing plays from him since earlier in the season. What was missing from Eichel as he wallowed away still adjusting to the rigors of a full NHL schedule were his breakaway moves. When he's on his game he goes from 0-60 in a few strides and when necessary he hits the nitrous tanks as he goes from overdrive to turbo. That's how he creates space for himself an his linemates.

What's often forgotten is his hockey sense and on-ice awareness. He processes the game at an elite level to the point where his linemates can't keep up with him either physically or mentally. It's something NESN play-by-play man/ultimate Boston homer Jack Edwards gushed about when he put Eichel loosely on the same level as Pele.

"Eichel's vision," began Edwards on the broadcast before qualifying the next part by acknowledging an exaggeration was coming, "sort of reminded me of when Pele came to North American soccer and his teammates would trip over the ball because they weren't expecting the pass. Eichel's vision and his ability to execute is at such an extraordinary level for such a young player."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jack Eichel returns to Boston in Blue and Gold

Reprinted with permission from

The last time Sabres rookie Jack Eichel took to the ice in Boston was April 11, 2015 when his Boston Terriers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Providence Friars in the NCAA National Men's Hockey Championship at TD Garden. Since then he's been on a whirlwind tour that included a trip to the Czech Republic for the 2015 IIHF World Championships where team USA surprisingly brought home the bronze medal in May plus a pre-NHL Draft media blitz before heading to Sunrise, Florida for the 2015 NHL Draft.

With Connor McDavid and Eichel joined at the hip, "McEichel"-mania stretched well into July leading up to Buffalo Sabres Development Camp. The week-long event brought all the youngins--from draft picks to invitees--to the ice for workouts and development and featured the annual Blue and Gold Scrimmage which was held in front of 17,115 fans at the First Niagara Center. Development Camp closed with a 3-on-3 tourney and things calmed down a bit as Eichel settled into off-season workouts.

You could see Eichel was a tired soul at the time of the scrimmage and many fans who'd not seen him play were wondering what all the fuss was. But after watching him during preseason and into the early part of the regular season, a refreshed Eichel displayed his skills.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Catching up with Don Stevens and the Rochester Americans Pt. 2

Reprinted with permission from

With plenty of new players and new systems in place, it's not surprising the whole Rochester Americans team is trying to figure out things out. Nor is it surprising that they're somewhat streaky. In a piece penned by Kevin Oklobzija who covers the Amerks for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, he called the team the"ultimate in consistent inconsistency."

"The pattern of wins and losses on the Amerks schedule since Halloween," wrote Oklobzija, "is win three, lose four, win one, lose one, win three, lose three, win two, and now going into Friday's home game against the Hartford Wolf Pack it's lose one."

Rochester smoked the Wolf Pack that night 7-1 with seven different Amerks scoring goals. Four of the goals came from defensemen as Matt Donovan, Bobby Sanguinetti, Chad Ruhwedel, and Jerome Leduc scored consecutively to put the Amerks up 4-0. Justin Bailey, Jason Akeson and Jean Dupuy skated the team to a 7-0 lead with all but Dupuy scoring either their second or third goals of the season.

No Amerks player has really stood out in the goals-scoring department as scoring has been by committee to this point in the season. Veteran Phil Varone leads the team with nine goals and the next closest is Jason Akeson with six.

Akeson, who was signed by GM Tim Murray in the off season, is having a solid campaign. He's a former Philadelphia Flyers free agent signee (2011) who had been with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL and scored at least 50 points in every season for the team before coming to Rochester. The 25 yr. old native of Orleans, Ontario brings speed and playmaking ability to the team. "He's also pretty good at sticking his nose in," said long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens. "He's not the biggest guy, but he plays over his size."

With the offense starting to perk up a sketchy defense may just be beginning to solidify as well. Overall their numbers are pretty weak as Rochester has given up 94 goals through 28 games or 3.35 goals allowed per game. But in another case of the Christmas break coming at the wrong time, they've only given up two goals in their last two games. Take out the poor performance against Utica where they allowed five goals and in the other four surrounding it they've allowed five goals in four games (1.25 gaa.)

Stevens looks upon the defense and sees a very good one comprised of solid pairings. There's a mix of veteran players featuring Sanguinetti, Donovan and Colby Robak coupled with some younger players like Ruhwedel and Leduc plus 22 yr. old Brady Austin who's coming along nicely in his second pro season.

Austin is a big, powerful d-man chiming in at 6'4" and 225 lbs. A seventh round pick (193rd) in 2012, Austin spent time skating with former Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov when they were a pair with the London Knights of the OHL. "He's probably our only stay-at-home defenseman, which seems to be his game," said Stevens of Austin. "Although, when he wants to, there will be times when he'll surprise you and just blow right through the defense, bust in on goal and have great scoring opportunities."

After an extremely slow start, the defense is starting to come together, especially on the penalty kill. Stevens pointed out that they haven't allowed a powerplay goal in the last five games. That in-turn has helped the goaltending stabilize as well.

Whether it's the defense learning new systems or the forwards missing their assignments or the goaltenders letting in a softie or two at the wrong time, there's been plenty of inconsistency in net. It was a big reason for the aforementioned "consistent inconsistency."

"We're getting outstanding games from both (goalies) [Nathan] Lieuwen and [Andrey] Makarov," said Stevens, "and then there's nights when it just isn't working very well. We'll go two or three games maybe giving up a goal (or so) a game and then all of a sudden we're giving up four or five goals a game. The biggest thing is that the goaltending has been inconsistent."

It should be noted that before he left for the Buffalo Sabres as a call-up, goaltender Linus Ullmark was 1-2 with a 2.72 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. In two of the three games he was simply outstanding in net even though he came out with a 1-1 record. The time Ullmark has spent with Buffalo while Robin Lehner recovers is invaluable and should serve him and the Amerks well when he's returned to Rochester.

Markarov is 6-5-1 to this point in the season with a 2.95 gaa and a .911 sv % while Lieuwen is 7-5-0 with a 3.31 gaa and a .902 sv %.

The big thing for the Amerks right now is continuing to play at a fast pace. Speed is the name of the game and that's what the organization wants as a platform for success at both the AHL and NHL levels.

With 30 years invested in the broadcast booth for the Amerks, Stevens has seen styles of play come and go and although he's still old-school and somewhat misses the hard, physical game, he see's the speed game as pretty exciting. "That's what the game is now," he said. "For a while it was finesse, and then it was defense and [the trap], then it was size, then smaller players with speed. But I think it's coming down the game right now being all about speed."

GM Murray brought in fast players for a speed game and Rochester head coach Randy Cunneyworth wants his team to play that way and now the Amerks, according to Stevens, "learned to use their speed," said Stevens. "It seems like they're playing a whole lot faster now. It's really starting to pay off."

Merry Christmas everybody.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Catching up with Don Stevens and the Rochester Americans

Reprinted with permission from

After fits and starts to the season, the Rochester Americans finally got things rolling. Unfortunately for them the Christmas break came along. The Amerks head into the hiatus having won four of five games while outscoring their opponents by a combined 19-10 and their eight team points moved them up to 9th in the Eastern Conference.

"It's too bad that there is a break because the team has been playing very well the last two games," said long-time Amerks broadcaster, Don Stevens. "It's the kind of situation where you're winning and playing that well and you want to keep playing."

As with any team featuring a lot of new faces, plus a new coaching staff with a new system, there were plenty of struggles as the Amerks adjusted to the up-tempo pace favored in the organization. Head coach Randy Cunneyworth, who Stevens said always wanted a speed game, has them skating hard and fast while playing a 200' game. "They've learned to use their speed," said Stevens. "It seems like they're playing a whole lot faster now. Whereas before they were trying to get a little too fancy, now it's hard-nosed, go for the net and do the best you can to get there. It really starting to pay off."

Stevens pointed to the return of third year pro Tim Schaller as a spark.

Schaller was with the Sabres for a long stint before the team sent him to down to Rochester on December 3. After working out some kinks in his first two games, both of them Amerks losses, Schaller sat out the next game, a 4-3 SOL at home vs. the Utica Comets "due to an ailment that has yet to be diagnosed," as reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle's Kevin Oklobzija at the time. Oklobzija wrote that Schaller "apparently has been bothered by the problem for an unspecified period of time" with Cunneyworth saying that he'd been "playing through it."

"Exactly what it is," said the coach, "that's unclear."

Schaller came back the next game and according to Stevens was really "starting to light things up." In the five games before the Christmas break he totaled five goals and one assist and was a plus-4. His last goal against Albany was a real doozy as he went in on the Devils goalie with a d-man draped all over him. Schaller managed to get a good shot off with one knee on the ice as he was being hauled down. It was the first of four 1st period goals for the Amerks as they cruised to a 4-1 victory heading into the break.

Another contributor to the success of the Amerks as of late is veteran Patrick Kaleta, who had been out since the first game of the preseason with Buffalo. He last skated in a meaningful game back in April with the parent club. He had an inauspicious season debut on November 27 in front of the home crowd at the Blue Cross Arena and told the media of his return to the ice, "Getting into a game was fun; other than that, horrible."

Kaleta has been eased back into the lineup playing in only six of 10 games, but according to Stevens, he's had a big impact. "His presence is known," said Stevens said of Kaleta. "He's hitting like a Mack truck out there and the opposition needs to keep their heads up when he's on the ice.

"The whole team feels like it's bigger, playing like they're a taller and heavier when he's on the ice."

One player that doesn't need to be too much taller and heavier is 6'3" 210 lb. powerforward, Justin Bailey. Stevens said that Bailey has probably come the furthest this year as he's starting to learn how to use his size and strength as well as his speed. "For a guy his size," said Stevens, "he's got outstanding speed. Now he's going hard to the net and he's getting in front and mixing it up. He's a big boy, that's the way he's got to play, and now he's figuring out how to play that way."

Kris Baker of told me the "figuring out" part of the equation involves the winger using the middle of the ice when it's given to him. "He has the power and the wheels," said Baker, "so he has to become more aggressive when given that space. That will come with more experience."

The team itself needs more experience with the new systems in place. They're beginning to really work the fast pace that Cunneyworth wants and it's starting to show up on the scoreboard and in the standings.

More on ironing out inconsistencies and some focus on the defense and goaltending tomorrow. Until then, Happy Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

We know Rasmus Ristolainen's a bad man. Quick hits below the blueline

Reprinted with permission from

Yesterday we looked at the forwards and where they stood, today it's time for the defense and goalies.

Much to the surprise of many, the defense has been playing much better than expected and it's helped the goaltenders out as well. When there have been breakdowns on defense the goaltenders have come up with some pretty good stops.

One thing to keep in mind when looking at those behind the blueline, there are a bevy of forwards lead by Ryan O'Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons and even a hard back-checking Jack Eichel who've gotten on their horses to help out in the defensive zone. Sure, there have been breakdowns coupled with miscommunication leading to goals, but the Sabres' surprising 2.53 team goals-against average (14th in the league) is far superior to anything we've seen over the course of the last three seasons.

Some quick hits on the defensemen and goalies at the Christmas break:

Rasmus Ristolainen--"has become an absolute beast." Those aren't my words (at least not my exact words, I called him "a bad man") rather they came from Ryan Kennedy of the hockey news. Ristolainen is all of 21 yrs. old and he's leading the Sabres blueline in all categories while leading the team in total ice-time. He's also on a pace to score almost 60 points, something that hasn't been done since recent Hall of Fame inductee Phil Housley (81 points) did so back in the 1989-90 season.

Jake McCabe--One of McCabe's most impressive traits is his recuperative powers. He'll have a rough period only to come back immediately with an outstanding one and he'll do that with shifts as well. It's probably the most important thing a young defenseman can do--forget about his mistakes. McCabe continues to impress with his skating, smarts and hitting. He's good with the stick on defense, has a scoring touch as well, finds the open ice and has a good grasp of when to pinch. And he's 22 yrs. old with only 40 NHL games played thus far in his young career.

Josh Gorges--has been playing an underrated, shutdown game for the Sabres while being on the top-pairing with Ristolainen. Gorges had some injury problems last season which affected his game and ultimately affected how he was perceived by those in Sabreland. Although he doesn't look out of place next to a stud like Ristolainen, a second-pairing spot where he can be a shutdown force may be in the cards for him sometime in the near future. Should Buffalo find that top-pairing, left-handed d-man (and who knows, it may end up possibly being McCabe) then having Gorges on the second-pairing with top-PK duties would be a great thing for the defense.

Cody Franson--when he tries to step into one from the point oft-times it sails ten feet wide and has players ducking for cover all over the zone. He's got the intensity of Thomas Vanek and can skate just about as fast, neither of which are good things. Although he has some pretty good skills and I understand why he was signed, he doesn't seem to fit the mold of what GM Tim Murray wants out of his players. All said, he serves his purpose as a very affordable 3rd-pairing d-man with some powerplay acumen.

Mark Pysyk--should simply be known as the quite one, as in he quietly goes about his business playing shutdown defense while moving the puck smoothly out of his zone under the most intense pressure. Reminds me of the most underrated Buffalo Sabre of all time--Bill Hajt. The Sabres would do real well moving forward with a shutdown d-man of that caliber.

Carlo Colaiacovo--Has exceeded modest expectations in his reserve/bottom-pairing role. Although he ain't Niklas Lidstrom, Colaiacovo is veteran of over 450 regular season NHL games knows his way around the ice. And he knows his role too.

Mike Weber--much maligned and often a whipping boy, Weber's rarely given full credit for his role as a bottom-pairing/reserve d-man with bite. He makes his mistakes and fumbles around on occasion, like many do, but he's been able to hold his own on the back-end and has played to his level. One thing you gotta like is that he's unafraid to do the dirty work.

Zach Bogosian--although he's recovered from an injury that had him miss the first month and a half of the regular season, he's still getting up to game-speed. Dude can really skate and rattle the boards with one of his checks. Although he's a bit overzealous in the hitting department, while also getting caught out of position because of it, he's pretty sound in his own end. Plus he's got an attitude too.

In the net:

Chad Johnson--simply put, has been outstanding. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma loves Johnson's calm demeanor in net. "Johnny" has gained the confidence of coaches and players and seems to be getting better and stronger in net. Coughing up juicy rebounds has been a major roadblock to No. 1 goalie status for him but as of late he's been getting a handle on those. Not sure when the last time his confidence-level was this high, if ever. When Robin Lehner comes back from injury, it will be interesting to see how each react to the other as Johnson's making a case to remain the starter.

Linus Ullmark--while Lehner and Johnson may be battling it out for the starters-role near-term, Ullmark should be in that mix a few years down the road. For a 22 yr. old rookie goaltender playing his first pro season in North America, he's acquitted himself quite well. Early in the season Bylsma was impressed with Ullmark's calm demeanor under pressure. Still looks like a rook on many occasions, especially when he's lunging, but all-in-all, a fine NHL debut thus far for the 6'4" 212 lb. Ulmark

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Quick hits on Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and the rest of the forwards

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are off until Saturday when they face the Boston Bruins in Beantown. After 2 1/2 months of growing pains the Sabres are at 14-16-4 good for 25th in the league. As a team they've been learning and adapting to a whole new system under head coach Dan Bylsma, while also skating with a bevy of new faces, and as one would expect they're having their ups and downs.

The offense as a whole hasn't been tearing it up but progress is being made while individually, there's been some exceptional play and some not so exceptional play. Some quick hits on how the forwards are doing so far on an individual basis:

Ryan O'Reilly--has been a force and has been instrumental in helping linemate Sam Reinhart adapt and succeed. Top player on the Sabres, bar-none, one of the top two-way players in the league as well. Continues to impress on the ice and hates to lose which will serve this young team well moving forward.

Sam Reinhart--after a slow start, has really found his groove. Reinhart has been working with O'Reilly after practice and it shows as he's improved shot (8 goals, 12.3 shooting percentage) and has really developed chemistry with O'Reilly. Kids got the hockey sense and ample skill, is beginning to figure out how to overcome minor size-issues at the NHL-level. Leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-2.

Jack Eichel--an incredible talent with blazing speed and has the ability to develop into something real special. Teams continue to throw bodies in his path to stop him before he gets started and he's yet to find a way to counter that. Linemates who can open up a bit more ice for him would help as would him using his linemates more. Second on the team with nine goals.

Evander Kane--missed 10 games due to injury but has kicked it up with six goals and three assists in his last 13 games. Needs to keep his north/south aggressive game rolling. He an Eichel on the same line hasn't been a total disaster, but try connecting the same poles of two different magnets.

Jamie McGinn--has been a pleasant surprise. Missed all but 19 games last season with Colorado then was surprised when the Avalanche shipped him and O'Reilly to Buffalo. Has speed, tenacity as well as finish and looks real good out there. Huge benefit being on a line with O'Reilly and Reinhart, but has proven he can hold his own in a top-six winger role.

Zemgus Girgensons--disappointing on the offensive side (2g, 3a) but one would think that he's not been disappointing in the role Bylsma has given him. As the third-line center Girgensons has had the unenviable task of taking on the opposition's top lines. And he's a minus-1. Former coach Jim Montgomery told us, "whatever situation he is put in the coach is going to love him and his teammates are going to love him."

Tyler Ennis--was having some troubles before he went down with an injury. Kid can weave in and out of a defense, stickhandle in a phone booth and put the puck in the net. When he's on he can work some magic, when he's off, which has been most of the year, he's doin' a whole lotta choppin' with no chips flyin'.

Matt Moulson--would you believe he's tied for sixth on the team in points? Moulson has struggled mightily and now finds himself on the fourth line thanks to the emergence of Reinhart and McGinn on the top line. A scorer on the fourth line could mean a banishment to King Moonracer's  press-box island for a game or two.

Brian Gionta--Started the year off real strong but has fallen back a bit. At 36 yrs. old shows bursts of speed that had him keeping up with the big dogs on the top lines. But that was earlier in the season. May have found a home on the third line with Girgensons. Has been the best, most consistent line three games running.

Johan Larsson--he may also have found his place. Like Gionta, Bylsma had him up in the top six but it didn't work out so now Larssons nipping at the ankles of the opposition on the third line. When he's on his game he's a pest, and when that line is on, their aggressive on the forecheck. And right now, they're on.

David Legwand--most wondered what the 35 yr. old had to offer a young team like Buffalo's, but he's proven to be a stabilizing force. Bylsma has been using his fourth line quite often and it's because he trusts them with Legwand on it. He's also anchoring the top penalty kill unit up-front with O'Reilly, a unit that's shown steady improvement as of late.

Marcus Foligno--another one who may have found his home. As a power forward Foligno plays a real strong game, as a scorer? Still needs work. May be settling into his role as a bottom-six player who can contribute offensively.

Nic Deslauriers--has a motor that's non-stop and a crazed look in his eye that says he's ready to get it on at any time. Deslauriers is in his second full season and is another one who knows his role and gives it everything he's got when on the ice.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sabres hit their long Christmas break with shootout loss to Chicago

Reprinted with permission from

The last word I wrote at the conclusion of Buffalo's 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks yesterday was "disappointment" as Buffalo was a mere :34 seconds away from bringing this one home. It took a 5-on-3 Chicago powerplay that began with 2:33 left in the game--one that eventually turned into a 6-on-3 as the Hawks pulled goalie Cory Crawford--and 1:59 of that powerplay for Chicago to put the tying goal behind Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson.

When you look at the firepower that hit the ice for the Blackhawks at that point in the game the Sabres penalty kill units, as well as Johnson, should be commended for coming within :01 second of killing the dual minors. Chicago iced Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook who were joined by Marian Hossa when Crawford went to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:15 left in the game.

And not only did the Sabres almost kill the penalties, center Ryan O'Reilly came within a foot from a length of the ice shorthanded goal into an empty net just a few seconds after Hossa came on the ice. Being the trooper that he is, O'Reilly wasn't satisfied with coming close in either case. He told the gathered media post-game that missing the open net was "embarrassing" and that despite coming close, "it's all about results."

"We have to close it. It's not acceptable."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hawks present opportunity while Eichel can learn a lot from Toews

Reprinted with permission from

When the Buffalo Sabres hit the ice today for their matinee vs. the visiting Chicago Blackhawks they'll have played 34 games before the Christmas break. To say the NHL schedule maker has made it easy on the second youngest team would elicit a hearty chuckle. Then again, coming off of back-to-back last place finishes would indicate that "easy" is a word that should never enter into the equation in the first place.

Buffalo stands 14-16-3 so far this season which is one win better than they were in 2014-15, seven more than in 2013-14. That said, the Sabres have already finished their season series with the defending Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning (1-3-0,) the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars (0-2,) the WC third-seed St. Louis Blues (0-1-1) and the WC sixth-seed Nashville Predators (1-1). Throw in a game vs. the WC seventh-seed San Jose Sharks (0-0-1) and their first West Coast road trip (0-3-0) and you have a pretty formidable schedule.

Of the team's 14 wins some stand out for various reasons like their first road win, a 4-3 OT thriller in Philadelphia, and their come-from-behind 2-1 win in Detroit on Monday night, but they've yet to get that signature win.

Today's game vs. the Chicago Blackhawks will provide that opportunity.

The Hawks seem to be getting their grove on as they've won five of their last seven after starting the month 0-1-0. They have the league's leading scorer in Buffalo-native, Patrick Kane (19g, 28a) who's scored in 27 of his last 28 games, and a powerplay unit that ranks 3rd in the league. They're young, fast and highly skilled and are lead by one of the best captains in the game, Jonathan Toews.

Oh, and did I mention that they have won three of the last five Stanley Cups?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

On Jack Eichel, and Ryan Johansen,

Reprinted with permission from

Was Sabres broadcaster Brad May right in criticizing the play of Buffalo's 19 yr. old rookie Jack Eichel?

Of course he was. He's an analyst. It's his job.

May, knowing full-well that he'd be in the Sabres lockerroom having to face the future face of the franchise as well as coaches and teammates, plowed forward with his analysis of a slumping Eichel. On yesterday's Hockey Hotline segment broadcast on WGR, May was pretty blunt with his observations. "Jack Eichel has to understand, and he will, he'll figure it out, that he has to work for 60 minutes," said May. "We give him latitude and leeway, but he doesn't work hard enough, because he doesn't understand it yet."

Like HH host Kevin Sylvester said, it is a fair criticism. For whatever reason, the Eichel we saw in the five games prior to last night reminded me of the Eichel who showed up for the Development Camp scrimmage--average at best. You could see the remarkable speed, skill and hockey sense he possessed but it wasn't on display.

Eichel has displayed those traits more often than not during his rookie campaign but something seems to have been missing over the course of the last five games or so. Perhaps it's fatigue as the rigors of an NHL season is new to him, especially now when the "grind" portion of the schedule has begun to kick in.

Perhaps it's his linemates as well. Some can't keep up with him when he's headed up ice with a head of steam. Others can keep up but can't finish (Eichel didn't record his first assist until the 14th game.) Some like the puck on their stick while others pass it to Eichel regardless of whether or not he's covered. And there are times when Eichel himself holds on to the puck too long or doesn't recognize the closing speed of an NHL player.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yeichel! What's going on with Jack Eichel?

Reprinted with permission from


Sabres rookie center Jack Eichel is plugging along in his first NHL season. Through 32 games he's shown feats of brilliance as well as on his way to 14 points in 32 games. His nine goals and five assists would be good numbers for any 19 yr. old in a league of men, but for the #2-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, those are rather pedestrian in light of the fact that he's considered a franchise player.

He's in a slump right now having been held off the score sheet in his last five games and has only three goals and two assists in his last 17 games. Where once he was keeping pace with the likes of Edmonton's Connor McDavid (12 points in 13 games before his injur,) Arizona's Max Domi (25 points in 30 games) and Detroit's Dylan Larkin (22 points in 31 games,) Eichel has dropped back to the second level of what looks to be an outstanding rookie class. Even worse is his minus-7 plus/minus rating which puts at 124th amongst the 129 rookies charted by

Cause for panic?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nice to be on the good side of a meltdown in the 3rd

Check out these quotes:

"We've got to work on closing out games."

"It's always tough loss when you are up with five minutes left in a game and they score two. That shouldn't happen."

"We've got to find a way to score the next goal."

Those were the sounds of Brad Richards, Petr Mrazek and Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, respectively, lamenting one that got away. It was a familiar refrain to Sabres fans as quotes like those were often found emanating from the Sabres locker room over the course of the last two-plus seasons.

After Richards put the Detroit up 1-0 on a set-up from puck-wizard Pavel Datsyuk the Wings had the opportunity to take a 2-0 lead. Mike Weber slashed Tomas Jurco who was going in all alone on Sabres goalie Chad Johnson and the ref awarded Jurco a penalty shot. It was a good thing for Buffalo as Jurco's been struggling. A healthy scratch for 14 games this season, Jurco went in on Johnson and offered up a cupcake which the goalie gloved.

A light chorus of boos rang through "The Joe" as Jurco's weak offering had many fans shaking their heads. "That's weak sauce," said one fan.

Buffalo hung in there and battled into the third and managed to stifle a Wings powerplay six minutes in as Ryan O'Reilly went off for slashing. The call was on a backcheck as Detroit had a 2-on-1 because of a poor pass at the Wings blue line, one of many passes from Buffalo players that was in their skates.

The Buffalo penalty kill  has been strong as of late allowing only three goals on 25 opportunities or an 88% kill rate. Detroit was never able to establish constant pressure and Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma was able to work in three sets of forwards into the first minute of the PK. Killing that off and keeping the score 1-0 opened the door for some O'Reilly heroics as Buffalo finally broke through.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Matt Moulson joins the Jack Eichel/Evander Kane line.

Sabres forward Matt Moulson has been struggling for a very long time. The former three-time 30-goal scorer is currently in the midst of a 17-game goal-less drought and has managed only six assists and during the last game he skated a season-low 10:44 minutes. Yet, despite that limited ice-time, it might have been one of his best games in a while.

Moulson had some jump to his step and was working pretty hard. He landed the primary assist in the third period on Rasmus Ristolainen's third goal of the period. Although it wasn't on the level of an Adam Oates set-up, as Moulson's shot went wide and was picked up by Ristolainen on the other side, it was somewhat karmic as he'd been playing a pretty good game with nothing to show for it. And apparently head coach Dan Bylsma saw enough good things in Moulson's game that he put him back in the top six.

Bylsma had reunited rookie Jack Eichel and LW, Evander Kane late in Buffalo's 5-2 loss at Vancouver then had them together for the entire game at Calgary to finish off the team's first West Coast road trip of the season. "I didn't like where we were at the last couple of games (at Edmonton and Vancouver,)" said Bylsma before the Calgary game. "They had some success earlier in the season playing together. There wasn't a lot of finish in that success, but they had opportunities."

The move seemed to benefit Kane as he registered four shots on goal while on a line with Eichel and Buffalo captain, Brian Gionta. Eichel, on the other hand, was smothered by a Flames team that was hell-bent upon stopping him before he got going. Gionta didn't do much at all on that line or on the any of the Sabres three powerplays. He had zero shots on goal.

What Moulson replacing Gionta does for Bylsma is a head scratcher, although when he's at his best, Moulson can snipe a shot from in tight. The question is, Can Kane and/or Eichel create opportunities for Moulson? "Matt does his best work 'in the house' in the offensive zone" said Bylsma to the media after the morning skate. "That's where he needs get to and that's where he needs to be to be productive for us.

"He should get that opportunity with [Eichel and Kane]. Their speed and their ability to lug the puck. It should give Matt that opportunity to get the area he needs to be to have success for us."

Gionta drops to the third line on the left wing with Johan Larsson, who continues to struggle mightily battling it out with Cal O'Reilly (brother of Ryan) for a spot on the that line with Gionta and Zemgus Girgensons. Although he's shown glimpses of the galdfly-like game that's been his bread and butter, Larsson is without a point in his last 16 games and still without a goal on the season (26 games) despite getting ample time in the top-six.

Girgensons has been having troubles as well and that includes having a hard shot roll up his stick and open a 12-stitch gash in his mouth. In a chicken and egg situation, Girgensons has had trouble hitting the score sheet with only two goals and three assists on the year. Bylsma has had him on the third line nearly the entire season so scoring has been difficult, but when he's been moved up in cameo's, he's not been producing.

One good thing Bylsma has done is pair Girgensons and Kane on the penalty kill. Although the coaching staff doesn't teach it, those two are a threat to turn the powerplay back on the opposition for a short-handed opportunity.

On defense, rookie Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian make up the second pairing. They played well as a duo when Bogosian first hit the ice this season, but Bylsma broke them up. Even though they had a rough game with McCabe going minus-2 and making some fairly egregious mistakes, Bylsma likes what the youngin brings to the table. "We gave up 20 scoring chances against," said Bylsma to the press, "we broke down in a number of areas and Jake was a part of that. I can't say he was great in the game, but I know we benefitted from his skating and we benefitted from his ability in the game and that's what he has to continue to do for us."

The Kings are on the third game of a six-game road trip and are coming off of a 3-2 shootout win at Pittsburgh. The win is their sixth in a row and their 7-0-1 since their last regulation loss. As the hottest team in the league hits Buffalo, in a weird aberration, the Sabres actually play extremely well against the Kings, even during the last two seasons when Buffalo was the doormat of the league. Last year Buffalo shut out Los Angeles at home giving them a 9-1-0 record at home versus the Kings, 6-3-1 in their last 10 overall meetings.

The Kings have four former Sabres on the team, including goaltender Jonas Enroth who was Buffalo's goalie last season when they shut out Los Angeles 1-0 on the First Niagara ice. Also on the team are Jamie McBain and Christian Ehrhoff, two free agent signees for Buffalo the last few years as well as defenseman Brayden McNabb.

The 6'4" 208 lb. McNabb was Buffalo's 66th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. He was traded to the Kings on trade deadline day, 2013 as Sabres GM Tim Murray sent him and two second-round draft picks (both received by Buffalo from Los Angeles in the Robyn Regehr trade) to the Kings for forwards Nic Deslauriers and Hudson Fasching. It was Murray's first trade as Sabres GM that was of his own volition as the Miller trade to St. Louis was already in the works.

McNabb has been a staple on the Kings' blueline this season ranking third amongst LA d-men in ATOI with 21:15 minutes. On offense he's contributed one goal and added four assists while his plus-6 rating is third amongst their d-men.

Of note, Deslauriers (3g, 3a) has been consistent in his bottom-six, checking line role while Fasching is still in college. The junior had two goals last night for the University of Minnesota and now has 13 points (7+6) in 14 games.

Today's projected lineup for Buffalo:

Jamie McGinn-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Matt Moulson-Jack Eichel-Evander Kane
Brian Gionta-Johan Larsson/Cal O'Reilly-Zemgus Girgensons
Marcus Foligno-David Legwand-Nic Deslauriers

On defense:

Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Zach Bogosian
Mike Weber-Cody Franson

Bylsma said rookie Linus Ullmark will be in goal for Buffalo. Although Ullmark is 0-4-2 since his last win, Bylsma doesn't put the blame fully on the young goalie's shoulders. When asked today if Ullmark's woes have anything to do with team's having tape on him Bylsma refuted that saying "I don't thing the one or two or three instances we're talking about are spots where he's vulnerable, [spots] that have been picked up on. Actually he's made the spectacular save, he's made the hard save."

Now he just needs to put it all together as he's set to face former Sabres Enroth tonight.

Rasmus Ristolainen is a bad man.

Reprinted with permission from

Or shall we say, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a young man as he's still only 21 yrs. old. The Turku, Finland native is still a pup by chronological age standards but on the ice he has the presence of an aged veteran.

Last night against the Calgary Flames, Ristolainen pulled off the natural hat trick in the Sabres 4-3 loss at the Saddledome. The natural hatty was the first of his career and was almost enough to lead the team to a come from behind victory.

Buffalo was down 2-0 headed into the third period and frustrated all game by a tight-checking Flames team before consecutive penalties by Calgary's Sam Bennett allowed the Sabres to get back into the game on the powerplay. With just 2:27 gone in the third Ristolainen got the Sabres on the board with a sneaky rocket of a shot off of a feed from Sam Reinhart. The shot went top-shelf, glove-side through a maze of players that included Jamie McGinn and captain Brian Gionta screening Flames goalie Jonas Hiller.

Just over two minutes later with Bennett in the box again, Ryan O'Reilly won the ensuing draw clean and got it back to Ristolainen at the point. Ristolainen slowly drifted to the slot and sent a wrister that beat Hiller low, blocker side. Just like that the score was 2-2 and the Sabres were back in it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Buffalo at Calgary, the last of this West Coast road trip

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are in Calgary tonight looking to salvage what they can from their first of two West Coast road trips. Buffalo was downed by the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Sunday then fell to the Vancouver Canucks by a 5-2 score the following night. After two days off, including a mandated, they finish this swing against a percolating Calgary Flames team.

Calgary is in the midst of a five game homestand which saw them win the first three games.
They're also looking for their eighth win in a row at home and are 8-5-0 overall at the Saddledome this season. They haven't lost at home since the red hot Montreal Canadiens visited Calgary on October 30.

Buffalo come into tonight's matchup having dropped two in a row leaving them under .500 on the road so far this season (5-6-2.) It's been a tough few weeks for Buffalo schedule-wise as they've played some Western Conference powers and came out on the losing end. In their last 10 games they're 3-5-2.)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Speed kills...Sabres...again

Reprinted with permission from

It's one thing to be able to skate like the wind. It's another to skate like a whirlwind. And it's extremely difficult defending either.

After losing a 4-2 decision to the Connor McDavid-less Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night, the Buffalo Sabres proceeded to drop a 5-2 decision to the Vancouver Canucks last night. The predominant factor in both losses--speed.

The Oilers did it by outracing Buffalo all over the ice. Whether it was getting to a loose puck or sending an extra man flying towards a player like Jack Eichel in the neutral zone to disrupt a rush, Edmonton got to where they needed to be quickly. The Canucks, featuring the wizardry of Henrik and Daniel Sedin, worked their magic at high speed. As they do to many teams when they're on their game, Vancouver swirled in and around the Sabres defense seemingly always just a half a step ahead.

How fitting that the Canucks would work that magic on West Coast Express Night at Rogers Arena last night.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taylor Hall should be fined for boarding Sam Reinhart

Reprinted with permission from

First-off, I think Edmonton's Taylor Hall is a helluva player and in no way, shape or form do I believe him to be dirty. From the limited number of games I've seen he plays fast, plays with skill and is basically plays the game the way it should be played.

That said, what he did last night in boarding Buffalo's Sam Reinhart smacked of malicious intent as he took out his frustrations on a player in a prone position.

Early in the third period of last night's game with the Oilers up 4-2, Hall got tangled up deep in his own zone with Sabres d-man Jake McCabe who was pinching in on the play. McCabe's stick ended up between Hall's legs and he went down to the ice. No penalty. When Hall got up he bee-lined towards the puck which was on the far side. You could see in his stride that he was ticked off and when a short pass went to Reinhart along the boards, Hall took out his frustrations on him and received a two-minute minor penalty.

It was a dangerous hit, the type the NHL is trying to eliminate. Reinhart got up and skated to the bench a little off-kilter, but had he not, we'd be looking at something a bit more serious.

Hall is a star player who's having an outstanding season thus-far with 28 points (11+17,) good for seventh in the league. But that doesn't give mean he should be given a pass on this.


The Oilers pretty much left the Sabres in the dust last night as they were flying around all over the ice. They pressured Buffalo in every zone and made them look as if it were last year's team. The official giveaway stats don't come close to telling just how much trouble the Sabres had in the game.

"Every puck through the first 30 minutes was north and behind our defenseman," said head coach Dan Bylsma to the gathered media post-game. "They got in with speed, got in with a forecheck and forced us in a lot of areas."

Edmonton not only controlled the first 30 minutes with the puck in play, they also controlled the faceoff circle. Buffalo was 13 of 36 (36%) on the dot and their best faceoff man, Ryan O'Reilly, was even worse as he went 4 of 11 (27%.) Two of Edmonton's three goals were direct results of winning a faceoff in Buffalo's zone.

When all was said and done, the Sabres headed into the third period down 4-2 but had redemption on the horizon as Hall took that boarding penalty. The Sabres managed four shots on goal and they would get no closer as the game would end with that score.


Although this wasn't a clunker on the scale of the 7-2 Montreal debacle, the Sabres just didn't play well as a team. There were way too many individual lapses, especially early on, that put Buffalo in a hole and by the time they woke up, they were down 4-2 with the Oilers in lock-down mode.

One could make the excuse that their slow start was a product of adjusting to the Mountain Time Zone, and there's some truth to that. But there's also truth to the fact that they've been notoriously slow starters for much of the season. In saying that, it also looked like the Sabres weren't prepared for the Oilers' speed as they witnessed it first-hand for the first time this season.

They got schooled by an Edmonton team that they'll be compared to for years to come and not just because of the Connor McDavid/Eichel thing. They're two of the youngest teams in the league who were built with a bevy of first round draft picks and they both like to use their team-speed to play an up-tempo game.

The next meeting between the two clubs will be March 1, 2016 as the Oilers visit First Niagara Center to kick off a four-game road trip and one would expect Edmonton to have McDavid in the lineup at that time.

One should also expect a better performance from Buffalo as well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

No Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel matchup as the Sabres bid adieu to Rexall Place

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres will be visiting Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta tonight to kick off a three-game West Coast swing. Originally known as Northlands Coliseum, Rexall Place opened in 1974 and was home to the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA. It is the second oldest arena in the NHL, behind the legendary Madison Square Gardens (1968,) and will soon be relegated to NHL history once the new Rogers Place opens up in downtown Edmonton in time for next season.

The banners up in the rafters boast five Stanley Cup Championships and an impressive display of retired numbers featuring some to the greatest ever to play the game. The Great One's No. 99 headlines a group of six great players from their heyday in the 1980's. Wayne Gretzky is joined by "The Captain's Captain" and six-time Stanley Cup-winner, Mark Messier (No. 11,) three-time Norris-winner and four-time Cup-winner Paul Coffey (No. 7,) six-time Cup-winner Glenn Anderson (No. 9,) and five-time Cup-champions Grant Fuhr (No. 31,) and Jari Kurri (No. 17.)

The No. 3 banner belongs to defenseman Al Hamilton who played for the NY Rangers and their AHL affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, before the expansion Buffalo Sabres selected him in the 1970 Expansion Draft. He played two seasons for Buffalo before he jumped to the WHA, signing with Alberta Oilers, forerunner to the Edmonton franchise. He retired after the 1979-80 season and is the only player with a number in the rafters who was not a part of the Oilers dynasty of the 80's.

A quick note, the other banner with the No. 3542 belongs to long-time broadcaster Rod Phillips and represents the number of Oilers games he called.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Visions of 2007 plus, looking ahead to 2018

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are on a bit of a tear lately having won three of four games while scoring 17 goals in the process and for fans it's pretty awesome. With growing pains still on the horizon, it's not without mild trepidation, mind you, but with the Sabres having scored four or more goals in four consecutive games for the first time since November, 2007 fans have the right to be a bit giddy. Especially after the team tested historic post-Original Six lows for goals in the previous two seasons.

Most fans remember the "Ferrari Sabres" of the 2006-07 season when the team lead the league in goals scored (298) averaging a league-high 3.63 per game, a number no team has come close to matching since. It was the year when they could never be counted out no matter how many goals they might be down in a game. The '06/'07 Sabres had team-speed, snipers and players with a nose for the net and this team has similar traits.

It also should be remembered that the '06/7 Sabres fell short in the overall team-grit department. The previous season had a nice mix of speed, skill and grit but the salary cap caused the team to make some tough decisions and much of their sandpaper ended up walking. As it stands right now, the team we're watching emerge from two seasons as the doormat of the NHL is looking like a hybrid of those first two post-2004 lockout teams, which is a pretty exciting proposition.

And they're young too.

Which leads me to thinking where some of the players will be on New Year's Day, 2018.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Yotes/Sabres. A different scenario then when they last met at the F'N Center

Reprinted with permission from

The last time the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes met it was "The Battle for the Basement" at First Niagara Center on March 26th. The 'Yotes were coming to town with a 1-4 record in the previous five games, 2-7-1 in the previous 10. They'd started out with a 9-12-3 record through November then went 5-7-1 in December, but things went south. After a 3-7-2 January and two wins to start out February, the tank was on.

Arizona went into the 2015 trade deadline on a nine-game losing streak and by the end of the day, March 2nd, 'Yotes GM Don Maloney had effectively purged his club of veterans for a return of picks and prospects. Not to be outdone, Sabres GM Tim Murray did the same and the two teams would hook up for a game just over three weeks later.

As all Sabres fans will remember, it was the game that had the hometown fans openly cheering for the 'Yotes to win while decked out in their Sabres regalia. Arizona's Sam Gagner won the game in overtime to the cheers of Sabres fans. Afterwards amidst the sharp words and noble stances taken by both sides of the "Tank Nation" argument, there was a sense of finality as Buffalo was now six points behind Arizona in the standing with only eight games remaining. Most couldn't see Buffalo leading a game for six minutes much less getting six points.

When all was said and done, the Sabres finished 30th and after Edmonton won the Draft Lottery from the 28th-hole, Buffalo was able to pick Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft while Arizona snagged Dylan Strome.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The pros and cons of Buffalo going after Edmonton's Jordan Eberle

Reprinted with permission from

With the Edmonton Oilers once again at the bottom of the league despite having four No. 1 overall picks in their lineup to start this season, word on the street in is that the core that got them to this ignominious point may begin to be torn apart.

From Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun:

"Is this the last chance for the Edmonton Oilers core group of forwards?  The sense around the team and the league is that the players this organization has been building around since 2010 have come to a point where they either prove they can be cornerstones of a winning team or be used as trade bait to bring in players who will.

"With the Oilers sitting in 30th place again, out of the playoffs by the first week of December again and wrestling with the same mistakes and inconsistencies, the mood in Edmonton is understandably sour. The longer this goes on the more likely [Oilers GM Peter] Chiarelli is to pulling the trigger on something big.

Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins big."

Eberle was an Oilers first-round selection in 2008 (22nd-overall) and is in his sixth season in the NHL. The 5'11" 189 lb. right wing has played in 369 NHL games registering 123 goals and 164 assists while logging a minus-50 plus/minus rating.

Nugent-Hopkins (2011) was the second of three consecutive 1st overall picks Edmonton had (Taylor Hall, 2010;  Nail Yakupov, 2012) and has a slightly larger frame chiming in at 6' 0" 190 lbs. He is in his fifth NHL season with the Oilers, has played in 283 games with 71 goals and 134 assists and is a minus-29.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wings' Chris Osgood calls for one-game play-in game

Reprinted with permission from

During the second intermission last night's game between the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings, former player and current Wings analyst Chris Osgood said he'd like to tweek the playoff format a bit by adding a "winner-take-all" one game play-in between the 8th and 9th seeds in the conference.

His reasoning is simple. "Not only does this add another team into the playoffs, but it's another exciting night for the fans," he said on Fox Sports' intermission report. "

Osgood also added that it give the No. 1 seed a little added bonus. "When you finish first in your conference," Osgood continued, "What do you really earn by it? The eighth-place team is a very good team and it's usually a tough scenario. Now the team that wins that game between the eight and nine [will] have to fly and play back-to-back games on opening night in the other team's rink. It gives [the No. 1 seed] a little bit of an advantage in that first game of the first round.

"For finishing first, it's a little bit of a perk."

Osgood has a point as the eighth seed has won six of 20 first-round matchups since the 2004 NHL lockout. From the 2006 playoffs to 2012, four teams (EDM, '06; DET, '09; MTL, '10; LAK, '12) not only made it past the first round, but they all made it to the conference finals. Three of those teams--EDM, DET and LAK--made it to the Stanley Cup Finals while one of them, the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, won the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015-16 Team Stats--November

Reprinted with permission from

A Tale of Two Halves.

The Buffalo Sabres headed into the month having won two of their last three in October and they continued with that momentum into November. They started out 4-1-0 over the first two weeks but they hit a Western Conference wall along the way as they played six games in 11 days against conference powers.

Their six-game winless streak (0-4-2) began with an OT loss to a struggling San Jose Sharks team followed by a 0-3-1 record while alternating between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, both of whom were parked atop the conference. An always tough Nashville Predators then team stymied Buffalo before the Sabres got a reprieve.

A big disappointment during that winless streak came from special teams as the Sabres powerplay dried up. They went a cumulative 1-18 (5.5%) and, most disturbingly, couldn't capitalize on four 5-on-3 chances including two in one game at St. Louis (a 3-2 SO loss.) . Overall, however, the team scored six pp goals on 31 chances (19.4%) and they actually jumped a spot in the pp-rankings going from 9th to 8th. It should be noted that the Sabres powerplay was as high as third in the league at one point.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015-16 Individual Stats--November

Reprinted with permission from

Rise of the Youngins.

One thing you'll notice throughout the individual stats for the month of November is the increase in production from many of the young building blocks for Buffalo. Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was rockin' it from the back-end and saw his point total nearly triple as he added nine points (3+6) to the five points he had last month. His 14 points on the season places him in a tie for 12th in the league amongst defensemen. He also had the most primary assists (4) amongst the Sabres last month.

Rookie Sam Reinhart got himself into the offensive flow with a team-leading five goals for the month. During October he was acclimating himself to the NHL and was doing plenty of the little things to grab the coaches attention, like creating a screen or playing defensively sound hockey (even, plus/minus last month.) November saw head coach Dan Bylsma increase Reinhart's ice-time and give him more responsibility. The 2014 second-overall pick responded well.

Another rookie, Jack Eichel, just continued doing what Jack does--electrify. He matched his four goals from the previous month while also adding four assists, meaning his linemates were finally able to get involved. His 12 points place him behind Ryan O'Reilly and Ristolainen for the team lead while his eight goals ties him with O'Reilly atop the Sabres.