Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cats smoke Sabres, extend their winning streak and Buffalo's losing streak

Reprinted with permission from

Boom! Just like that, the Buffalo Sabres losing streak is at five games.

At this point in the season, with plenty of games to learn head coach Dan Bylsma's system, there are bound to be some wrinkles and some missed assignments that lead to goals. And with the goaltending situation the way it is--a career back-up as a starter and a 22 yr. old rookie between the pipes while designated starter Robin Lehner rehabs from injury--there are bound to letdowns in the crease.

We should all get that.

This is just about the half-way point of the season. The pre-Christmas grind is now long gone, as is the Sabres dramatic come-from-behind victory in Boston versus a Bruins club that's not playing as well as their record would indicate. Just the facts. Since that game the Buffalo Sabres have lost five in a row by a cumulative 18-7 score. They've been shut out once (at home) and scored one goal twice while managing games of two goals (NYI) and three goals (DET) in home losses.

Here's a rundown of who's contributing on offense during this five-game losing streak

Goals--Jack Eichel (2,) Ryan O'Reilly (2,) Brian Gionta (1,) Zemgus Girgensons (1,) Sam Reinhart (1)

Assists--Eichel (4,) Rasmus Ristolainen (2,) Girgensons (2,) Gionta (1,) Jamie McGinn (1)

Seven players of 20 skaters have contributed to seven goals in five games. Not good enough.

Where's Evander Kane been in all of this? Last night he was fed a no-look, back-hand pass to Florida's Alexsander Barkov in the offensive zone. Barkov promptly fed a streaking Jonathan Huberdeau, he went in on rookie goalie Linus Ullmark and made the kid look like an ECHL goalie.

Ullmark wasn't the only Sabres schooled by the 22 yr. old former third-overall pick (2011,) left Reinhart holding his jock at the Buffalo blueline on Florida's first goal. Boom. The puck went right between Reinhart's legs and Huberdeau flew by. Making matters worse on the play was Reinhart's slow reaction time to get back into the play. By the time Reinhart figured out where he was and what he had to do, 43 yr. old Jaromir Jagr had blown by him and proceeded to deposit a Huberdeau feed for the Panthers first goal.

Bylsma was asked about Ullmark in net last night his response to the gathered media was pretty blunt, "He gave up four goals, [there's] never going to be a good assessment." He then pointed to the Panthers' third goal, which he called a "forecheck goal," in particular. "The play happens from behind the net and he kind of makes a push out to the puck and ends up on his stomach. That was a big goal for their team. [I] didn't like that one."

Ending up on his stomach is something Ullmark was doing early in the season, but he steadied himself as of late and that's the first time in a while that he's reached like that. Yet in defense of Ullmark, the defense on that play was about as poor as it gets. Defenseman Cody Franson misses his check on Quinton Howden then follows him and soon three Sabres players are caught below the goal line. McGinn is in no-man's land on the half-wall and Girgensons is caught watching the play. Howden has two teammates in prime scoring areas and all he had to do was pick one. Corban Knight was left all alone in the slot and he buried it past a flopping Ullmark.

"All alone in front" has been used on this blog a couple of times lately, both times when the Sabres faced the Washington Capitals and in both instances the player they left all alone was none other that Alexander Ovechkin. Pretty sure that's something you don't want to let happen.

When Lehner finishes his conditioning stint in Rochester sometime next week, Bylsma and GM Tim Murray will have an easy decision--Ullmark will be in his proper developmental league, with the Amerks in the AHL. One final note:  the rookie goalie has lost four in a row and in those games his teammates have scored a grand total of two goals. Thanks for the help, guys.

That being said, should this season continue get away from the team, Murray may be looking at giving certain players more time to develop in Rochester. In doing so he'll need to make some room by moving some vets off of the roster either by trading or waiving them or calling them up to the big club, a player like Patrick Kaleta comes to mind.

Ullmark is the obvious choice right now but a not-so-obvious choice, and one that might raise the dander of some, is Reinhart.

After steady progression with solid contributions, Reinhart has been looking more like a passenger as of late. When O'Reilly and McGinn were on a tear a little while back, they didn't get much help from their right-winger. Statistically speaking, he has one goal in his last 12 games and that one was on the powerplay as he touched a puck that was inadvertently thrown back towards Detroit's net by their own player.

Another candidate might be defenseman Jake McCabe. It's not to say that he's playing poorly, but when Mark Pysyk comes back sometime next week, the Sabres may have eight healthy defensemen. Although there may be an opportunity to trade one of them, methinks Murray and Bylsma might just stick with what they have unless an offer too good to pass up comes in. McCabe logging big, all-situations minutes in Rochester as a 22 yr. old who's only into his second full pro season may hurt the team short-term, but in the long-term it might be healthy for both player and team.

Then there's Bylsma.

For years we got on former coach Lindy Ruff for not having his team ready. It didn't matter which owner the Sabres had at the time, the Sabres would invariably seem to start out slow. It's happening again. WGR's Paul Hamilton prefaced his post-game question by saying that the team looks great in practice, then asking Bylsma if it was a "mental thing."

"A lot of it is mental and being prepared and ready to play the appropriate way," Bylsma responded. "We knew exactly how this game was going to play, how they were going to play, and you see us in the first period, I don't know if we get surprised by the points of execution of where we need to be and where we need to be better.

"That's my job as a coach to get them ready to play in those situations and I don't think we were tonight."

The Sabres will have plenty of time to study the Chicago Blackhawks "points of execution" as they don't play them until Friday. It's an NHL Network game so there will be some national exposure. They better be ready to play or they're gonna hit the mid-point of the season on a six-game losing streak and have even more questions to answer.

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