Sunday, January 10, 2016

Half-way point: 29th place, 6-game losing streak, mid-term grades

Reprinted with permission from

After 41 games the Buffalo Sabres are 15-22-4 thanks in large part to their longest losing streak of the season. Last night's loss at Chicago to the Blackhawks pushed the streak to six and it won't get too much easier as they'll be on the second leg of a three-game road trip. They play at Winnipeg tomorrow and at Minnesota on Tuesday. Both, it would seem, are more winnable than the Chicago game for this young squad, yet getting a victory remains a tall task.

At the half-way point of the season, with the players and coaching staff familiar with themselves, each other and the systems in place, here's a quick synopsis and grade for each individual player. But we'll start with the coaching staff.

Coaching Staff, C-

Last night after the Blackhawks game I sent a text out to a friend that read, "It would seem as if teams know how to defend against Buffalo." Head coach Dan Bylsma has not been able to use his teams strengths, nor has he found way to get the puck on the stick of his best players in prime areas recently. That has lead to only eight goals-for during this six-game losing streak and only a 2.24 goals/game average on the season.

Former head coach Ted Nolan had his team in the same position last season with far less talent in a far less structured system. Not that the Sabres should go back to that, but contrary to the relentless barbs thrown at GM Tim Murray, the players assembled have talent, but it's being bottled up.

In the here and now, this team has regressed and the coaching staff hasn't figured out how to reverse it.


Chad Johnson, B

Last night was a microcosm of Johnson's season thus far. Looked calm as he played the role of a duck in a shooting gallery while making some fine saves against some of the best players in the game. The only thing holding him back from being a legit No. 1 goalie is "the one he should've had."

Linus Ullmark, C-

He's only 22 yrs. old and this is his first foray into North America. Is positionally sound much of the time, but is caught lunging and ending up on his belly. When Robin Lehner comes back, Ullmark can use all the knowledge and experience he's gained while he hones his craft in Rochester. All-in-all, a good performance for the kid while getting his feet wet.

Robin Lehner, incomplete

Injury in period two of the first game has kept him on the sidelines until last night's conditioning start in Rochester.


Rasmus Ristolainen, B+

Had a glaring mistake on the game-winner last night, but those are few and far between. As a 21 yr. old logging the huge minutes he has, mistakes are bound to happen. Has all the tools and the attitude ta boot, is pretty consistent and on a pace for about 50 points. Can't wait to see him when he hits his prime.

Josh Gorges, C+

Props to Gorges for playing a notch above his ideal position. Has been paired with Ristolainen most of the season and has performed very well. Teams have a lot of tape on him this season, are figuring him out  on the top-pairing and are starting to take advantage of his miscues.

Jake McCabe, C

There are things that fans should really love about McCabe. He's young and had been playing very well until recently. He loves to stand people up at the blueline, can get the puck out of danger either with a pass or on his stick and he's locked in. But, he's a rookie and teams are also starting to figure him out. Has regressed lately in part because of the team and in part because he's probably hit a rookie wall. Still has a lot to learn but there's a lot to like.

Zach Bogosian, C-

Has the size, skating and attitude but is still overcoming an injury that took away the first part of the season for him. Brain-farts are an infrequent occurrence but are still there and when mentoring a young d-man like McCabe, who's been his partner most of the time, ideally they would be eliminated. Has been hesitant in aspects of his game which causes him to get in trouble. He should be up to speed after recovering from his injury and has the All-Star break to refocus and recharge.

Cody Franson, C

Franson's defensive escapades have been well documented and they are what they are. His offense is the reason he's here. Not much production from him thus far but lately he's been using his large frame to lay the body on people. That's a good thing.

Mike Weber, C+

Never gets enough credit for making the most out of what he has. A true character guy who knows his role as a bottom-pairing/reserve role and relishes the opportunity to play the game. For as much snarl as he brings to the game, he may need to bring a bit more

Carlo Colaiacovo, D+

He's a reserve d-man who has shown that he can be solid a majority of the time, but his mistakes can be pretty glaring.

Mark Pysyk, incomplete

Pysyk is still recovering from a deep bone bruise and is now on a conditioning stint in Rochester. The Sabres seemed to have been missing his steadying presence and puck-moving skills on the back-end.


Ryan O'Reilly, A

Clearly the MVP to this point. Murray made a bold move to acquire him and an even bolder one to sign O'Reilly to a very lucrative, long-term deal. The Sabres haven't had a two-way player of this caliber since "Captain Clutch," Chris Drury and O'Reilly may be even better than him.

Jamie McGinn, B+

McGinn had been riding shotgun on O'Reilly's line for a while but was moved out. Last night he was back on for a while and the two produced the Sabres only goal. He has the size and the skating ability, has a nice scoring touch and knows how to play the game. McGinn can also work the corners and lay the body on the opposition. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at year's end and will be a desired commodity at the trade deadline. Tough decision for Murray.

Sam Reinhart, B-

Reinhart had progressed nicely from the beginning of he season, but has taken a step back. The dip in production is rather profound in itself, but as of late he's been riding the coattails of O'Reilly and McGinn. Yet Reinhart seems like the type of player that will figure it out. Could use a little more strength and is still prone to losing battles along the boards, is inconsistent but also shows occasional signs of brilliance. Pretty much what you'd expect from a rookie who's a former No. 2-overall pick.

Jack Eichel, B

All the tools are there, as well as elite hockey sense, to eventually dominate at the NHL-level. As a 19 yr. old who's already played more games in three-plus months than he did all last season in college, Eichel's got it. Now it's a matter of putting it all together, and that includes pulling his less talented linemates along while also involving them in the play.

Evander Kane, C

Has all the physical tools to be a consistent 30-goal scorer and does show flashes of brilliance. To be fair, he's hit enough posts and if he were just an inch closer to the net, the results put him into a position to rival O'Reilly's team leading 17. Maybe someday (hopefully in the very near future) Kane will realize that he's about a mental fraction of an inch away from greatness as well.

Brian Gionta, C

You can't blame the Sabres captain for his age or the top-six role Bylsma had him in. A true character guy whose raw skills are diminishing, Gionta is still effective. Moreso now that he's in a third-line role.

Johan Larsson, C+

No, Larsson isn't scoring, but he's playing well most games. The affect he has on the opposition is directly related to how much he pisses them off. Larsson, like others, is still finding his place in the grand scheme of things and right now a bottom-six/checking/agitating role seems to suit him nicely.

Matt Moulson, D-

Moulson's not far from falling completely off the cliff. The numbers confirm what the eye-test sees, he's just not getting the job done. Kudos to him for holding his head up and upping his game as he tries to work through this debilitating slump as he's shown much more intensity on the ice. Too early to give up on him, especially with his contract.

Zemgus Girgensons, C

He scored 15 goals in 61 games last season under the "hard-word" ethic of Nolan. Bylsma has ramped up the pace this season and Gus found himself in a checking role, where he excelled. He's been given a top-six opportunity riding shotgun with Eichel. Never a fast starter, it would seem as if he needs time to refocus his energies in a scoring role and he'll need a little time to do so.

Marcus Foligno, C-

Bylsma bumped Foligno up to the third line, and it was deserved. He has the size to be an intimidating presence on the ice, but does he have the anger and the heart?

David Legwand, B-

Legwand has been a real surprise/find for Murray and the Sabres. It's not that he's tearing up the scoresheet with ridiculous numbers in a limited fourth-line/defensive role, it's that the former 2nd-overall pick has not only accepted his place in the grand scheme of things, he's run with it.

Nic Deslauriers, C+

Was having a good season until an injury felled him. He looks like a crazed lunatic at times and can play that way too. He's slowly finding out what does and does not work in the NHL. One thing he does know is that hard work will keep him in the lineup and that's what he brings every minute he's on the ice.

Tyler Ennis, incomplete

After a weak start to the season, Ennis was injured. He came back and looked better, but is once again injured. Am of the opinion that the team is missing his slick, greazy top-six play at this juncture.

Tim Schaller, incomplete

Schaller's in that yo-yo role this season skating top-six in Rochester and bottom-six in Buffalo. He's got character, heart and will plus some speed. He's got a scoring touch too. Still working his way into a full-time NHL position.

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