Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres finally broke a six-game losing streak with a strong win against a good team in a hostile, yet, fun-loving, environment of the MTS Center, home of the Winnipeg Jets.
Lots of sub-plots to that contest beginning and ending with former Jet and present Sabre, Evander Kane. In between 20 yr. old rookie forward Sam Reinhart recorded a hat trick, the first of his career and, via Sabres PR, the first by a Sabres rookie since Jason Pominville did so on January 14, 2006 vs. the LA Kings.
The Jets at the time had a 19-19-3 record heading into the game and sat near the bottom of the Western Conference. It was a bit of a break for Buffalo as they'd just came off of a seven-game post-Christmas break schedule featuring games against the Boston Bruins, a home-and-home against the Washington Capitals, a three-game homestand vs. the NY Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers then hit the road for the first of their three-game Midwest roadtrip in Chicago. All of those teams have more wins than losses and OT/SO losses combined and are in the top-10 of their respective conferences.
In light of that, and with the full knowledge of the rough patch the team went through in November facing some of the powerhouses of the Western Conference, I said to myself, "Self? Just how rough a schedule did the Sabres have the first part of the season?"
The Sabres are in 29th place. They've only had two real stinkers thus far--Montreal in October and Florida earlier this month--and they've been able to hang with any team in the league. In most cases an opposing teams pure talent would take over the game or the Sabres youth would open the door just enough for a veteran team to take advantage of it. Nothing criminal or cardinal, just growing pains.
The Sabres have faced some pretty stiff competition thus-far this season with 21 of their 26 regulation/OT/SO losses coming against teams presently ranked in the top-10 of their respective conferences. Conversely, nine of their 16 wins have come against teams ranked top-10 in their conferences.
All-in-all they're 9-17-4 vs. the top two-thirds of the league, 7-5-0 vs. the teams in the bottom-third of the league.
As the season moves forward, the Sabres have already finished their season series' with Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago, three of the top four teams in the West. They've also finished up against Nashville and Vancouver, presently 7th and 9th, respectively. In the East they're done with Tampa Bay (9th) only have one more vs. the league-leading Capitals and one vs. the East's second-seed, Panthers. Lots of games remaining vs. the bottom-third of the league and those right around there.
Methinks they'll have a much better record the rest of the way.
D-prospect Will Borgen just came back from Finland with a bronze medal from the IIHF World Junior Tournament. Borgen played second-pairing minutes for Team USA registering three assists.
The performance was not lost on Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News in his Prospect Need to Know Series. "Last year at this time, the smooth-skating defenseman was playing Minnesota high school hockey," wrote Kennedy, "now he’s returning to the NCAA’s St. Cloud State Huskies with a bronze medal.
"Paired with the older Louie Belpedio (Minnesota), Borgen earned top-four minutes in Helsinki, picking up three assists in seven games and impressing his teammates. Borgen has a nice physical edge to his game and though he intended to play in the USHL this season, an 18-game, post-high school season stint with the Omaha Lancers last year gave him the confidence to jump to college early. So far, so good, as Borgen already has nine points in 18 games for the Huskies, who are flying high in the NCHC."
Borgen is a 6'4" 215 lb. RHD who was selected in the 4th round (92nd-overall) last June. Despite Sabres GM Tim Murray depleting the defense-depth while trading for offense, the Sabres have some pretty good d-men in the system and some very young ones plying their trade at the NHL-level right now.
Speaking of young defensemen, Mark Pysyk, who just turned 24 yrs. old yesterday, is on the team in St. Paul, MN but isn't likely to play tonight.
Pysyk who's been out since November 17 with a deep bone bruise recently appeared in a 3-in-3 weekend for the Rochester Americans. During those three games the steady, heady, puck-mover had one assist and finished with an even plus/minus as the Amerks went 2-1.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday that the teams' possession numbers noticeably declined in Pysyk's absence as many defensemen had trouble getting the puck out of their end, something Pysyk does well.
Jake McCabe, who suffered a lower-body injury in the Winnipeg game looks to be a go for tonight. The Sabres now have eight healthy defenseman with the club.
Elliott Friedman brought up defenseman Josh Gorges in LA Kings trade speculation.
The Kings recently acquired Philadelphia defenseman Luke Schenn to bolster their blueline, something that had been in the works for a while, but they were also "sizing up a few options," according to Friedman in his 30 Thoughts.
"I’d also heard they thought about Buffalo’s Josh Gorges," wrote Friedman, "but he has term, and it wouldn’t be easy to handle that."
With Gorges playing pretty well in a top-paring role, it's not surprising that he at least drew some interest.
According to Bylsma, Linus Ullmark gets the start tonight, Ullmark was just short of brilliant in helping the Sabres ditch their six-game losing streak in Winnipeg.
Many, myself included, thought that the Jets game would be his swan-song as starter Robin Lehner may finish his conditioning assignment in Rochester as early as Wednesday. Not so, young man.
Good for Ullmark. He's an intriguing prospect who's only 22 yrs. old.
The forwards, according to Jordon LaBarber are
Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn
Zemgus Girgensons, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson, Tim Schaller, David Legwand
Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe, Zach Bogosian
Mike Weber, Cody Franson
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.