Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
The Buffalo Sabres will hit the ice tonight in Ottawa to faceoff against the Senators for their third of four meetings this season. The series is even so far this year with Ottawa taking the first game at Buffalo in the season opener for both clubs while the Sabres closed out January with a win at Canadian Tire Center.
Sabres goalie Robin Lehner has started both games against his former team but only finished one. In the opener Lehner suffered a high-ankle sprain early in the second period that would end up keeping him out of the lineup for over three months. And after coming out on the losing end in his first three games back from injury, Lehner finally got his first win as a Buffalo Sabre at Ottawa while turning away 34 of 36 shots in the 3-2 victory.
It was a helluva win for Lehner as he turned away all 22 shots his former team threw at him in the third period with more than a few being in spectacular fashion. The Sabres were outshot by a 22-2 margin in the third period that game, and didn't register a shot for the final 18-plus minutes. In addition to Lehner feeling like he was at the Alamo, he also registered Buffalo's only assist of the night as he and rookie Jack Eichel caught the Sens on a change. One would think that a performance like that would get him recognized with a star of the game, but he was shut out by the Ottawa voters.
What a surprise.
Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday that Lehner will once again be in goal tonight.
The Sabres, however, will be without winger Evander Kane who missed practice yesterday after spending time in Toronto hanging with the NBA All-Stars on Sunday night. Bylsma said that Kane called the team to inform them that he couldn't make it into work and the team promptly suspended him for tonight's game. The team said that the rest will be handled internally.
There's been a lot of hullaballoo over this in Sabreland with the extremes going at it full force in an endless debate. It's pretty lame that he couldn't make it in, but historical perspective might be in order here. After watching a 30-in-30 piece on the '85 Chicago Bears, today's athletes are choir boys compared to them and they're veritable saints when compared to athlete's in the 60's and 70's. For example, Dallas' Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson revealed in his book Out of Control that he was snorting coke on the sideline during the 1979 Super Bowl which they lost to Pittsburgh.
Kane is an extremely talented athlete whose moxie on the ice is compatible to his flair off it. His is a unique personality that really stretches the boundaries of Bylsma's coaching expertise.
The National Hockey League is no different than any other league when it comes to coaching talented, rich, pampered athletes living the life of a rock star. In many cases coaching is more about managing egos than it is about X's and O's. Phil Jackson did it with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Pat Riley with the "Showtime" Lakers, Joe Torre with the NY Yankees, Joel Quenneville is doing it now with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Although it's not always the case, talent and ego go hand-in-hand and your greatest athlete's almost invariably have the biggest ego. How you get them to work as a teammate with one goal falls on the shoulders of the coach. Some athletes are true professionals whilst others are prima donna's, but if the goal is to assemble the talent to win a championship it usually takes all colors to make that rainbow.
Kane has been as advertised as of late. His 16 goals (eight in his last 14 games) is fourth on the team but his goals/game is tops. He's skating hard and fast, wreaking havoc in the offensive zone and is creating space for his linemates. He leads the team in shots and hits and is also on the second unit penalty kill. Unfortunately he's been as advertised off of the ice as well. But what it may come down to for him, is respect for the organization, particularly his GM, Tim Murray, and Bylsma, his coach and it's something that will not only define his career in Buffalo, but also Bylsma as a coach and Murray as GM.
Usually winning cures all ills and if Murray's plan continues to develop, the Sabres will be doing much more of that the rest of this season and into next season as well. Perhaps next year Kane will play in the post-season, something he hasn't done yet in the NHL. Where that takes him or the team is anyone's guess but I'm anxious to find out.
Bylsma was on WGR for his weekly radio spot on the Howard Simon Show and basically said the case is closed and that he doesn't foresee any other issues with Kane moving forward.
About the only good thing to come out of Kane's oversleeping is that rookie winger Justin Bailey will get an extended look for at least one more game. With Zemgus Girgensons already back in the lineup and Johan Larsson also coming back from injury, Bailey might have been sent to Rochester like Phil Varone was when "Gus" came back.
The Kane "sleep-in" solved that problem.
Bailey has not looked out of place in his first three games showing us speed and a strong north-south game. Bylsma started Bailey in the bottom six then moved him up to Jack Eichel's line with powerforward Jamie McGinn. The two big bodies have opened up some space for Eichel and even though Bailey's without a point so far, his first taste of the NHL is going swimmingly.
Bylsma likes what he's seen so far from the former 2nd round pick (2013, 52nd overall.) He said that what he saw in training camp and during the NHL All-Star break while watching Bailey with the Rochester Americans translated well to the NHL, especially in his first game at Philadelphia.
After the game Bylsma said Bailey might have been the best player on the ice for the Sabres that night and that Bailey brings a "big man's game down low" to Buffalo.
This is the third game in this particular set of three's alluded to by Bylsma after the Colorado game on Sunday. According to coach, in order to keep from getting too bogged down in the overall picture the team is taking a three-game approach with the goal of winning two of three. It's something that he said went back 17 games to early January. As laid out in yesterday's blog, of the five series preceding the present one, the Sabres have succeeded three times and are on their way to a fourth as they've already won the first two of this set.
The Sabres are looking for their first set-sweep while trying to turn things around against Ottawa as well. They head into tonight with a 3-7-0 record against the Sens in the last 10 games, 3-7-0 against them on the road.