Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two more off the schneid. Casey Nelson continues to impress.

Reprinted with permission from

When forward Zemgus Girgensons finally lit the lamp in Detroit on Monday, thus ending a 23-game drought, surprisingly it wasn't the longest goal-less streak on the team at the time. That dubious distinction belonged to the team's leading scorer, Ryan O'Reilly.

O'Reilly finally poked one home last night in the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Short-handed, no less. With the Sabres up 1-0 and Josh Gorges in the box for holding, O'Reilly battled two Pens along the boards and got the puck to David Legwand in open space inside Pittsburgh's blueline. Legwand's backhander squeaked through and trickled to the goal line before a Pens player saved it from going over the line. But the puck hit another Penguins player and lay there in the crease. O'Reilly smacked it home for his first goal in 24 games.

The first period was rather kind to those who hadn't scored in long time. The much maligned Matt Moulson, who's five goals on the season were far below expectations, opened the scoring for Buffalo on the powerplay. In the past, Moulson was a fixture in and around the crease and with a quick stick and accurate shot he was able to net three consecutive 30-goal seasons with the NY Islanders as well as solid production while with the Sabres during the past two bottom-feeding seasons. But this year, not so much. Moulson's goal ended an 18-game drought for him.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sabres late surge puts a scare in the Wings, but rally falls short

Reprinted with permission from

For 47 minutes the Detroit Red Wings stifled the Buffalo Sabres to the point where the Sabres were on pace to record the fewest number of shots in a game this season. Detroit held Buffalo to only 14 shots up to the point when they scored an empty-netter with exactly three minutes to go and it looked as if the Wings walk out of Joe Louis Arena with a 3-0 victory.

Before the Sabres frantic comeback, Detroit controlled the puck in all three zones and were in every gap whenever the Sabres had the puck. Buffalo couldn't get the puck deep and when they did it didn't take long for the Wings to get it back. It also didn't help that the Buffalo gave Detroit three powerplay opportunities in the first period. The Wings would eventually break through on their third opportunity with 1:28 left in the first period as rookie Dylan Larkin pounced on a big rebound.

Detroit controlled the second period as well and scored when Riley Sheahan went coast-to-coast, weaving his way through all five Sabres on the ice before rocketing a wrister far-side past goalie Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson. There would be signs of life from the Blue and Gold very late in the second period as they started to really skate with a sense of urgency but even so, the Sabres left the ice down 2-0 while being outshot by a 21-9 margin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rookie scoring race weekly recap--Connor McDavid continues his surge

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While rookie scoring leader Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo's Jack Eichel were being held to a single point over the past week, Edmonton's Connor McDavid continued his surge.

In three games this week McDavid had a goal and four assists to bring his season totals to 15 goals and 30 assists in 41 games. That 45 points now places him two behind Arizona's Max Domi and five behind Eichel's 50. Panarin is still in front with 64 points on the season while Detroit's Dylan Larkin remained at 43.

McDavid's five assists came in three games last week and vaulted him into second place amongst rookies in that category. With 30 on the year he still trails Panarin by nine and with only four games left for the Oilers so it's a longshot for him to get to the top. Even though Panarin's been in a bit of a slump with only two assists in the last eight games, there doesn't seem to be enough track for McDavid to catch him. Plus the Blackhawks have six more games to play.

Rounding out the top-five in assists are Domi (29,) Eichel (27,) and Philadelphia's Shane Gostisbehere (25.)

There's probably only one category where Panarin can be caught this year and that's goals. Although he still leads with 25, Eichel's goal on Saturday gave him 23 on the season. Panarin has hit a drought going goalless in his last eight while Eichel has been chipping away with six goals in his last 10 games. The Sabres also have one more game to play than the Blackhawks and at his present pace, there's a good chance Eichel can overtake Panarin for the rookie goal-scoring crown.

Larkin and Buffalo's Sam Reinhart are tied for third place with 21 goals each while Domi rounds out the top-five with 18 goals.

Of note. Eichel, Reinhart and the Buffalo Sabres travel to Detroit this evening to take on Larkin and the Red Wings.

Rookie leaders:Points






Monday, March 28, 2016

Fasching and Nelson as advertised in NHL debuts. Charge of the youngins.

Reprinted with permission from

At 6'2" 207, we knew Buffalo Sabres winger Hudson Fasching was a big body and from we'd gathered throughout his college career, especially this past season, we knew he liked being around the net. Fasching, who scored 46 goals in 115 NCAA games for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, always has had a nose for the net and the skill to finish when he got there.

Yesterday afternoon he did exactly that.

After fellow first-time-NHL'er Casey Nelson worked the puck to d-partner Mark Pysyk, Fasching headed up ice and grabbed Pysyk's pass along the wall at the Winnipeg Jets blueline. The Jets Jacob Trouba seemingly had the rush cover save for the fact that he underestimated the player with the puck. Fasching shrugged off Trouba's check, cut to the net and deposited his first-ever NHL goal, on his first shot, right from the blue paint.

You only get your first NHL goal once and it was a doozy.

Nelson was credited with the secondary assist on the play as he hit the scoresheet for his first-ever NHL point. The undrafted free-agent defenseman was locked in all game and if he was nervous, one couldn't tell most of the afternoon. He adapted to the pace of the NHL really well and save for a few glitches, none of them detrimental, he had a really solid NHL debut. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma gave Nelson 16:33 of ice-time, including :53 on the powerplay, and the 23 yr.old rookie came away with the assist and a plus-1 rating.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Under the radar--fomer Minnesota State defenseman Casey Nelson

Reprinted with permission from

When the Buffalo Sabres announced the signing of  Minnesota State defenseman Casey Nelson, the collective sentiment running through much of Sabreland was, “who?” followed quickly by, “from where?”
Fellow collegian Hudson Fasching, who had just been signed by Buffalo on Monday, was much more well known having played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the BIG 10. Fasching was a former fourth round pick (2013, 118th overall, LAK) who had a career year in 2015-16 and was still getting most of the headlines when Nelson signed a day later.
Minnesota State is rather obscure to those of us outside the state of Minnesota and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association of the NCAA but for three of the past four years, they've been a part of the NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Tournament. Last year they joined the field of 16 by winning the WCHA conference, in 2014 they were WCHA Tournament Champions and the Mavericks won an at-large bid in 2013. Unfortunately, they lost in the WCHA Tournament this year, but it did allowed Nelson the opportunity to forgo his senior season to pursue his NHL dreams.
Unlike with Fasching, there really wasn't much anticipation and/or fanfare with the Nelson signing. Buffalo GM Tim Murray announced it with a simple two-sentence statement. “We’ve been consistently impressed with Casey’s play for the last two years,” said the GM in the release. “We identified him as one of the top college free agents available and we’re excited to have him join the organization.”


Saturday, March 26, 2016

On the expansion draft and losing talent. Plus other tidbits.

Reprinted with permission from

Even though it's at least a year away, NHL expansion has been on the minds of many, including yours truly. And with expansion comes an expansion draft where the new franchise will pluck one player from  every NHL team to get the ball rolling for them.

Last week we went through that scenario as if it were to happen this year and threw out players to be protected. We put together a core group, and then had at it as to who would be left unprotected under one of two scenarios. It made for great back and forth as to who outside of the obvious might be protected as well as which protection plan might be better suited for the Buffalo Sabres at this juncture:  Protecting seven forwards and three defensemen or eight skaters.

Regardless of what happens next off-season, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First off, the NHL set up a 32-team league when it realigned the divisions and conferences for the start of the 2013-14 season. In moving the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets from the west, rightfully so based upon simple geography, it created unbalanced conferences. There are two holes out west that need to be filled and one of them will be filled by Las Vegas. More than likely they will be the first expansion team to join the NHL since the Jackets and Nashville Predators did so in 2000 (for an $80M expansion fee.)

The other spot is up in the air right now as the other front-runner--Quebec City, Quebec--is barely being mentioned at this time. Although they want back in, and will be ready to hit the ground running, the $500M US price tag is steep especially with the Canadian dollar slumping. As of right now, investors in Quebec will need to fork out around $650M when factoring the exchange rate.

Fasching in the fold, seven prospects in NCAA Tournament that begins Fri.

Reprinted with permission from

Back in October, 2014 Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News was giving some love to the NCAA when he released a list of "50 college players you need to know." The impetus behind Kennedy's list was the sheer talent that sat atop in what he called "The Fab Five Frosh" lead by Jack Eichel.

Eichel, of course, would go on to have a phenomenal season at Boston University and would be plucked second-overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Rounding out the top-five were Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifan who went 5th-overall to Carolina in the 2015 Draft, Mike Reilly (2011, 98th, CBJ,) Dylan Larkin (2014, 15th, DET) and goalie John Gilles (2012, 75th, CGY.)

In addition to the Sabres landing the top college player in Eichel, they also placed four other college players in the top-36 of Kennedy's list. Michigan's JT Compher, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the Ryan O'Reilly deal, came in at No. 15 while Notre Dame's Connor Hurley was ranked No. 32. Providence defenseman Anthony Florentino, who's Friars begin their defense of the national title was ranked No. 36. All three will be playing in the NCAA Tournament which begins on Friday.

One player who will not be in the tournament is Hudson Fasching who's Minnesota Golden Gophers were beaten in the BIG 10 Championship game by Compher's Wolverines.

Fasching was ranked No. 16 by Kennedy, one spot behind Compher, and this is Kennedy's blurb, "Tank-sized power forward was brilliant at 2014 world juniors. Rights strangely traded from Los Angeles to Buffalo last season."

Listed as 6'2", 207 lbs., Fasching rolled like a tank this past season reaching career highs with 20 goals and 18 assists in 27 games played, but decided to forgo his senior season at Minnesota to join the Buffalo Sabres. "We are pleased to sign him,” Buffalo GM Tim Murray said in a statement. “We believe he has the potential to be an effective NHL player and wanted to bring him in as soon as possible.”

It wasn't too long ago that a BIG 10 interview had some questioning whether he'd sign with Buffalo or not. Such is the internet where a simple statement by Fasching got blown out of proportion. "It's tough, it's a tough situation," he said when asked about keeping in the present with the NHL a real possibility this year. "You talk to other pro teams being around, but your focus needs to [stay] here. That's what I try to do."

Apparently because "other pro teams were around," there was a possibility he was somehow being influenced into signing elsewhere. That's been put to rest now as he'll be bringing his power forward game to the Buffalo Sabres who, coincidentally, have had a hole on the right side ever since Tyler Ennis went down with a concussion.

Fasching will be in a good spot as he'll probably get his feet wet on Eichel or O'Reilly's wing in the top-six. Can't ask for much more than that.


With seven prospects at the 2016 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament Buffalo will be well represented this year.

The No. 1 seed in the West Region belongs to St. Cloud State who have prospects Will Borgen (2015, 92nd-overall) and Judd Peterson (2012, 204th.) West Seneca native Sean Malone (2013, 159th) and the Harvard Crimson will face off against Christopher Brown (2014, 151st) and the Boston Eagles. Notre Dame's Hurley (2013, 38th) and Cal Petersen (2013, 129th) plus Florentino (2013, 143rd) all begin their quest for the Frozen Four this weekend.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rookie scoring race weekly recap--Connor McDavid cracks Top-5

Reprinted with permission from

We all know that Chicago's Artemi Panarin has been the rook in the driver's seat this season. The 24 yr. old winger with loads of skill signed with the closest thing to a dynasty the league has seen since the Edmonton Oilers were winning five Stanley Cups in seven years (no disrespect to the Detroit Red Wings.) Panarin has also had the benefit of playing on a line with Patrick Kane, who's on track to be the first ever American-born player to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer.

That said, Panarin (63 points,) barring anything weird happening, is on track to take the rookie scoring crown this season. With less than 10 games to go he leads Buffalo's Jack Eichel by 14 points this week, the same spread as last week. The two are also separated by three goals again as neither scored one this past week (Panarin in four games, Eichel in two.)

But the surging horse in this race is Edmonton's Connor McDavid.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Clunk! Was the sound the Sabres made last night. Eichel out with flu

Reprinted with permission from

Although there weren't very many of them this season, the performance the Buffalo Sabres put on last night at Air Canada Center in Toronto was a stinker. The Sabres could do nothing against the Maple Leafs after scoring on the powerplay four and a half minutes into the game and they eventually lost 4-1. Three of Toronto's four unanswered goals came in the third period as Buffalo suffered numerous defensive breakdowns and were generally sloppy all over the ice.

Then they lost their composure, most notably defenseman Zach Bogosian and the final nail in the coffin came with three and a half minutes to go when Toronto's Milan Michalek toe-dragged his way around a sprawling Carlo Coaliacovo and finished off a 2-on-1 by himself. Four Sabres were caught deep in the Toronto zone as they pressed to get the game to within one goal.

Buffalo had may have had legitimate reasons for playing a clunker like that. They're coming down the stretch after a trying season where they're better than last year's club, but still far away from challenging for a playoff spot and the wear and tear from the season may be taking it's toll. Toronto came into the game having won three of their last five games and unlike the Sabres, had a day off between games. Buffalo was playing the second game of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights.

Plus they were without, star rookie, Jack Eichel.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rivalries re-ignited, Sam Reinhart nets 20th on the season

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres were so bad the last two years that they were seldom in the position to rival any team, much less ignite a fire to get the blood boiling from both sides. Sure, there were times that they'd stick up for themselves or a teammate and there'd be some hacking and hard checks, but for the most part, you can't have a rivalry with one team so bad that they shouldn't even be playing on the same sheet of ice as the other.

Buffalo is no juggernaut, although last night they played one of their best, if not their best, game of the season against the rival Ottawa Senators. Bad blood between the teams goes back to February 22, 2007 when Ottawa's Chris Neil bloodied Buffalo's Chris Drury with a hit to the head that knocked the Sabres' co-captain woozy. After the next puck drop, an infamous line brawl ensued.

Neil, who's known for dirty tactics, pugnacity and a willingness to drop the gloves with anyone, has almost always brought that to Sens/Sabres games and he was at it again last night. He was constantly in the face of Buffalo defenseman Mark Pysyk and kneed rookie Jack Eichel after he was tripped to the ice behind the Ottawa net.

Sens d-man Dion Phaneuf, who likes to through his weight around, also lays out hits that either border on dirty or cross the line and he almost crossed the line last night. He must have had the Neil on Drury hit somewhere in the back of his mind as he was headhunting another No. 23--Buffalo's Sam Reinhart.

With about seven minutes to go in the third period last night, Phaneuf saw Reinhart at the blueline with his head down and lined him up. With Reinhart in a prone position, Phaneuf readied his shoulder to land an blow to the head, but he would just miss as Reinhart got his head out of the way.

Buffalo didn't take kindly to that and Zach Bogosian went right after Phaneuf. The two would drop 'em but the linesman would get between the two as they all went down to the ice.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Buffalo will have a different goalie tandem tonight and a new face on defense

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres have recalled goalie Nathan Lieuwen (2011, 167th-ovrerall) from Rochester this morning to back-up Chad Johnson tonight as starter Robin Lehner is still having ankle issues.

Lehner suffered a high ankle sprain early in the second period in the season opener vs. the Ottawa Senators and after a prolonged recovery period he was back on the ice in January. Since his return Lehner has played in 20 of the last 28 games for Buffalo. High-ankle sprains have a tendency to linger for a long time and it would seem as it Lehner tweaked it to the point where he'll need some time on the bench.

Word of a possible flare-up came last week as he had an unscheduled maintenance day which was not attributed to his ankle at the time. Johnson wound up getting the start for Sunday's matinee game vs. Carolina despite a gap in the schedule that didn't have them playing until Wednesday night. Lehner was in net for the overtime loss vs. Montreal and missed practice yesterday to get his ankle re-evaluated.

Head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media post-practice yesterday that Lehner has felt [his ankle] ever since he's come back. "A couple times he’s jammed it into the post and felt it a little more. It kind of happened a week ago and a little bit Wednesday night in the game.

“Having the high-ankle sprain, it’s an injury that probably doesn’t leave you for a good two and a half months," continued Bylsma. "It’s just the nature of the injury and dealing with it."

Friday, March 18, 2016

Expansion draft. Who would you protect, Sabres fans?

Reprinted with permission from

Come next summer, the NHL is expected to hold it's first expansion draft since 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the league. Although the paramaters are slightly different, the basic premise is this: Las Vegas, who is expected to be granted a franchise, will be allowed to fill their roster with one unprotected player from each NHL team.

Although nothing is finalized, current teams will have a choice between two scenarios. As of now the NHL is kicking around the idea of teams being allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters of any position and one goalie. Choices will need to be made throughout the NHL with teams like he Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings (winners of the last four Stanley Cups,) as well as the Washington Capitals, who are loaded with talent, having to make some very, very tough decisions.

The Buffalo Sabres are just coming out of a dark period where they laid to waste their previous roster and have only begun to assemble their nucleus. There's a talent discrepancy between the top players and a myriad of lower-tiered players, but regardless, they'll be exposing a very good player to the new franchise. Were the expansion draft to take place this summer the Sabres would have some hard choices.

Let's play.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Gameday, finally. Plus GM meetings, the salary cap and Jason Kasdorf

Reprinted with permission from

Tonight marks the fifth and final meeting this season between the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens. Since Les Habitants rolled over the Sabres in October by a 7-2 score Buffalo is 2-1-0 with 12 goals scored and nine surrendered. That good fortune for the Sabres happens to coincide with the injury to Habs starting goalie Carey Price which occurred in November. After the reigning Hart and Vezina winner went down, so did the Canadiens who now sit 6th in the division and 22nd in the league only five points ahead of the Sabres.

Buffalo has been playing well as of late and are just coming off of a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Rookie Jack Eichel took a 125' rainbow feed from Evander Kane and calmly slipped a backhand five-hole with :01 remaining on the overtime clock. It was his second goal of the game.

Kane was also in on Eichel's first goal as he and rookie Sam Reinhart worked a clean give-and-go at the Carolina blueline. Reinhart stopped on a dime at the right circle and fed a streaking Eichel for the tap-in.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Looks as if Girgensons will get his shot with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart

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Zemgus Girgensons, who's name means "one who eats lions," has been playing up and down the line-up all season playing mostly in the bottom-six. On a few occasions he was placed in a scoring role with the likes of Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly that line has had a modicum of success. But as things dried up a bit and "Disco Dan" Bylsma got his dancing shoes on and juggled his lines, Girgensons invariably found himself back in a checking role.

The 2012 first-rounder (14th-overall) has had a rough go of it this season. Last year he scored 15 goals and added 15 assists in 61 games centering Buffalo's top line before being shut down for the season due to injury. Even though top-line center was a bit above his talent-level, a top-nine/top-six role seemed to be about right for him heading into the season. Expectations were high for him coming in but he wound up starting the season-opener vs. Ottawa on the left side with Johan Larsson at center and Marcus Foligno on the right.

For posterity's sake the number one line this year was O'Reilly centering Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis while the second line consisted of Eichel centering Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. With the Sabres down 2-0 heading into the third period vs. the Senators, Bylsma trotted out a line of Eichel, Kane and Girgensons. The Sabres would tie the game on a powerplay goal from Eichel then the trio tied the game before the goal was overturned on an offsides call. Bylsma said that the trio "lead the charge" that almost got the game to overtime.

Bylsma continued to juggle things preferring to think in terms of pairs on the forward lines and Girgensons found himself moving from top-line to the next two lines for a majority of the first half of the season. Many thought that Bylsma had himself a nice pairing when Eichel and Girgensons were having success, but as the points disappeared, so did the pairing.

Now, after a trying 67 games, Girgensons looks to have a golden opportunity to stake a claim to a top-six role as he's been practicing the last two days with Eichel and Reinhart. With the return of O'Reilly expected tomorrow, Bylsma broke up his top line by moving Kane to O'Reilly's left wing and using bottom-six forward Nicolas Deslauriers on the right. He kept the Larsson, Foligno, Brian Gionta line intact.

Will "Gus" make his mark?

We'll see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rookie scoring race weekly recap--Panarin still strong, McDavid, Eichel making moves

Reprinted with permission from

As we down the stretch this season, when it comes to the rookie scoring race, it would seem as if the only thing keeping Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin from winning this would be an injury. Panarin's still on the top line, still with the league's leading scorer in Patrick Kane and still using his incredible skills to produce.

Since last we checked in prior to the 2016 NHL trade deadline, Panarin has lost a little ground in overall points and assists while he's managed to maintain his three-goal lead over the nearest competitor in that category. In seven games since our February 23 update Panarin's tacked on three goals and two assists to bring his overall total to 25 goals and 37 assists for 62 points.

Buffalo's Jack Eichel capped off a solid stretch with a two-goal effort yesterday including the game-winner in overtime. Overall he upped his point total to 48 with five goals and two assists in his last 10 games and he now stands 12 back of Panarin for the points-lead. Arizona's Max Domi, who was even with Eichel at 16 points behind Panarin three weeks ago, had a rough stretch adding only three points to his total (all assists) in eight games for a total of 44 points. Rounding out the top-five are Detroit forward Dylan Larkin at 40 points (one goal in his last eight games) and Philadelphia defenseman Shane Gostisbehere with 38 points (three goals, one assist in his last eight games.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Now we know what Jack Eichel is not

Reprinted with permission from

Jack Eichel broke from the Buffalo zone in overtime yesterday as soon as fellow Sabres forward Evander Kane was in control of the puck. It didn't take but what seemed like a few strides and Eichel was at center ice waiting for the rainbow feed from Kane to drop to the ice. Tracking it Willie Mays style Eichel was on it as the puck dropped just outside the Carolina Hurricanes blue line. He snared it in the faceoff circle and walked in all alone with nobody in the picture frame. A quick, smoooove switch to the backhand and the puck was in the net five-hole.

Oh. And there was only :01 second left on the clock.

The Sabres had the broadcast crew of Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray out of their normal spots--in the press box and between the benches, respectively--and on the 200-Level of the First Niagara Center yesterday. They had a camera that was focused on those two throughout the matinee and after the game-winner they leaned back in their chairs completely wowed by what just took place. I have the feeling every Sabres fan watching it live had the same reaction. (In case you missed it, or would like to revisit the play like I have many times over, check out the video is below courtesy of NHLvideos.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Notes on a Friday featuring Nic, Goose and PK

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres dropped a 3-2 decision at Montreal last night. After getting the lead 1-0 on a goal by forward Nicolas Deslauriers, a mere nine seconds later the Canadiens tied the score thus completely wasting a brilliant moment in the spotlight for Deslauriers who was born in LaSalle, Quebec a borough of Montreal.

Deslauriers followed that goal, his fifth of the season, with a spirited bout against the Candiens' Mike Brown that featured more wrestling that punches thrown and it left him just an assist shy of the Gordie Howe hattrick. His stat-line read one goal on two shots, six hits and five penalty minutes. Do you think he was fired up playing in front of family and friends in his hometown?

You betcha.

Alas. Not that put too much emphasis on the three stars of the game, as homerism usually wins out, but if you're gonna give the visiting the third star in their one-goal loss, wouldn't Deslauriers' performance be worthy of that?

Nope. No love from the hometown. The third star of the game was awarded to Jack Eichel who registered four shots in 22:12 of ice-time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Zemgus Girgensons is on the minds of many in Sabreland

Reprinted with permission from

For a player that has all of five goals and 14 points, there's a lot of attention being paid to Buffalo forward Zemgus Girgensons.

The 2012 first round draft pick (14th overall) had a strong season last year before being felled by a season-ending injury and expectations were high coming out of camp. Some even had him in the 25-goal area after scoring 15 goals in 61 games last season, but Girgensons' production has been way below said expectations. There are a myriad of reasons for his decline in production, everything from his "real" potential being on display to the quality of ice-time doled out by head coach Dan Bylsma, and there's mild concern as to where he's headed both statistically as well as professionally. Yet his foundation is such that his effectiveness on the ice stretches beyond the scorsheet and helps keep genuine concern from moving towards full-blown panic.

After former Sabres GM Darcy Regier traded up at to get Girgensons at the 2012 NHL Draft, the 18 yr. old would find himself with a tough decision to make. Prior to Sabres Development Camp that year, he had committed to go to the University of Vermont, but after seeing how he stacked up against other young players like Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson at camp, Girgensons decided that he had the wherewithal to make the jump to the pro ranks immediately.

"We think that he's a prototype NHL player, and will be able to make that transition from the USHL to professional hockey," said Regier to the media at the time. To his credit, the mature young forward put the jump squarely on his shoulders. "It was a really tough decision for a kid to make," he said. "No one was pushing me anywhere. I was the only one who made this decision."

And with that Girgensons joined the Rochester Americans of the AHL and would be the youngest player in the league for the 2012-13 season.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Things are lining up for the Sabres. "Jack Flash" has the top-line jumpin'

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres lost to a depleted NY Rangers team last night 4-2 as they fell into hole that they just couldn't climb out of. In a season filled with errors, inconsistencies, injuries and growing pains, that at team like the Rangers could defeat the Sabres without the services of No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist, top-six forward Rick Nash and top-four defenseman Mark Staal, is not all that surprising. Yet despite the woes that engulfed Sabreland post-game, there's a play from Buffalo's young top-line that gives us a glimpse into what could be a very exciting future.

With the Sabres down 3-0 and the puck deep in their own zone, a centering pass from below the goal line was deflected to an open area in the high slot. Well before that puck hit the ice a trio of Buffalo Sabres were already headed up ice as if they were shot out of a cannon leaving the Rangers back-check in their wake. In a flash, "Jack Flash," rookie Jack Eichel was in the New York zone drawing the lone Rangers defenseman towards him in a 2-on-1. As fellow rookie Sam Reinhart was barreling towards the net, Eichel hesitated before snapping a perfect pass to Reinhart who simply kept his stick on the ice as he redirected the puck into the net.

Thanks to Blueshirt Banter we have the video:

It was something one would see from the Chicago Blackhawks, or if you're familiar with the NBA, the Golden State Warriors. Speed kills and those that have the talent to convert on a consistent basis have the tendency to end up with championship rings on their fingers.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Did you ask yourself this question last night, Sabres fans...

Reprinted with permission from

...who's going to step up?

Prior to pulling out a 4-3 SO victory at Toronto last night, the Buffalo Sabres were going through a stinker at Air Canada Center and embarrassment was in the offing. The Sabres found themselves down 3-1 well into the third period before those who were expected to step up, did so.

In a "it's deja vu all over again" moment, the Toronto Maple Leafs jumped on the Sabres a mere :25 seconds into the game as undrafted rookie Nikita Soshnikov fed a streaking Leo Kamarov for the game's first goal. We won't ask the question as to why Sabres d-man Rasmus Ristolainen forgot Hockey 101 on a two-on-one break--cut off the pass, especially when there's a backcheck coming on the shooter--it happened and Buffalo had to play catch-up.

It was the second time this month that the Sabres got burned that quickly. The Sabres kicked off March with "McEichel-I" at First Niagara Center and Connor McDavid connected just :22 seconds into that game. The hullaballoo surrounding that goal was that Jack Eichel wasn't on the ice for the opening face off against McDavid, the franchise center picked on spot ahead of him in the draft last year. Eichel and linemates Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane weren't on the ice to start that game. Neither were Ristolainen and Josh Gorges, Buffalo's top defense pairing. But that group of five were on the ice for the Kamarov goal.

With the hometown fans in a tizzy, the Leafs extended their lead to 2-0 when former Sabre Brad Boyes banked one in off of Jake McCabe's skate and the Sabres found themselves in a hole headed into the first intermission.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Who can hang with Jack Eichel?

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Sabres GM Tim Murray was on WGR550 Thursday before Buffalo hosted the Calgary Flames. Murray covered a number of subjects during the nearly 25 minute interview with Chris "Bulldog" Parker and among them was whether or not there were wingers on this team right now who could run with rookie Jack Eichel long-term.

Murray stated that he wasn't sure, which is the correct answer in this case. This is a team that came into the season off of two consecutive last place finishes with a brand new coaching staff and a boatload of new faces. They had injuries to key players in D, Zach Bogosian and G, Robin Lehner right off the bat and also had injuries to Tyler Ennis and Evander Kane, two top-six forwards who were expected to do most of the running with Eichel. And not only was there a question of just where top-nine/six winger Jamie McGinn fit in, but there was also the question of how to use F, Sam Reinhart as his marked, steady improvement forced the center into the top-six equation.

Reinhart was drafted as a center, but was down the depth-chart in that role behind Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. Head coach Dan Bylsma moved him to the wing and the heady rookie worked extra hard entrench himself in a top-six role on the wing. Although Bylsma had Reinhart playing some center lately, he told the pre-Calgary game media that he likes Reinhart on the wing. "I think he's played his best on the wing for us," the coach said before facing the Flames, "and it's where he's gonna be the ne...well, tonight, anyway."

That little slip may have indicated that Reinhart should probably get comfortable with the idea that he'll probably be playing wing most of the way down the stretch. At least. Not that it's much of a problem. Reinhart, to the surprise of everyone, has scored 18 goals this season to go along with 12 assists while finding himself a home on the first powerplay unit. The draft book on Reinhart was that his off-the-charts hockey sense from the center position had all the earmarks of a premier set-up man, but he's shown the propensity to put the puck in the net and has really created a buzz because of it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pominville hands Buffalo tough shootout loss

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For much of the first period of Buffalo's 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, Sabres were out of synch. Passes were in skates, or not even close, especially trying to break out of their own zone and they would leave the first period down 1-0. But the light would click on for them as a fortuitous high-sticking call on Nino Niederreiter put the Sabres on the powerplay for four minutes.

Based upon the last few games, drawing any kind of minor would be cause for a declining of the penalty as the Sabres powerplay has been anything but as they were 1/16 in their last five games including going 1/8 with two, two-man advantages against the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Fortunately for the Sabres, the league does not allow a team to decline the penalty and the Sabres responded.

Assistant coach Dan Lambert, who came down from the pressbox to take over for an injured Dave Barr, made a couple of adjustments to the powerplay including distributing a little bit of the talent. Rookies Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart along with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen were on the top unit, as usual, but they were joined by Johan Larsson and Cal O'Reilly and it paid dividends.

Things we found out about...

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the game last night:

--Calgary's in a bad way right now. The Flames are a fast, young team that gave the Buffalo Sabres all kinds of trouble when they met earlier in the season. But last night they were in disarray for long stretches and took penalties (three hooking, two tripping and two interference) indicative of a team that was playing the game as step behind. And, for a team that came into the league ranked 30th in the league on the penalty kill (72.8%,) it made a bad situation even worse as they came up on the wrong end of a 6-3 score.

--It would seem as if Buffalo shook off the west coast road trip blues last night. It's been said time and again, most notably by WGR's Paul Hamilton, that coming home from a trip on the opposite coast is a tough task. The Sabres came back to Buffalo after a three-game trip to California and played a sub-par game against the Edmonton Oilers in "McEichel-I." Last night against Calgary was a different story as they came out skating. And, what a surprise, in a normally docile First Niagara Center, there were actually signs of life emanating from the crowd. I see a correlation, fast skating and aggressive play seems to excite the fan-base.

--When the Sabres skate they can be a pretty entertaining team and they played that way last night. Buffalo was particularly aggressive on penalty kill when they managed two short handed shots on goal in the first period including one on a 2-on-1 break where captain Brian Gionta's shot from in tight forced Flames' goalie Jonas Hiller into a very tough save. The crowd loved that then went bonkers as Marcus Foligno scored a shortie to put the Sabres up 2-1.

--Foligno's goal was on a quick snap that beat Hiller top-shelf. It's amazing what a quick snapper or wrister can do--quick off the stick and "Ping!" off the post and in. Bam! Foligno's goal was followed by one from Calgary's Dougie Hamilton :16 seconds later and then another one for Buffalo from Nicolas Deslauriers all three in a 1:17 span and all quick releases that went off the iron and in.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Keep an eye on at least two more Sabres for World Cup roster spots

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey preliminary rosters were announced yesterday with 16 players on each of the eight teams being locked in for the tournament that begins September 17 in Toronto, ON.

Although the tournament, which could run as late as October 1, conflicts with NHL training camps, the rosters are packed with the best that the NHL has to offer, many of whom would be minimally involved in their team's early preseason schedule.

Two Buffalo Sabres players have been selected to represent their respective countries/continents thus far--C, Jack Eichel and D, Rasmus Ristolanen.

Eichel will be on the North American team which is comprised of players under 23 yrs. of age with at target cut-off date of September 1. One only need to look at the crop of NHL rookies this year to know that the Youngstars team will be a formidable foe. Eichel will be joining the likes of fellow 2015 top-pick, phenom Connor McDavid and the No.2 rookie goal-scorer in the Detroit Red Wings', Dylan Larkin. Names like Nathan MacKinnon (COL,) Aaron Ekblad (FLA,) Johnny Gaudreau (CGY,) and Brandon Saad (CBJ) are also a part of the preliminary North American roster.

Ristolainen was tabbed to be a part of Team Finland. The Sabres defenseman is no stranger to the world stage as he scored the golden goal for Finland in overtime at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden. Which fans can watch here, thanks to NHLUniverse:

Not surprisingly, Ristolainen was named the tournament's best defenseman.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

NBC drops the ball as Connor McDavid steals the show in Buffalo

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NBC had the opportunity to showcase the future of the NHL last night with the first-ever "McEichel Matchup" as Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers visited Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres. It was the first time that the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft faced off against each other and it was slated for a national U.S. audience on the NBC Sports Network.

But the network decided to bail on that game and show a matchup of a known rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. It didn't matter that hockey fans have seen more than their fair share of Sidney Crosby versus Alexander Ovechkin over the course of the last 10 seasons, nor did it matter that McDavid looks as if he'll surpass both of them in the annals of NHL history. Although it might be jumping the gun a bit, McDavid is the real deal.

Perhaps WGR Sabres' beat writer Paul Hamilton put it best when he said that McDavid could be the best prospect since Mario Lemieux while Eichel could be the best since Crosby.

For all but :22 seconds into the first when McDavid scored the first goal of the game and the ten or so seconds prior to McDavid's overtime winner 3:48 into the overtime session, NBC seemed to have made the right call.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2015-16 Team Stats--February

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Because of the amount of information that has been rolling through the consciousness of every hockey fan attached to their NHL teams and affiliates, were going to keep this team stats page as brief as possible.

The Buffalo Sabres finished the month of February in 26th place and proceeded to move what players they could at the NHL Trade Deadline yesterday. All-in-all the team is playing well despite their 25-31-7 record and yesterday at the podium GM Tim Murray mentioned that after a reporter prepped a question by saying "the improvement in areas of [the Sabres] has been pretty clear this year."

After the reporter finished, Murray took the opportunity to lay out just how he felt about the team's progression.

"I'm actually happy you said that because I was hoping I wasn't the only one that thought we improved in many different areas other than the standings," began Murray. "I know where we are in the standings. It's frustrating and it pisses me off, but I think we've improved greatly."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tim Murray makes one move during a weak trade deadline, eyes the off season

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The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's matchup with the Edmonton Oilers minus two players who were with the club when the season began--D, Mike Weber and F, Jamie McGinn. Sabres GM Tim Murray started out yesterday's post-trade deadline press conference by thanking both for their services in Buffalo.

"First I'd really like to thank Mike [Weber] and Jamie [McGinn] for their contributions here," said Murray to the gathered press. "Obviously Mike [was here in Buffalo] a long time, [was] a very good Sabre on and off the ice. Very good to me [during] my time here even down the stretch when he knew that he could be leaving town.

"I just spoke to Jamie and he was very gracious too. I want to thank both of those guys. They're character guys that more often than not you're looking for versus trading away but that's the position we're in."

2015-16 Individual Stats--February

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Although the attention of the hockey world is focused upon today's 3 P.M. trade deadline, there's usually some time before the West Coast offices wake up and things really heat up in the trade market.

The Sabres played some hockey last month to the tune of an up and down 5-5-3 record. Individually there were the usual suspects hitting the scoresheet with a trade as well as a significant injury thrown in for good measure. The familiar names leading the point procession are there, but how they arrived at them is interesting to note.

For instance, as usual, Ryan O'Reilly always appears in the points-leader category and it's no different this time. But what's different is how the team leader in points got there. For the month of February O'Reilly lead the team in points with nine and all of them came from assists with five of them being primary, which lead the team also. No goals for O'Reilly, who lead the team in that category up until this month was rather unusual and it will be a while until he can rectify that situation as he'll be out at least another week or two with a lower body injury.

Carrying the weight in the goal-scoring department was Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart. Kane in particular is really starting to heat up as his nine goals in the last two months coupled with O'Reilly's drought has the two tied for second on the team with 17, one behind Reinhart.