Monday, October 31, 2016

Analytics, schmanalytics...

...sometimes you just gotta will your way to a win.

Published by, 10-30-2016

It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it would have made former head coach Ted Nolan proud. Nolan, who twice had stints asd the Buffalo Sabres head coach was never aan X’s and O’s kinda guy, he just got his players to believe that if you worked hard and kept at it things would eventually go your way. Often times he was right, then again, he wasn’t right enough to remain coaching in an ever-evolving NHL. Yesterday was one of those games for the Sabres where it went right as they came away with a hard-earned, 3-0 shutout win against the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center.
For the time being, possession is the trend d’jour in the NHL and the Panthers went heavily in that direction this off season. After making the playoffs for the first time in three years with a good, young mix of talented young players that look to be on the rise, management made the decision to upgrade the blueline with analytics darlings like former NY Ranger Keith Yandel and former Sabre, Mark Pysyk. In the process they traded away gritty, Nolanesque type d-men in Eric Gudbranson, who went to Vancouver and Dmitry Kulikov, who was part of the Pysyk trade.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

On Florida, Pysyk/Kulikov and Kevin Oklobzija

Published by, 10-29-2016

“Every time they got [the puck on a turnover], they put it in the back of the net. Transition is a big part of the game and three of the last four goals we've given up were in transition. We've made some bad decisions at the blue line and gave them Grade-A scoring chances. They score and that's it.

"I would be lying if I thought that (injuries) didn't have a little bit to do with it, but I think we're playing good hockey, guys are buying in and competing. Sometimes they try to do too much. We have a lot of new bodies in our lineup, guys are feeling their way with new partners, linemates>"

That was Florida head coach Gerard Gallant talking to the gathered media (via the Miami Herald) about his Panthers team after practice at KeyBank Center. Florida has a matinee game against the Buffalo Sabres this afternoon and the young team is struggling a bit early in the season.

Florida is coming to Buffalo on a two-game losing streak but for Gallant it's not that they lost both, but it's how they lost. “We were leading and then gave up two on turnovers," said Gallant of their most recent loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Overall, I liked our game, thought we were good enough to win them. We just made some bad mistakes.”

Kinda sounds familiar, doesn't it, Sabres fans?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Under pressure

Published by, 10-28-2016

"The first goal was kind of a punch in the gut," lamented Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma as he addressed the gathered media post-game, "it kinda takes the wind out of our sails."

Bylsma was at his post-game presser talking about another loss, this one on the heels of Buffalo's third period collapse in Philadelphia on Thursday. In that game, the Sabres went into the third period with a three-goal lead, ready to finish off an early season, four-game road trip with two points gained in a rather decisive manner. Instead, three third period penalties lead to three unanswered third period goals and Buffalo ended up losing in the shootout to the Flyers, 4-3.

If there was ever a case for taking away the "loser point" Buffalo received for losing in the shootout, that game was it. Not only did they blow a third period lead for the second time in three games, they played keep away in the five minute, three-on-three overtime session mustering only one shot on goal. For a team that's now 2-8 in the shootout since Bylsma took over last year, playing keep away in overtime is a curious approach.

Having thick skin is a hallmark of a true professional and the Sabres certainly didn't have that coming into the game last night. How ironic that they as a team didn't have the intestinal fortitude to come out determined on Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Buffalo as a smattering of boos were heard during their 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

When asked right off the bat whether the previous game had affected his team Bylsma said, "it felt like a little carryover. We were squeezing our sticks a little bit. We weren't able to execute. We got a little nervous with the puck.

"I don't know if that's from the Philly game but that's what it felt like in the first [period]."

If Bylsma wasn't exactly sure there was a carryover, Buffalo forward Ryan O'Reilly certainly felt there was. "We were all trying to be a little too perfect, we didn't want to be the guy making the mistake.

"I felt it. The other guys felt it. We made a lot of personal errors. Guys just made little mistakes and you go into the next game and you want to play hockey but you think 'OK. I don't want to [make a mistake]"

Stop me if you've heard that one before, Sabres fans. How many times during the Darcy Regier/Lindy Ruff years did we come across situations exposing thin skin with lamentations about playing scared?

If the team is feeling this much pressure five or six games into the season, what does it say about the team moving forward?

Granted, losing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane is a big blow to the Sabres. Losing two top-six forwards on a team that's just beginning to climb out of the abyss that was two consecutive last place finishes is a huge blow. But the past two games are more about character than it is about talent and it's a direct reflection on the coaching staff as well as GM Tim Murray, who put this team together. How Bylsma and Murray address this remains to be seen, but they need to get on it pretty quick. The season could slip away as they have five games in seven days coming up.

The loss of Eichel and Kane exposed some deep flaws on this team. The overall speed of the speed of team is diminished considerably with those two out--on the forecheck and backcheck as well--and the teams sniping ability took a hit as well. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been playing extremely well since landing in Minnesota and a team like Buffalo needs all the firepower it can get when facing a top goalie.

It didn't help that starting goalie Robin Lehner has been on the sidelines the last two games due to illness either. Would he have stopped the collapse in Philly? Methinks so, but more importantly Lehner seems to have a much thicker skin and may have been able to help stave off a carryover like the Sabres had last night.

Make no mistake, the Minnesota's Joel Eriksson-Ek's pinpoint laser from below the dot left many awestruck as he hit a teacup-sized area to light the lamp. Then again, had Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson been out in the crease a fraction more, that opening would have been closed. At 6'6" 217 lbs. Nilsson has a large frame, but he was deep in his crease all night, as if looking for a safe-haven, and it made him play small as his .857 save percentage in the game will attest.

Bylsma's been at the helm for over a year now. He transitioned the team from the "just play hard" philosophy of former coach Ted Nolan to a more heady, system-oriented approach which has gotten mixed results, mostly on the negative side. There was a period of adjustment where some players got it right away while with others it took some time. After laying an egg at KeyBank center to open the season, and looking like they were in complete disarray in the 4-1 loss, the Sabres looked the complete opposite in a 6-2 drubbing of the Oilers in Edmonton. However, from their they've taken four steps back.

Perhaps they have too many X's and O's right now and it's clogging up their synapses. Hockey is a game and as we've found out on many occasions the mental aspect is a huge component but sometimes getting back to basics is the best way to get out of a funk. "Just get back to playing hockey," said O'Reilly. "Win the 1-on-1 battles, support each other, play together."

Regardless of how they approach Saturday's matinee against the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center, the Sabres will need to toughen up. If they can't handle the pressure now, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Published by, 10-26-2016

If it was the 90's and "Iron Mike" Keeanan was the coach of the Buffalo Sabres, a third period performance like the one last night it would be bag-skate day at practice this morning. It wouldn't matter if the team had a three-game in four night stretch coming up with back-to-back day games, the latter of which is in Winnipeg. A third period collapse like the one last night where the Sabres gave up a three-goal lead then proceeded to lose the game in the shootout is unacceptable, especially when Philadelphia was coming off of a 3-1 loss in Montreal the prior night.

Playoff teams don't blow a three-goal, third period lead in a game like that.

The Sabres fell into some bad habits last night that cost them dearly and it began with a fourth line that was disjointed on their first shift of the third period. Rookie Hudson Fasching took a hooking call and the Sabres almost killed off the penalty. But with less than :30 seconds left, 19 yr. old Travis Konecny redirected a shot from 19 yr. old Ivan Provorov and just like that the Flyers found some life.

The Sabres played smart hockey until Buffalo defenseman Dmitry Kulikov caught Philly's Jakub Voracek with a bone-jarring late hit at the Sabres blueline. Kulikov was called for charging by te referee as they found that the head was not the initial point of contact. Although Kulikov got the penalty it was set up by Buffalo forward Johan  Larsson who got a little too cute in his own zone and coughed up the puck.

The penalty came with 3:20 left in the game and just :24 seconds into the powerplay, the Flyers caught the Sabres out of position and a cross ice pass to Brayden Schenn was in the back of the Sabres net.

A poor decision by Marcus Foligno lead to Sam Reinhart eventually being called for a high stick. Reinhart blocked a shot in his own zone then headed up ice. Foligno picked up his drop pass and hit the Flyers blueline but instead of making the smart play and getting the puck deep, he tried to get too cute and sent an ill-advised pass back to Reinhart who had a man right on him. The puck was intercepted, Reinhart went to the box for the high stick and :36 seconds later the game was tied.

As much as you can fault the players in this one, they're an extension of coaching and management. Head coach Dan Bylsma's decision to move Reinhart to center between Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons did pay off as Ennis deflected a Girgensons shot to get the Sabres the 1-0 lead. But Bylsma, who's known for juggling lines as much as, if not moreso than former Sarbes head coach Lindy "The Tinkerer" Ruff also mixed up his defensive pairings.

Bylsma broke up his most solid d-pairing dating back to last season in Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe. The idea was to ramp up Kulkiov's playing time but it backfired. There was very little chemistry between Bogosian and Kulikov, and it showed on the Flyers first powerplay goal, while McCabe was sent to the great outpost known as the Isle of Franson and hopefully returns unscathed for the next game.

Buffalo's fourth line fell apart in the third period. Even though they did manage a scoring opportunity, having rookie Hudson Fasching play with a checking-line/depth player like Nicolas Deslauriers and an NHL/AHL tweener like Derek Grant. Fasching himself doesn't look ready for prime time as he's still having some trouble catching up to the NHL game. There are more and better options in Rochester, like Cole Schneider or Cal O'Reilly and this fixation with Fasching caught up to the team.

One player who's been in Bylsma's doghouse for over a year is Girgensons. Often times last year Girgensons was part of an "out-line" that came on the ice after a penalty kill to stabilize things when restoring order to the lines, but he's been used very little in that role so far this year. He was also used extensively on the penalty kill before Bylsma's arrival and lead the team with three shorthanded goals in the 2014-15 season. Sometimes X's and O's are overrated.

What it comes down to is this--it was a team/organizational collapse last night from the decisions to bring up certain players, to the use of players and the construction of the defense pairings to the players themselves. We know about "Iron Mike" and his tough approach to players but when it comes to coaching and management, had this been the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin NY Yankees, "The Boss" would have been all over Martin for a collapse like that.

For the second time in three games the Sabres coughed up a point after blowing leads in the third period--at Calgary and at Philadelphia. Those are two points that may be desperately needed during the stretch-drive if their in the running for a playoff spot.

Some may write this one off, but fact is, what transpired last night is totally unacceptable.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

End of a road trip, start of a busy schedule, plus some moves

Published by, 10-25-2016

It's been a good while since the Buffalo Sabres came back from their three-game, western Canada swing and they had so much time between road games (four days) that the team was able to come back to Buffalo to practice before heading to Philadelphia for tonight's bout against the Flyers.

All that time away from the ice is about to end as the team begins a four-game in six-night block of games that ends with back-to-back games afternoon games vs Florida on Saturday and at Winnipeg on Sunday. The Sabres stay in the mid-west to kick off November with a game against Minnesota on the first. From then it's six games in 10 nights, two days off, then six games in 11 nights playing every other day.

Buffalo is still without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane who are out long-term with injuries. An update on Eichel still had him in a walking boot nearly two weeks after suffering a high-ankle sprain while Kane is just beginning to get some movement after suffering three cracked ribs after crashing hard into the boards in the season opener. Two day, two top-six players gone for weeks.

In their absence the Buffalo has gone 1-2-1 with all their points coming on the road during the first three games of this road trip. With the Sabres scoring six of their 11 goals in one game, head coach Dan Bylsma has scoring concerns and he's trying to address them by moving forward Sam Reinhart to center between speedy jitterbug Tyler Ennis and a hard-driving Zemgus Girgensons.

After Sunday's practice Bylsma mentioned the need for Reinhart to get his feet moving more and the 20 yr. old concurred after practice yesterday. "I think when I'm playing my best I'm moving my feet and I'm taking away time and space on the forecheck from their defenders," Reinhart told the gathered media yesterday. "I think at times when I move to center it helps me do that and if I ever get a chance to go back to wing it I think it benefits my game that much more."

A shift back to the wing may very well be in Reinhart's future but for the present he's spent the last two days at practice with Ennis and Girgensons. The combined stat-line for the three coming into the game tonight is one goal and three assists.

Bylsma did more tinkering the past two days as he moved defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to the second pairing alongside Zach Bogosian in an effort to get him more ice-time. Kulikov ranks third amongst Buffalo d-men behind Rasmus Ristolainen (24:53) and Jake McCabe (20:20.) Most of Kulikov's 20:07 ATOI has come five-on-five (17:45) but he's been getting work with the powerplay units over the last couple of day.

Kulikov went to the ice writhing in pain after a check sent him and his tailbone smashing into the corner of an open bench door.

The big news for Buffalo is back up goaltender Anders Nilsson getting his first start in a Sabres uniform. Starter Robin Lehner is out with an illness so Nilsson gets the call.  Fans in Buffalo (and possibly around the league) were scratching their collective heads at GM Tim Murray's trade for Nilsson. Murray sent a 2017 fifth-rounder to the St. Louis Blues for Nilsson and his career 3.09 goals against average, .900 save percentage and overall 19-22-4 NHL record. However, Nilsson did have a strong training camp.

Goalie Linus Ullmark got the call from Rochester to be Nilsson's back up. Ullmark has been rounding into form for the Amerks after a rough start. In four games he's 3-1-0 with a 2.75 gaa and a .926 sv%. He started out 1-1 giving up four goals in each game on a combined 73 shots (.890 sv%) but since has gone 2-0 allowing only three goals even though he continued to get shelled in net to the tune of 75 shots (.960 sv%.)

Buffalo also recalled forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson from Rochester after the Amerks 3-1 win at Binghamton against the Senators (OTT) Saturday night.

The game tonight is on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m., just a half-hour before Game-1 of an intriguing World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs. Buffalo fans know all about droughts but this one features a Cleveland franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1948 and Cubs franchise that hasn't done so since 1908. The last Cubs appearance in the fall classic was in 1945.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Disco Dan doing the Sabres shuffle

Published by, 10-24-2016

In their first game together as a line they came out on fire and looked as if they'd been playing together for years. Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo hit the Rogers Place ice in Edmonton, Alberta and proceeded to light up the Oilers for three goals and four assists in a 6-2 Sabres victory. From there the team traveled to Calgary and Vancouver with the trio accounting for only one goal (O'Reilly) and one assist (Okposo) against the Flames and zilch against the Canucks.

Reinhart, who sparkled in his rookie campaign last season with 23 goals (second on the team) and 42 points (third) has hit a speed bump as he's been held to two assists through four games. Reinhart hasn't been playing poorly as his even plus/minus alludes to, but he hasn't taken the reigns on the top line in the absence of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.

Head coach Dan Bylsma did some juggling yesterday an told the gathered media after practice yesterday that the team is "looking for more balance" in the top-nine. Bylsma moved Reinhart to another line centering Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons, who was at center and is now on the wing again, to make room for Matt Moulson who's made a strong pitch to exercise the demons from last year.

Bylsma pointed out that Moulson had played with Okposo before (for the NY Islanders) and "had some chemistry before" while also pointing out that he was "around the net" and had numerous scoring chances in Vancouver. Moulson has been a different player through four games and even though both of his goals have come on the powerplay, he's been working hard to get into position to score, which is a far cry from his eight-goal, 2015-16 campaign.

For Bylsma, moving Reinhart to center (hopefully) works on a couple of levels. As mentioned, the Sabres are in need of secondary scoring and perhaps distributing the wealth, so to speak, can spark the trio as Ennis is also goalless while Girgensons has just one on the year. But Bylsma also pointed out that Reinhart needs some jump in his step. While acknowledging that Reinhart has made some "great plays for us," Bylsma needs more from Reinhart. "I think Sam needs to get his feet moving a little more and needs a little more speed to his game," he said. "We need more out of Sam--playing a little bit faster, a little bit quicker--and [for him] to provide a little more offense for our team."

One line Bylsma isn't touching is the Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta, Marcus Foligno line. Reunited late in the 4-1 opening night loss to Montreal, the trio easily found the chemistry that last year made them the most consistent line on the team. Through four games they've combined for three goals and seven points while humming the net with scoring chances. Bylsma pointed out yesterday that Foligno has had 10 scoring chances while Gionta and Larsson have had eight each.

Outside of the six-goal outburst against Edmonton, the Sabres have only been able to score four goals in the other three games forcing "Disco Dan" to do his shuffle.

We'll see how it works out in Philadelphia tomorrow night.


One more note. Apparently some Sabres players are dealing with illness. Bylsma wouldn't confirm individual players but the reporters noticed that goaltender Robin Lehner "didn't look good coming out of the locker room." Bylsma said that illness has affected four or five players "a couple," he said, "of the Scandinavian culture." Lehner is from Sweden.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Fasching, Nelson back as Buffalo readies for the Flyers

Published by, 10-23-2016

Forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson got the call from Buffalo to return to the Sabres after helping the Rochester Americans to a division sweep of the Toronto Marlies (TOR) and Binghamton Senators (OTT.) Both players were on Buffalo's opening night roster and accompanied the team on the recent western Canada swing before being sent to Rochester on Friday.

Fasching played the first two games for the Sabres--a 4-1 loss vs. Montreal and a 6-2 win at Edmonton--but was held off the scoresheet and finished a minus-1. Nelson played in only one game, for Buffalo replacing an injured Dmitry Kulikov. Against the Canadiens Nelson skated 11:47, did not register a point and finished the game a minus-1.

Both Fasching, 21, and Nelson, 24 did have an immediate impact in Rochester as Fasching jumped on a puck in the neutral zone and roofed a wrister on a breakaway to stake the Amerks to a 2-1 lead over Toronto and Nelson scored on the powerplay to give Rochester a two-goal, third period cushion as the Amerks won 5-2. Last night at Binghamton, neither registered a point in Rochester's 3-1 win over the Senators.

The Sabres and Amerks have alternating schedules from now until Saturday when both teams will be playing. The action this week is with the Sabres as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in the last of a four-game road trip. On Thursday Buffalo welcomes the Minnesota Wild.

Rochester is off until Friday when they travel to the outpost known as St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada for a two-game stint against the Ice Caps (MTL.)

At forward, Williamsville native Cole Schneider is off to a roaring start and made a pitch for a call with three goals and eight points in five games for the Amerks while on defense Taylor Fedun has been making his presence known with a goal and three assists in five games.

With Jack Eichel and Evander Kane both out with long-term injuries, the Sabres will be doing some juggling until either they return or GM Tim Murray decides to trade for forward help. Buffalo has the top-six on defense in place and are simply in need of a reserve d-man unless injury hits one of those six.

With Fasching and Nelson getting the call it would seem as if both are the preferred choices for Buffalo as they tray to navigate some pretty choppy waters early in the season. Both have played well and have contributed to the Sabres and both are getting valuable time in Buffalo skating with the regulars.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Look for some yo-yoing between Buffalo and Rochester this week

Published by, 10-22-2016

It started yesterday at noon when three players--forwards Nick Baptiste and Hudson Fasching plus defenseman Casey Nelson--were sent to Rochester. All three had just finished a western Canada swing with the Buffalo Sabres and represented the cavalry for the Americans this weekend beginning with a game against the rival Toronto Marlies last night.

After a sluggish start the Amerks slowly came to life scoring twice late in the second period to take a 2-1 lead as Fasching scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway late in the stanza. Nelson also contributed after Toronto closed the gap in the third as he sent a top-shelf wrister that put the Amerks up 4-2 late in the third period. Daniel Catenacci scored an empty-netter as Rochester improved to 2-2 on the season.

As with all AHL teams, Rochester is at the mercy of the parent club. Injuries in Buffalo have taken top-six forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane out of the lineup forcing the Amerks into a feeder role right off the bat as two forwards from Rochester were needed to replace them. Add in the strong play of Derek Grant who forced his way on to the Sabres roster with an impressive training camp and that's three forwards from the planned Amerks roster that were missing opening weekend.

The Amerks started their season last weekend with three games in three nights, minus Fasching, Nelson and center Grant. Somehow they came away with a win in the opener against Hershey (WSH) but after Baptiste was recalled last Saturday, the Amerks proceeded to drop a home-and-home with Syracuse (TBL.) The Crunch outscored Rochester by a 10-4 margin in those two games and outshot them by a combined 74-42. The Amerks were outshot in all three games last weekend by a combined 103-54.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Next stop, Philly. What we learned from the western Canada swing

Published by, 10-21-16

The Buffalo Sabres are off until Tuesday when they finish their four-game road trip with a stop in Philadelphia to face the Flyers. Buffalo just completed a western Canada swing where they went 1-1-1 and outscored their opponents 11-8.  Heading into Vancouver last night the Sabres special teams were on track with the powerplay clicking at a 25% rate while the penalty kill had not allowed a goal and was nine-for-nine. They left Rogers Place with a 19% conversion rate after going 0-5 on the PP vs. the Canucks while their PK dropped to 92.8% after allowing their first goal against as Vancouver went 1-5 with the man advantage.

Numbers change, obviously, throughout the course of the season as hot start cools and vise-versa. Good teams can go in a funk or get stronger. Strong teams sometimes take a while to get going while bad teams offer glimmers of hope but just don't have the horses to compete and in the end succumb to lack of talent.

The Sabres are coming off of a good season where they pulled themselves out of the basement. Last year they started out rough, steadied the ship and began to make serious progress by the end of the season. This season looked to be promising but it was undercut by two key injuries in a span of about 24 hours. Jack Eichel went down with a high-ankle sprain at practice the day before opening night and winger Evander Kane crashed heavily into the boards in the opener and cracked three ribs. Both are out long-term.

In their absence lines have been shuffled, roles have changed and through four games head coach Dan Bylsma has stabilized things and is in search of consistency. The Sabres got schooled in the opener by the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 then proceeded to blow out the Edmonton Oilers on the first game of this road trip, 6-2. They played sporadically good hockey vs. Calgary but blew three one-goal leads, including twice in the third period, then proceeded to lose in overtime 4-3.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ice-time shows Buffalo not taking points for granted this early in the season.

Published by, 10-20-16

Often times, a teams playoff destiny can be traced to points lost or gained in October and November, especially a team like the Buffalo Sabres this season who some consider a playoff bubble team. Although losing a point here or there doesn’t seem like a lot in an 82-game season, they can add up and Buffalo is not taking anything for granted at this early stage of the game as the line up and ice-time indicate.

Do you remember when head coach Dan Bylsma said that the team would be paring back defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s 25:16 average time on ice per game last season? It's actually up through three games this season to 25:21. Center Ryan O'Reilly was suffering from back spasms for opening night to the point where he would only take faceoffs from the right side. Amongst forwards he's averaging a league-leading 22:30 minutes of ice-time per game or about :45 seconds more per game than he did last season when he also lead all forwards in ATOI. Other players like defenseman Jake McCabe, who lead all Sabres in plus/minus last season, has seen his ice-time increase after earning time on the powerplay (2:07 PPTOI) as has forward Sam Reinhart who is skating on the top line and playing and extra 1:37/game thus far.

All four were definitive contributors last season. As mentioned, Ristolainen lead the team in ice-time and O'Reilly lead the team in points while Reinhart was second in goals (23) as a rookie. With the Sabres missing Jack Eichel and Evander Kane the responsibility of carrying the load rests mainly on their shoulders and they've done yeoman's work thus far as Buffalo heads to Vancouver with a 1-1-1 record.

Assistant captain O'Reilly is well aware of the importance of every point and after losing to the Calgary Flames in overtime on Tuesday he let it be known he was none too happy. "We were lucky to get one point really. The way we played was pathetic at times and it starts with myself. I had so many chances, I have to bury them. That was really nothing what we wanted. We could have walked away with a win here and we have to respond now."

It was the second game of a three-game western Canada swing for Buffalo which is a pretty tough situation to begin with for a relatively young team. The Sabres also played a Flames team that was desperate for a win after starting the season 0-2-1. And it didn't help that Buffalo had a couple of things go against them during the game but facts are facts and the bottom line is that they had a one-goal lead three times, including twice in the third period, but couldn't lock it down.

The Sabres face a surprising Canucks team with a quirky stat. Vancouver is 3-0 with all three wins coming after never having the lead in regulation.

Buffalo has not fared all that well against Vancouver going 1-8-1 on the road in their last 10. The Sabres last won in Vancouver was March 13, 2012 and they're coming off a 5-2 loss last year that capped off an o-fer, three-game western Canada swing as they were outscored by Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary by a combined 13-7. This season through two games the Sabres have outscored the Oilers and Canucks by a combined 10-6 and have three points to show for it.

Game time is 10:00 p.m. ET and rumor has it that backup goalie Anders Nilsson may be in net for the Sabres. In net for Vancouver will be Jacob Markstrom (2-0, 1.97 gaa, .913 sv%) as former Sabre Ryan Miller remains on the sideline with an injury.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Some positives for Buffalo after letting a point slip away in Calgary

Published by, 10-19-2016

The Buffalo Sabres gave up three one-goal leads last night against the Calgary Flames and eventually lost in overtime 4-3. Although disappointment was the prevailing theme after the game, there were a lot of positives to take away. Sure the Sabres blew three one-goal leads, including two in the third period, only to lose in OT, but they've managed points in back-to-back games on this road trip and now stand 1-1-1 on the season after an ugly opening night loss. There was frustration in the locker room overall for losing a point but the team in general has to like where they are right now.

First off, Buffalo was able to get a point in the second game of a four-game road trip. After grabbing two points on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres managed to come away with another one with their OT loss against Calgary. Last season on the same western Canada road trip, which will end in Vancouver on Thursday, Buffalo went without a point.

The team in general looks to be at ease with head coach Dan Bylsma's systems. Often times last night we saw an entire group turn in unison and head up ice in what looked like synchronized skating. Even Zemgus Girgensons, who has been struggling for various reasons, which included having trouble with his place in the system, found himself in the right spot twice and scored a goal on the second one. There were lapses and at times, especially on the overtime goal, where the team was caught chasing, but for the most part they played in unison.

Buffalo's special teams are excelling. The penalty kill has yet to allow a goal in three games. They successfully killed off three penalties in the first two games, which is also a tribute to playing in control, then they held the Flames scoreless on six opportunities. And last night with the team down two men for two minutes an errant Calgary high-stick caught Ryan O'Reilly and the players on the ice played keep-away for nearly 30 seconds to burn off time on the delayed penalty. The powerplay has been doing it exactly as diagramed and is 4/16 through the first three games with at least one PP goal in each. Matt Moulson, who had a horrendous season last year may have found a spot in and around the net on the top PP unit. He has two goals on the season, both on the powerplay.

It's not surprising that O'Reilly and the rest of the Sabres on the ice were aware of the delayed penalty situation last night and played keep-away. Most of the team is playing smart hockey especially the O'Reilly and his linemates--Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo--on the top line. O'Reilly and Reinhart have innate hockey sense to be able to play with anyone in any situation, as we saw that last season, but what we've seen so far is that Okposo brings those very same traits and the three on a line has been a joy to watch.

Sabres forward Marcus Foligno has been playing quite well since Bylsma reunited him with center Johan Larsson and right-wing Brian Gionta and he may have found out just how far playing angry can take him. After sending a puck off the referee's skate last night that landed on the stick of Calgary Flames forward Michael Ferland, who scored to tie the game, Foligno's rage at the ref turned positive 2:39 later. Foligno got the puck at center ice with a head of steam, pulled off a nifty move against two Flames defenders and sent an angry wrister that smoked Calgary goalie, and former Sabre, Chad Johnson. Ah, vindication.

That said, the players weren't happy with the loser point last night. Captain O'Reilly, who's always hard on himself as he strives for perfection told the gathered media after the game, "We were lucky to get one point really. The way we played was pathetic at times and it starts with myself. I had so many chances, I have to bury them. That was really nothing what we wanted. We could have walked away with a win here and we have to respond now."

Foligno, who yelled at the ref and slammed his stick on the ice after the turnover had a cooler head post-game. "You can yell all you want but the ref has the right to be there," he said. "It's a bad bounce and you just suck it up."

The refs didn't exactly have a great game as evidenced by the OT goal. Reinhart took a cross-check from behind and into the boards behind the Buffalo net in what's normally a penalty. But the refs let it go, Buffalo's players started chasing and Sean Monahan found himself all alone in front of goalie Robin Lehner who had no chance on the play.

Speaking of Lehner, despite his pedestrian stat-line of 1-1-1 with a 3.33 goals against average and .890 save percentage, he has looked good. His off-season work-out plan looks to have made him quicker and he's come up with a big save or two every game thus far.

The Sabres are hurting without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane who accounted for 43 goals last season, but on the positive side of it, the team is sticking to the systems in place and as a whole is coming to the rink with their work boots on. After the stinker in the opener, in general the Sabres have put together two pretty strong games.

Buffalo leaves western Canada after their game with Vancouver tomorrow and will fly home before they head out to Philadephia for a tilt with the Flyers Tuesday, October 25th.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Buffalo lights up the Oilers as McDavid's words proves prophetic

Published by hockeybuzz, 10-17-2016

The Edmonton Oilers headed into yesterday's game against the Buffalo Sabres having beaten cross-province rival Calgary by a combined 12-7 score with a gameplan that hearkenened back to the 80's glory days of Wayne Gretzky and Co. Phenom Connor McDavid lead the charge for the Oilers with three goals and three assist in back-to-back three-point games but midst the euphoria surrounding the Oilers start, McDavid threw a cautionary note to the gathered press after practice Saturday .

“You want to want to win the game any way you can and it’s definitely nicer winning it 7-4 than losing 7-4,” he said. “If you’re going to win 1-0 or 10-9 it’s about getting it done but ultimately we do need to tighten it up. I don’t think you can expect us to get 5-7 goals every game. That’s not the type of hockey that’s successful.”

Seven goals is what the Oilers would have needed last night to beat Buffalo after the Sabres exploded for six goals in a 6-2 win at Rogers Place. Even though Buffalo was without Jack Eichel and winger Evander Kane, who are sidelined with long-term injuries, the cavalry did come in the form of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov who both made their Sabres debuts last night.

Okposo got his first goal as a Sabre in the first period on a beautiful feed from linemate Sam Reinhart then proceeded to chip in primary assist on the first of Ryan O'Reilly's two goals. The Oilers who tie it up at 2-2 late in the first period but the Sabres scored four unanswered against a Edmonton team that was described by their head coach, Todd McLellan, as "The Bad News Bears."

Except for that stretch late in the first period when the Oilers tied the game, Buffalo was pretty much in control from start to finish. It was a team game through and through for the Sabres with every player strappin' on their work boots to get the job done. Buffalo frustrated the hell out of Edmonton all night to the point where the Oilers Patrick Maroon crashed the net hard and tried to get to goalie Robin Lehner by bumping into him. He was swarmed and in the process McDavid, who was right there in the crease got forcibly cleared out by Buffalo defenseman Josh Gorges. McDavid was having trouble with Gorges all night as he was held without a point and finished the game with only one shot on goal.

Lehner was stingy all night as he seemed hell-bent on not letting anything past him. It began early for the fiery Swede as the kicked out his leg to stop a point-blank shot from Jesse Puljujarvi less than two minutes into the game. Not long after O'Reilly stole the puck in the Edmonton zone, got it over to Reinhart who slithered a pass to Okposo who buried it into a wide open net.

Chemistry is often talked about and head coach Dan Bylsma may have found himself a top line in O'Reilly, Reinhart and Okposo who worked well together all night. Last year both O'Reilly and Reinhart seemed to be able to work with whatever linemates Bylsma gave them and Okposo looks to be the beneficiary moving forward.

Bylsma also tapped into a successful line from last year when he reunited Johan Larsson between powerforward Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta. Larsson was his usual dogged, pesky self while Foligno rumbled across the ice all night while Gionta used his veteran savvy to score twice. The first was on a nice tip off of a shot from Jake McCabe at the point and while his second came from the hard work of Foligno and a nice feed from Larsson. That line finished the night with two goals, two assists and a plus-four rating.

The second of three games on this western Canada road trip is tomorrow at Calgary. Goaltender Brian Elliot was the victim in Calgary's first two losses at the hands of the Oilers allowing 10 goals on 55 shots (.818 save percentage.) Former Sabre Chad Johnson was in net on Saturday at Vancouver and was much better allowing only one goal on 31 shots but the Flames fell in the shootout.

On the same western Canada swing last season Buffalo was outscored by a combined 13-7 in three regulation losses to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"McEichel II" is on hold as Buffalo faces an offensive juggenaut in Edmonton

Published by, 10-16-2016

They were the top two picks in the 2015 NHL draft and ended up in different conferences--Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers in the West and Jack Eichel for the Buffalo Sabers in the East. However, despite being over 2,000 miles apart will forever be joined as "McEichel" and their paths will cross only twice per NHL season lest the two teams make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The NHL has to be thrilled right now as the not only does the league have McDavid and Eichel, but also rookie Auston Matthews playing at “The Center of the Hockey Universe” in Toronto.  They couldn’t have asked for much more as three franchise-type teenagers are in place to lead three troubled franchises as the eventual faces of the league for years to come. McDavid looks to be heir-apparent to Wayne Gretzky, Eichel and his blue collar roots looks ready to carry the load in Buffalo while Arizona-native Matthews, the crowning jewel of a Commissioner Gary Bettman's non-traditional market expansion, is set to take his place atop Mount Maple Leaf as the savior of an Orignial Six franchise.
Those three represent merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to burgeoning young talent hitting the ice in the NHL. There’s Dylan Larkin in Detroit, Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in Colorodo Max Domi in Arizona, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in Toronto as well as Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin, New Jersey’s Taylor Hall and defensemen Aaron Ekblad (FLA,) Victor Hedman (TBL,) Shayne Gostisbeher (PHI) and Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, to name a few.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Nick Baptiste gets the call to replace injured Evander Kane

Published by, 10-15-2016

The Rochester Americans opened their 61st season with a 5-4 win over the Hershey Bears (WSH) last night. Rochester's top line of Cal O'Reilly, Cole Schneider and Nick Baptiste powered the club with four goals and four assists. Schneider had two goals and two assists while O'Reilly and Baptiste each contributed a goal and an assist. After the game it was Baptiste who got the call to Buffalo to replace Evander Kane who will be out weeks with three cracked ribs.

Buffalo begins a three-game Western Canada swing with a game tomorrow at  7 p.m. EST at Edmonton. It will be only the second game at the brand new $600 million Rogers Place. The Oilers christened the new arena with a 7-4 shellacking of the Calgary Flames on Thursday night. The Sabres will visit Calgary on Tuesday night for a 9 p.m. then conclude with a stop in Vancouver to take on the Canucks at 10 p.m. on Thursday.

The Sabres have been getting hit hard by the injury bug. Jack Eichel suffered a high-ankle sprain with minutes to go in Wednesday's practice and is out for weeks. Kane crashed hard into the boards the following night in the season opener and is out for a while. New Sabres Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov missed the opener with day-to-day injuries. Okposo took a puck off the back of his knee and looks good to go tomorrow while Kulikov was checked into the corner of an open bench door and bruised his tail-bone. It looks as if he'll be in the lineup as well.

As for Baptiste, the 6'1" 206 lb. forward spent his first pro season with the Amerks last season scoring 28 points (13g + 15a) in 62 games. Baptiste himself was sidelined because of back problems in the preseason and after he was cleared to play he was amongst the last cuts when the Sabres trimmed their roster to 23 players.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ouch! And that wasn't just Evander Kane and his 3 broke ribs

Published by hockeybuzz, 10-14-2016

It wasn't what fans hoped for when they piled into the newly christened KeyBank Center for yesterday's opener. The Sabres went into the contest with a solid record in home openers (17-8-4) and have gone 3-0-2 when the Montreal Canadiens have been the opponent. Buffalo came out of the game on the wrong end of a 4-1 score and lost yet another key player as Evander Kane went crashing hard into the boards. He left the game hunched over with help but was stretchered to the hospital for observation.

The Sabres faced a Montreal team that underwent a philosophical makeover this summer highlighted by the shocking trade of defenseman PK Subban for Shea Weber, both of whom had been very productive, highly valued d-men for their respective teams. The trade of Subban left many scratching their heads but Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was intent upon changing the make up of a fast yet smaller Habitants lineup. Out went the panache of Subban and in came the big, gritty Weber.

Prior to that Draft-Day trade, Bergevin had sent two second-round picks to the Chicago Blackhawks for checking forward and noted pest, Andrew Shaw. Bergevin also extended rumbling top-nine forward Daniel Carr over the summer and had still had hard-hitting Alexi Emelin wreaking havoc on the ice with big, sometimes borderline hits.

Emelin was the man checking Kane last night when the Sabres forward went into the wall at almost full speed. There was no call on the play and it didn't look as if there should have been either. With Kane a bit off-balance as he was trying to drive to the net, Emelin gave him a nudge in the faceoff dot that put him on the ice and into the boards. Emelin was also a beast on the ice hitting everything around him as he usually does.

Buffalo really had no one to counter him.

Regardless of them being shorthanded with the absence of Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov, there seemed to be a lack of conviction when countering Montreal's rough stuff and that included the Carr goal where he whacked goalie Robin Lehner on the play. Captain Brian Gionta, the smallest player on the ice for Buffalo did get a cross check in out of anger, but Carr could care less as his hands went up in celebration of the goal by Shaw.

Perhaps the Sabres were taken by surprise with the new-look Canadiens. They still had the speed and they still have skilled players like Brendan Gallagher who scored two goals last night, but this incarnation of Les Habitants had teeth. Buffalo for the most part did not.

Or, maybe, the Sabres were thrown off by losing Eichel to injury the day before. If that's the case, they need to get over it as he could be out until December. No doubt Okposo and Kulikov, both of whom are expected to play on the up-coming road trip, would have helped, but players need to step up.

Now with Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma announcing that Kane has three cracked ribs as a result of the crash, Buffalo will be without another top-six forward "for weeks."

The Sabres don't play until Sunday when they face off against the Edmonton Oilers to kick off a three-game Western Canada swing so they'll have time to integrate Okposo, who's expected to play, and possibly Kulikov into the lineup. But they'll also need to find their inner conviction.

There were players like Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers throwing their bodies around like they always do. And Johan Larsson was being a pest as he always is, but that's now what was lacking last nigh. They needed more conviction to go hard to the net for rebounds. Way to often in two-plus periods it was one-shot-and-done for Buffalo. They showed better later in the game but it was way too late and they still weren't able to beat back-up goalie Al Montoya after scoring their only goal.

It was a painful opener all around last night, but redemption lies right around the corner in Edmonton. Who's in the lineup and how the team will respond remains to be seen.


As of right now there were no call-ups to Buffalo as Rochester has their opener tonight. The Amerks have three in a row this weekend: Tonight  vs. the Hershey Bears (WSH) and a home-and-home with the Syracuse Crunch (TBL) Saturday and Sunday. Five players were sent to Elmira (ECHL) leaving the following Rochester roster:

Forwards:  Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, William Carrier, Dan Catenacci, Eric Cornel, Jean Dupuy, Tyson Fawcett, Vaclav Karabacek, Justin Kea, Matthew Lane, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, Alexander Nylander, Cal O’Reilly, Evan Rodrigues and Cole Schneider.

Defensemen:  Brady Austin, Mac Bennett, Erik Burgdoerfer, Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun, Paul Geiger, Brycen Martin and Tyson Strachan.

Goalies:  Jason Kasdorf, Linus Ullmark

Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m. with pre-game festivities beginning at 5:00 p.m. for Amerks season ticket holders.


GM Tim Murray signed a multi-year contract extension with the Sabres yesterday. No terms of the deal were disclosed. At a pregame presser Murray, who's in the final year of his contract, said that there had been casual conversations but nothing they'd been meeting on "It just all came together the last couple of days," he said to the gathered media.

Murray has been with the Sabres since Jan, 2014. He finished tearing down the roster he inherited and has been completely in charge of Buffalo's rebuild with nothing but support from upper management and ownership. "I've felt great here," he said, "[ownership] has been very supportive. I can't think of one time I went to them with an idea where they said no or even questioned [it]."

When asked if he'd be in the trade market to try an replace the loss of Eichel, Murray said no and that Eichel's nor replaceable anyway. "I want to see how it goes here. We've got to try this internally.

"I'll use all the clichés you want, opportunity for somebody else, but we know somebody's not going to come in and be Jack so we've got to be a real team here. We've got to tighten up defensively, we've got to get good goaltending. These are the clichés I said I'm going to use. If it's clearly not working I've got to get on the phone and make some calls."


From Sabres PR, the lines and d-pairings from this mornings practice:



Friday, October 14, 2016

And the band played on. Eichel injury makes for bittersweet opener tonight

Published by, 10-13-2016

Yes. We've been waiting for tonight for months. It's been a fairly inactive summer for Buffalo GM Tim Murray as he and head coach Dan Bylsma continue to mold the foundations into the future core of the Buffalo Sabres. However, that foundation took a big hit yesterday at practice when Jack Eichel went down with a high ankle sprain.

The howls of pain emanating from the 19 yr. old as he grabbed his leg on the ice resonated throughout the empty arena and reached far beyond the KeyBank Center walls hitting every Sabres fan right where it counts. After initial reactions ran rampant, once we found out that it was Eichel's ankle and not his knee, things began to come into focus a little more and initial diagnosis has him out for at least 4-6 weeks.

Six weeks will take us to Thanksgiving or 20 games into the Sabres regular season schedule. For a little perspective, Buffalo started the season 3-7 and through the first 20 games went 8-10-2 snaring 18 points. The Sabres finished final three-quarters of the season with a 27-26-9 record on their way to an 81-point season. To further the narrative, Eichel had six goals and four assists through is first 20 games with his first assist not coming until Game-14.

That said, with expectations high and the team poised to build upon what they were able to accomplish late last season, having your most dynamic player lost for a big chunk of time has a way of taking the wind out of your sails.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Buffalo Sabres 2016-17 Season Preview

Published by, 10-12-2016

Pundits and hockey "experts" from around the league pretty much have a consensus opinion concerning the Buffalo Sabres this upcoming season--the Sabres will be better, but aren't quite there yet. Most are still placing the Sabres at the bottom of the division, conference or league with TSN's Scott Cullen yesterday putting them at 28th in their power rankings to start the season. Cullen says expectations are high and that the Sabres did add to a "promising forward group." However, he believes the defense is suspect and "needs to improve," while that questionable defense will put pressure on an unproven starting goalie "who has shown flashes of talent" but has never played more than 36 games in a season.

Sabres fans stand on the precipice of the Buffalo's 2016-17 NHL season with negativity still prevailing despite the club making huge strides last season to the tune of a 50% year-over-year points increase and definitive, yet limited, upgrades to the roster this past off season. Yet, regardless of the pundits, analytics and definitive Canadian homerism labeling Buffalo as a doormat to the league, fans in Sabreland will have a lot to look forward to this year. After two seasons in the tank and another one of major adjustments, the grubby little street urchin is poised to rise further in the standings. Just how far the Sabres rise--as in a playoff berth or not--is to be determined.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Opening night comes into focus with signing of Ristolainen + roster moves

Published by, 10-11-12

It's finished.

Top Buffalo Sabres defenseman inked a six-year, $32.4 million contract this afternoon ending a rather long, yet extremely cordial, summer of negotiations. Most feel that the deal works well for both Ristolainen and the Sabres with the 21 yr. old native of Finland coming out a little bit ahead. Comparables in the matter included Florida's Aaron Ekblad at the high end as a top-flight, No. 1 defenseman at a $7.5 million cap-hit and Toronto's Morgan Reilly at $5 million average annual salary. The $5.4 million AAV that Ristolainen signed is the same average (and same length) that Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones re-upped for.

Jones was taken fourth-overall by the Nashville Predators in the same draft as Ristolainen who was the eighth overall pick by the Sabres. The Preds, who are deep on the blue line traded Jones to the Jackets for offensive help in the form of top-line center Ryan Johansen. Both Ristolainen and Jones played big roles on their respective blue lines with Ristolainen averaging over 25 minutes of ice-time and Jones averaging over 24 minutes while their career stat-lines look like this side-by-side:

Jones:  240 games, 17 goals, 66 assists, 83 points, -34 plus/minus
Ristolainen:  194 games, 19 goals, 46 assists, 65 points, -68 plus/minus

That staggering -68 would give anyone pause when comparing the two and fancy stats gurus are taking a few steps further by hammering Ristolainen for everything from possession to corsi. One particular guru urged his readers to consider this notion, "Think about how bad Buffalo has been the past few years; they’re even worse (based upon fancy stats) with Ristolainen on the ice."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Some 2016-17 NHL predictions for the Buffalo Sabres

Published by, 10-10-2016

The 2016-17 NHL season begins this week with the Buffalo Sabres kicking things off on Thursday by welcoming the Montreal Canadians to the newly christened KeyBank Center. Some have broken out their crystal balls while other have got their hard-drive humming while delving deeply into advanced stats in an effort to predict the unpredictable.

It's a fun game to play and here are a few experts and pundits having their say on the upcoming Buffalo Sabres season.

We'll start out the predictions parade with some analytics.

A first crack at predicting the 2016-17 NHL standings, Travis Yost, TSN

The analytics guru formerly of hockeybuzz starts out his "First crack at predicting the 2016-17 standings" by stating "The beauty of hockey, like many sports, is that the equation for how we define success is reasonably simple: We care about wins. The way to earn wins is by scoring more goals than the other team. Because of that, much of the focus on hockey analytics – regardless of complexity – is spent examining the things that drive goal differentials."

Yost uses a number of criteria to get and the base of his predictions which centers around goal differential as a better indicator of overall talent than wins and losses and comes up with a formula using 10 years of advanced stats to back his prediction. And the Sabres, according to his goal-differential data, will finish....

*drum roll*

15th in the Eastern Conference behind Toronto, Columbus and Ottawa and ahead of only one team, the New Jersey Devils.


THN's 2016-17 NHL season preview: Buffalo Sabres,The Hockey News', Dominik Luszczyszyn

According to Luszczyszyn, Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, is actually hurting the team, a concept he bases totally on analytics from the prior three seasons. Here's some of what he wrote:

"The team’s number one D-man is Rasmus Ristolainen and while many are optimistic about his progress due to his point totals last seasons, his underlying numbers were atrocious. That’s been the case for his entire NHL career so far. Think about how bad Buffalo has been the past few years; they’re even worse with Ristolainen on the ice.

"Many believe that after last season’s big jump the Buffalo Sabres are ready to take the next step toward contention. This model disagrees. According to Game Score, the Sabres are poised to be the league’s worst team."

Luszczszyn is a little kinder to Buffalo as opposed to Game Scores contention that they are "poised to be the league's worst team" and predicts the Sabres will finish sixth in the Atlantic Division.


Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy, 9-16-2016

After delving into what he calls Buffalo's "impressive tank" of 2014-15 and, of course, touching upon the off ice problems of both Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, Wyshynski directs his attention to the up-coming season. He feels they did get better in the off season (Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov,) say's it will be "fascinating to see how much higher Ristolainen's ceiling is," says it's Robin Lehner's crease to lose," and comes right out and says the Sabres want to move Kane.

Generally Wyshynski likes the direction the Buffalo is headed and concludes:

"As much as we’re dying to see Jack Eichel play meaningful games and Tim Murray’s master plan show results, we just don’t think the Sabres are there yet. Although one can never be sure of anything in the wishy-washy Eastern Conference. OK, we can be sure that Cody Hodgson is enjoying cashing those buyout checks. But that’s it."


Eric Engels, 

Engels likes rookie Hudson Fasching, calling him "a power forward, who has an efficient skating stride and a knack for scoring big goals" and believes that rookie forward Justin Bailey will get an "extended look," both of which are excellent propositions for the team. He states that goaltending will be a key to their success while also stating, "if this team can’t muster a considerable increase from the 201 goals they managed last season, it doesn’t have a chance of making the post-season."


Todd Cordell, 8th in Atlantic-- Buffalo - "I think they have too much dead weight up front (Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, etc.), I don't think their blue line is good enough and I'm not sold on Robin Lehner. He misses a lot of time with injuries and their backup, Anders Nilsson, has posted a below league average save percentage every year in the league." Of note, Cordell also predicted Toronto would finish third in the Atlantic Division

Peter Tessier, Buffalo, 8th in the Atlantic--"Man it must be tough being a Sabres fan and it likely won't be that much fun being a Bruins fan (7th in division) either."


Kevin Allen, USA Today points projection:

78 points, 7th in the division, 12th in the conference, "The Sabres are not quite where they need to be to qualify for the playoffs. They are headed in the right direction."

Of note, the Sabres finished with 81 points last season.

Joe McDonald, ESPN Season Preview, Buffalo Sabres:

McDonald points to the additions of Okposo and Kulikov then delves into the unknowns:  Will Jack Eichel have a sophomore jinx? (probably not, he states);  Will Robin Lehner stay healthy and can he have a breakout season?;  What's Evander Kane's status after an off season featuring criminal charges being filed against him?

Not too much more save for some props to Eichel, Sam Reinhart, O'Reilly and Okposo leading the offensive charge and in the end here's what McDonald writes:  "The Sabres will contend for a playoff spot for the majority of the season but will fall just short in the end. Seventh in the Atlantic."


Ryan Wilson, Penguins Blogger,, Atlantic Division predictions:

Wilson has the Sabres finishing at the bottom of the division behind Ottawa (7th) and Toronto 6th. He writes, "Buffalo did the right thing in gutting their team and tanking for McEichel, but the hardest part was always going to be building this team back up again. They have a nice core of forwards with Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, and Kyle Okposo. Depth is where a lot of the work with this team remains."

He calls the defense "the real weakness on the team," then states about Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, "is neither as good as Sabres fans think nor as bad as some of the analytics folks think. He is talented, but he has literally no help," then suggests the team trade a player like Tyler Ennis for Cam Fowler.

Wilson brings up goaltending question marks and the first-rounder the Sabres gave up for Robin Lehner and concludes that "The Sabres are getting better, it just isn't good enough yet."

Monday, October 10, 2016

Plenty of positives as the Sabres close out the preseason with a win

Published by, 10-08-16

The Buffalo Sabres travelled to Ottawa last night missing two top-six forwards and half of their starting defense corps with Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov nursing injuries and top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, still unsigned.

While the Sabres may have been looking to simply hold the fort in their preseason finale' the Senators eyed a different approach. "I think we consider this the first game of 83 on the season," said Sens forward Mike Hoffman. "We've got the whole squad going tonight and I'm sure they have the same thing. Everyone wants to get the good habits going for when the first regular season game starts. We're taking this game like it's a real game."

Perhaps not every Ottawa player was on the same page as a depleted Buffalo squad handed them a 4-2 defeat. The Sabres scored once in the first period and twice in the second to take a 3-0 lead then proceeded to hold on the rest of the way. Buffalo got goals from Sam Reinhart, Marcus Foligno, Derek Grant and Evander Kane with Reinhart and Kane each adding an assist.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Notes before Buffalo's final preseason game at Ottawa

Published by, 10-07-2016

Thanks to the World Cup of Hockey the NHL regular season has been pushed back about a week as the NHL reignited international competition. Whereas last year the league was starting the season on this date, today is the beginning of the final weekend of preseason action before the regular season commences on Wednesday, October 11th.

The Buffalo Sabres finish up their seven-game preseason schedule tonight with a trip to Ottawa to face the rival Senators. Ottawa cut it's roster to 25 players so the team on the ice tonight is pretty much the team we'll be seeing to start the season. Buffalo, on the other hand, is anything but that. Heading into the 7 p.m. matchup tonight the Sabres will be without the services of C, Ryan O'Reilly, RW, Kyle Okposo and defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov who are all nursing various injuries. Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, is still without a contract and despite skating with the team, is not allowed to play in any games for the club.

The loss of five players for tonight's game means that the team will be giving an extended look to roster hopefuls. The projected lines for tonight, via the Sabres' Jourdon LaBarber, are:

Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Alexander Nylander-Zemgus Girgensons-Hudson Fasching
Tyler Ennis-Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Brian Gionta

On defense:

Brendan Guhle-Jake McCabe
Josh Gorges-Casey Nelson
Justin Falk-Cody Franson

In goal will be Robin Lehner who will be tuning up for next week's opener vs. the Montreal Canadians on October 13th.

Some have said the preseason is too long, but for players like Nelson and Grant, and extended look coupled with a strong performance could be the difference between them making the team or being sent to Rochester.

As has been chronicled throughout the preseason, Grant has been mentioned favorably by head coach Dan Bylsma after nearly every game he's played in. The 6'3" 202 lb. center has had an impact in the top-six and has played equally as well in the bottom-six. Even with the return of O'Reilly and Okposo, Grant has done enough to stick with the club when all's said and done and he has the added dimension of having a vet like Gionta on his line to make him better.

On the back-end, Nelson has been his usual calm, cool and collected self this preseason and it's earned him his fourth game in a row. Although he's a tad undersized, Nelson was able to hold his own in the NHL during his seven-game stint last season and looked the part of at least of an eventual top-six  defenseman.

Unlike the NFL where teams rest or limit their starters to avoid injury, the final preseason NHL game is usually a tune-up for the regular season. For the Sabres heading into tonight that won't be the case because of the injuries to five significant players. However, one line that will probably start the year together is Kane/Eichel/Reinhart. Bylsma usually likes to pair forwards then add a third on a line and last season the Eichel/Reinhart duo worked plenty of magic. Kane adds a physical north/south dimension to that line and on paper it seems like a good fit.

As for the other three lines, without O'Reilly and Okposo as well as with question marks surrounding Ennis recovering from his injury and with Matt Moulson and Girgensons looking to come back from poor seasons, let's just say they're works in progress.

So, hang in their, Sabres fans, the season is right around the corner.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--The Contenders

Published by, 10-06-16

Based upon last season,the construct of the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster leans towards having 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. However, GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma are looking at a situation where a number of forwards are battling for the 13th forward spot while as of now there seems to be only one veteran NHL defenseman who will stick in a depth role.

Forward Derek Grant, a July 1 signing by Murray, has forced his way into the conversation by playing in five consecutive pre season games and having an impact in most of them. Last night Grant stepped in when both Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Catenacci were pulled for precautionary reasons in Buffalo's 3-2 shootout loss vs. the Carolina Hurricanes.

Bylsma has had nothing but praise for the 6'3" 206 lb. forward and he continued with it last night pointing out Grant's pass to spring Evander Kane for Buffalo's first goal while also being a key contributor on a 4-on-3 overtime penalty kill. "[When] you're trying to earn a spot on the team, you're trying to find a role as a player coming in, you can clearly see where Derek Grant could be a factor for our team," said Bylsma to the post-game media.

Nicolas Deslauriers scored the game-winner in Buffalo's 2-0 shutout win vs. Buffalo in the Kraft Hockeyville game the prior night and has looked pretty solid throughout this preseason. Deslauriers was in a bottom-six/checking line role last season and there's no reason to believe that he'll be anywhere else but there heading into the season.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--The Seventh D-man

Published by, 10-05-2016

The Buffalo Sabres top-six on defense is set in stone barring injury or a continued impasse in the Rasmus Ristolainen contract negotiations. On the former we know anything can happen and with the latter, Ristolainen asked for permission to skate with the team during the negotiations and GM Tim Murray obliged. Although it has nothing to do with the talks, it was a good-faith show by Risto.

For the Sabres heading into the season, the pickins are mighty slim when it comes to the 7th and, probably, 8th defenseman on the team. The hope for a depth d-man in most cases is for them simply to hold their own at the NHL-level and Buffalo does have at least one, Justin Falk, with ample NHL experience.

Falk came over after a year in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization where he helped their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, capture the Calder Cup. A left-handed, defensive-defenseman, Falk was drafted 110th-overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild and prior to his time in Columbus Falk spent all but one season in the Wild organization. He played in 228 games for their AHL affiliates while appearing in 121 games for Minnesota. In June 2013 he was traded to the NY Rangers.

After his stint with the Rangers, Falk signed with Minnesota as a free agent. He failed to make the big club and after a partial season with the Wild his trade request was granted and he was shipped to Columbus at the 2015 traded deadline. Falk got 24 games with the Blue Jackets last season before clearing waivers then anchoring the Monsters defense on their road to the Calder Cup.

The soon to be 28 yr. old Falk is fully aware as to how his career is and probably will be. In an interview with Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Falk, who's on a two-way contract with the Sabres simply stated, "I tend to go back and forth a lot (between the NHL and AHL.)"

As of now it doesn't look as if that will be the case. With 171 NHL games Falk has the most experience outside of Tyson Strachan who was signed to an AHL contract. Other players like 19 yr. old Brendan Guhle may be too wet behind the ears to earn a roster spot this year while 24 yr. old rookie Casey Nelson might need a year of seasoning in Rochester before being able handle the rigors of the NHL. Either of those two would need to make the team in a top-six role for Falk to be pushed down to the minors and as of now, it doesn't look like that will happen.

Many thought Murray would be going outside the organization to add depth to the blueline but it hasn't happened yet. He may have a free agent like Carlo Colaiacovo, who was with the club as a reserve last season, in mind or he might just be waiting to jump on a cap-casualty after NHL teams cut their rosters to 23. In either case the 8th defenseman, if they choose to carry one like they did last season, is still up in the air.

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Grant

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ D, Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson / D, Josh Gorges
Justin Falk

G, Robin Lehner
G, Anders Nilsson

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Buffalo on tap for Hockeyville. Welcome back, Jack. Five recalled from Rochester

Published by, 10-04-2016

Kraft Hockeyville is a very cool idea where small communities with a feverish passion for the sport of hockey compete to land a preseason game plus $150,000 in rink upgrades to accommodate the event. Hockeyville's roots are in Canada, of course, and it began as reality TV for the CBC. The first one was in 2006 featuring the Montreal Canadians facing off against the Ottawa Senators at Colchester Legion Colesium just outside of Salmon River, Nova Scotia, the community that won the inaugural season.

Since then the event has swelled in popularity. Kraft jumped in in 2008 and in 2015 Kraft Hockeyville USA was introduce in the States. This year the event features the Buffalo Sabres vs. the Carolina Hurricanes at Lakeview Arena in Marquette, Michigan who's estimated 2015 population is just over 21,000.

Good for them, and good for the Sabres as they'll be on the NBCSN tonight to kick off a three-game road-trip to end their preseason. After tonight's matchup the Sabres head south to face the 'Canes again tomorrow night then they finish off the preseason with a game in Ottawa against the rival Senators.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--The forward reserves

Published by, 10-03-2016

In building the third line of the Buffalo's roster just before the Sabres hit camp on September 22nd, we eschewed the "safe bet" of slotting in 37 yr. old Brian Gionta on the third line and opted to place up-and-coming 21 yr. old right wing Justin Bailey in that slot. It didn't exactly work out that way, however, as Bailey was among 17 players sent to Rochester.

Moving Bailey out and Gionta up opens up a slot on the fourth line that should come down to two players--Nicolas Deslauriers and upstart Derek Grant. Two young forwards, Hudson Fasching and Alexander Nylander, are in camp and will make their case for a roster spot as the week progresses. The Sabres have three more preseason games--tomorrow, Wednesday and Friday--before their regular season opener vs. Montreal on Thursday, October 13th.

The safe bet for the 12th and 13th forwards spots once again is on the vets beginning with a known quantity in Deslauriers.

There's a shiny new toy in Buffalo thanks to Sabres GM Tim Murray signing Grant in the off season and he's having himself a whale of a preseason. But as we found out when it came to the Buffalo Bills, "winning the preseason" might be great, but it's the regular season that counts and Deslauriers might get the nod on the fourth line when the season starts.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Buffalo Sabres roster pared to 33, Grant in, Bailey, Carrier out

Published by, 10-01-2016

The Buffalo Sabres announced this morning that they've pared their roster to 33 players. Among those sent to the Rochester Americans were Justin Bailey and William Carrier, two players who many thought would be amongst the last to be sent down.

Camp surprise Derek Grant has had a tremendous preseason thus far remains with the club as he's had a tremendous preseason thus far. In three games the 26 yr. old has scored four points on two goals and two assists while being responsible for the only Sabres tally last night in an ugly 8-1 loss vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center in Buffalo. Here's what head coach Dan Bylsma said of Grant after his three-point performance in a 3-2 OT win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. “He’s a real big man, and he can skate and move around,” Bylsma told the gathered media post-game. “He’s excellent positionally, smart-wise. There’s been a determination with the way he’s played, and I think it’s been evident.

“As a player who’s new to our organization, he wants to come in and prove what kind of player he is. He’s certainly done that.”

Grant was drafted by Buffalo GM Tim Murray when he was assistant general manager of the Ottawa Senators. The 2008 fourth-round pick has spent the majority of his career at the AHL-level appearing in 173 games scoring 55 goals and adding 47 assists. Last year Grant was having a breakout season playing for the Stockton Heat with 45 points (27 goals + 18 assists) before fracturing his jaw on February 9th. He played in 15 games total for the Calgary Flames last season but was without a point. In 40 total NHL games Grant has zero goals and only three assists.

From the looks of the cuts, Murray and company seem to be laying their foundation in Rochester early. The Amerks opened camp this morning looking for a fresh start with new head coach Dan Lambert behind the bench after a disaster of a 2015-16 season . Lambert spent last season as an assistant to Bylsma.

Among the many who headed to Rochester for this morning's practice are Bailey and Carrier, two big bodies who've combined to play in 189 regular season games for the Amerks. The 21 yr. old Bailey had a strong finish to his rookie campaign and ended up scoring 20 goals while adding 25 assists in 70 games. He got eight games with the big club but was held off the scoresheet.

Carrier has played two seasons in Rochester but injuries limited him both years. He's another one that came on strong late last season as he finished with 13 goals and 17 assists in 56 games.

Some Amerks vets joining those two are forwards Jean Dupuy, Evan Rodrigues, Justin Kea, and defenseman Brady Austin. Forwards Daniel Catenacci and Cole Schneider will need to clear waivers. Four rookies headed to Rochester:  forwards Eric Cornel, Vaclav Karabacek;  defenseman Brycen Martin;  goaltender Jason Kasdorf.

Sabres PR also announced that five players have been released from their tryouts and will report to Rochester for training camp:  Forwards Matthew Lane and Daniel Muzito-Begenda; defensemen Mac Bennett and Paul Geiger; goaltender John Muse.

Rochester has a home-and-home preseason set with the Binghamton Senator October 6th and 8th and will open up their season Friday October 14th at home against the Hershey Bears.

Sabres begin back-to-back against Toronto tonight, plus other notes

Published by

It's been just over three years, and a whole lot of losing in between, since the infamous John Scott/Phil Kessel incident at Air Canada Center in Toronto. After Toronto's Jamie Devane pummeled Buffalo's Corey Tropp in a scrap, the two teams lined up for a faceoff at center ice and the 6'8" Scott found himself next to 6' Kessel with the Sabres in retribution-mode. Words were exchanged, the puck was dropped, Scott went after Kessel and Kessel started hacking at Scott's ankles with his stick.

Since then Kessel was traded by Toronto to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015 and won the Stanley Cup with his new team a year later. Scott bounced from the Sabres to the San Jose Sharks, to the Arizona Coyotes. Scott won the NHL All-Star fan vote and seemingly at the behest of the league was shipped by the 'Yotes to the Montreal Canadiens where they sent him to the minors so he couldn't be a part of the All-Star Game. Scott would not only play in the game but was named MVP and had the pleasure of receiving a check from the league (to it's embarrassment.) He went home with a new Honda Pilot, $90,000 as being part of the winning team and was with his wife when she gave birth to twins less than a week later.

As for the teams, the Sabres were a mess during that 2013-14 season and plummeted to the bottom of the league two years running for a complete rebuild. The Leafs would follow suit two years later punctuated by the trade of Kessel. Now both teams are armed with a bevy of youngsters and are about to make their climb up the standings.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster--G, Anders Nilsson

The Buffalo Sabres continued to chug through their preseason schedule with a trip to St. Catherines, Ontario last night. Buffalo and the Toronto Maple Leafs took a scoreless tie to the shootout where Matt Moulson scored the only goal in the fourth round to give the Sabres the shootout win.

The key word for the Sabres is scoreless and the goalie responsible for it was Anders Nilsson as he stopped all 23 shots in 65 minutes of play then stopped four more during the shootout. "He was rock solid," said head coach Dan Bylsma to the gathered media post-game. "It gives you a real comfortable feeling when you see a guy in net backstop your team."

Nilsson has made a pretty strong impression thus far. He played 30 minutes of shutout hockey over the course of two games during intrasquad scrimmages then stopped 26 of 27 shots in 40 minutes of ice time vs. the Minnesota Wild in Buffalo's preseason opener. Add it all up and he's off to a pretty good start for his fourth NHL team in six seasons.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray acquired Nilsson from the St. Louis Blues as a backup to starter Robin Lehner after a free agent deal went south. Pittsburgh Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff had agreed to a deal with Buffalo before changing his mind and headed to Los Angeles leaving Murray holding the bag. Murray immediately turned his attention to Nilsson and the deal with St. Louis for his rights was consummated.

The overriding theme emanating from Sabreland at the time was that Murray panicked and paid too much both in the fifth-round pick he sent to the Blues as well as the one-year/$1M contract he doled out. Nilsson had played in a total of 52 NHL games for three teams compiling a 19-22-4 record with a composite 3.09 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Not exactly sterling by any stretch of the imagination, even for a back up.

One thing Nilsson had going for him, other than Zatkoff putting the Sabres in a pinch, is that he has the size Murray covets in his goalies. Nilsson, like Lehner, is 6'5" and he chimes in at 225 lbs.
What he's been unable to do thus far in his career is create a large presence in net to match is size and it will be up to Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen to help create that. Allen is in his second season with the Sabres and last season under his tutelage, backup goalie Chad Johnson had some of the best numbers of his career (including a career-high 22 wins.)

Nilsson has paid his dues in the league and even went to the KHL to get playing time against better competition. After finishing up his entry-level deal with the team that drafted him, the NY Islanders, Nilsson packed his bags and went to the KHL where he made the All-Star team and came back to the NHL with a ton of confidence. "I felt I needed an environment change to continue my development," he said via Amy Mortiz of the Buffalo News. "I felt it was the right way to go for me. My goal before going to Russia was to come back to North America and that was always in the back of my head and I was fortunate to do that."

During his time in Russia his rights were traded twice--from the Islanders to the Chicago Blackhawks to the Edmonton Oilers, the team he played for upon his return to North America. After a robust start to his career in Edmonton, Nilsson slumped and was sent to St. Louis. He appeared in three games for the Blues to finish last season before Buffalo acquired his rights.

No matter where he plays, however, it always comes back to size, something Bylsma talked about from the get-go. "It's tough to look at him and not see the size of him net," he said of Nilsson after that first scrimmage. "To play big, to play that big, and certainly he did in the scrimmage today, that’s got to be the strength of his game. He’s such a big body to be square and be in front of the shots. The expectation is that he stops the puck and he showed today he can do that."

Nilsson is continuing to do that so far this preseason and he's done so as the level of competition is getting better. As the preseason wears on, prospects will be sent back to their respective developmental leagues and the NHL'ers will start gearing up for the regular season. Hopefully for the Sabres Nilsson will be able to continue to progress as the competition gets stiffer. One thing that will help him is the Sabres defensive system that was on display last night against Toronto.

"The guys in front of me have played two very good games," said Nilsson last night. "They didn’t give up a lot of scoring chances or a lot of shots. It was more a team shutout and a team win." Save, of course, for the shootout where Nilsson stood alone.

Opportunity is knocking for Nilsson as he tries to solidify his role in Buffalo. Bylsma believes that the 26 yr. old is making his opportunity count. "He wants to prove he can be in the net and be a capable goaltender when he gets the opportunity,” said Bylsma last night. “He’s had two opportunities to this point, and he’s been really good in both of them."

That's a good sign for the Sabres and let's hope it continues.  

 Building the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Evander Kane / C, Ryan O'Reilly / RW, Kyle Okposo
LW, Tyler Ennis / C, Jack Eichel / RW, Sam Reinhart
LW, Matt Moulson / C, Zemgus Girgensons/ RW, Justin Bailey
LW, Marcus Foligno / C, Johan Larsson / RW, Brian Gionta

D, Rasmus Ristolainen/ Dmitry Kulikov
D, Zach Bogosian/ D, Jake McCabe
D, Cody Franson / D, Josh Gorges

G, Robin Lehner
G, Anders Nilsson