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.

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