Tuesday, November 29, 2016
After last night's 3-1 loss at Washington, the theme of the post-locker room interviews centered around frustration as the Buffalo Sabres have eclipsed the two-goal mark only once in 13 games. The goal-scoring problems had head coach Dan Bylsma visibly frustrated and rather melancholy after the game while Ryan O'Reilly sat slumping in the lockerroom laying the blame for the Capitals game at his feet.
"It's frustrating," said O'Reilly into the Sabres.com camera. "There's not much you can do. You've got to bear down a little bit more but it's frustrating. Scoring goals again is the problem."
It's not a lot of fun for Sabres fans to watch either.
This edition of the Buffalo Sabres started out the month of November by going 10 games without scoring more than two goals. Miraculously they managed a 3-5-2 record to keep them from falling to the bottom of the league. However, the lack of goal scoring is disconcerting, especially when Bylsma and Co. have at their disposal a number of 20-goal scores like O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Moulson as well as Sam Reinhart who scored 23 goals last season.
Only one other time in the last three-plus seasons has the team had a streak longer than 10 games like that. From October 17-November 11, 2014 that edition of the Buffalo Sabres went 13 games without scoring more than two goals. That ugly stretch featured a 2-9-2 record, a six-game stretch where they were shut out four times and scored only three goals, five goose-eggs total and only 12 goals scored in those 13 games.
Of course that was a team in serious decline with a depleted roster who's top three goal-scorers for the season were Tyler Ennis (20,) Zemgus Girgensons (15,) and Matt Moulson (13,) a trio that comprised the Sabres top line. Defensive-minded Ted Nolan was behind the bench and the team would have nine stretches of three or more games where they scored two goals or less going a combined 6-30-3.
There was another stretch during that same season where the team went 0-9-0, was shut out twice and scored a grand total of nine goals, but other than that, that stretch of futility to begin this month is reaching lows not seen since the Sabres were in the McEichel hunt.
Buffalo seemingly has lost any sense of identity during this month. Bylsma had a team on the rise last season and had them playing an up-tempo game while trying to get his defensemen more engaged in the offensive zone. That plan went to pieces as forward Jack Eichel was joined on the injury report by two capable puck-moving defensemen in Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov and O'Reilly. Bylsma tried to go all Ted Nolan in the process and managed to eek out a good number of points. But the struggles scoring have the team and individual players doing things they shouldn't.
When forward Evander Kane went down after cracking four ribs in the opener, he returned to the ice sooner than the normal six-week recovery time. "I think we all wold ave liked Evander to have had six weeks off to fully recover and heal," Bylsma told John Vogl of The Buffalo News, "I don't think you can disregard what breaking four ribs does to your body."
Yet that's what they did. Bylsma said that Kane has been playing much better the last few games and it's showed even though he still hasn't cracked the scoresheet with a goal.
Bylsma's also been shuffling the lineup, and rightfully so, as he tries to shake this team out of the doldrums, but nothing seems to be working. They're getting opportunities but with each passing game, missed opportunity or ringing of the post (of which there's been many) they're squeezing the stick a little tighter. And as the slump continues, players start trying to do too much.
Last night was a good example as O'Reilly admitted to as much. "I'm really frustrated, trying to find a way to put the puck in the net," he told the gathered media post-game last night. I'm trying to cheat a bit more, trying to create and it clearly didn't work." O'Reilly was on the ice for the Marcus Johansson goal that increases Washington's lead to 2-0 and was out of position on the goal that put Washington up 3-1. "I've got a lot of fixin' to do," he said, "those goals (against) were my fault, trying to play that way."
O'Reilly's always hard on himself, almost to a fault, but there are plenty of other players who need to get it together and it's something permeating the whole locker room. Said Reinhart. "It's frustrating. I don't know one guy in the locker room that isn't."
Reinhart scored the lone goal for Buffalo last night while on a line with Okposo, who had the primary assist and O'Reilly, who was on the ice. Other than that, the scoring troubles continue.
Things will improve with Eichel back in the lineup, something that should happen sometime in the coming week, but those looking for a Saul to Paul transformation for the Sabres might just want to temper their expectations. Eichel will help with team-speed and teams will be backing off a bit more when he's on the ice but it's still a matter of him getting into game-shape and the forward group finding chemistry with the new line combos Bylsma will be putting together.
Then there's the defense, which is another topic of conversation as Bogosian and Kulikov are still out and the entire defense combined has scored only one goal in 21 games.
Until then, the Sabres will be trudging along and hopefully they can get off the schneid when they visit Ottawa on Tuesday.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
The Buffalo Sabres are in DC tonight to take on the Washington Capitals. Here's what we've got for today:
--An extra inch is needed around the waist after a Thanksgiving feast all the deliciousness one could imagine. *thumbs up!*
--Jack Eichel was on the ice practicing with the team for the first time since injuring his ankle. Head coach Dan Bylsma said Eichel will not be with the team in Washington telling the gathered media, "[Eichel] returned to practice yesterday, that was the first attempt, the morning skate. He won't go with us tomorrow, he'll get a better skate here and then he'll return to practice with us on Sunday." The other day WGR's Paul Hamilton tweeted that Eichel circled a date for his return but wouldn't reveal it. Methinks a December 1st return against the NY Rangers and ol' buddy Jimmy Vesey might be a good one. Kinda gets him primed for the following game vs. his hometown Boston Bruins too.
--Speaking of Vesey. Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a third round pick to the Nashville Predators for Vesey's rights. The former Harvard Crimson star and 2016 Hobey Baker winner opted for the bright lights of New York City when he signed with the Rangers. At one point a good number of fans in Buffalo wondered why Murray would spend a third round pick trying to lure Vesey to the Sabres. The former third rounder has seven goals so far this season which would tie him with Matt Moulson as Buffalo's leading goal scorer.
--Speaking of goals and scoring, the Sabres haven't done very much of it so far this season. As of right now they're averaging 1.85 goals/game, or as John Vogl of The Buffalo News pointed out, the exact same 1.85 goals/game the team averaged over the two seasons when they were at the bottom of the league. For proper contrast (and probably one of the main reasons why Vesey signed in NY) the Rangers are averaging a league-leading 3.90 goals/game.
--Moulson's seven goals ties him for 34th in the league with the likes of Cam Atkinson (CBJ,) Rickard Rakell (ANA) and former Buffalo Sabre, Paul Byron (CGY.) Buffalo's points-leader is Kyle Okposo with 12 which ties him with 24 other players for 92nd in the leagued. There are 17 players in the NHL who are producing at a point/game clip or higher lead by Sidney Crosby at 1.36 and Connor McDavid, 1.29. The nearest Buffalo Sabres are Ryan O'Reilly (0.64) and Okposo (0.63) who rank tied for 105th and tied for 108th, respectively.
--"Disco Dan" Bylsma is juggling his lines once again. He promoted Marcus Foligno to the top line saying with R. O'Reilly and Okposo, "I thought we needed a little spark with some speed and some physicality on that line," Not sure where the speed is coming from but Foligno has been playing some pretty good hockey as of late. Bylsma's also keeping Johan Larsson and Evander Kane together saying, "I thought with Larsson and Kane, they've had some brief times together - they've had some time together last year; they had a few games earlier in the year together - and I thought that gave us some good speed up front." Captain Brian Gionta was on their wing. And he finally gave William Carrier a promotion putting him on a line with Sam Reinhart and Moulson. "Carrier stepped in in the third period (against Detroit) and added [speed] as well," Bylsma told the media.
--Dropping down in the lineup is Zemgus Girgensons. The "Lioneater" has been eating anything but this season as he once again is having trouble establishing himself in Bylsma's system (the same one that has this team at a 1.85 goals/game clip.) Girgensons started the season as a third-line center and played much of the year there before being bounced to the wing. He was on Cal O'Reilly's left wing on the third line during the short two-game win streak for Buffalo last week but was moved to right wing on that line against Detroit. Bylsma's new configuration has him playing right wing on the fourth line and, as has been the trend all season, without any special teams time.
--Maybe Bylsma wants Girgensons in a purely defensive role as he's only managed to produce one goal this season, which places him in a category that all but seven Sabres currently on the roster are in. Of the many players parading through Buffalo this season because of injuries, only Moulson (7,) Okposo (6,) O'Reilly, Gionta and Foligno (4 each,) Reinhart and Larsson (3 each) have lit the lamp more than once. Girgensons joins three others with one goal each while 12 have yet to score their first goals of the season.
--After some pretty shoddy defensive work where the Sabres were giving up four goals a game, Bylsma worked with his players on playing better defense. From the 4-1 Tampa Bay loss through the Detroit game on Wednesday, the Sabres have given up only eight goals against yet only two players who played in all four games were not on the ice when an opposition player scored--Foligno and Girgensons.
--At 19 points in 20 games, the Sabres aren't deep in the abyss this season, but neither are they hawking a playoff sport right now and it has Bylsma lamenting lost points in he overtime and shootout. He has only himself to blame for the early overtimes struggles. After blowing a third period lead in Calgary early in the year, Bylsma's system of trying to change from defense to offense on the fly in OT was a disaster and they lost to the Flames. In their other overtime loss against the New Jersey Devils, the Sabres were the victim of a rare overtime penalty shot that Devils' defenseman Andy Greene scored on just 0:29 into the extra session.
--That goal by Greene, who has scored 37 goals in 660 NHL games, went five-hole on Sabres backup goalie Anders Nilsson. The 6'6" Nilsson was left in disbelief after the goal but redeemed himself just over a week later when he stymied Pittsburgh's Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in a 2-1 shootout win for the Sabres. The win over the Penguins stopped a six game winless/three-game losing streak for Buffalo and was their first and only win in the extra sessions so far this year.
The Sabres will face the Capitals for the first of three times this season. The Sabres managed to pull off a 4-1 victory over the Caps last season. Former Sabres' Phil Varone and Tim Schaller opened the scoring in the first period while former Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson stopped 33 of 34 shots in the victory.
Buffalo has played Washington rather well over the course of the last few seasons going 4-3-3 in their last 10 vs. the Caps and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 at Verizon Center.
Things you should know from Sabres PR:
- The Sabres have won on the day after Thanksgiving in each of the last three seasons.
- Girgensons has three points (1+2) in his last three games against the Capitals.
- Kane has six career two-point games against Washington, including a goal and an assist in his last meeting with the Capitals on Jan. 16.
- Okposo has 10 points (5+5) in 12 career visits to Washington.
Do you see that bright sliver of light that finally broke through a thick layer of dark clouds, Sabres fans? That would be the sun and it's trying to fight through to shine on those of us in Sabreland.
It's been a pretty difficult time for the Buffalo Sabres beginning with the loss of Jack Eichel the day before the season opener against the visiting Montreal Canadiens. From that 4-1 loss to the Habs on through a choppy October and into a gloomy November that featured goal-scoring at a premium for Buffalo, the Sabres managed to battle their way to a 7-8-4 overall record thanks to the two-game winning streak they're presently on right now.
For those who haven't seen it, here's a list of the walking wounded and the number of games they've been out so far this season:
Eichel (high-ankle sprain, Oct. 13; injured reserve) – 19 games
Nicolas Deslauriers (knee, Oct. 30; injured reserve) – 12 games
Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain, Nov. 3) – 10 games
Tyler Ennis (groin, Nov. 9) – 7 games
Dmitry Kulikov (lower back, Nov. 11) – 6 games
Ryan O’Reilly (oblique, Nov. 12) – 5 games
Throw in the 11 games forward Evander Kane missed after being injured in the opener and the Sabres have gone without numerous top-six forwards and top-four d-men for extended lengths.
In their place, a parade of players young and old who either started the season in Rochester or should have been there, or in the case of Hudson Fasching, a player that started out well in Buffalo, but was injured and may not find his way back onto the Sabres roster. Fasching was in the Sabres lineup beginning October 16 and played six games before being felled by an injury. The 21 yr. old powerforward came to Buffalo after college last season and has yet to get a taste of the AHL, something that might prove to be very beneficial for him down the road.
A total of five players who'd played in Rochester this season contributed to the Sabres last two wins--forwards Cal O'Reilly, William Carrier, Cole Schneider and defensemen Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun.
O'Reilly scored the only shootout goal in Buffalo's 2-1 SO-win against Pittsburgh on Saturday. He's been centering the third line while getting time on both powerplay units. Carrier has been a freight train out there while trying to make the best of his fourth-line minutes. He's been skating hard, playing with an edge, has been in the middle of scrums and scored Buffalo's only regulation goal against the Penguins. Schneider has been playing well, but with Ryan O'Reilly likely to return tonight, he may be the odd-man out tonight.
On defense, Falk has been trying to hold the fort in the six games he's been with the Sabres but had been paired with Casey Nelson who showed that he's not quite ready for prime time. In Nelson's place came Fedun, more of an offensive defensemen who has surprised with his defensive play. Fedun has four assists in three games for the Sabres and joined his d-partner from Rochester on the Sabres third-pairing. Although they'll never be confused with Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook, the chemistry they've developed have helped them hold the fort to the tune of a combined +2 over the last two games.
Thanks to Sabres.com that ray of light got a little wider and a little brighter as they reported that Ryan O'Reilly was full go on the ice and skating on the top line between Buffalo's two leading goal scorers Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo. Also on the ice was Eichel.
Eichel's recovery time from his high ankle sprain was set at six to eight weeks and it seems as if he's right on track. Today he skated with the team for the first time since his injury and reports have him returning to the lineup sometime in early December. For those counting, the Sabres will probably be without him for another three or four games.
One of those games is tonight against a reeling Detroit Red Wings club that finds itself in a very strange spot in the standings--last in the Atlantic Division. The Wings have lost four in a row and are just 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and they'll be playing a Sabres team that sent them to the bottom by beating Calgary on Monday night.
Could there be a changing of the guard?
The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the playoffs since 1991, or 26 consecutive playoff berths, and won the three Stanley Cups along the way, but since two key pieces of their perennial playoff team departed in 2015, the Wings have been struggling. In their first season without future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk and head coach Mike Babcock (a probable Hall of Famer himself,) the Wings eeked into the playoffs last year (getting bounced in five games) and now find themselves last in the division, something that's raising eyebrows throughout the NHL.
The Sabres went through a bottoming-out period from 2013-15 and were on their way up at the end of last season. Expectations were ramped up heading into 2016-17 but injuries through them off track. Lately Buffalo has been forced into a defensive/shutdown style of play as goal-scoring dried up during the month of November. In the 10 games prior to the 4-2 win over Calgary on Monday, the Sabres scored only 12 goals, yet somehow they managed to scratch out a 3-5-2 record.
Tonight's matchup is a big one for the Sabres as not only would it mean that Buffalo hit the .500-point mark it could help the team turn around an abysmal record against the Wings. Buffalo is 2-7-1 in their last 10 against Detroit. Even last season when with a Wings team in transition, the Sabres only managed a 1-2-1 record.
Dispatching of a desperate Wings team tonight could very well signal the Sabres are on the upswing and the warm sun might get the opportunity to shine a little bigger and a little brighter through the dark clouds that have been hovering over this team since game-one.
The lines today according to Jourdon Labarber of Sabres.com:
Matt Moulson-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Zemgus Girgensons-Sam Reinhart-Evander Kane
Marcus Foligno-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
William Carrier-Cal O'Reilly-Derek Grant
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
One thing the Flames were intent upon doing on the second of a back-to-back, especially roadies, was playing a tight defensive game while using their speed to jump on any opportunity the Sabres may offer them. Sure enough, just over five minutes into the game the Sabres completely botched a 4-on-2 as Johan Larsson made one too many and defenseman Cody Franson waited too long to shoot and had his shot blocked. Up-ice went the Flames in a 4-on-2 the other way and Michael Frolik fed a cross-ice pass to Mikael Backlund for a 1-0 lead.
All was going well until the bottom fell out in a series of penalties that saw three Flames in the box, two of them simultaneously for two minute minors.
It began with Buffalo's Johan Larsson ticking people of like he does when he's on his game.
About half-way through the second period, a scrum after the whistle sent Larsson to the box for slashing and the Flames' Hunter Shinkaruk off for roughing against Larsson who had poked the puck into the net as the play was being blown dead. With the teams skating 4-on-4 Calgary's Troy Brouwer was caught slashing Evnader Kane and during the delayed penalty Dougie Hamilton tripped Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen. The result was a 4-on-3 powerplay for the Sabres for :40 seconds of the off-setting Larsson/Shinkaruk penalties. When those expired the Sabres had a 5-on-3 for 1:20.
The Sabres would convert as Sam Reinhart fed Kyle Okposo who was all alone in the slot for his sixth of the season and the game was tied 1-1 with :36 seconds left in the 2-man advantage. The play was set up when Cal O'Reilly took the Flames blueline and got the puck to Ristolainen who found Reinhart to the right of Calgary goalie Brian Elliot.
Buffalo still had 1:16 of powerplay time and they converted as Larsson tipped a Kane shot five-hole to put the Sabres up 2-1 just :36 seconds after the Okposo goal. That's right, in :36 seconds the Sabres were able to do something they hadn't done in the three previous games and five out of the prior six--score more than one goal.
And they weren't done either as Calgary's parade to the penalty box continued.
Just :53 seconds after the Larsson goal the Sabres found themselves on the powerplay again as Brouwer interfered with Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons. Twelve seconds into the man-advantage Matt Moulson took a feed from Okposo and went top-shelf putting the Sabres up 3-1.
In a span of 1:41 the Sabres did something they hadn't done since October 30--score three goals in a game. It was just what the doctor ordered for a goal-starved team who also has had plenty of trouble at home. "The power play goals were huge for us," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media post-game. "[They] let us put our most talented players on the ice and gave our team a level of comfort."
The Sabres ended up with six poweplays to none for Calgary before they were finally whistled late in the second period when Josh rookie William Carrier went off for roughing. Gorges would get the gate for cross-checking 1:23 later and the Sabres would be short two men and they would finish the period down a man.
Calgary got some life as Matthew Tkachuk scored his fifth of the season just after the Gorges penalty expired in the third but Marcus Foligno would answer with his fourth less than two minutes later for the 4-2 final score.
It was only the second time all season that the Sabers scored more than three goals.
The Calgary Flames gift-wrapped this one to the Sabres. After giving up the opening goal Bylsma said the team was gripping their sticks pretty tight. "We had a number of plays mishandled," he told the gathered media post-game. "We got the powerplay opportunities and it was a great chance for us to get some goal-scorers and get some guys that we needed to on the board."
Okposo, who got the ball rolling sounded happy and relieved after the game. "It was nice to get off the schneid a little bit for everybody," he said. "After we got that second goal, it was a big goal from our second powerplay unit."
Oddly enough, one of the players instrumental in Okposo's first goal was Ristolainen.
Buffalo's top d-man was struggling on the powerplay which included another bout with breaking his stick on a one-timer. During an early second period powerplay for the Sabres, Bylsma had Ristolainen on the bench which really didn't sit too well with the d-man. TV analysts had the coach and defenseman having words on the bench shortly thereafter.
Ristolainen would gather his senses and was a force out there the rest of the game. He drew the tripping call on the delayed penalty, calmly took the feed from O'Reilly and sent a quick tape-to-tape pass to Reinhart who fed Okposo. Ristolainen was his usual minute-eating self with a team-high 24:57 of ice-time, the assist and an even plus/minus rating.
Although the defensemen have only one goal to their collective name thus far this season, they are contributing with assists and call-up Taylor Fedun is showing how it's done while also showing some defensive acumen and finished with an even rating in 17:15 of ice-time (3:15 on the powerplay.) Fedun had two assists last night, giving him four assists in three games for the club. "We hoped he could show the poise and the puck-play on the powerplay, which he has" said Bylsma of Fedun, "but he's shown that he could defend and battle. He battled it out hard tonight on the defensive side of the puck.
"That may be a bit of a surprise for me."
For the Sabres, they're one game away from the .500-point mark as the two-game winning streak they're on raises their record to 7-8-4. But probably more importantly it should give them a boost of confidence as they finish a season-long four-game homestand against a struggling Red Wings club on Wednesday. Detroit is on a four-game losing streak, are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and now find themselves at the bottom of the Atlantic Division one game behind the Sabres.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Buffalo Sabres forward Cal O'Reilly's stat line for last night's game reads like this: 0 goals, 0 assists 0 points, but the final score reads Buffalo-2, Pittsburgh-1, SO. O'Reilly scored the game-winning goal for the Sabres last night in their victory but the only player to score in regulation or overtime for Buffalo was William Carrier, so technically the Sabres scored only one goal last night for the third time in a row and the sixth time in seven games. Add in the game where they were shut out against Boston and the Sabres have scored one goal or less in seven of eight games.
That's a bit disconcerting as Buffalo is averaging a league-low 1.78 goals per game, but right now, who cares? At this point in time, the Sabres got themselves a desperately needed win by beating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. For the first time in the last nine games, no less. It was a huge win for a bedraggled group of Sabres that featured no less than five players who began the season with the Rochester Americans in the AHL and in the process they snapped a six-game winless streak.
Also included in the happiness in and around KeyBank Center were a couple of firsts.
Carrier scored his first NHL goal on a nice play where he found open space after a Pittsburgh turnover in their own end. Buffalo defenseman Taylor Fedun, appearing in his second game of the year for the Sabres, sent a shot from the point that Carrier deftly redirected past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Sabres up 1-0 just over eight minutes into the game.
Both players began the year in Rochester and Carrier told the gathered media that the redirect was something they've worked on at practice. "Me and 'Feds' have been practicing that play in Rochester and we've been practicing it at every morning skate," he said. "It's pretty nice to get that one."
Pretty nice for Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma to get that win as well. It was the first time in four tries he was able to beat his former team and although he probably was ecstatic he finally beat the team he lead to the 2009 Cup, for him it was simply an important win for the team right now. "It doesn't really matter who it's against," he told the media post-game, "[It was] a win we desperately needed."
Perhaps the team has finally figured out a way to grind out a low-scoring win or perhaps the Sabres finally have the personnel to play and win such a game. Buffalo has been without their top two centers in Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, two cornerstones for the fast, up-tempo style of play Bylsma would prefer to play. Buffalo is also without two top-four d-men in Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov both of whom can get up-ice and move the puck well.
With four of their top-10 skaters out of the lineup, Bylsma's been trying to grind out wins. However, he's been trying to do it with young players like Nicolas Baptiste and Justin Bailey plus other, somewhat older players with very little NHL experience like Casey Nelson and Evan Rodrigues. That didn't work out very well as prior to the game last night, the Sabres had lost three in a row by a combined 12-4 score with each opponent scoring four goals against the Sabres.
The parade of call-ups continued on Saturday with 30 yr. old Cal O'Reilly and 28 yr. old Cole Schneider made the trip to Buffalo. O'Reilly has 134 NHL games to his credit and played over 500 total games at the AHL-level. Although Schneider has played in only five NHL games, he's played in over 300 in the AHL.
That duo joined defensemen Fedun with over 300 pro games (14 in the NHL) and Justin Falk who's played in 176 NHL games plus over 300 AHL games. Both of those players are also 28 yrs. old.
Although none of those four should be considered upper-level NHL'ers, there's a lot to be said for grinding out a hockey career over the course of many years in the AHL. Individually they may only be able to have an impact on a very limited basis, but as a group, they managed to add some stability to the Buffalo lineup, giving Bylsma the low-scoring, grind-it-out game he's been forced to play.
Which was the plan going into the game against the high-flying Penguins.
"The game-plane was keeping the game 0-0, trying to win it 1-0," said Carrier. "They've got a lot of skill over there so we were just trying to keep it 0-0."
"It's kinda how we want to play the game," said Bylsma, "We wanted to play a tight game and we wanted to be comfortable in a tight game.
Keeping it a tight game would have been impossible without the stellar netminding of backup goalie Anders Nilsson. The game's first star stopped 46 of the 47 shots the Penguins threw at him in regulation and overtime plus stopped Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the shootout. The Penguins didn't score until the third period and it was the first time since November 14, 2003 that Pittsburgh went into the third period without a goal against the Sabres according to ROOT sports.
Nilsson increased his record in Buffalo to 2-1-2 with a 1.74 GAA and .951 Sv%.
This was a great, hard-fought win for the Sabres but all will be for naught if they cannot keep it going. They finish their four-game home-stand with visits from the Calgary Flames on Monday and the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday. The walking wounded should start returning in the latter part of this month with an expected return by Eichel before December 1.
That said, the Sabres can't rest thinking that Eichel will float down from heaven to relieve them and their fans from all the suffering that's been going on so far this season. They haven't even hit the quarter-pole yet and if they want any chance of making a run at the playoffs it needs to begin now by consistently winning without Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly and Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.
Last night was a good start and winning with only one regulation goal is quite the feat. But methinks they'll need to score a little bit more if they want to head into Thanksgiving on a roll.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
The call-up carousel continued this morning as the Sabres announced that forwards Cal O'Reilly and Cole Schneider have been recalled from Rochester. In a departure from what Buffalo had been doing with their many call-ups so far this season, GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma may be looking to the two journeymen forwards to help steady a ship that's been trying to stay afloat through some pretty choppy water.
Prior to this recall the Sabres laid NHL opportunities at the feet of a group of youngins who didn't quite have the impact one would have hoped for. Three 21 yr. olds--Justin Bailey, Nicolas Baptiste and William Carrier--combined for 21 total games for Buffalo but managed only two goals, both from Baptiste, and zero assists amongst them. Of the three only Carrier remains.
With injuries putting a crimp the type of speed and skill game Bylsma likes to play, the Sabres have been trying to make the transition to more of a shutdown style. The team skated yesterday and according to media reports focused upon playing well defensively. "We talked today about concentrating on playing the right way, limiting the other team's chances," forward Matt Moulson told the gathered media after practice at KeyBank Center. "It seems like we're giving up a lot of odd-man rushes to some pretty skilled groups the last couple games so I think that's the focus. Playing the right way will lead to offensive chances and scoring chances."
The 30 yr. old O'Reilly (brother of injured Ryan) is a strong defensive forward who should help with that. O' Reilly has 133 NHL games under his belt scoring 16 goals and adding 32 assists while coming in at a pretty solid minus-five rating. Last year he got extensive playing time with Buffalo appearing in 20 games for the Sabres scoring three goals and adding four assists with a minus-1 rating.
Schneider, a Williamsville, NY native, is on his second recall for Buffalo this season. He had an assist in his first NHL game vs. Ottawa on November 9 then was sent back to Rochester after the following game. The 6'1" 200 lb. left wing was atop the AHL scoring leader board with 17 points (7+10) until O'Reilly surpassed him last night with an assist.
The Sabres face a pretty potent Pittsburgh Penguins club tonight featuring a triple threat of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin and a goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and 22 yr. old Matt Murray.
Pittsburgh heads to Buffalo for their final game of a three-game road trip that saw them get trounced in Washington 7-1 on Wednesday then travel to Brooklyn to pull out a 3-2 overtime win over the NY Islanders. With Murray playing last night against the Isles, Fluery is almost a certainty in net for Pittsburgh.
The Sabres have had plenty of trouble against Pittsburgh as of late going 1-8-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Penguins. Last season Buffalo was 0-2-1 leaving Bylsma without a victory in his first season against his former team. Pittsburgh outscored Buffalo 12-10 in their three victories with one of those games being won in the shootout.
With the Sabres in a serious goal-scoring funk, Bylsma opted to make some changes. According to Jourdon Labarber of Sabres.com, the lines at this morning's skate were:
Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno-Sam Reinhart-Brian Gionta
Zemgus Girgensons-Cal O'Reilly-Matt Moulson
William Carrier-Derek Grant-Cole Schneider
Reinhart gets bumped down to the second line while Larsson takes his spot on the top line. C. O'Reilly takes over at center for Girgensons who moves to left wing on that line. Labarber also notes that O'Reilly took Larsson's place on the second powerplay unit.
Bylsma needed to shake it up as the team has not scored more than two goals since October 30 in Winnipeg, a span of nine games. During that stretch they've scored two goals thrice, one goal five times and were shut out once. Remarkably, Buffalo is 2-5-2 during that span.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Sometimes when life keeps hammering away at you, there comes a time when you just mentally throw your arms to the cosmos, to simply say, “OK. I’ve had enough.” Everything you’ve tried to reverse a trend has gone for naught as if the forces of the universe are reminding you that they will decide when it's over, not you.
“When things are going like that,” said Okposo, “you gotta believe. We’ve got to show some mettle, some mental toughness; come back tomorrow and go to work.”
Often times in pro sports we here of an athlete "fighting it"--clutching the hockey stick or the baseball bat too hard, receivers fighting the football giving them hands of stone, etc.--the more they fight the worse it gets and the longer it goes the deeper the frustrations. It's been said that 90% of the pro game is mental and it would seem as if the hardest part is allowing oneself to believe in ones abilities whilst struggling. Professional athletes are at the top level for a reason and that fact gets lost.
Let it go.
Friday, November 18, 2016
Head coach Dan Bylsma has been behind an NHL bench for 499 games, has a 292-160-47 record, most of that coming from behind the bench in Pittsburgh and a Stanley Cup to his resume thanks to Sidney Crosby and the rest of the 2009 Penguins. His numbers in Buffalo are much more modest heading into tonight's game vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center as he's lead the rebuilt and still building Sabres to a 40-43-15 record in just over a season.
Despite the milestone, however, is the task at hand for Bylsma tonight. The Sabres are coming into tonight's game having gone winless in their last five games (0-3-2) and are having a boatload of trouble scoring goals. Through that five game streak the Sabres have scored a mere five goals. That trouble lighting the lamp stretches all the way back to their last three-goal game at Winnipeg on October 30. In the next eight games they've scored two goals three times, one goal four times and have been shut out once. During that stretch they've managed a 2-4-2 record while being outscored by a combined 19-10.
Only goaltending has kept this stretch from being a complete tire-fire. Robin Lehner has been rather stout for Buffalo in net having allowed only 16 goals on 218 shots against (.927 Sv%.) Worse for Lehner is that in addition to the skaters in front of him giving him no goal-support, slacking and miscommunication have lead to goals he had absolutely no chance on. Case in point. Against St. Louis with the game tied at 1-1 early in the third period, Sam Reinhart waltzed on a backcheck while his man pounced on a rebound left lying in the paint. The Blues went up 3-1 just over a minute-and-a-half later when defenseman Casey Nelson didn't skate hard on his backcheck and his man tipped one home deep in the slot.
There's really no excuse for either of those plays.
Nelson was sent back to Rochester on yesterday, a place he'd have been a long time ago had it not been for injuries on the back end. When Zach Bogosian was injured, Nelson moved from seventh d-man to the third pairing and when Dmitry Kulikov went down Nelson stuck and has been paired with call-up Justin Falk.
Falk has looked much more comfortable and has been much more aggressive the last two games, especially jumping into the play in the offensive zone. He's logged 24 shifts in each of the last two games and has a minus-one rating in them. He'll be joined on defense by former Amerks d-partner Taylor Fedun who got his first call-up of the year for Buffalo.
Fedun is a 28 yr. old Edmonton, Alberta native who's third on the Amerks in scoring this year. In 13 games for Rochester the 6'1" 198 lb. Fedun has 12 points (2+10) and also recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick against the Hartford Wolfpack (NYR) last Friday. Fedun posted a goal and three assists and also dropped the gloves for the trick. He also plays on the powerplay and was on the second PP unit for Buffalo at the morning skate according to Jourdon Labarber of Sabres.com.
Labarber also noted the following lines and d-pairings:
Evander Kane, Reinhart, Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta
Evan Rodrigues, Zemgus Grigensons, Matt Moulson
William Carrier, Derek Grant, Nicholas Baptiste
Rasmus Ristolainen, Josh Gorges
Cody Franxon, Jake McCabe
Lehner gets the start in net.
Tonight marks the first of a season-long four-game homestand for Buffalo, which may not be such a good thing so far this season.
The Sabres have been lackluster at best at KeyBank this season going 1-3-2 scoring only seven goals combined in those six games while giving up 13 goals. Outside of a three-goal outburst vs. the Florida Panthers, Sabres fans at the Center have been subjected to dismal displays of hockey where Buffalo was shut out once and scored one goal three times causing many to leave early at times to avoid traffic.
The original question was whether Bylsma's players can make his 500th game a memorable one, preferably on the positive side. Buffalo caught a little break tonight as Tampa's Steven Stamkos, the league's third-leading scorer, will not play. Yet, as luck would have it, the Lightning's Jonathan Drouin is expected to return after a seven-game absence. In goal for Tampa will be starter Ben Bishop who's sporting unBishop-like numbers with a 2.94 GAA and a .902 Sv%.
With the Sabres and Bills in the dregs, Buffalo fans are in an ornery mood lately as hope and promise for both teams quickly faded into a cruel game of Groundhog Day. The Bills will need to come close to running the table to make the playoffs while the Sabres need to right the ship pretty quickly if they hope to make the post season.
So who are the favorite Sabres whipping boys at this point in the season?
Evander Kane, Tim Murray, Dan Bylsma, Zach Bogosian and Zemgus Girgensons seem to be the top-five with Josh Gorges and Sam Reinhart vying for dishonorable mention.
Kane is the Alabama Crimson Tide of the group as when it comes to whipping boys it's him and then everyone else for second although Murray, the Buffalo GM who traded for Kane has climbed up to rank second. While watching his team falter mightily lately despite missing his top two centers and two top-four d-men, Bylsma's is getting hit hard for not being able to right the ship, win games or play exciting hockey.
Bogosian's been injured. And that's the point, he's either injured or sucks for many. He's another reason why Murray rises up to No. 2. Bogosian and Kane came in the same package deal. Girgensons would probably be higher save for the fact that he's only making $1.15 million this season, yet WGR550 has him on their poll question of who should step up their game for the Sabres.
We've got ourselves a tough stretch in Sabreland and there's no telling if they'll get out of it any time soon.
Might be the perfect time to sit back and watch a hockey game for the sake of watching the game.
In honor of our whipping boy top-five, I offer up Ben Harper.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Buffalo Sabres have three games on tap in the next five days--at the St. Louis Blues tonight, vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins on Satrurday. All three teams have a better record than the Sabres and all represent a pretty big challenge for an injury-depleted Buffalo roster.
The injury list for the Sabres for tonight's game:
C-Jack Eichel--out all season
D-Zach Bogosian--out tonight (seventh consecutive)--nine games played
F-Tyler Ennis--out tonight (fourth consecutive)--12 games played
D-Dmitry Kulikov--out tonight (third consecutive)--12 games played
C- Ryan O'Reilly--out tonight--13 games played
Add it all up and the Sabres head into Scottrade Center tonight missing their top-two centers, two two-four defensemen and a top-nine forward. We might want to add in that Buffalo is 2-7-1 in their last 10 vs. the Blues, 1-5-4 in St. Louis and that Buffalo is winless in their last four (0-2-2) and are 2-3-2 so far in the month of November.
Kinda makes for a pretty tall order.
Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 this morning and after telling the hosts about having to basically keep O'Reilly from playing so that a lingering injury can properly heal, host Howard Simon asked just how much of an adjustment it is to play without Eichel and O'Reilly. "It's a big adjustment," said Bylsma, "to have those types of guys out of our lineup. They do so much, they provide so much.
"You can't ask the players--the Derek Grant's of the world and the [Johan] Larsson's of the world--to play differently and be different. They can't be Jack, they can't be Ryan so we're going to have to play like a third and fourth-line team to grind out plays to have success and grind out victories."
Simply put, without Eichel and O'Reilly, the Sabres don't have the horses to play the style of game Bylsma has geared his system to.
For those watching the games this month, Buffalo has scored nine goals and given up 15 in seven November games. No wonder fans are filing out of the KeyBank Center early. It's classic, grind-it-out defensive hockey similar to what former Ted Nolan once did, but without the supreme on-ice motivation the former coach provided.
Although nobody in the organization will make excuses, missing four of your top-10 skaters does bring down the talent-level and although some teams have made do without players of that ilk, the young Sabres (third-youngest team in the league according to nhlnumbers.com,) have a good chunk of their skilled-players still in developmental leagues.
That said, those injured players must be replaced somebody and Amerks players have a golden opportunity in front of them to make an impression.
Forward William Carrier has done that. The 21 yr. old rookie got the call five games ago and worked his way up the ladder to the point where he may be skating on the top line tonight with Sam Reinhart at center and Kyle Okposo at right wing. Carrier was originally drafted by the Blues in the second round (57th-overall) in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and was a part of the Ryan Miller to St. Louis trade February 28, 2014.
Although Carrier has yet to hit the score sheet, Bylsma had nothing but great things to say about him. "Will has played extremely, extremely well, been really effective," he said to the gathered media. "Speed, he's been really physical, and he has gotten in the mix on offensive chances … Whether he plays on a line with Sam and Kyle or he's playing on the fourth line or playing on the third line, which he did for two of the games, he needs to continue to play that way."
Another 2013 draft pick is winger Nicolas Baptiste. The 21 yr. old was drafted 69th overall that year by the Sabres and will be appearing in his 11th game for the club this season. Baptiste is another speedy winger who has good size but he also has definitive sniping abilities. After being returned to Rochester following a back-to-back for Buffalo against the New Jersey Devils, Baptiste played a third game in a row on Sunday at Springfield, MA and recorded two goals and an assist against the Thunderbirds (FLA.) He is on his third recall for the Sabres and has scored two goals so far for Buffalo in 10 previous games.
Journeyman defenseman Justin Falk got the call from Buffalo as well to replace the injured Kulikov. Falk has plenty of NHL experience and his gritty, defensive style of play seems to fit well with the grinding style of play Bylsma wants his team to play.
Forward Evan Rodrigues was also called up for the St. Louis game. It's his first recall of the season, second of his career. Late last season Rodrigues got a shot and had a goal and an assist in two games for Buffalo while finishing a plus-2 in those games. Rodrigues finished strong in Rochester late last season and is off to a solid start for the Amerks so far this season with three goals and five assists in 13 games.
According to WGR's Paul Hamilton, the Sabres first powerplay unit at the morning skate had Matt Moulson (tied for second in the league with five PP goals,) Reinhart, Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe while the second unit had captain Brian Gionta, Johan Larsson (with Baptiste working in,) Evander Kane, Cody Franson and rookie Casey Nelson.
Game time is 8 p.m. ET tonight.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Forwards Nicolas Baptiste and Cole Schneider along with defenseman Justin Falk have been returned to the Rochester Americans this morning according to the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are off until Tuesday when they travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues and sending them down affords any or all three an opportunity to get another game in today.
Baptiste had the longest stint of the trio as he joined the team for their two-game, mid-continent road trip beginning in Winnipeg on October 30. With Hudson Fasching hitting the injured list after the Jets game, Baptiste played in eight games and skated roughly 9:00 minutes a night. He scored a goal and finished with a plus-one rating. The speedy 6'1" 206 lb. power forward was called up from Rochester after scoring three goals and two assists in five games for the Amerks.
Injuries up-front in Buffalo also opened the door for Cole Schneider who still leads the Amerks in scoring with 15 points (7+8) in 10 games. Schneider immediately got into the groove with a primary assist (his first NHL point) in his first game against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday then sat out Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils. Last night against the Devils he skated 10 shifts for Buffalo and registered three shots on goal.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov being sidelined with an undisclosed injury after the Ottawa game, so the Sabres called up Falk from Rochester. The 28 yr. old who's entering his ninth pro season had been steady in Rochester and with 171 NHL games on his resume' Buffalo gave him the call. The 6'5" 222 lb. defensive defenseman was on the third pairing for the back-to-back games with the Devils and heads back to the Amerks after a minus-1 rating with the Sabres.
The Amerks are in Springfield, Massachusetts today to take on the Falcons, the new AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers. The game begins at 3:05 ET making it questionable as to whether any or all of the trio will be playing. Springfield is just 150 miles from Newark, NJ where the Sabres just played and all three are accustomed to three-game weekends so it wouldn't be surprising to see one or three of them in the lineup for Rochester.
Through 12 games Rochester has a 6-6-0 record placing them fourth in the North Division and tenth in the AHL's Eastern Conference. The Amerks have been alternating wins and losses for eight consecutive games and are coming off of a 7-2 loss last night to the Syracuse Crunch (TBL.) As goaltending goes, so goes Rochester. The Amerks have given up 20 goals in their four losses during that stretch while allowing only six goals in their wins. And unlike their parent club, Rochester has managed to score 17 goals in the four wins while scoring 27 goals total over that eight-game stretch (3.38 goals/game.)
In 15 games so far this season, the Buffalo Sabres have scored a total of 29 goals or just less than two goals per game and Buffalo has not scored more than two goals in a game since the October 30th contest against at Winnipeg. During that seven-game stretch goaltending managed to save Buffalo from a total disaster as the Sabres somehow came away with a 2-3-2 record.
Injuries have really hurt as Jack Eichel remains out until next month and Ryan O'Reilly missed two of the last three games after being listed as day-to-day. O'Reilly is tied for the team lead in points with nine (4+5) in 13 games played. Also iced due to injury is Tyler Ennis who will be out for months after sports hernia surgery. Evander Kane, who scored 20 goals in 65 games for Buffalo last season missed 11 games because of broken ribs and has yet to register a point in four games since his return.
And after 15 games, no Buffalo defenseman has scored a goal.
Buffalo's a long way from wielding swords on offense as they've been more like a butter knife lately. Although it's not close to the start of the 2014-15 season when head coach Ted Nolan and his talent-challenged team scored only 19 goals through the first 15 games, this edition of the Sabres has some serious work to do. They'll have a welcomed two days off to ready for the Blues after playing a stretch of seven games in 11 nights. There will be no rest for the weary, however. Beginning in St. Louis Buffalo will play every other night for six games in 10 nights.
Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma was asked post-game last night if the team needed a break. "We've played a lot of games, a lot of road games (four out of the last seven,)" he told the gathered media, "the schedule has been one after another in terms of every other day or so." But he didn't lay the blame for last night's 4-2 loss at New Jersey on scheduling. You do, however, get the sense the next two days are very welcome. "We'll now get a break and have to come back for the game against St. Louis."
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Published by hockeybuzz.com 11-12-2016
After dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the New Jersey last night, the Buffalo Sabres head to the Prudential Center to face the Devils again tonight. And there's a litany of gloom hanging over their collective heads at this juncture of the season.
From a team perspective, despite the injuries that have been crippling the team, the Sabres are 5-5-4 which is the .500-mark points wise. Unfortunately that's an 82-point pace which is a tich above where their 81 points from last season. What's really deflating thus far in the season is their 1-3-2 home mark.
Maybe it's also a good thing that they will be on the road in New Jersey tonight and between travel and the morning skate, there's not a lot of time to think about last night's loss although the Devils have been giving them fits as of late. The Sabres head to Newark with a 1-4-2 record against the Devils since 2014-15.
Offensive woes have been plaguing Buffalo recently as they've scored one goal or less in their last three games (0-1-2) and have scored two or less goals in six straight games (2-2-2.) Although they rank fifth in the league with a 2.21 goals-against average, they rank 29th in the league in goals scored and are approaching tank-year levels with a miniscule 1.93 goals per game.
Forward Matt Moulson finally broke an eight-game scoring drought with his fifth goal of the season. All of Moulson's goals this year have come on the powerplay, which is great as he's looking remove the stink of last year's eight-goal season. But there a long list of players who are having trouble scoring and that includes the entire defense who've yet to score a goal through 14 games.
Yes, that's was typed correctly. Through 14 games so far this season, no Sabres defenseman has scored a goal.
The droughts up-front:
Derek Grant--0 goals in 14 games this season
Zemgus Girgensons--11-game drought, one goal in 14 games
Brian Gionta--six-game drought, one goal in his last 12 games
Marcus Foligno--four-game drought, one goal in his last 11 games
Ryan O'Reilly--four-game drought, one goal in his last 10 games.
You get the idea.
Although most of the players listed are considered bottom-six forwards, team-wide, confidence seems to be lacking but it's not because they've been slacking. The players have been getting their chances but in an unwelcome deja vu that brings back dark memories of "The Core Years," this team is having problems finishing and it doesn't matter which goalie is in net for the opposition. Starter or back-up, in the last six games the Buffalo Sabres have scored seven goals total or 1.17 goals per game.
"We had some Grade-A chances that we didn't put away," forward Evander Kane told the gathered media post-game after last night's loss. "It seems to be the theme the last little while here and we've got to find a way to change that.
"We just got to find a way to score, it's our biggest issue."
Yes it is but another big issue is penalties.
Last night, with the Sabres on top 1-0, defenseman Josh Gorges went off for holding and :35 seconds later d-partner Rasmus Ristolainen was whistled for delay of game after he shot the puck over the glass. For 1:25 the Sabres were facing a 3-on-5 with their top penalty-kill d-pairing in the box. They survived, but any chance of continuing with the momentum they had while working for that crucial second goal was gone. They also survived a double-minor in the third period to Kane with the score tied 1-1.
It's the second time in three games that the Sabres have been two men short and the second time that they've incurred a double minor in the same game as well. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the last time it happened was in Boston on Monday night when they tempted fate with a double-minor to Girgensons and 1:26 later, simultaneous 2:00 minute minor penalties to defenseman Jake McCabe which had the Sabres facing a 3-on-5 for 2:34. They were lucky to allow only one goal during that span, but it put the Bruins up 2-0 which all but finished Buffalo.
You can't continue to hammer at a brick wall in an effort to score when you're on the defensive killing penalties all the time. Props to the penalty kill units as they're holding the fort, but defense, especially goaltending, is not the issue.
The Sabres need offense which brings us to the love affair with Grant.
When it comes to his fourth-line defensive work, I get. At one point earlier in the season recognition for his work was warranted. But the fact of the matter remains--Grant is a goal-scorer at the AHL-level but in 54 NHL games, including 14 as a Buffalo Sabre, he has yet to score a goal. Why on earth head coach Dan Bylsma would have him centering the top line, even he if is great on faceoffs, is beyond me.
We all remember former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff putting the likes of Matt "Friggen" Ellis and Adam Mair on the top line and it boggled the mind. But his underlying reason for those two up-top was for them to do the dirty work while the soft-but-skilled top-liners could focus their fancies on trying to score. It didn't work all that well and neither is the Grant experiment.
In fact Bylsma doubled down on this experiment by giving him powerplay time.
The Sabres need scoring and they can't wait until Jack Eichel gets back. They need it now, by any means necessary and that includes calling up Rochester's third leading scorer in defenseman Taylor Fedun.
Sure Justin Falk, who was called up yesterday to replace an injured Dmitry Kulikov, has much more NHL experience than Fedun, but Falk is a defensive defenseman. Fedun had a goal and three assists (two primary) last night in the Amerks 5-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR) bringing his season total to 11 points (2+9) in 11 games. Fedun has played in 12 NHL games for his career and has registered two goals and five assists.
It can't hurt, can it? I mean, what's the worse that can happen? Another defenseman won't score a goal?
And while we're at it, how about making some room for Cole Schneider. The Amerks leading scorer played in his first NHL game of the season on Wednesday and recorded a primary assist then with the return of O'Reilly, Schneider was relegated to the pressbox. I love what William Carrier brings--speed and tenacity--but the Sabres need goals, plain and simple.
There's a lot to be said for the team holding it's own while the walking wounded recover. And it's also worth noting that the 2011-12 Florida Panthers made the playoffs with 94 points on a 38-26-18 record so these extra-session losses aren't killing Buffalo. But it would be nice for the home fans as well as their goaltending duo if the skaters could add a few goals here and there. Maybe get another win or two along the way.
Yesterday was Veteran's Day and before last night's game First Lieutenant Sean Lucas of the U.S. Army rapelled from the KeyBank Center rafters to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop on Miliktary Appreciation Day at the Center.
It reminded me of what Buffalo's beloved mascot Sabretooth once did.
For more on the person that performed that feat, click here.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Odds are that the back-to-back, home-and-home games between the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils beginning tonight could be a snooze-fest. The Devils are traditionally know for playing a tight game while the Sabres, have been without Jack Eichel all season and were missing Evander Kane for 12 games until he returned to action against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Those two top-six forwards combined for 43 goals last season so a big chunk of the Sabres offense has been on the sidelines.
Having Kane come back on Wednesday against Ottawa was a plus for Buffalo but that was countered when top center Ryan O'Reilly was felled by an upper body injury that kept him out of the game. O'Reilly lead the Sabres in scoring last season with 60 points (21+39) and is in a three-way tie for the team-lead this season with eight points. Head coach Dan Bylsma has O'Reilly listed as day-to-day.
The Sabres were also without Tyler Ennis against the Senators and will be without him for weeks after he underwent groin surgery yesterday. Ennis has had a tough go of it the last two seasons having played in only 35 games total. He suffered two concussions last season limiting him to 12 games.
All of those injuries, however, have opened up opportunities for others.
Center Derek Grant found himself on the top-line between Kane and Buffalo's leading goal-scorer, Kyle Okposo, at times vs. Ottawa on Wednesday. Bylsma told the gathered media after yesterday's skate that he had Grant up there for his faceoff prowess. Grant ranks second on the team (100 faceoffs or more) behind O'Reilly with a 59.5% win percentage.
Grant has been carving out a spot on the roster as a defensive specialist for the club. He is second on the club amongst forwards in penalty kill TOI with 2:25/game while centering the fourth line. The role he's playing is what 35 yr. old David Legwand played last season. The Sabres had the ninth best kill last season at 82.6% and while this year so far they rank 19th at 80.4%.
Because of his defense, the 26 yr. old Grant has been garnering a lot of attention from the Sabres despite having only one point so far this season. It was a secondary assist after winning a faceoff (of course) against Ottawa on Wednesday. He has yet to score an NHL goal in 53 games.
With the injuries to regulars Nick Baptiste is getting an extended look in Buffalo. Baptiste joined the Sabres for an early Western Canada swing and in two games recorded his first NHL goal. The 21 yr. old was sent back down to Rochester but was recalled late last month. He remained solid in his fourth line role despite not hitting the score sheet but broke through with his second goal of the season against Ottawa. In eight games with Buffalo the speedy winger has two goals and has a plus-two plus/minus rating.
Winger Cole Schneider finally got the call to Buffalo after leading the AHL with 15 points in 12 games. He registered his first NHL point vs. Ottawa when he jumped on the faceoff win by Grant and tapped it to Batiste who sent a quick shot home to light the lamp. It was only the third NHL game for the 26 yr. old.
To say the Sabres are having trouble scoring is an understatement. Their only goal against the Senators in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Senators came from the fourth line. Okposo has five goals while O'Reilly has four. Matt Moulson also has four but none have been at even strength and he hasn't scored a goal in eight games. With Kane returning to the lineup Bylsma dropped Moulson to the third line last game.
In all the Sabres are averaging only two goals per game tying them for 28th in the league. No doubt injuries have played a big part but they've also been unable to finish. Brian Gionta, who has three goals and Zemgus Girgensons (one goal) both had opportunities in overtime against Ottawa but were victims of the iron.
Without the goal scoring the Sabres have been forced to focus a lot more on defense in an effort to win, something the New Jersey Devils have done for decades. When they meet tonight it will be a game featuring teams with the fourth and fifth best goals against in the league. The Sabres have allowed an average of 2.23 goals/game while the Devils chime in at 2.25. New Jersey, by the way, is averaging 2.33 goals per game this season ranking them 25th in the league.
Traditionally when these two meet, one should expect a match akin to two heavyweight wrestlers going at it. The two sides plod along with not much happening until one side makes a mistake. In the nine meetings between the two teams over the past three years they scored a combined 31 goals or 3.44 goals/game. During that stretch the Sabres are 3-4-2 against New Jersey scoring a grand total of 14 goals and three players who are out of tonight's game--Eichel, Ennis and O'Reilly--scored eight of those.
In the last two seasons the Sabres have managed only three points against New Jersey--a win late last season and shootout loss midway through the 2014-15 season. During that six-game stretch they're 1-4-1 against the Devils. With the entertainment value down, fans should expect a battle of attrition for two points in the standings. The Devils have 15 points (6-3-3) in 12 games placing them fourth in a tough Metropolitan Division while Buffalo has accumulated 13 points in 13 games placing them in a tie with Toronto for seventh place in the Atlantic Division.
Friday, November 11, 2016
The Buffalo Sabres came home after a pretty brutal performance at Boston on Monday night to host Atlantic Division rival Ottawa for the second time in less than a week. Prior to the game Buffalo was greeted with some good news and some not so good news.
The good news is that forward Evander Kane he of the four broken ribs sustained in the season opener was back on the ice for the club. There was no easing him into the game by head coach Dan Bylsma nor did Kane take a cautious approach to his first game in a month. He lead all forwards with 22:09 of ice time and laid out a couple of hits for good measure.
However, top-line center Ryan O'Reilly missed the game as did forward Tyler Ennis. Rookie forward Hudson Fasching, who was recovering from a groin injury was apparently healthy enough to be sent down to Rochester while Cole Schneider got the call-up. Schneider is off to an outstanding start in the American Hockey League with 15 points which has him tied for the league lead. His seven goals ranks him tied for third while his eight assists places him in a tie for eighth and leads the Amerks with a plus-five, plus/minus rating.
The Williamsville, NY native was playing in his third NHL game and he immediately had an impact getting the primary assists on Buffalo's only goal of the night. Fourth-line center Derek Grant won the draw with the puck moving barely beyond the dot. Schneider made a nice, simple play and tipped it to Nick Baptiste who's quick snap shot beat Ottawa's Mike Condon.
Schneider was part of multi-player trade of minor leaguers between Buffalo and Ottawa last season and since he's been in Rochester he's scored 29 points (11+18) in 29 games. Injuries create opportunity and the 26 yr. old Schneider has certainly gotten himself noticed.
For the 21 yr. old Baptiste it was his second goal in eight games for the Sabres this year. His first one came in a rather fluky manner at Vancouver where his pass to the front of the net caromed off of a couple of Canucks players before crossing the goal line. He didn't receive credit for his first NHL goal until after the game. Tonight there was no mistaking as he sent it by Condon with a quick release.
In junior the 6'1" 205 lb. Ottawa native scored from anywhere on the ice in a variety of ways with a variety of shots. Baptiste was signed by GM Tim Murray not even six months after taking the Sabres position. Murray liked Baptiste's speed, hard work and hands and didn't hesitate signing the 2013 third-round pick (69th-overall) to his three-year entry-level deal in June, 2014.
The Sabres have been inconsistent both in-game and going from game to game but it looks as if they're in tune with Bylsma's expectations. From Kyle Okposo to the Johan Larsson line, from Zemgus Girgensons to Grant, they seem to be taking their roles to heart.
But those roles will change as the walking wounded come back.
The return of Kane already bumped Matt Moulson down to the third line with Girgensons and William Carrier, a 6'2" 212 lb. fast and tenacious forchecker who came to Buffalo as a part of the Ryan Miller to St. Louis trade.
When Jack Eichel comes back sometime in December, another forward will be bumped on down, probably to the fourth line as Larsson, Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno compose a line that Bylsma may not want to break up.
All of this is a good thing for the Sabres as they're adding quality depth that eventually will stretch down to Rochester.
Hang in there, Sabres fans, it's getting there.
Robin Lehner has been outstanding in net lately for the Sabres. Take out the 4-0 team loss where nobody seemed to get it right and Lehner has not allowed more than two goals since October 18th at Calgary. Lehner's movement has been brilliant. He's a big guy (6'4", 239 lbs.) and he's been playing big to but he's also more nimble than he's ever been thanks to some off season MMA training.
When it comes to the shootouts, let's just say he just ain't got it for some reason.
I'm not sure what it is but he just can't lock in and transfer his regulation confidence and movements to the shootout.
It's an Achilles heel for this club that may need to be addressed, maybe have a "relief-goalie" situation where Anders Nilsson comes in for the shootout. Sure, he's coming in cold, but Lehner really struggles in that aspect of the game.
Buffalo Sabres defensemen have not scored a goal in, now, 13 games this season thanks to their 0-fer last night. It's a troubling stat in light of the Sabres miniscule goal-production so far this sesaon. Bylsma said pregame that he wanted his defensemen more involved in the offensive zone and they responded well. Jack McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen each managed four shots on goal with a couple of McCabe's shots being somewhat challenging for Condon.
Jumping into the play is great, but getting their shots through to the net needs some work as well. Through 13 games Cody Franson has taken a total of 41 shots with only 22 of them on goal. He's had 14 blocked and missed on another five. That's about 54% of his shots getting on net which is the best amongst Sabres defensemen taking 25 shots or more.
Ristolainen has taken the most shots of any Buffalo d-man (58) and has gotten 24 through (41%.) McCabe is next at 32% (8/25) while Dmitry Kulikov is at 20% (6/30.)
Raw data like that doesn't tell the whole story, but it gives us an idea as to why the d-men might be having trouble scoring or even why the powerplay has gone powerless lately.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
It was a tough 2016 Election eve for
Two teams with the same result by differing means.
The Sabres have been playing excellent hockey over the last five games and headed into Boston winning four of five. In the process they rode the stout goaltending of Robin Lehner but also ran into a wall named Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs for their only loss during that span. Last night they ran into a tough goalie in Boston's Tuukka Rask who pitched a 32-save shutout against the Sabres. Rarely does Rask get beaten on the first shot and last night the Sabres didn't have enough second and third chances to beat him.
Buffalo's best opportunity came at the 13:00 minute mark of the second period at the tail end of back-to-back double minors to Zemgus Girgensons and Jake McCabe.
Girgensons caught Bruins forward David Backes with a high stick in front of the Buffalo net that neither referee saw. Play stopped as a crumbled Backes lay on the ice. The officials conferred at center ice and it was determined that Girgensons was the culprit and since he drew blood a double-minor high-sticking penalty was called. Somehow I'm lead to believe that no official actually saw the high stick but circumstantial evidence--Backes on the ice after tangling with Girgensons and the latter headed to the penalty box even though the door was closed--convicted him in the eyes of the officials and off he went for four minutes.
A word to the wise to Girgensons, who's a stand-up player, don't do anything until the official tells you to.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Although the Boston Bruins have not lost two top-six players long-term like the Buffalo Sabres have, their wobbly start can be attributed to a line-up bitten hard by the injury bug. The B's lost forward Frank Vatrano three months prior to opening night, they lost NHL defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Millar for a stint and also started out the season with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf for the first three games. David Backes, who was signed away from the St. Louis Blues in the off season, returned to the ice on Saturday after undergoing elbow surgery to remove a bursa sac on October 24. The Bruins went 3-3 in his absence.
The injuries have left the Bruins searching for chemistry amongst their forward group. Outside of a stout and dangerous line that has Bergeron (8 games, 2 goals, 2 assists) centering Sabres nemesis Brad Marchand (11, 4+9) and David Pastrnak (9, 7+3) the Spoked-B has been off-kilter up front. It's a situation that's also sent their powerplay to 29th in the league converting on only 7.9% of their opportunities. To make matters worse, the B's gave up consecutive short-handed goals to turn a tie game into a 3-1 deficit. Boston ended up losing to the NY Rangers 5-2 Saturday night..
Needless to say they won't be in a very good mood tonight when the Sabres come to town. Not only do the Bruins have that foul taste in their mouth from that loss, they have a pretty hectic schedule ahead. At the conclusion of tonight's game they head to Montreal to take on the division leading Canadiens and after a day off will conclude a six game in nine night stretch playing three games in four night that concludes with back-to-back road games at Arizona and Colorado.
The Buffalo Sabres have been on a bit of a roll lately despite and seemingly have finally adjusted to life without Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. After struggling through a rough start the Sabres have won four of five that could easily have been a five-game winning streak were it not for the other-worldly goaltending of Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen. Buffalo pumped 70 shots at the Maple Leafs net with 43 of them landing on goal. Andersen stopped all but one, including three highlight reel-type saves, in a 2-1 Leafs win.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, the Sabres headed up to Ottawa in an emotional Hockey Fights Cancer game that featured another Anderson, Craig, in net as his wife was undergoing cancer treatment. The Senators were on fire having given up only one goal in the previous three games--all played just after the announcement that Nicholle Anderson had an unknown form of cancer--and went into the third period with a 1-0 lead. But Buffalo went hard at Ottawa and came away with the 2-1 victory on goals by Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart and a 32-save performance by goalie Robin Lehner.
Lehner was up to the task throwing in some highlight-reel save himself which included a full-stretch stick save on the Sens Jean-Gabriel Pageau that is already being considered for save of the year. He also kicked out the left leg to stone Ottawa's Mark Stone who had slipped behind the defense on a 2-on-1.
Although Lehner's saves were incredible and also showcased his off season work on speed and flexibility in the crease, the fact that his heroics were needed on many occasions exposed a weakened Sabres defense-corps. Buffalo has been without top-four defenseman Zach Bogosian the last two games and his absence has left some kinks in the armor and had Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma juggling his pairings to provide a veteran presence on each pair. It didn't work to perfection against Ottawa, but with the stellar play of Lehner, it worked just enough.
For as bad and/or inconsistent as the Sabres have been the past two seasons, they've managed to hold their own against Boston. Buffalo 3-3-4 against the Bruins in their last 10 meetings, 4-3-3 at TD Garden. The Sabres have played exceptional hockey on the road thus far in this young season going 4-1-2 and have outscored their opponents by a combined 12-14. Of note, Buffalo blew third period leads twice before losing in the extra sessions.
With Bogosian sidelined for the last two games, Bylsma has kept his top-pairing of Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges intact while moving defenseman Jake McCabe to the third-pairing with Cody Franson. In the middle is rookie Casey Nelson with Dmitry Kulikov.
Those pairings, however, have changed a bit in-game as Bylsma has used Kulikov on the top pair with Ristolainen in a showcase of what eventually might be the Sabres shutdown pairing somewhere down the road. Both Ristolainen and Kulikov are big, mobile defensemen who are pretty sound in their own end and Bylsma has slowly been increasing Kulikov's as the d-man's comfort-level increases. Kulikov missed the most of training camp and the season opener because of the World Cup of Hockey and due to injury.
Regardless of who's paired with whom, the defense-corps needs to break through with a goal. In 11 games thus far Buffalo's defensemen have registered zero goals and one of the reasons their goalless is that their shots just aren't getting through on a consistent basis. McCabe managed to get one through against Ottawa and it bounced off of Okposo to tie the score. It was McCabe's third assists of the year. Only he, Ristolainen (8 assists) and Kulikov (3) have hit the score sheet for the Sabres so far this year.
Speaking of McCabe, it would seem as if the drop down has done little to affect his confidence. He's an extremely mobile d-man who's quick to the puck and relishes the opportunity to stand a player up at the line. McCabe is still young (22 yrs. old) and is in only his second NHL season so he'll have his fair share of mistakes, but as has been mentioned often times, he recovers from them rather quickly. He's always had a penchant for getting a shot through and his play from the point, which includes pinching in, should have gained the attention of his coaches.
Carrier made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and after getting acclimated to the NHL game showcased the speed and tenacity that defines his heavy, north/south game. After he began with fourth-line duties, Bylsma gave Carrier an opportunity to play on a line with Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons and it paid dividends on their very first shift together. Although he didn't hit the score sheet on Rienhart's game-winner against Ottawa, Carrier found Ristolainen in open ice in the slot after beating a check on the boards. Risto got the puck to Girgensons who shot it on net where Reinhart was there to eventually poke it home.
With Tyler Ennis having a maintenance day at yesterday's practice Bylsma, according to Chris Ryndak of Sabres.com, had Carrier skating with Reinhart and Girgensons.
The Atlantic Division
There's quite the jumbling of teams behind the division-leading Montreal Canadiens who are 10-1-1. Most had Montreal in the mix for the division title this season along with 2016 Eastern Conference finalist, the Tampa Bay Lightning (who are second right now) and odds are that when all's said and done, both of those teams will occupy the top two spots in the division.
However, what's taking place beneath that probability is rather interesting as there are six very different teams who cold all have a shot at third in the division. As of today just three points separates third place Ottawa from eighth place Florida and all are very different teams on differing timelines.
Ottawa is a young team who kicked off the season with five new faces and first-year head coach, Guy Boucher. The young, upstart Maple Leafs, who are in the first year of their build, are one point behind the Senators tied with an aging Detroit team still trying to muddle it's way through the losses of head coach Mike Babcock prior to last season and Pavel Datsyuk who no longer plays in North America. Buffalo, who's in year-two of their build is tied with Boston a team that's retooling on the fly while last place Florida is off to a tough start after making the playoffs well into their rebuild.
Outside of Montreal and Tampa Bay the rest of the division, and especially a coveted third place spot, is up for grabs. It would seem as if the Atlantic Division is weaker than the Metropolitan meaning there's a good possibility that both wild card teams will come from the Metro.
In the off season Bylsma mentioned the he had a 95-point team, which if true, should make the playoffs. As if right now, at 5-4-2 the Sabres are on pace for an 89-point season, which wouldn't be good enough. Although they're well ahead of last year's 4-7-0 team through 11 games, points are crucial. For instance, they blew two third period leads against Calgary and Philadelphia. Just gaining that one point would have them on a 96-point pace at this juncture.
Monday, November 7, 2016
The Buffalo Sabres travel to
Cancer has hit the Ottawa organization hard with the latest bout being waged by Nicholle Anderson, wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson. "‘I fight for: Nicholle’ will be a popular placard held high by fans and members of the Senators organization at the Canadian Tire Centre as the Buffalo Sabres visit Saturday," wrote the Ottawa Sun's, Wayne Scanlan of Hockey Fights Cancer night in Ottawa.
Mrs. Anderson, according to Scanlan, was diagnosed with a "still undisclosed form of cancer" over a week ago and began chemotherapy treatments on Thursday. After the diagnosis, and with the team in need, she encouraged her husband to join the team in Edmonton on Sunday while she made her way back to Ottawa from Philadelphia. The Anderson stopped all 37 shots he faced as the Senators responded with a 2-0 shoutout of the red-hot Oilers. Ottawa came through once again two nights later with Anderson leading the team to a 2-1 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes and his wife in attendance. With his Nicholle now undergoing treatment, Anderson was granted a leave from the team and with newly acquired Mike Condon in net, Ottawa blanked the Vancouver Canucks 1-0 on Thursday.
In his piece, Scalan gives a brief history of just how close to home cancer has hit. "
Thirteen years ago, Senators assistant coach Roger Neilson died of two forms of cancer," he wrote. "In April of 2015, the club lost assistant coach Mark Reeds. A year earlier, Reeds had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and then-general manager Bryan Murray with cancer of the bowel. In 2011, former Senators assistant E.J. McGuire died of Leiomyoscarcoma, a rare and deadly form of cancer.
"On it goes."
Sabres GM Tim Murray has a direct link to that brief history as Bryan Murray is his uncle. In November, 2014, not even a year after the younger Murray left the Senators to take his position with the Sabres, Bryan Murray disclosed that he had Stage-4 colon cancer. Tim had been under Bryan's wing in Ottawa and having a family member and mentor hit him really hard. Tim Murray told TSN radio just after Uncle Bryan disclosed the disease that had he known about it earlier then he "wouldn’t have been very anxious to be out the door. I would have been quite content to know I was there as his assistant for as long as he wanted.”
He clarified his statement to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, "I don’t know how it came across," he told Harrington, "but what I was trying to say if I didn’t say it well was if I had known he had Stage 4 cancer when I left, when I was offered this job, I probably would not have taken this job.
“Now, he might have made me take the job anyway, but I would have told him, ‘I’m not leaving.’"
Neilson also had Buffalo connections as he was head coach of the Sabres under GM Scotty Bowman for the 1980-81 season.
As for the hockey portion of the program tonight, the Senators are riding a three-game winning streak and have won four of their last five. Ottawa is second in the division with a 7-3-0 record, four points ahead of the Sabres who are eighth in the division. Although Buffalo defeated Ottawa in their last meeting, the Sabres are 3-6-1 in their last 10 vs. the Sens, 2-7-1 in Ottawa.
On the brighter side, forward Nick Baptiste will be making his hometown debut tonight. The Ottawa native has been up with the Sabres for five games so far this season and has registered his first NHL goal at Vancouver against the Canucks.
And, should recently recalled forward William Carrier hit the ice for the Sabres tonight, he'll be skating in his first NHL game. According to Sabres PR, Carrier played for the Ottawa Senators Minor Midget AAA team (OEMMHL) from 2009-2011. It's the first recall of his career.
Goalie Robin Lehner will be making his third start in Ottawa against his former team. In his first game against the Sens, Lehner stopped 34 of 36 shots as the Sabres came away with a 3-2 win on January 26. Lehner even assisted on Jack Eichel's powerplay goal that tied the game at two in the second period.
In his second game against the Sens at Canadian Tire Center, Lehner and the Sabres dropped a 2-1 decision in the shootout. He allowed one goal on 26 shots in regulation and two goals on two shots in the shootout.
Lehner was drafted by the Senators 46th-overall in the 2009 NHL Draft by then Ottawa AGM, Tim Murray. As Buffalo GM, Murray sent the 21st pick in the 2015 draft to Ottawa for Lehner and forward David Legwand.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
We know that the Buffalo Sabres are without forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane and perhaps one of them could have solved the puzzle that was Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen last night. Andersen, whom the Leafs traded a 2016 first round pick for (30th-overall) and a 2017 second-rounder for, was stout in net last night as