Saturday, November 26, 2016

Black Friday notes as Buffalo visits Washington tonight

Published by, 11-25-2016

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.

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