Saturday, November 26, 2016

Buffalo vs. Detroit--a further parting of the clouds? Changing of the guards?

Published by, 11-23-2106

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 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

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

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