Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-17-2016
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.