Sunday, November 13, 2016

No time to think...

...and that's a good thing.

Published by 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment