Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-10-2016
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.