Well. It wasn't exactly how Buffalo Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma wanted it to go but, who cares? His team got a big two points, from a division rival no less, and did so by scoring five goals, a number which matched their total from five of the previous six games. Save for a four-goal outburst against the Calgary Flames, Buffalo could only muster one goal in each of their games from November 15-25 while on their way to an 0-3-2 record.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a last place spot some fans had them headed towards--Jack Eichel came back from injury. Anticipation was revved up, the team responded and Eichel proceeded to return with a goal and an assist in less than 10 minutes of the opening period last night against the Senators. From thence the Sabres would alternate between two-goal and one-goal leads but finished on top with a 5-4 win in Ottawa. "It was a little bit of haphazard game," Bylsma told the gathered media afterwards, "and there were more goals (that could have been.) Those aren't very easy on the heart."
Perhaps it was the price the team had to pay to get them out of the deep goal funk they'd been in all season.
It was only the second time in 22 games the Sabres have scored more than four goals in a game, only the third time they managed to score more than three. Of course the other 21 games were played without Eichel. The Buffalo powerplay which had been keeping the team afloat prior to his return was on fire last night going 3-5. Kyle Okposo, Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly all scored with the man advantage while Sam Reinhart and O'Reilly scored at even strength. Rasmus Ristolainen the final piece of Bylsma's top PP unit, one he'd envisioned at the beginning of the season before Eichel was lost to injury, had two powerplay assists.
Last night was a desperately needed shot in the arm for everyone in Sabreland as slogging through 21 games alternating between a Ted Nolan-type defensive struggle and tank years ineptitude made for some difficult hockey to watch. How bad was it? In 13 games prior the Sabres managed a total of 18 goals or 1.63 goals/game but somehow they managed to compile a 4-6-3 record to keep from falling off the cliff. Even with the two outbursts against Calgary and Ottawa, the individual stats are looking pretty ugly for the month of November but here goes.
Two players, Okposo and Reinhart, had pretty much been carrying what little offensive load there was to carry in November and last night's game furthered that. O'Reilly's two-goal, three-point night against Ottawa jettisoned him into the mix on only eight games played for the month. All three ended up appearing in the top scoring categories for the team.
With the powerplay doing a lot of the heavy lifting on offense, 5v5 play was under the bright light and it revealed some huge blemishes. Evander Kane, fresh off an injury that kept him out 11 games finished a minus-5 for the month as did Brian Gionta who saw his plus/minus for the season go from a plus-3 to minus-2. Johan Larsson rounded out the bottom three with a minus-4 for the month.
On the bright side, rookie Will Carrier finished a plus-2 in 12 games. O'Reilly was the only other Sabre (save for Eichel in his one game) to finish the month in the plus column (plus-1.)
Buffalo's goaltending was stout throughout the month of November with only a few klunkers out of 14 games. Back up Anders Nilsson's stats came back to earth a little bit but he came up with a 2-1-1 record this month including a huge 2-1 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nilsson got the win last night in relief after Robin Lehner exited with a lower body injury that Bylsma labeled "day to day."
Lehner has been shouldering the bulk of the goaltending duties and despite a 3-5-2 record for the month, his GAA is down to 2.40 from 2.61 while his Sv% is up to .921 from .913.
Jack's back and so is the Sabres speed. Although I appreciate the lighter load compiling these individual stats, I wouldn't mind a little more work due to increased scoring.
Buffalo Sabres 2016-17 Individual Stats:
--October: Okposo, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 7; Moulson, Brian Gionta, 5
--November: Okposo, Reinhart, 8; O'Reilly, 5
--October: Okposo, Moulson 4; O'Reilly, Brian Gionta, 3
--November: Reinhart, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, Moulson, Foligno, 3
--October: Moulson, 4; O'Reilly, 2; Okposo, Sam Reinhart, 1
-- November: Moulson, Okposo, 2; Eichel, Reinhart, O'Reilly, Larsson, Franson, 1
--October: Ristolainen, 7; O'Reilly, 4; Reinhart, Okposo, Franson, 3
--November: Okposo, 5; Reinhart, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Franson, 3
--October: O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 3; Gionta, Zemgus Girgensons, 2
--November: Okposo, Kane, 3; Reinhart, Gionta, 2
--October: Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 3; O'Reilly, Reinhart, 2
--November: Okposo, 4; O'Reilly, Reinhart, Ristolainen, 2
--October: Gionta, +3; Okposo, Franson, +2
--October: Tyler Ennis, -4; Nicolas Deslauriers, Derek Grant, -3
--November: Kane, Gionta, -5; Larsson, -4
--October: 2-2-1; 2.61 GAA; .913 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 5-7-3; 2.40; .921; 0
--October: 1-1-1; 1.96 GAA; .937 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November: 3-2-2; 2.20; .939; 1