Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bylsma addressing compete and the Sabres will need it going forward

Published by, 12-13-2016

The Buffalo Sarbes got themselves some time between games and head coach Dan Bylsma put it to good use with compete drills and an intense 20 minute 5v5 drill at Sunday morning’s practice. Afterwards he told the gathered media, “That last 20 minutes was how we need to play an you’re going to see more of that drill from us in practice and hopefully see it in the game.”

The Sabres were coming off of a particularly dreadful performance against the Washington Capitals at home on Friday where the only thing worse that the 4-1 score was the compete-level. In the prior matchup against Washington earlier in the week Buffalo hounded the Caps for a good portion of the game and were driving the net hard in a committed effort to get to the dirty areas of the ice. The Sabres ended up losing in overtime after blowing a third period lead but it was an effort that usually produces wins more times than not. An effort like they had on Friday is the type that will ensure they end up at the bottom of the league.

In addition to the compete drills, Bylsma has the NHL standings posted in the dressing room and right now the Sabres are last in the division, last in the conference and near the bottom of the league resting in 27th place. Bylsma said that he doesn’t want to “over-obsess” about their place while also saying that he wanted his players “to have a good idea where we’re at and where we need to go.”  

It’s not a pretty picture at this juncture as the Sabres are eight points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, albeit with three games in hand. And as Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News pointed out, “the top five teams in the Metropolitan Division—NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus and Washington—combined to go 17-1 last week and are 29-7-3 since December 3.” Washington, whom Buffalo lost to twice last week, is 11 points ahead of the Sabres for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

There’s still a lot of time left in the season as we’re less than a third of the way through it, but any run should start immediately and relatively speaking, it already has.

The Sabres have already been on a bit of a run compared to their struggles through October and nearly all of November. Those struggles happened to coincide with an overflowing MASH unit which included Jack Eichel the entire time along with forwards Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly plus defensemen Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov and Josh Gorges intermittingly joining him on the injured list. Prior to Eichel’s return the team went 7-9-5 but since coming back from his high-ankle sprain the Sabres are 3-2-1. Not an impeccable record by any stretch, but solid and pointing in the right direction none-the-less.

The biggest factor in Buffalo’s Oct./Nov. struggles was scoring goals and Eichel’s return certainly helped that with his return to the lineup. However, inconsistencies in that department along with a couple of poor performances have caused Bylsma to shake things up in the top-six. He moved winger Kyle Okposo to the Eichel/Kane line and put Sam Reinhart with O’Reilly and rookie William Carrier. Buffalo’s third line of Johan Larsson centering Marcus Foligno and captain Brian Gionta remained in tact at practice while the fourth line had Derek Grant returning to the lineup centering Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons. The odd man out was Nicolas Deslauriers who only skated a little over five minutes against Washington in his return from the injured list.

Lack of goal scoring has been killing the team and more specifically, goalie Robin Lehner who’s been playing well but has gotten little goal support. It’s a situation we see often in baseball where a starting pitcher has a lower ERA but lack of run support has his record in the dumps. Lehner hasn’t been the second coming of Martin Brodeur but his .914 Sv% and 2.66 GAA has left him with a 1-6-3 record over his last 10 games as John Vogl of the Buffalo News pointed out. He also points out that Lehner has twice lost in overtime after allowing only one goal in regulation and he also lost after giving up only one goal to Boston and in his last 10 decisions the Sabres have scored only 14 goals with Lehner in net.

In direct contrast to that, backup goalie Anders Nilsson has allowed three goals per game over his last four with a save percentage that peaked at .919 and he’s 3-1-1. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

According to Jourdon LaBarber the Sabres defense-pairings look like this:

Jake McCabe/Rasmus Ristolainen
Dmitry Kulikov/Cody Franson
Josh Gorges/Justin Falk

The Sabres head into tonight’s matchup with the LA Kings sporting a 10-11-6 record good for 26 points through 27 games. Last year at this juncture they were 11-13-3 good for 25 points.

Buffalo has six more games remaining before the Christmas break. Last year they went 3-3-0 in games 28 thru 33, accumulating 31 points so in order from them to keep pace, this edition of the Sabres will need to bring home five points in the six games they have left before Christmas. Of course, if they’re thinking of making the playoffs keeping pace is not good enough.

The Sabres finished last season with 81 points and Bylsma put up 95 points as a stated mark. That 14 point difference equals just over two points per month and right now they’re only ahead one point on the year. If they can duplicate the six-game stretch upon Eichel’s return, they’ll add seven points which is good, but still not good enough.

That’s the hole they’re in right now.

Beginning with LA at home tonight the remaining games before Christmas are:  vs NYI, @ CAR, @FLA, vs. CAR, @ NYI.

It’s not an extremely difficult schedule, but if the Sabres don’t up the compete, and pull off at least a 3-2-1 record, the hole they’re in gets a little deeper.  That last 20 minutes was how we need to play and you're going to see more of that drill form us in practice and hopefully see it in the game."That last 20 minutes was how we need to play and you're going to see more of that drill form us in practice and hopefully see it in the game."

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