Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Of scheduling, Eichel, injuries, the Panthers/analytics and Eric Wood

Published by, 12-20-2016

Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 this morning mentioning what a good stretch of scheduling the team just had. "It feels a lot different," he told host Jeremy White. "This 10 days we're not playing in [rapid fire] succession."

Beginning November 1 they had a stretch of seven games in 12 nights, had their first two off-days in a row then followed up with six games in 10 nights.From thence it was three days off followed by five games in eight nights and on to the 10-day stretch he referred to where they had stretches of two, three and two days off with only one game between.

The final run to the Christmas break began last week where they played a back-to-back, had two days off and are now in Florida for a game against the Panthers tonight before finishing with a back-to-back Thursday and Friday.

Bylsma made no excuses using the schedule, nor did he make any excuses using injuries. "This is the NHL," he told White. "You have injuries, you have a lot of injuries, you get healthy and hopefully you can keep that health going forward."

Of course the big injury for Buffalo was that of Jack Eichel who missed the first 21 games of the season with a high ankle sprain suffered on the eve of the regular season. Eichel returned to the ice and put together two adrenaline-filled performances at Ottawa and at home vs. the NY Rangers, both wins for the Sabres, but started feeling the effects of the long layoff, according to Bylsma.

"His first two games back were pretty remarkable," the coach told White. "Then in games 3, 4, and 5 he started feeling [it]. He started to get some bumps and bruises in other areas and felt that ankle against Washington and was feeling pretty banged up. As he got acquainted to a higher level of work, playing more games, I think he started to feel a lot better, like he had that extra gear."

When Eichel is healthy, that extra gear is like switching on the nitrous tanks and it's good to see that he's rounded into game-shape.

Long-term injuries will do that. It's not just the recovery period off the ice and the body healing, it's also about getting up to speed and conditioning the body to take on the physical punishment. As we look back on the first quarter of this season we see a team that has had numerous long-term injuries to key players. Along with Eichel there was Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov, three more top-half players who were sidelined for extended lengths. However, beginning in Carolina on Saturday, all the Sabres players are back on the ice save for Tyler Ennis whom we barely even know as he has yet to play this season after appearing in only 23 games last year.

Bylsma pointed to this final stretch of six games as an area of focus for the club. Buffalo is 2-0-1 in the first half while the second half begins tonight at Florida against the Panthers and they're looking to get on a roll.


The Florida Panthers are a bit of a mess right now as ownership did some strange things in the off season.

After accumulating 103 points and winning the division last season, the team went through a philosophical change that has them struggling this season with a 14-13-5 record. The Panthers are only two points ahead of the Sabres having played two more games.

Analytics was at the crux of the decision to trade away defensemen Eric Gudbranson and Kulikov in the off season and it eventually lead to the firing of head coach Gerald Gallant last month. The mastermind behind the 'Cats rise to the top of the Atlantic Division was Dale Tallon. He, like Gallant, is a hockey guy and the players that were traded were hockey players. But in the world of analytics, there's no room at the inn for a mindset like that so they all were removed from the equation in some way. Tallon is still in the organization but was kicked up to an upper management role that took him away from hockey decisions.

Regardless of Tallon's place now, which is said to be back making hockey decisions, Pandora's box has been opened.

Florida joined the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs in openly and overtly riding the analytics wave. All three have highly-touted "analytics gurus" in management positions--Tom Rowe is Florida's GM and interim head coach, John Chayka is GM in Arizona and Kyls Dubas is AGM for the Leafs.

These are the three teams to follow in the battle between new and old school and they're off to a rough start at this juncture. The Panthers' 33 points is best amongst the trio of teams, Toronto is next best at 31 while the Yotes have 27 points and presently sit 29th in the league.

The Sabres shutout Florida earlier this season 3-0 and tonight represents the second of four meetings between the Atlantic Division foes. Last year the Panthers went 3-1-0 vs. Buffalo outscoring them by a combined 17-10.


Injured Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood is a great interview and is the longest tenured player on the team right now. As rumors fly that head coach Rex Ryan will get the axe come season's end (or sooner,) Wood is none too pleased with that possibility. After already playing for four different coaches since being taken by Buffalo in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Wood is backing his head coach.

“I’m a Rex guy. I like Rex a lot. I like him as a coach. I think he’s a great leader,” Wood said, via the Associated Press. “I know it doesn’t feel like it all the time, but we’re so freaking close.”

Wood is a pretty astute guy who's certainly in touch with One Buffalo the blanket thrown by Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of both the Sabres and the Bills and he used a hockey, the Sabres and tanking to make a point. “This isn’t like hockey where you scrap your franchise for a guy that you know is coming like a [Jack] Eichel or [Connor]McDavid,” Wood said, referring to the No. 2 overall pick in Buffalo's Eichel and the top overall pick in 2015 in Edmonton's McDavid. “This is football. You can get a No. 1 draft pick, and the best guy on the board is a tackle that year, and a tackle doesn't change your franchise."

I'm all for continuity as well but who knows what ownership will do, but those comments by Wood make me like him even more. He's a football player through and through.


Bylsma looks to be sticking with his lineup changes with a projected lineup, according to of:

Marcus Foligno-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Matt Moulson-Jack Eichel-Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
Zemgus Girgensons-Derek Grant-William Carrier

Jake McCabe-Rasmus Ristolainen
Dmitry Kulikov-Zach Bogosian
Josh Gorges-Cody Franson

Robin Lehner gets the start in net.

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