Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rock 'em, sock'em quick pops for a Sunday

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-04-2016

--When Jack Eichel returned to the Buffalo Sabres lineup last week team speed went up measurably. Not just because he's one of the faster skaters in the league, but because the rest of the team found that latent gear that had been lost in all the poo-pooing over his injury. Although they still have some slugs on the team, they're playing at a much faster pace now that Jack's back...when motivated.

--"When motivated" are the operative words when it comes to the Sabres last game vs. the Boston Bruins. Buffalo had an opportunity to come within four points of the Bruins who sit third in the division. They were riding a two game winning streak and had scored nine goals in the process. They came out skating for the first five minutes, then lollygagged until they found themselves down 2-0 in the third period. That's not how playoff teams do it.

--Perhaps the Sabres couldn't handle the tight checking of Boston. No way are the B's as fast as the Sabres but they put the clamps down and forced Buffalo to work. Unforutunately for the Sabres, not many were up to the task. After fighting through a smothering Bruins defense the Sabres then had to get one by Tuukka Rask, one of the best goalies in the league. Buffalo needed dirty goals. They got one. Not good enough.

--Speaking of Pu, one Cliff Pu, Buffalo's third round pick (69th-overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft is off to a great start for the London Knights. The 18 yr. old right-handed center leads his team in scoring and is fifth in the Ontario Hockey League in points (42) and goals (18) in 24 games. Team Canada held it's nose to Pu for the upcoming World Junior Championships.

--John Grigg of Sportsnet.ca had Pu as Team Canada's biggest snub this year but as our good friend Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com points out, Pu is probably second on the snub list. Baker points to Sabres prospect and present Sabres defenseman Brendan Guhle as quite possibly the top Team Canada snub.

--Guhle had been lonesome and forlorn wallowing away in Prince Albert for a last place Raider team before he was traded to the B.C division-leading  Prince George Cougars. His good fortune continued when the Sabres recalled him from the Cougars due to an unlucky rash of injuries that have hit Buffalo's blueline. Guhle was quoted as saying that his coach approached him with the news by saying that he was traded to the Sabres. Guhle's response was that he didn't even know a recall like that was allowed.

--The 6'3" 194 lb. defenseman who skates like the wind hit the lineup in Buffalo yesterday afternoon for a 1 O'clock game less than 12 hours after touching down at Buffalo International Airport. And the kid looked good. Actually pretty impressive for a 19 yr. old playing in his first NHL game. Although not without flaws, his skating ability is top-notch and his feel for the game is exceptional which makes him a very intriguing prospect for the Sabres moving forward. Methinks landing in Buffalo for an NHL stint takes away the sting of not being picked for Team Canada.

--Guhle had a shot on goal his very first NHL shift and had an impressive rush up ice that surprised the entire Bruins team before being stopped by Rask who made a big league save on the youngin. Plays like that got him noticed in junior and made him the 51st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

--And it's plays like that which makes Sabres fans drool over the prospect of him on the blueline. Injuries on Buffalo's defense means Guhle could very well be here for a few more games, maybe nine total but playing in a 10th would kick in the first year of his entry-level contract and the Sabres may not want to go there. I'm of the opinion that it's a good thing. Let him finish his junior career and next year plan on having as a part of the Sabres top-six on defense.

--The defense has held up fairly well with Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov and now Josh Gorges out with injuries. Two Rochester call-ups--Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun--have done yeoman's work filling in. Their two different players on the same pairing. The 6'5" 220 lb. Falk is intent upon making people pay the price for a play while Fedun is a smooth puck-mover who's on the second powerplay unit. They'd played together for the Amerks and so far for Buffalo they've combined for a plus-1 rating in eight games.

--Cody Franson was Guhle's d-partner yesterday and the rookie said that veteran was instrumental in making the jump more comfortable. Franson, who'll never be known for his skating, has been playing rather well lately, which is something the Sabres desperately need from a player considered to be the No. 3 defenseman for Buffalo right now. He'll need to continue that as the Sabres are facing some serious talent this upcoming week.

--Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers visit KeyBank Center on Tuesday for the second of two meetings between the two clubs. Buffalo smoked the Oil 6-2 on October 16. The Sabres were coming off of a drubbing by the Montreal Canadiens in the season opener and were starting a three-game western Canada swing in Edmonton. Ryan O'Reilly had two goals and two assists in the win while Kyle Okposo scored his first goal in the Blue and Gold.

--That matchup on Tuesday will mark McEichel II as McDavid and Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 Draft, meet for only the second time. In their first meeting McDavid scored both Edmonton goals in a 2-1 Oilers victory with the second one coming in overtime. Both players have grown since then as McDavid's atop the NHL leaderboard in points (34) and assists (23) while Eichel was like a greyhound out of the gate in his return to the ice. In his first three games of the season after returning from injury, "Jack Flash" has two goals and two assists.

--Before that, however, the Sabres head to D.C. to take on the Washington Capitals. The Caps seem like a simmering volcano waiting to erupt right now. For a team with the firepower of Washington, something doesn't seem right when they have only one player in the top-10 in scoring categories. Alexander Ovechkin's 12 goals have him ranked tied for eighth in the league so far this season and one would think that it won't be too much longer before they crank up the scoring machine. Washington is ranked 18th in goals-for right now, an unusual and probably uncomfortable spot for a team that was second in the league last season.

--The Capitals are off to a solid start at 13-7-3 and are presently sitting tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Division, and in a four-way tie for sixth in the Eastern Conference.

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