Sunday, October 22, 2017

On to Boston with a bitter taste still lingering

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-21-2017


It's about as crappy a start to a new season and a new regime as it can get. The Sabres head to Boston tonight with a 1-5-2 record, a boatload of injuries and on-ice play reminiscent of the tank years. And after last night's stinker against the Vancouver Canucks, hands are being thrown into the air across Sabreland as fans and media disgust with this product are popping in forums and social media.

Before we get to that, however, the NHL screwed the pooch last night by not disallowing a goal when there was clearly an offsides. It was a call that was almost as bad as Brett Hull's skate in the crease.

Here's the explanation: 

"After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver's Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, 'a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered off-side provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blueline.'"

Yup, "control of the puck" means a air borne puck that's at least a foot from Virtanen. We're left to wonder if the staff in Toronto was actually reviewing the play or looking up this obscure rule to make the goal stand. A rule, by the way, that still doesn't justify the ruling on the ice.

Here's what Sabres coach Phil Housley had to say about the play when talking to the gathered media postgame: 

"I disagree with the call - totally," Housley said after the game, per John Vogl of the Buffalo News. "(Virtanen) knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession. If you call that possession, then as long as I've been in the league it's a different answer or explanation than they gave.

"I'd call that 10 out of 10 times offside, and I'd continue to challenge that again."

Simply put, the Sabres got screwed on that play. Which is nothing new.

However, that being said, what the NHL didn't do to screw over Buffalo, the Sabres did to themselves. What on earth are you thinking, Rasmus Ristolainen? That turnover was pathetic (and lead to that controversial goal.) Jiminy Christmas, Housley, why on earth do you continue to play Nathan Beaulieu and Matt Tennyson on the powerplay? Tennyson adds little if anything and Beaulieu is a turnover machine and it happened again last night which lead to another shorthanded goal against, their league-leading sixth of the season. That's the fourth shorthanded goal that Beaulieu has been on the ice for.

On twitter, the despair in Sabreland is being tossed around like the like chum in the water. How long before Housley gets axed? Okposo's contract is an albatross. The tank didn't work. Everyone sux and we're all going straight to hell. Jesus, Could we be Toronto?

What a wonderful day.

On this warm October Saturday some fresh air would do everyone in Sabreland some good. Disconnect, step away and venture outside for a second. Go skip stones in the water or just lie down in the grass an look to the sky. Get away from the media and social media for a moment and give your brain a rest.

There's a game tonight. This may or may not be the low point of the Sabres season thus far but life still goes on and we're still only eight games into it. Sure, former coach Dan Bylsma is chuckling, but it's only worse because this first-time head coach is actually worse. At least for now. Sure, it's a tire fire in Buffalo but as we look at the standings, believe it or not, there are worse teams. The Sabres have a better record than the Montreal Canadiens and the Arizona Coyotes, the latter of whom has yet to win a game. Buffalo is also are tied with the Jimmy Vesey and the NY Rangers om the standings.

Small consolation, I know, but it could be worse.

Tonight the Sabres take on the Boston Bruins, a team they were swept by last season. In fact Buffalo is 2-5-3 over their last 10 vs. the B's but 4-4-2 on the road.

Buffalo heads to Beantown and the injuries continue to mount. The aforementioned Beaulieu is out and Buffalo called up Zach Redmond from Rochester. Whether he or yesterday's call up Taylor Fedun gets the nod is still up in the air but regardless, who'd have thought we'd be pining for Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian and Justin Falk, all of whom are injured?

Housley benched $11 million worth of salary last night in the second and third periods as Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson rode the pine because of ineffective play. Perhaps the Sabres are taking a page out of the Buffalo Bills playbook as they had their highest priced player, Marcel Dareus, playing minimal snaps and last week they had Cordy Glenn and his $14.2 million cap-hit this season were on the bench as well.

It's a tire-fire right now with the Sabres and the prospects of winning tonight against Boston aren't the greatest. The start to this hockey season has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Sabres faithful and the only thing that can get it out is a win, plain and simple.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

Griffith, Antipin in, Johnson in net. Vancouver in town.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-20-2017


Forward Seth Griffith and defenseman Victor Antipin are in the lineup tonight for the Buffalo Sabres. Griffith was last seen in Los Angeles playing his third non-descript game in a row against the Kings while Antipin hadn't seen the ice since the Sabres got smoked by the New Jersey Devils on October 9.

This may be one of the last chances for Griffith as he's played in five games for the Sabres this year and has on assist and a -3 rating while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice-time. Buffalo takes on the Vancouver Canucks tonight at KeyBank Center then travels to Boston for the second of a back-to-back against the Bruins. Injuries could still keep him on the ice as Jacob Josefson has been placed on IR and Zemgus Girgensons is day-to-day but Griffith's play will ultimately determine his fate. Rochester is a stones throw away from Buffalo and will be home for their next two contests tonight and tomorrow night.

After today's game-day skate Sabres coach Phil Housley told the gathered media that Griffith needs to use his speed and that he needs to compete "in his own way." Housley mentioned that Griffith used his speed and contributed in the preseason, but the 5'9" 190 lb. Griffith has yet to make an impact.

Antipin has been in the pressbox since the New Jersey game on October 9. The 24 yr. old Russian looked as if he couldn't get a good feel for the pace of the NHL and was benched after a stat-line of zero points and a minus-4 rating in three games.  Housley told the gathered media after the team's game-day skate today that he wants to see Antipin defend better. "He's come a long way with the stick position and the body position," said the coach, "but he's got to use his speed. That's one asset he has to close quickly and create that body position early."

A spot on defense was opened up when Josh Gorges was listed as day-to-day. Housley put Antipin in the lineup despite the team calling up defenseman Taylor Fedun.

Back up goalie Chad Johnson will start his third game in a row for the Sabres. He had a strong game in Anaheim helping the Sabres get their first win of the season and Housley the first win of his career. Johnson was hung out to dry by his teammates against the Golden Knights but the Sabres managed an overtime loss in that game.

Starter Robin Lehner was ill and missed practice yesterday but Housley said today that Lehner "is back now with us" and that "he's healthy." Lehner will back up Johnson tonight.

With both Josefson and Girgensons out, Sam Reinhart moves back to center. Reinhart started out the season there and struggled mightily before Housley moved him back to wing. He began the Sabres road trip on third line wing and his play began improving to the point where Housley skated him alongside Ryan O'Reilly in the top-six. Reinhart responded with goals in consecutive games to end the trip.

Injuries have also allowed Matt Moulson and Jordan Nolan to stay in the lineup.

From today's game-day skate, the lines and defense pairings according to the media in attendance:

Kane-Eichel-Pominville
Bailey-O’Reilly-Okposo
Pouliot-Reinhart-Griffith
Moulson-Larsson-Nolan

Scandella-Ristolainen
Beaulieu/Fedun-Tennyson
McCabe-Antipin

With the way that d-corps is set up, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Fedun get the not over Tennyson. It's not that the latter has been playing all that bad, although his last game against Vegas was one he'd probably like to forget, but Tennyson doesn't have the on-ice vision that Fedun has. There were many times, almost on a nightly basis where Tennyson missed obvious opportunities, situations that Fedun might be more aware of.

While this is the first of a back-to-back for the Sabres, the Canucks are on the second game of their back-to-back. Last night Vancouver was pounded by the Boston Bruins 6-3 with former Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson in net.

Another former Sabre, Thomas Vanek, will also be back in Buffalo tonight for Vancouver. Vanek has four points (3+1) in six games for the Canucks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Injuries and illnesses continue for Buffalo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-19-2017


The Sabres came back from their four-game road West Coast road trip limping figuratively and literally. They finished the trip with a 1-2-1 record which, regardless of the progress they made during the trip still contains three losses. For a team that started out the season 0-2-1, that doesn't help in the points department all that well.

They also came back with a couple of injuries to players who, although not anywhere near the caliber of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, both of whom were injured last season, were contributing in their own way.

If you recall Eichel was injured on the practice before the season opener and missed 21 games. Kane crashed heavily into the boards in the opener and missed 10 games with ineffectiveness affecting the next 11. This year Kane leads the team in scoring with 10 points (5+5) in seven games while Eichel is right behind at nine points (2+7.)

Team defense has been a problem for the team this year so far as a defense-corps that was bolstered by new GM Jason Botterill lost two veteran d-men in Zach Bogosian and Justin Falk prior to the season. It's not to say that Buffalo's defensive woes would be non-existent with those two in the lineup but their absence changes the corps as players were placed into roles above their pay-grade.

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is averaging over 19 minutes a game playing on the second pair and his d-partner Matt Tennyson is averaging over 17 minutes. The defense was so bad through Games 2&3 of the schedule that rookie Victor Antipin was moved to the press box in favor of the much maligned Josh Gorges, who attention to the defensive aspects of the game helped stabilize a situation that was spiraling out of control

Bogosian and Falk remain out with the latter in injured reserve. Bogosian was expected to be on the second pairing while Falk had earned a spot in the top-six based upon a solid performance last season and an equally solid follow up at training camp. Word from Housley's after practice presser today, via John Vogl of The Buffalo News, is that Bogosian is "week-to-week" as is Falk although Housley did say that he's begun skating.

Also of note, Gorges was not on the ice today and is "day-to-day," according to Housley. "There's a lot of guys that got banged up on this road trip," said the coach, "Josh is another one that has a lower-body injury, so we'll see tomorrow."

The news is not so good for fourth-line center Jacob Josefson, who was seen in a walking boot. Josefson was skating 11:01/game and was the leading forward on the penalty kill at 2:28/game before he went down against the Anaheim Ducks. Housley listed him as "more of a week-to-week right now."

Forward Zemgus Girgensons was the next forward to go down as he skated just over two minutes before taking a shot to the foot against the Vegas Golden Knights. The top-nine forward's career had been rejuvenated under Housley and was skating top-six minutes besides centers Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. Before going down he had three points in seven games which put him on a pace to surpass his 34 total points from the previous two years under Dan Bylsma. Girgensons was also tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-2 with Jason Pominville.

Housley listed Girgensons as "day-to-day" saying that the shot Girgensons took is :taking a little bit longer to heal right now."

The injury to Josefson opened the door for Matt Moulson to remain in the lineup and if Girgensons remains sidelined that would mean another opportunity for Seth Griffith. Both, however, have been largely ineffective while playing.

Forward Kyle Okposo suffered an illness in San Jose', the first game of the Sabres road trip and missed two more games before playing against Vegas. Perhaps he gave what he had to goaltender Robin Lehner who missed practice because of an illness. Housley said that Lehner is "feeling a bit under the weather."

Chad Johnson has proven to be a capable backup and will be in net should Lehner still feel ill but who would back him up if Lehner doesn't dress is an interesting situation. Goalie Linus Ullmark has proven more than capable but it would seem as if the Sabres want him seeing as many pucks as possible this season in Rochester, which should be his last in the AHL.

Ullmark's backup is Adam Wilcox, who has never played in an NHL game. The former Tampa Bay Lightning sixth-round draft pick could get the call should Lehner be incapable of dressing for the game and the team feel that it's more beneficial for Ullmark to play against the Charlotte Checkers tomorrow night rather than have him sit on the bench in Buffalo.

Ryan Vinz, who was one of an NHL-record nine goalies to have for Buffalo in the 2013-14 season worked out as an emergency goalie for today's practice. The Sabres video tech was welcomed to center ice by the team after practice as "Vnizanity" returned to Buffalo.

For posterity's sake, here's the list of goalies who dressed for the Sabres in '13-'14:

1. Ryan Miller
2. Jhonas Enroth
3. Ryan Vinz
4. Jaroslav Halak
5. Michal Neuvirth
6. Nathan Lieuwen
7. Andrey Makarov
8. Matt Hackett
9. Connor Knapp


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Leaving Las Vegas...with some question marks...still.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-18-2017


Seven games into the 2017-18 the Buffalo Sabres have managed one win, a 3-1 victory over a depleted Anaheim Ducks squad that was missing Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Hampus Lindholm, and
Sami Vatanen, among others. Last night they left the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Golden Knights and backup goalie Malcom Subban who, by the way, has four NHL starts to his credit and is sporting a 3.55 GAA and .859 Sv%. Yet he just finished back-to-back wins, his only career wins,against the team that waived him, the Boston Bruins, and the Buffalo Sabres.

The Buffalo dressing room should be asking themselves, "How did we lose this?" Or better yet, "What were we doing out there?"

Buffalo started out well as Ryan O'Reilly scored his first goal of the season on a weak goal by Subban but instead of turning up the heat, they only managed 13 shots for the remainder of the first period and through the entire second, a total of 33:36. Granted, the Sabres had four minor penalties in entire second period which in effect jumbled their lines throughout, but one would have thought that there's be a little more desperation for a team that had only one win all season.

Vegas scored a goal in the first period and two goals in the second (one on the powerplay) to take a 3-1 lead. Early in the third they tacked on another one to make it 4-1.

The one saving grace in this game was that the Sabres did come back as some of their big guns contributed. O'Reilly netted his second of the game on a 5-on-3 powerplay as Sam Reinhart provided the screen. Reinhart would score on a tip-in with 1:58 left in the third period the Sabres on the powerplay with their goalie pulled to bring Buffalo to within one. The Sabres would tie the score with 8.8 seconds left as Evander Kane swatted  the puck out of mid-air to tie the score at 4-4.

However, the Sabre couldn't get the job done in overtime as Jack Eichel made a costly mistake. Eichel had lost his stick and it ended up in the corner to the right of Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson. With the play moving out of the Buffalo zone on the stick of Vegas' David Perron, Eichel chose to go after his stick. Just like that Perron moved in and fired a shot past Johnson before Eichel could get back into the play.

Regardless of that play, the Sabres did not register a shot in the overtime session.

After the game WGR550 Radio's Paul Hamilton asked the players if the thought they had stole a point or lost the chance at two points. There were mixed emotions with one player deferring to Sabres head coach Phil Housley.

Housley, for his part, was not happy. "I think it's unacceptable how we approached the game," the coach noting lack of preparation and the number of penalties as being big contributors to derailing what they were tryin to build upon. "We have a chance to build on something, and I know this is a process, but the process was a little broken tonight. A lack of preparation and accountability and urgency to start the game the way we finished was lacking.

"We can't [continue] to be chasing games right now," said a frustrated Housley, "We have to be ready to start the game and have that aggression in the first period. We've had it at times, but we lacked it tonight."

Man, how many times have we in Sabreland heard something like that coming out of a frustrated coaches mouth. It's something that dates back to Lindy Ruff post Drury/Briere and something we heard Dan Bylsma over the course of the last two seasons.

The question is, "Who's responsible for the lack of preparation? Some would say the coach, others would say the players. One thing the Buffalo Sabres haven't seen since the loss of co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere is leadership. That's the thread that runs through the last decade.

A point is a point, and they'll take it. But if the Sabres want to entertain playoff thoughts, they better start getting the wins. With each loss it gets harder and harder.

The fanbase is beginning to panic. Housley's being called names after only seven games. O'Reilly's getting grief because of his contract and there are other contracts that are being called albatrosses like the one of Kyle Okposo. Some of the barbs being thrown at the team and individual players have merit, and one can even blame former GM Tim Murray as well.

If the Sabres had played with desperation throughout the game last night, there's a good chance they would have won and we'd be talking about a back-to-back wins. However, they couldn't get it done and it leaves plenty of question marks going forward.

Thoughts...

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-17-2017


If we in Sabreland want to believe that this team is ready to step out of the abyss and begin to rise, then tonight is a must win.

Period.

The Sabres have been playing much better than the two stinkers they put together at Brooklyn against the NY Islanders and at home vs. the New Jersey Devils. A West Coast road trip has shaken them out of their collective slumber and got them focusing upon playing as a team on the entire sheet of ice.

Buffalo started their four-game trip at San Jose' to take on a winless Sharks' team at the SAP Center and proceeded to drop a 3-2 decision. The Sabres headed south to Los Angeles where they hadn't beaten the Kings since 2010 and worse yet hadn't scored a goal in four tries as they lost each of them by the exact 2-0 score. Zemgus Girgensons ended that scoring drought in the first and the team was looking to grab at least a point until an Evander Kane penalty with 2:04 left in the game squashed those dreams. The Kings scored :04 seconds later, added an empty-netter and sent Buffalo to a 4-2 defeat.

Sunday night in Anaheim the Sabres got off the schneid and won their first game of the season against a depleted Ducks lineup by the score of 3-1. Perhaps the most endearing quality of that win was that they finally got some secondary scoring as call-up Justin Bailey, Sam Reinhart and Johan Larsson (empty-net) all scored for the Sabres.

As we've watched this team through the last three games we seen them progress nicely  as a team while individually some players have started to come to life.

Tonight they face the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to wrap up their road trip.

Vegas has been pretty feisty in their surprising 4-1-0 start and coach Gerald Gallant has them playing smart, team hockey. “Anytime you’re going to have success in this league it’s about your forwards working hard with your defensemen,” Gallant told the local media yesterday. “We always talk about five-man connection; it’s a big word for our team. When you play five men in the D-zone, you play five men in the neutral zone and you play five men offensively you’re going to have a chance to win most nights.”

The Golden Knights don't have the horses to play a speed game as shown in their 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. But they followed that up with a win vs. the Boston Bruins. "We played a good, solid, hard-working game (against Boston,)" said the coach. "It wasn’t a game like the other night where it was a lot faster paced. (Sunday) was more of a checkers match; there wasn’t a whole lot of scoring chances either way. I thought we played a good, solid game and it was a good, solid defensive effort for sure.”

That's what the Sabres will be up against tonight, an effort by Vegas to play a tight-checking game. Which is fine. But regardless of what they're up against, the fact is that they're facing an expansion team with a backup goalie in net who has three starts under his belt.

There's no excuse for Buffalo not to come away with two points. That is, if they want us to believe that the ship is righted and moving ahead.


*****

Justin Bailey was a force against Anaheim. He scored his first goal of the season in the first shift of his first game this year. For the rest of the game he was as advertised, a big, fast powerforward who can play a rambunctious yet controlled style of play and get to the puck quickly.

Bailey's been able to score at the AHL-level but has yet to see that transfer to the NHL. Prior to last nights game he had four points (2+2) in 40 NHL games and although much of the time he played well, the fact that he wasn't hitting the scoresheet was troubling.

This is Bailey's best shot at sticking with the team and to do so he'll not only need to play exactly the way he did against Anaheim, but he'll also need to hit the score sheet with some regularity.


*****

Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges has taken a beating in social media hockey circles because his advanced stats are press box worthy. Yet Gorges did something for this club that doesn't show up in Corsi, Fenwick, puck possession or any other fancy stat--he helped stabilize the defense.

Prior to him getting the start in San Jose', the Buffalo defense was a trainwreck as that corps, as well as the forward group, were thinking all offense. In looking to jump into the play and create offense they forgot about their own zone and gave up six goals in back-to-back games.

Gorges will never be an analytics darling much less a scorer, but having someone back their locked into defensive assignments has helped the team refocus their energies a bit. The Sabres have gotten progressively better on this road trip and despite Gorges' known shortcomings, he's a big part of why they've been able to pull it together on defense.


*****

Jack Eichel was named the game's first star in Anaheim on Sunday, yet he didn't hit the scoresheet. Just goes to show that he was a strong presence the entire game, most notably in the d-zone where he backchecked hard and was on constantly on the puck making it difficult for the Ducks players.

Eichel needs to continue doing what he's been doing and that includes a focus on defense.

Perhaps he's learning what it's like to be a leader and he's finally discovering that the great player that lies within him can lift those around him. Seven points (2+6) in six games was expected although some may have thought that the goal-total would be a bit higher, but regardless, he's showing why many had him close to Connor McDavid heading into the 2015 NHL Draft.


*****

Both Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart finally seem to be engaged and played probably their best games of the season on Sunday. Too bad it took so long, but it's good to see them coming to life.

Reinhart scored the game-winner late in the second period against Anaheim. After losing credit for the goal to Benoit Pouliot the NHL reversed their reversal and credited Reinhart with his first goal of the season. You could see the relief in his face at the huge monkey was lifted off of his back.

O'Reilly's yet to score a goal, but he's a professional and has been through this before. The big thing for the two-way center was to be fully engaged in a two-way game, something that was missing through the first three games. He's been progressively better throughout this road trip and it's no wonder that the team has gotten better as he has.


*****

Gorges has played well in a third-pairing role but up top the duo of Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella have picked up their game as well. It was mentioned by WGR550 Radio's Paul Hamilton that their focus has been on the defensive zone and that once their more comfortable, Ristolainen will be able to join the rush a little more.

Although they haven't been perfect, they've only been together for three games. It seems as if they've developed some chemistry already and furthering that means that they'll only get better.


*****

Chad Johnson will reportedly be in net for Buffalo tonight. It's something he earned with an extremely strong performance in Anaheim.

It's a rather bold move by coach Phil Housley, but they won their first game of the season with Johnson so why change?


*****

However, it's also been reported that Housley has changed up his powerplay units a bit in an effort to bring them to life. The Sabres are only 2 for 22 (9.1%) with the man advantage this year and worse yet, they've given up a league-leading five shorthanded goals.

O'Reilly was moved to the second unit to make room for Kyle Okposo who's returning from illness.

The PP units from the morning skate according to the local media in attendance:

PP1--Eichel, Okposo, Reinhart, Pominville, Ristolainen
PP2--O'Reilly, Kane, Moulson, Beaulieu, Tennyson


*****

And, finally, Dear Evander Kane. Please stay out of the penalty box. Not only does it hurt your team, but you can't score from there either.

Love,

Sabreland


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A collective sigh of relief in Sabreland as Buffalo gets first win

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-16-17


The Buffalo Sabres got their first win of the season last night in Anaheim against a Ducks team that was depleted but still feisty. Buffalo's Phil Housley finally got his first win as an NHL head coach after five unsuccessful tries. "It feels great," said Housley to the gathered media post-game before "tipping his hat" to his players.

Buffalo gutted this one out as Anaheim, even without the likes of Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, just would not surrender after falling behind in the first period. The Ducks came at Buffalo hard in the second period and did so in the third as well. The Sabres, however, weathered those storms allowing only one goal.

Sabres goalie Chad Johnson was rock solid in net making some great saves, most notably in the second period, which included flashing the leather on a couple of occasions. One in particular came early in the second as Anaheim had a great opportunity on a 3-on-2 break with the Sabres up 1-0. Johnson did have a scary moment a bit later as he fell to the ice behind the net with the puck heading to the slot. Defenseman Marco Scandella bailed him out as he got a piece of Nick Ritchie's shot.

In addition to Housley's first career win and Johnsons' first win of the season, there were plent of positives from last night. Justin Bailey, who'd just been called up from Rochester got his first goal of the season only 1:26 into the game. Some hard work by a forechecking Zemgus Girgensons and a pinching Nathan Beaulieu, who recorded his first point as a Buffalo Sabre, set the wheels in motion on that one.

Forward Sam Reinhart may have played his best game of the season and was originally credited with the Sabres second goal before the NHL changed it. Benoit Pouliot got credit instead and notched his first goal of the season as well as his first as a Sabre. Johan Larsson notched his first point of the season (on the Bailey goal) and added an empty-netter for his first goal of the season.

Buffalo's Jack Eichel was named the games first star and he didn't even hit the scoresheet. Those watching Eichel was strong on the backcheck and seemed to be all over the defensive zone.

And as a team, the Sabres held firm on four penalty kills while continuing the Ducks misery on the powerplay as Anaheim has yet to score with the man advantage (0 for 21.)

Amidst the joy of Housley and his team's first win of the season plus the other first's that occurred, there were some blemishes.

Forward Evander Kane is tied for the team lead in points and goals but also leads them in minor penalties with six, which is tied for tops in the league. He had a critical tripping penalty very late in the game against the LA Kings on Saturday night which lead to a game-winning powerplay goal by the Kings' Drew Doughty. Last night he took three minor penalties, two for slashing under the new NHL crackdown.

The Sabres also allowed another shorthanded goal as Anaheim's Chris Wagner went in on a breakaway after Buffalo fumbled the puck at the Ducks blueline. It's the fifth shortie given up by the Sabres this season which leads the league. With the Wagner goal against, the Sabres surpassed last year's total of four shorties given up for the entire season.

Buffalo heads to Las Vegas with the monkey finally off of their back. In Anaheim not only did they find their first win, but they also found secondary scoring and some individual players are starting to come to life. In addition to Reinhart, Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly seems to have found his legs.

Right wing Kyle Okposo, who was downed by an illness for two of the three games on this road trip should be back in the lineup against the Golden Knights. However, fourth-line center Jacob Josefson was felled by a hit from behind in the second period and did not return. The journeyman forward had been playing very well as of late but may have suffered an ankle injury from the hit.

The Sabres have the bodies to replace Josefson, especially if Okposo returns as is expected, but Matt Moulson and Seth Griffith have only one point between them (a Griffith assist) and are a combined minus-6 in nine total games. Buffalo flew in Bailey for the Anaheim game and a player like Rochester's Kevin Porter might be appealing since the Amerks are off until Friday.

Despite the joy of that first win, the Sabres need to follow it up with another against an injury-riddled Vegas expansion team that lost starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Malcom Subban, whom Vegas claimed off of waivers from the Boston Bruins less than two weeks ago, got the call yesterday and proceeded to beat his former team. But even with the one goal allowed against the Bruins, Subban still has a 3.45 GAA and .841 Sv% in three NHL starts.

This is a no-brainer. If the Sabres really want to start moving forward with this season, it begins with a win in Las Vegas against the expansion Golden Knights.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sabres trying to get into the win column. Eichel in beast-mode.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-15-2017


It just hasn't been in the cards yet for the Buffalo Sabers and new head coach Phil Housley. Five games into the season the Sabres are winless at 0-4-1 and they're still looking for players other than Evander Kane (4 goals,) Jason Pominville (4,) Jack Eichel (2) and now Zemgus Girgensons (1) who are capable of scoring. In all, that foursome has tallied 23 of Buffalo's 28 points this season.

Also missing from the Sabres game is their powerplay. Last year they lead the league with a 24.5% conversion rate but this year's a different story as they're only 17.1% (4 for 19) with the man advantage. And in sticking with special teams, the Sabres penalty kill had started out the season extinguishing all 11 PK's they faced through the first three games but have given up four goals in six opportunities since. That includes last night where the Kings scored on all three of their opportunities en route to a 4-2 win (which included an empty-net goal.)

If it ain't one thing, it's another for this club so far.

The good news for the Sabres is that Eichel is fully engaged and is playing like a player who knows that he needs to carry the team for a while. Eichel is off to a rambunctious start with seven points (2+5) in five games which ties him with Kane for the team lead. Last night he assisted on Girgensons' goal in the first period then tied the score at 2-2 in the third with one of his own as he barreled to the net and calmly deposited his own rebound.

I'll leave it for you to decide whether this was planned or not:



(Video via NHL.com)

Girgensons meanwhile has found life amidst the top-six most notably on Eichel's line. "The Latvian Locomotive" had two assists vs. San Jose' on Thursday night and had that goal last night but finished the game in Los Angeles on Ryan O'Reilly's line. Kane has seven points (4+3) in five games and Pominville has six (4+2.)

The Sabres are in desperate need of secondary scoring and no one in the bottom six has been able to provide any. Yesterday's third line of Johan Larsson centering Sam Reinhart and Seth Griffith have one point (a Griffith assist) and are a combined minus-16 with Reinhart at the bottom of the plus/minus category (minus-8) and Larsson just above him (minus-5.)

That's what happens when your line doesn't score.

Perhaps the recall of Rochester Americans forward Justin Bailey will be a kick in the pants for someone. Bailey is off to a strong start for the Amerks with two goals and a plus-2 rating in three games. The recall also represents another opportunity for Bailey himself. The 6'4" 214 lb. Buffalo native has had numerous opportunities throughout the last two seasons with the Sabres but has only been able to scrounge up four points (2+2) in 40 NHL games. Bailey's had some very good games without hitting the scoresheet, but the Sabres need a little more from him.

When the team gets back from their road trip, which ends with a Tuesday night game in Las Vegas, a few players may be up for re-evaluation and that includes Griffith and defenseman Matt Tennyson. Both players have been given an opportunity to show stick with the Sabres but neither have given the team a reason to keep them up outside of injuries.

One younger player, 24 yr. old rookie defenseman Victor Antipin, has already been relegated to the press box after a rough start to the season. Antipin was replaced by veteran Josh Gorges who helped  stabilized the defense corps.

Housley himself also needs to do some self-evaluation. Having Griffith out there with less than a minute to play and the goalie pulled last night was a head-scratcher and I'm not sure where his faith in Nathan Beaulieu (zero points in five games) comes from either. With Zach Bogosian and Justin Falk out with injuries, players like Beaulieu and Tennyson are in the lineup and have been put in positions  above their talent-level so Housley pretty much has no choice. But some of the choices he's made with his defense-corps, which includes second-pairing minutes for Tennyson, seem rather questionable.

Most importantly for Housley, he needs to find a home for Reinhart who's an absolute mess out there. Reinhart scored 40 goals and 89 points over the last two seasons while playing on Eichel's wing and the manning the front of the net on the first powerplay unit. Housley had him centering the third line to start the season and now has him on Larsson's wing but regardless of where he's been, Reinhart's confidence level seems to be reaching a low not seen since his nine-game NHL debut in 2014-15.

That said, tonight represents another chance for Housley to get his first win as a head coach and it comes against an Anaheim Ducks team that they've had at least some success against. Last season the Sabres toppled the Ducks 2-1  on the road in the shootout as goalie Anders Nilsson got the win, Ryan O'Reilly scored Buffalo's only goal (from Jake McCabe and Eichel,) and Girgensons ended a 10-round shootout with the game-winning tally.

Word from Anaheim is that Housley announced Chad Johnson as Buffalo's starting goalie. Dan Arritt of NHL.com calls Johnson one of his Players to Watch saying this of the Sabres goalie, "Johnson made 44 saves in a 3-0 win at Honda Center on Dec. 17, 2015, a Sabres record for saves in a regulation shutout."

Housley also said, according to WGR550's Paul Hamilton, that Bailey will be in the lineup but there was no indication from the coach who would be out of the lineup, save for Kyle Okposo who remains ill.

Here's Arritt's possible lineup for tonight which seems mighty reasonable to me:

Kane-Eichel-Pomiville
Girgensons-O'Reilly-Bailey
Reinhart-Larsson-Griffith
Pouliot-Josefson-Nolan

Forward scratches--Moulson

On defense:

Scandella-Ristolainen
Beaulieu-Tennyson
McCabe-Gorges

Defense scratch--Antipin


Game time is 9:00 pm EST, with pregame at 8:30 pm.




Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sabres searching for first win (and secondary scoring) in L.A. (Yikes!)

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-14-2017


When the Buffalo Sabres hit the ice at KeyBank Center for their season opener they had a new coach and a new on-ice philosophy based upon speed and generating shots. It went pretty well for them as most in attendance and watching on TV liked the up-tempo style of play and it seemed as if the players responded well to this new style. Everything was going swimmingly until the eight-minute mark of the third period when they lost their 2-1 lead on a shorthanded goal. To overtime we went and when they couldn't win it 3-on-3, well...we know how things tend to go in shootouts.

That shortie by Montreal Canadiens forward Philip Danault was like a first lightning strike in a huge storm that was about to overtake the Sabres. Dark clouds gathered over the team when they travelled to Brooklyn as the NY Islanders struck for three goals in a 1:47 second span of the second period. The first two were shorthanded goals and the third would have been had the Islanders penalty not expired a handful of seconds prior.

The bolts just kept coming afterwards as the New Jersey Devils came to town and scored three unanswered goals in the second period while on their way to a 6-2 win. The first goal of that trio was, of course, a shortie.

Perhaps we've seen the worst that this incarnation of the Buffalo Sabres has to offer. The stat-line through three games is pretty ugly as they went 0-2-1, were outscored 14-7, went 2/13 on the powerplay and allowed four shorthanded goals. About the only bright spot came from their penalty kill which snuffed all 11 opportunities against.

A four-game West Coast swing began on Thursday night in San Jose' and the Sabres tightened things up. Although they still lost, 3-2, they seemed to have gotten their game back to where it was against the Canadiens. Their skating was much better and it looks as if Sabres head coach Phil Housley found some line combinations and defensive pairings he can move forward with.

Zemgus Girgensons brought an edge and some balls-to-the-wall north/south skating to his line with center Jack Eichel. RW Jason Pominville was twice the beneficiary of Girgensons work and Eichel's deft set-up ability.

Left wing Evander Kane brought his four goals and a strong-skating, powerforward game to a line with center Ryan O'Reilly and seemingly brought the latter to life. Kyle Okposo, who missed the morning skate with an illness, was at his usual spot on O'Reilly's right side and generated five shots on goal for the game.

On defense, Marco Scandella was moved up to the top pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen and much maligned defensive defenseman Josh Gorges added some stability to the back-end.

Tonight the 0-3-1 Sabres hit The Staples Center in Los Angeles, California for a date with the LA Kings, which is rather frightening when you consider the Sabres haven't scored a goal against the Kings in Southern California since January, 21 2010. Buffalo blew one-goal leads twice in that game and lost 4-3 in the shootout. Sabres captain Craig Rivet was the last Buffalo player to score a goal at Staples Center as he snuck in from the point on the weak side and buried his first goal of the season.

Since then Buffalo has lost all four meetings in Los Angeles by the exact same 2-0 score and havd done so under three different coaches--Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan and Dan Bylsma (twice.) The Sabres were outshot in each of those four games by a combined 138-97 margin. If that weren't enough the Sabres have not won at the arena in Los Angeles since a 5-1 victory on October 23, 2003.

Buffalo heads into tonight's matchup against the 2-0-1 Kings with multiple goal-scorers in each of the team's first four games as Pominville and Kane each have a pair of two goal games. Unfortunately for the Sabres, other than those goals and one from Jack Eichel, no one else has been able to light the lamp.

After the loss to San Jose' Thursday night, Housley said that his players are not getting to the areas were goals are scored nor are they creating any traffic in front of the opposition goalies. "You've got to get dirty, to the hard area," he said to the media after practice yesterday. "We're going to continue to work on that and it's a big area we need to improve on. ... That's a niche guys make livings on."

Tonight's game is the first of 16 back-to-backs for Buffalo this season as they'll face the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow. Buffalo was 14-17-3 in the first game of back-to-backs under Bylsma the past two seasons, 12-19-3 in the second game.


Game time is 10:30 pm EST.


And for those who would like to revisit the game in which the Sabres last scored a goal at Staples Center, Paul Hamilton and Harry Neal are in the both in this highlight video on YouTube from mcsyns:



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Sabres and Sharks both looking for their first win of the season

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-12-2017


Do you know the way to San Jose'?

Sure. And as the Buffalo Sabres get ready to hit the Shark Tank, aka the SAP Center in San Jose, California, the game against the Sharks couldn't have come at a better time. It does seem a little strange writing that. This Sabres team is reeling from back-to-back blow-out losses, but despite that, recent games against the Sharks, who are just over a year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance, have almost invariably turned in Buffalo's favor.

According to Sabres PR the Sabres are 8-1-1 in their last 10 meetings vs. the Sharks which includes back-to-back season sweeps when the team was in the tank from 2013-15, and overall Buffalo has a 27-7-6 record against San Jose'. Things are a bit different at the Shark Tank as the Sabres are only 6-3-1 in their last 10 visits to northern California.

The Sharks finished outside of the playoffs last season, the first time that's happened post '04-05 lockout, and they're off to an 0-2 start this season. San Jose' suffered both of their losses on home ice to Philadelphia (5-3) and to So. Cal rival Los Angeles (3-1.) Although there's no panic in the Bay area yet there's some concern and players like alternate captain Logan Couture told the local press that "there should be some sense of urgency" and that "we need to be better."

Sounds eerily familiar to what we've been hearing from Sabres' players after they stunk up the joint on Columbus Day. It was Buffalo's second loss in regulation, the second game in a row they gave up six goals and it was the third time in a row that they allowed a momentum changing shorthanded goal.

The Sabres were extremely sloppy in both those losses to the NY Islanders (6-3) and the New Jersey Devils (6-2) with Evander Kane summing it up like this, "we have a big trip out west we need to be ready for because if we play like that, [the score's] going to be 10-0."

In an effort to play an up-tempo game and manufacture shots, the Sabres are forgetting the defensive zone and are getting caught cheating up ice. While in the offensive zone the effort isn't there to win battles, especially on the powerplay. And when they the momentum shifts, they're swallowed up in the tsunami.

Buffalo coach Phil Housley mixed things up a bit in the forward group and according to media reports from San Jose, the lines from yesterday's practice are intact save for one surprise. Multiple tweets report that Kyle Okposo is not out there for the morning skate and is being replaced in the lineup by Matt Moulson.

Here are the lines as reported:

Kane-O'Reilly-Moulson
Girgensons-Eichel-Pominville
Pouliot-Larsson-Reinhart
Nolan-Josefson-Griffith

On defense:

Scandella-Ristolainen
McCabe-Gorges
Beaulieu-Tennyson

Goalie Robin Lehner took a shot to the face mask off the stick of Zemgus Girgensons at practice yesterday. He got stitched up and was back on the ice. Chad Johnson got the start against New Jersey on Monday and didn't fare well so it's safe to assume that Lehner will be back in net against the Sharks.

Tonight begins a four-game West Coast road trip for the Sabres. After this they head south to take on Los Angeles Saturday and Anaheim on Sunday before they arrive in Las Vegas for their first-ever game against the expansion Golden Knights.

Game-time against the Sharks tonight is 10:30 pm EST.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Housley mixes things up trying to find compete and chemistry

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-11-2017


Buffalo Sabres had the unenviable task of hitting the morning talk show today for his first ever appearance on WGR550 as Sabres head coach. Things couldn't have gone much worse for his club in his first three games as they came away with a 0-2-1 record in a trio of games that exposed some serious flaws.

First and foremost, the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals through three games, a total equal to that of the entire 2016-17 season. Housley told WGR hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White that the No. 1 problem in this area comes to decisions with the puck. "When we're trying to get into position to score a goal," said the coach, " and there's a 50/50 (chance for) possession, I think we have to sense a little bit more danger and not stay in and say 'I hope (my) guy gets this puck because I'm gonna get it on the weak side and I'm going to have a glorious opportunity.' In essence it's getting turned over and now guys are getting behind us.

"We need to have a better recognition of that. We have to sense that danger."

In so many words, and where the conversation leaned towards much of the time, more compete and better decision-making seem to be a big part of the Sabres woes.

A lot of it seems to come from a Sabres club that's trying to create offense, which includes puck possession and creating shot opportunities, but are doing so the lazy way--by having someone else do the work or by cheating. When Housley dug in to the nuts and bolts of what he needs to see from his team, "We have to recongnize a few areas we need to correct," he said, "starting with our work ethic. It wasn't so much what teams were doing (to us,) it's what we were leaving them" in the form of turnovers.

After the 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the home opener, the Sabres played sloppy in every zone. That lead to turnovers which lead to a blitzkrieg of goals and the team pressing even more to try and create offense, which in-turn leads to more turnovers and more scoring opportunities coming back the other way.

It's a vicious cycle.

Fact is, turnovers happen in the NHL and bad goals against are scored, sometimes in rapid-fire succession. But the best teams gather their senses and put in the work to turn things around. It's something this edition of the Buffalo Sabres hasn't done.

"It's another thing we have to realize," said the coach about the lack of his team's resiliency. "When teams are pushing and we're under siege as a team, we've got to create our own push back and right now we're accepting too much of the push."

That has been a theme in Buffalo for a long time, actually dating back to the 2007-08 season when the Sabres iced a team of skilled players who were great while things were going well but wilted when the going got tough. About the only time they showed sustained resiliency was when Ted Nolan was coach, but with the sparse talent they iced on a nightly basis, perhaps there play was simply that of survival.

Even so, there should be a portion of that within players with skill as well. We're seeing that with the play of Evander Kane as he's been the only Sabres player to push back when the momentum was swinging away. Kane is off to a great start and twice in the past two games he's fought the opposition onslaught with an impressive individual efforts while halving a deficit.

In Brooklyn against the NY Islanders he scored two consecutive shorthanded goals as the answer to a three-goal Islanders barrage, the second of which was a strong individual effort after forcing a turnover and took on three Islanders players for a loose puck:



In Monday's matinee vs. the New Jersey Devils, he put forth a brilliant display of speed, will and skill on the powerplay as he cut the Devils lead to 2-1:



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sabres have three days to recover from the horror that unfolded yesterday

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-10-2017


It was the type of scene in a movie that a parents would normally shield their children’s eyes from. The second period was more like a horror movie for the Buffalo Sabres, and a large contingent of young fans at KeyBank Center for Kids Day, as the period ended with the hometown team in a 6-1 hole vs. the New Jersey Devils. Those in attendance were not happy with what just transpired and the Sabres left the ice to a loud chorus of boos.

An ugly trend has been forming for the Sabres early in the season--shorthanded goals--and it was a momentum-shifting game-changer yesterday as well. Buffalo has given up a shortie in each of it's three games this season and have given up four total, which matches the four they gave up all last season. And those unsightly occurrences are coming at the worst possible moments. In the home opener against Montreal it came midway through the third period with the Sabres clinging to a 2-1 lead. They went on to lose the game 3-2 in a shootout.
 
In Brooklyn vs. the NY Islanders a one-goal deficit turned into a rout as Buffalo gave up two shorthanded goals in :50 seconds on the same powerplay early in the second period. The Sabres gave up another goal just seconds after their powerplay expired and they soon found themselves down 4-0 in a matter of 1:47. They ended up losing that game 6-3.
 
Yesterday Buffalo cut a 2-0 deficit in half with a powerplay goal as Evander Kane scored on a brilliant hustle-play that not only notched his third goal of the season, but also drew another penalty. Twenty-one seconds into the ensuing powerplay 19-year old Jesper Bratt scored off a feed from Adam Henrique on a two-on-one break and just like that the Sabres were down 3-1.
 
As ugly as the shorthanded trend has been, an even uglier trend has been forming very early in the season as this Buffalo team seems to collapse when adversity strikes. In Brooklyn vs. the Islanders it was that three-goal barrage that simply overwhelmed them. Although Kane struck back with two shorties of his own to cut the lead in half, 4-2, the intestinal fortitude wasn't there to fully come back.
 
Against the Devils yesterday, that shorthanded goal by Bratt opened the flood gates as New Jersey tacked on three more goals in the period. Shield your eyes, kids!
 
In the opening three games the Sabres have been outscored by a 14-7 margin with all of their goals coming from three players. Kane has four goals, two in each of his last two games, Jason Pominville scored Buffalo's only two goals in the home opener vs. the Canadiens and Jack Eichel potted his lone goal of the season against the Islanders.
 
The rest of the supposed scorers on the team have done nothing so far this year:
 
Ryan O'Reilly--0 goals, 1 assist, minus-3
Kyle Okposo--0g, 0a, -6
Sam Reinhart--0g, 0a, -6
Rasmus Ristolainen--0g, 2a, -3
 
This is a fragile team right now. They're saying all the right things in the post-game, post-mortem interviews but their words are ringing hollow. Yes, Ryan O'Reilly, we know you've been "invisible" and that you're "just out there skating around." We see it. And Jack, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Sabres are "just not doing enough" and that it's "not what anybody wants."
 
And yes, Nathan Beaulieu, we know that "turning the puck over [and it ending up] in the back of your net" is not a good thing.
 
Coach Phil Housley's face was described by a reporter as "ashen" at yesterday's post-game presser. Housley stood there searching something, anything positive to say about what just transpired and the only thing he could come up with was that they won the third period, which said reporter, Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, aptly described as "putting lipstick on a pig."
 
It's safe to say that the honeymoon is over for Housley and man, that was a quick one. He needs to find some answers or it could really get ugly.
 
The Sabres are off today, as mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement which will give the coaching staff enough time to try and figure out what to do. The lines and d-pairings that Housley assembled have mostly been a disaster. Only the top line of Kane-Eichel-Pominville has scored any goals and only three of them have come at even strength with two of them being scored when with the game out of hand.
 
The hole on left wing has grown bigger with neither Zemgus Girgensons or Benoit Pouliot capable of skating top-six minutes although Girgensons has registered nine shots on goal to Pouliot's two. The Reinhart to center experiment seems to be floundering at best, bordering on a disaster at worst, as his stat-line is ugly, although maybe not as ugly as his one lone shot on goal through three games. And for as great a guy as Matt Moulson is, his lack of speed, even on the fourth line relegates him to a non-factor at best.
 
Early in the off season GM Jason Botterill went out and tried to bolster the blueline by acquiring Beaulieu and Marco Scandella. In three games we've found out that Beaulieu should not be anywhere near the top pairing and we're left to wonder why Scandella is skating next to borderline NHL defenseman Matt Tennyson on the second pairing. We were lead to believe Scandella would be on the top pairing with Ristolainen. Victor Antipin is a 24 yr. old rookie who came to North America after six seasons in the KHL. Welcome to the speed of the NHL, Victor.
 
And the goaltending? Sheesh. Not that they're totally to blame as the Sabres defensemen still don't know how to play a 2-on-1 break, but both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson need to be better. Especially when the skaters are playing an aggressive style of play that can often lead to odd-man rushes coming back the other way.
 
On the bright side, Kane is off to a rollicking start with six points (4-2) in three games thus far and looks every bit the part of a player who loves playing the up-tempo style Buffalo is (or wants to be) playing. And...
 
...the penalty kill has been exceptional as they're 11-for-11 while scoring two shorthanded goals. Kudos to Housley for giving PK time to Kane and Eichel as they represent a threat headed in the other direction.
 
An 0-2-1 record to start the season isn't pretty, but there are still 79 games to play and no one said that this transition to a new, faster style of play would be easy. The ultimate fear of former coach Dan Bylsma, and many if not most coaches in the NHL, is that a track meet will lead to a disaster on the ice and sure enough, that's what we've been seeing these last two games. Anything and everything that could've gone wrong has for the Sabres thus far has. It's something they'll need to accept and dispose of as they prepare to leave Wednesday for a four-game West Coast swing.
 
"We just need to start feeling the success and getting this nasty taste out of our mouth and just trying to get some mojo going for us," defenseman Jake McCabe said to the gathered media post-game yesterday. "It's disheartening, but at the same time we're going to hit the reset button and come to work for our West Coast trip."
 
They'll need to find some intestinal fortitude and leadership as well, to guide them through adversity when it strikes on the ice. Up until now the only player to stand up and be counted when the chips were down is Evander Kane while the other leaders on this team are busy telling the media post-game that they're not getting the job done.
 
It's not like the Sabres haven't gotten pasted before. In Bylsma's first season the Sabres took a beating at the hands of Montreal as the Canadiens scored five unanswered goals beginning in the second period while en route to a 7-2 win in Buffalo. The Sabres followed that game up with a 4-3 loss to New Jersey and at that point of the season were 2-6-0.
 
Housley and the coaching staff will meet today and perhaps they'll get a visit from Botterill. More than likely the team will head to San Jose, the first stop on their trip, without tapping into the Rochester Americans, although winger Justin Bailey is off to a good start with two goals on six shots in the Amerks first two games. The 22 yr. old Bailey with size and speed was one of the final cuts in training camp.
 
Other than that Housley and Co. will be hunkered down going over tape of these first three games trying to figure out what went wrong. Hopefully no kids will be around to revisit the horror that unfolded.
 
 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Expletives at Sabres' practice. The Devils in town for a matinee.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-9-2017


Saturday's 6-3 loss in Brooklyn against the NY Islanders was a weird one for the Buffalo Sabres in that both teams combined for four shorthanded goals. The big problem for Buffalo was that the Islanders scored both of theirs in a matter of :50 seconds in what ended up being a three-goal in 1:47 blitzkrieg. The barrage put NY up 4-0 early in the second period. It was the third shorthanded goal the Sabres have given up in two games while the NHL's #1 powerplay unit from last year is limping along scoring only one goal in nine powerplays.

"Two games, the power play's lost them both," said Buffalo's Jack Eichel to the media after the game.

"It's just our urgency," said Evander Kane.

Eichel and Kane provided all the offense against with Kane scoring two shorthanded goals himself, the second of which came on a strong individual effort while Eichel scored the other Sabres goal and set up Kane for his first shorty.

It's a situation that screams of players resting on their laurels and not putting in the effort when it comes to having the man advantage. "That's what killed us [on Saturday]," said Ryan O'Reilly at yesterday's practice. "Relaxing at certain times in the game."

Buffalo was only down 1-0 when Islanders captain John Tavares jumped on a casual pass by defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the Buffalo zone. Beaulieu wheeled along the boards at the Sabres zone and sent a soft pass to the middle. Tavares smelled that coming and soon connect on the 236th goal of his career.

Less than a minute later on the same powerplay a soft pass by Sam Reinhart in the Islanders zone got lost in the feet of Eichel and the play went the other way. New York's Andrew Ladd picked it off and sent teammate Casey Cizikas down the left wall. Cizikas easily beat Victor Antipin on the play and blasted a drive past Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner before Beaulieu could get over.

The momentum was clearly in the Islanders favor but Buffalo coach Phil Housley didn't call a timeout and the tidal wave continued.

Buffalo still had :46 seconds left on the powerplay and they attempted to regroup without a timeout. After spending plenty of time in the Islanders zone a cross-ice pass by Kane was corralled by defenseman Matt Tennyson who tried to send a lazy dump along the boards. The Islanders Jason Chimera stole the puck and sent it the length of the ice just as the penalty ended. Josh Ho Sang gathered the puck in the Sabres corner and fed Josh Bailey who along with Chimera created a 2-on-1 in tight. Bailey buried the shot far side.

"Lackadaisical." "Soft." Lazy." It's the type of thing that a hungry team like the NY Islanders, who were embarrassed in a 5-0 loss to open the season, ate up and spit right back into the net.

Housley claimed that his team was ready for the Islanders but that they "didn't execute the game plan."

Maybe. Tavares' first goal came 1:50 into the game and if it wasn't for Lehner, the Islanders might have left the first period with another goal or two. But the Sabres did outshoot the Islanders 11-9.

Whether it was effort or execution, or lack of effort affecting execution, it carried over into practice on Sunday. Sabres assistant coach Davis Payne tired of their approach and according to the media watching, didn't mince words while voicing his displeasure.

“Let’s get (expletive) sharp!” And few seconds later, according to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald Payne "let loose", saying, “Let’s get it (expletive) going!”

The Sabres have a matinee game against the New Jersey Devils today at 3 p.m. In addition to Payne trying to spark a competitive fire in his charges Housley mixed up the lines a little bit for yesterday's practice as he swapped centers on two lines. According to Jourdon LaBarber of sabres.com, they looked like this:

9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 25 Seth Griffith
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 21 Kyle Okposo
22 Johan Larsson - 10 Jacob Josefson - 26 Matt Moulson

Jordan Nolan was the extra forward.

Reinhart had an abysmal minus-5 rating against the Islanders while only taking two shots and has looked disengaged thus far to the point that it almost looks as if he's moping around. He has zero points and is a minus-6 in two games. Not sure what a player like Benoit Pouliot will do for him but having a sniper like Okposo on his wing may help.

O'Reilly has one point thus far (an assist) and is a minus-3. He and Okposo had great chemistry last season but hadn't found it yet thus far this season. They've had both Pouliot and Zemgus Girgensons on the left side with neither player hitting the scoresheet.

Kane is off to a rollicking start with four points in three games. He and Eichel are the only Buffalo players on the plus side of plus/minus while three others who've played in both games--defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen, Beaulieu and Jack McCabe--are all even. Reinhart is at the bottom followed by Okposo and minus-5.

Housley was noncommittal when it came to who'd be starting in goal for the Sabres today. Lehner is the No. 1 but was pulled in the Islanders game after giving up four goals on 16 shots. Backup Chad Johnson came on in relief at the 7:00-mark of the second period and stopped 15 of 16 shots.

The Sabres will have their hands full this afternoon as they're only 1-4-1 vs. the Devils over the past two seasons. New Jersey only outscored Buffalo 14-10 in those six games but have added some firepower in 2017 first-overall pick Nico Hischier to go along with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmeri.

Defenseman Will Butcher, a free agent college signee whom the Sabres were in on made his NHL debut Saturday night and became the first Devil in franchise history to record three assists as a rookie. All of his points came on a Devils powerplay that went 3/4 against the Colorado Avalanche.

"I just pass the pucks and they do the rest," Butcher said to the post-game media (via Amy Moritz, The Buffalo News.) "On the power play, where those points happened, giving the puck to Hall and Palmieri with time and space, good things are always going to happen."

The Devils iced eight new faces including rookies Hischier, Butcher and Swedish import Jesper Bratt.

Today is Kids Day at KeyBank Center featuring a Party in the Plaza from 1-3 p.m. which is sure to be a blast for the kids who are off for Columbus Day.





Sabres Brooklyn bound with Housley looking for his first win

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-7-2017


Phil Housley missed a chance at his first win as a head coach on Thursday. The Buffalo Sabres had the lead in the season opener but couldn't hold on for their new coach. With Buffalo up 2-1 in the third period they found themselves on the  powerplay and a goal there would have been beautiful despite all the "beware a two-goal lead" banter we've heard the past few years.

Montreal's Andrew Shaw went off for interference at the 7:19-mark of the third and Buffalo sent out it's No. 1 powerplay unit. Forty-two seconds later the Canadiens tied the score on a shorthanded wraparound goal by Phillip Danault. Not to take away anything from Danault, but it was a bad play all around for Buffalo as the skaters were weak on the backcheck and goalie Robin Lehner failed to seal off the post completely.

The teams were tied at the end of regulation and, much to the dismay of Sabres fans, the game headed to the shootout after a scoreless overtime session. Why the angst? Lehner in the shootout just hasn't worked out all that well as he's allowed eight goals on the last eight shot-against. However, there was some light at the end of the long, dark skills-competition tunnel. After Buffalo's Jacob Josefson' shot was blocked by Montreal's Carey Price, former Sabre Paul Byron clanked one off the post.

It was all for naught as the Canadiens Jonathan Drouin's lone score in the shootout gave Montreal the 3-2 win.

If you looked at the Buffalo players in the shootout and wondered where recently extended Jack Eichel was, well...he may have gone fourth had it gotten that far. His 1/9 shootout history superseded the drama of the moment in the eyes of Housley.

But that was the worst of it for the new coach when it came to his first game behind the bench. Housley had his team Sabres team skating hard and fast and creating shots from all over the place. In all the Sabres put the puck on net 45 times and had the Canadiens on their heels for much of the game. They succumbed to two mistakes in regulation, one by Lehner and Co. and one by Ryan O'Reilly.

Tonight the Sabres visit Brooklyn, NY to take on John Tavares and the NY Islanders. It wasn't all that long ago that the two teams last met. On April 2, of last season the Islanders headed to Buffalo fighting for a playoff spot and came away with a 4-2 victory. New York opened it's season last night in Columbus and proceeded to get smoked 5-0 so they should be ready to avenge that stinker as they head back to Brooklyn for their home opener tonight.

There was no morning skate for the Sabres today so we can assume that all lines and d-pairings are the same as they were on Thursday with one small change in the lineup. Matt Moulson, who's $5M salary is anything but small change, will replace Jordan Nolan on the fourth line. Of the move, Housley told the gathered media yesterday that he believes Moulson "is going to fit right in."

"I think Matt is a true goal-scorer," continued Housley, "he can bury the puck and hopefully he can bring that against his old team."
Nolan was very strong in his first game as a Buffalo Sabre as his line with Jacob Josefson and Johan Larsson put a lot of pressure on the Canadiens. Housley said yesterday after practice that "those guys pay attention to detail" and that he wasn't afraid to throw them out there for the many d-zone starts they ended up taking. Nolan and Josefson were also the top-pairing on a Sabres penalty-kill unit that killed all four Buffalo penalties.

On Thursday night special teams worked for the Sabres, as in addition to the 4/4 kill they also scored on 1 of 4 powerplay opportunities, however, that shortie against hurt.

As mentioned in the Sabres season preview, it will take some time for things to click. There's a new system in place and players need to adapt not only to Housley, but to their team mates as well. Buffalo started Thursday's game with 10 new faces, a franchise record for starting the season, according to Sabres PR. Conditioning seemed to be a factor last game and will also be a factor moving forward, at least for the near future. During the final half of the third period the Canadiens were ale to reign in the fast-skating Sabres and tighten the game up.

Buffalo also began last season with a loss to Montreal at home before immediately heading out on a Western Canada road trip. The early part of this season will also feature a West Coast road trip beginning Thursday October 12. They have the Islanders tonight at Brooklyn and play Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils in Buffalo on Monday before they hit the road to face San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

It would be nice if Housley can get his first head coaching win before then. Like, tonight.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Amerks start anew with new faces abound and Don Stevens still at the mike

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-6-2017


The last time the Rochester Americans were significant in the AHL was in 2004-05 when the NHL was in a full-season lockout mode and a group dubbed "The Rochester Guys" were roaming the ice. A few years down the road Buffalo's Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Paul Gaustad along with goalie Ryan Miller would play lead roles for the Sabres, but for that one season together in Rochester they were all plying their trade as a group and learning a relatively new system that would serve them and the Sabres well up in Buffalo.

There was an excitement about that team as the NHL lockout allowed for some very talented players to not only all grow together at the AHL-level for a season but to also achieve a level of success as well. The Amerks were a premier AHL franchise at the time having been to the playoffs 16 consecutive years, winning the Calder Cup in 1995-96.

Also in that '04-05 group was veteran player Jason Botterill, the Sabres present general manager who was in the final season of an eight-year pro playing career.

When Botterill said goodbye to his playing days and hello to a front office position in Pittsburgh, he hooked up with a Penguins organization that had two very successful teams at both the NHL and AHL levels. And when he was hired by the Buffalo Sabres to be their general manager, he brought the same philosophy with him. “My goal is to strengthen the relationship between Rochester and Buffalo," he said at his introductory presser. "To develop an organization that is going to be successful year in and year out, you have to have that development system in place."

That was music to Rochester's ears as the franchise had been struggling ever since that '04-05 season. Their downward spiral began with the announcement that there would be a dual affiliation with the Florida Panthers beginning in '05-06. That would last for two seasons before the Sabres left Rochester and headed to Portland, Maine. When owner Terry Pegula bought the Sabres in 2011, he made it a priority to bring back the Americans which he did, beginning with the 2011-12 season. Change had been the order of the day since Pegula took over and when all was said and done, the Amerks had made the playoffs five times in those 12 seasons never making it out of the first round.

Don Stevens has been "The Voice of the Rochester Americans" for 31 seasons and he's been through good times and bad. He was very happy to hear Botterill talk about building a strong Amerks hockey club and is quite happy with how Botterill constructed the roster this season. "The veteran players he's brought in and the moves he's made are just outstanding," he told me via phone. "All the right things were said (by Botterill at the time) and so far they're proving to [be true].

Stevens also cautioned, "At this point everything looks good. It's always the case that the first week of the season, you're the best team in the league."

Botterill brought in some vets with championship pedigree to help guide the Amerks this season. Former Amerks captain Kevin Porter returns to the Amerks after spending three years away. He was with the Grand Rapids Griffins (DET) in 2014-15 and spent the last two seasons in the Pittsburgh organization with the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. Botterill is very familiar with Porter and signed him on July 1, the start of free agency.

Although he spent a majority of his time at the AHL-level while in the Penguins organization, Porter played well when called up by Pittsburgh and he also helped in the development of players. Jake Guentzel was one such player. He had a terrific 2017 post season while helping lead the Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

"[Porter's] a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill while recapping his July 1 signings. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

Also in the fold for Rochester is well-travelled veteran defenseman Nathan Paetsch who was also with the Amerks in '04-05. The 34 yr. old's last stop was in Grand Rapids as he helped the Griffins to the 2016-17 Calder Cup. On September 12, Rochester GM (and Buffalo AGM,) Randy Sexton brought Paetsch on board for more veteran leadership and to help develop a winning mentality. “We’re excited to welcome Nathan back to the organization as he brings a wealth of playing experience at the American Hockey League level,” said Sexton of the signing. “We’re very confident he will play a leading role in creating a successful, winning culture for our young prospects here in Rochester.”

Sexton himself was poached by Botterill from the Penguins organization and is also familiar with the Rochester Americans as he was with the Florida parent club from 2007-10 while the Amerks were the Panthers AHL affiliate. He moved to Pittsburgh in 2010 where he became the assistant director of amateur scouting for the team. "[Sexton] was the only good thing there was of that whole schlimazel with the Florida Panthers," Stevens said of the Panthers affiliation which stretched from 2005-11. "He was excellent, is a good man with great credentials and is very highly thought of."

It doesn't hurt that Sexton also has the same drive to make Rochester a winner that Botterill does. Back in July at Sabres Development Camp Sexton told the gathered media, “We are not going to rest until we restore the Americans to what I think is their rightful place among the elite teams in the American Hockey League. It will come one day at a time, it will come one person at a time. But we will be relentless in our pursuit of that success.”

The Amerks didn't stop at tapping into recent championship success as they signed another player from the '17 Calder Cup champion Griffins. Forward Kyle Criscuolo is 5'8" 165 lbs. and Botterill described him as one who"plays with a lot of pace, with a high compete [level] and can play the type of pace that Phil (Housley) wants to play."
That pace Botterill and Housley want to see has been seen in Rochester during their preseason thus far, according to Stevens. "The speed of the practices is vastly ahead of where it was last year," he said. "The pace is very good and (head coach Chris) Taylor's really got them moving." Perhaps the pace is a bit easier to pus as the Amerks, according to Stevens, are a little smaller this year and he points to a line featuring the aforementioned 5'8" Criscuolo with Steve Moses (5'9" 175 lbs.) and the biggest guy on that line, C.J. Smith who chimes in at 5'11" 185 lbs.

Rochester did add some heft on the blueline, however, as they tapped into the champion Griffins once again to land 6'1" 210 lb. Conor Allen and also added 6'2" 225 lb. defenseman Andrew MacWilliam who was with the Albany Devils (NJD) last season. Both are steady, solid rearguards who will balance the smaller, skilled puck-movers the Amerks will start with on defense.

Defenseman Taylor Fedun was waived by Buffalo and luckily for Rochester, cleared waivers. Fedun signed with Buffalo last season and re-upped with a two-year, one-way deal. Last season he and Justin Falk started out as the Amerks top-pairing but injuries soon had Falk up with the Sabres. Not long after Fedun got his call and made the most of it. He recorded four assists in his first three games with Buffalo and ended up playing 39 games for the club scoring two goals and totaling 16 points.

Stevens calls Fedun's return to the Amerks "huge" for the club, "especially offensively. He just brings a tremendous amount of skill [to the blueline]." Fedun played 29 games for the Amerks last season scoring five goals, adding 18 assists and was a plus-1. "If he does as well this year as he did last year," said Stevens, "he probably won't be here that long."

Defenseman Casey Nelson had an "impressive" preseason according to Stevens, especially in the first game where he tallied eight shots. His aggressiveness with the puck might be attributed to the new style of play that falls right into his wheel house as smart, puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman. "It's certainly one thing that the organization is trying to do as a whole [which is] trying to get the defense more involved in the offense," said Stevens, "and I think [Nelson] took that to heart."

The big name on defense for Sabres fans is that of Brendan Guhle. The 20 yr. old had two short, six-game stints with the Amerks after his junior seasons ended and he never looked out of place scoring a total of six points (2+4) in those 12 games. Guhle is athletic and very strong on his skates with seemingly effortless long strides to traverse the 200' rink.

Having him spend a full season in Rochester as a first-year pro is not a bad idea. It's the type of development Stevens has been pitching for the last three years I've been talking with him. "There's been a lot of talk that [Guhle] might make it to Buffalo this year," said Stevens, who's entering his 32nd season in the Amerks broadcast booth. "The thing is, for the organization, that process has to slow down. I think these guys need to develop more, have to see more time here (at the AHL-level) in order to get more confident so that when they make that next step they're really ready for it."

In keeping with that theme, Stevens calls the signing of Sabres back-up goalie Chad Johnson "one of the best off season moves for the organization." With the Johnson-signing the Linus Ullmark gets another season in Rochester playing top minutes and the opportunity to build on last year's Team MVP award.

That move, along with the signing of Adam Wilcox who finished the season with the Springfield Thunderbirds (FLA) with a 7-4-0 record, a 2.02 GAA and .932 Sv%, allows the entire goalie depth chart to fall in place. All No. 1's will get top minutes in their respective leagues. Robin Lehner with the Sabres, the 24 yr. old Ullmark in Rochester and 22 yr. old Jonas Johansson in Cincinnati with the Cyclones, Buffalo's new ECHL affiliate.

The Sabres have a group of prospects in Rochester, mostly in the forward group, who will also be spending valuable development time with the Amerks while getting up to speed with the new system. Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste were thought to have the best shots of making the Sabres out of camp, but they're back with Rochester looking to continue to develop. Both showed great year-over-year improvement with the Amerks and the thought process is that proper guidance from vets like Porter, plus some time in the system at the lower level will eventually lead to success in the AHL and confidence to make an impact at the NHL-level.

We can place Hudson Fasching in that grouping as well. Fasching did make the Sabres out of camp last season but was injured early on. He was sent back to Rochester and it took a long time for him to get back to form. According to Stevens, the 6'2" 207 lb. Fasching had a great preseason.

Another player who'll need to come back from injury is Alexander Nylander. The winger was injured at Development Camp and suffered a setback at Sabres training camp. Nylander added some heft to his frame and many thought that he'd have a good shot at landing a left wing spot on the Sabres, but another year of development, especially coming off of an injury, looks to be in the cards for him.

When all's said and done, however, it will be up to head coach Chris Taylor to bring Housley's philosophy to Rochester while also taking on the binary task of icing a winning team and developing the players.

Taylor was also on that 2004-05 Amerks squad along with Botterill, Paetsch and "The Rochester Guys." He spent nine seasons in Rochester, was a captain for the Amerks, a three-time team MVP and is in the Amerks Hall of Fame. He spent five seasons as an assistant in Rochester, the last season with Wilkes Barre as an assistant and now takes over behind the bench for his first-ever coaching job in his hometown.

Botterill and Taylor go way back with the GM saying this about his new coach the day after Taylor was hired, "He was a player who was a high-end offensive player at the American Hockey League level that found a way to contribute in the National Hockey League and play National Hockey League games as a defensive player.

“Goes to show you the hockey sense he has and sort of the hockey mind.”

He also noted that he thinks Taylor is a good fit for what they're trying to do. “I felt there was a good fit there with Chris,” continued Botterill. “I think it’s going to be a scenario where he comes in, he’s extremely well organized. He’s very familiar with Rochester and will have that presence to be able to interact with the players."

"Very few players come into professional hockey and get to the NHL and play the same role that they played in junior or college," said Sexton of the Taylor hire. "Chris was living proof of that. He was a prolific scorer in junior, he was a great offensive player in the American League, but in order to get NHL games he had to play good defense. I think that in itself is a great signal to our players. Young players who recognize that quickly in their careers ascend to the NHL much quicker than the ones who fight it or don't."

"The players like him and the players have always respected him," said Stevens, "which is huge." Yet he also cautioned that the juries still out as Taylor's still a first-time head coach.

Tonight the Rochester Americans begin their 62nd AHL season against the Syracuse Crunch at Blue Cross Arena. In moving forward the team tapped into the past with Botterill, Taylor and Paetsch, they dipped into the winning culture of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization (which includes Botterill and Sexton) and also snagged a few players from the Grand Rapids Calder Cup team. It's been a rough 12 seasons for the Amerks and their glory years look to be even farther away but the mindset is there and there's a strong commitment to resuscitate the franchise with the best people they can find. If successful it will represent a major step towards bringing the entire organization closer to playoff streaks and successes instead of playoff droughts and first round failures.



Of note:  Porter will wear the 'C' for the Amerks while Paetsch and Fedun will wear the 'A'.