Thursday, December 14, 2017

More depth helping Sabres pull out of a deep rut

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-13-2017


After pulling off a 3-2 win last night against the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres have now picked up points in four straight games (2-0-2.) It's the first time this season that they've done so. Granted, the Sabres beat a Senators team that was on the last leg of a 7-game/15-day road trip and were 1-9-2 since returning from Stockholm, Sweden back in early November. But it was a solid two points for Buffalo after taking four of six points on their own road trip.

Although this may be nothing more than a last place horse closing the gap on a group that's far off the pace in the conference, that they managed to put together a four-game point-streak for the first time this season is a sign that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Last season the Sabres had a three-game point-streak five times and a four-game point-streak twice. From December 13-20, 2016 Buffalo secured 6 points in four games (2-0-2) and from January 3-10, 2017 they went 3-0-1 for seven points. In between, however, was a bad 1-4-0 stretch against Eastern Conference teams that was punctuated by back-to-back losses to the Boston Bruins to finish the calendar year.

Up next for the Sabres is a Thursday night game at Philadelphia against the Flyers as they try to extend their point-streak to five games. Buffalo hasn't gone on a point streak of five games or more since a nine-game streak (7-0-2) from March 3-27, 2012.

Sabres bench boss Phil Housley was on WGR550 this morning talking about an influx of players into the lineup and how that helped the team through increased internal competition. Players like Evan Rodrigues and Scott Wilson, although not top-six players, have contributed with their play and have also caused their teammates to step up their game for fear of being in the press box. "When you add pieces like that and guys that are contributing," said Housley to host Jeremy White, "it puts a little pressure on guys to get up to pace."

Housley was asked specifically about defenseman Zach Bogosian and what he brought to the team upon return from injury. The coach pointed out that in the preseason "you saw the type of player he can be, he's a powerful skater" and that now his defense-corps is falling into place. Bogosian missed the first 25 games of the seaso because of injury and Houlsey said that an argument could be made for him as the team's best defensemen over the six games he's been back.

"Last night [Bogosian] had a really good game just with his poise with the puck," said Housley. "It puts guys in the right seat on the back end. We've got a really good top-four with some good, solid depth in the five, six, seven, eight position with guys in Rochester and guys chomping at the bit to get into the lineup."

Rodrigues, Wilson and Bogosian were all adds to the lineup that pushed depth players back to the AHL. Forwards Seth Griffith and Kyle Criscuolo spent 18 and 17 games with the Sabres, respectively, before the acquisition of Wilson and the call-up of Rodrigues. They were sent them back to the AHL while Matt Moulson was waived. Defenseman Matt Tennyson, who was injured but was back skating, was sent pack to Rochester as well upon Bogosian's return.

The top-four Housley was talking about consists of Rasmus Ristolainen/Marco Scandella up top and Bogosian/Jake McCabe on the second pairing.

Ristolainen has been a Sabres' workhorse on defense for the last two seasons and it carried into this season with the 23 yr. old once again near the top of the NHL average time on ice. In the three games prior to last night, Ristolainen logged over 30 minutes in two consecutive games and came within 43 seconds of hitting the 30-minute mark in the third game, which would have been a franchise record three, 30-plus minute games in a row.

Last night Ristolainen logged 22:31 minutes of ice-time, which was tops on the team while three other defensemen logged 20 minutes or more. The last time the Sabres had four defensemen log 20 or more minutes in a game was on November 14 in a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo was without Ristolainen that game and lost Taylor Fedun after he logged just 10:22 of ice-time. The only other time it happened this year was against the San Jose' Sharks in a 3-2 losing effort with Zach Redmond skating just under 12 minutes and rookie Victor Antipin logging 11:14 minutes of ice-time.

Josh Gorges and Justin Falk were the third-pairing last night and logged 15:40 and 15:33 minutes of ice-time, respectively.

The Sabres have been stuck in the muck all season and have been trying to dig themselves out. Points in four straight games helps and having a lineup that's close to what they expected to have at the start of the season helps even more with most everyone in their proper places. Buffalo has four winnable games in front of them as they play Philadelphia twice with Carolina and Boston sandwiched between the Flyers' games. They're playing better overall hockey, are on a four-game point streak and there are some good things happening for the them, which includes some very solid goaltending by Robin Lehner.

Where it leads from here is, as usual, up in the air as you just don't know, but it's nice to see them moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

OTT @ BUF--Two troubled teams collide at KeyBank

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-12-2017


The Ottawa Senators will play the last game of a seven-game/15-day road trip tonight as they visit KeyBank Center to take on the Buffalo Sabres. And by the looks of it, they can't wait for it to be over.

Ottawa lost 2-1 at Montreal on November 29th then followed with a 6-5 win in Brooklyn against the NY Islanders. The Sens had a stop in Winnipeg before they made their way to California for three more games and the results have been miserable. The Jets embarrassed Ottawa in a 5-0 shutout and Anaheim shut them out 3-0. They their first goal in 154:46 against Los Angeles, took the Kings to overtime but proceeded to lose on a goal 33 seconds into the extra session. They followed that up by getting shut out 5-0 in San Jose'.

The Senators come into Buffalo tonight limping badly and it wasn't supposed to be that way after acquiring Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche in a three-way deal on November 5. Duchene was thought to be the No. 1 center they'd been lacking and they paid a hefty price which included trading a first and a third round pick, former first round pick Shane Bowers (2017, 28th-overall,) and goalie Andrew Hammond to Colorado as well as sending C, Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators go consummate the deal.

After winning their first two games with Duchene in the fold, it was the Sens who folded as they went winless in their next six (0-5-1) prior to their present road trip. In their last 12 games Ottawa is 1-9-2, have been shut out four times, have scored two or less goals in six of those games and have allowed four or more goals in six of those contests.

Buffalo has had their own woes to deal with as well. From November 10 to December 2, the Sabres went 1-9-2. They scored two or fewer goals in nine of those games and were shut out a franchise record three games in a row spanning  232:09, or almost four full games. The Sabres came out of that morass with a 4-2 win in Colorado and managed loser points at Chicago and St. Louis.

Ottawa is second-last in the Eastern Conference with 25 points in 28 games while the Sabres are dead last with only 20 points in 30 games.

If you read this far and somehow managed not to poke your eyes out, congratulations and thanks for reading.

The Sabres have a quick turnaround after flying home from St. Louis on Sunday. They managed a comeback with two third period goals against the Western Conference-leading Blues but were felled in overtime 3-2 and all-in-all they actually had a pretty good road trip as they managed to get four of a possible six points. Prior to the St. Louis game, the Sabres were close to adding another point on Friday in Chicago but they blew a one-goal lead with 3:22 left in regulation vs. the Blackhawks and lost in overtime.

With both teams in the dregs, the rumor-mill is churning for both clubs. Word from insiders have NHL teams looking at Buffalo is if they're "open for business" with everybody on the team except for Jack Eichel. The Senators, according to Elliotte Friedman, have asked their players with no-trade clauses to submit their lists and that includes defenseman Erik Karlsson, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. Karlsson signed a 7yr.$45.5 million contract in June, 2012 and has a no-trade clause this year and next.

Most felt that the Senators overachieved last season when they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but apparently management thought differently and pulled off the trade for Duchene. With the team falling apart after acquiring Duchene, it looks as if they want to blow it up and players like Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone are back in the rumor-mill.

With the Sabres coming off a fairly successful road trip, a win over the Senators could help them get on their feet as they're coming into tonight's matchup on a three-game point-streak. According to Sabres PR, the Sabres are 6-2-2 in their last 10 vs. the Senators and have are on an eight-game point-streak (6-0-2.) Buffalo has also won three in a row vs. Ottawa.

Robin Lehner gets the start tonight against his former team. Lehner is 4-0-2 in eight appearances and has a 1.30 goals-against average and .959 Sv%.


*****

Sabres bench boss Phil Housley shook up the lines at the game day skate this morning. Reports have these as the lines:

Pouliot, Eichel, Pominville
Girgensons, O'Reilly, Okposo
Kane, Rodrigues, Reinhart
Nolan, Larsson, Wilson

Housley moved Kane off of the Eichel line and Girgensons up after playing in only one game since being benched. Girgensons was on the ice with the goalie pulled and the Sabres down by one. He provided a screen on Marco Scandella's shot from the point and he rebound kicked out to a wide open Evand Rodrigues who buried the rebound for his second goal of the game.

Rookie Hudson Fasching will be in the press box tonight along with a still-injured Jacob Josefson. Housley said Josefson is week-to-week, but looked good skating today.


*****

The blueline looks to be the same with:

Ristolainen-Scandella
Bogosian-McCabe
Falk-Gorges

'Gus' returns. It's Buffalo at St. Louis tonight

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-10-2017


Buffalo forward Zemgus Girgensons was benched for the last two games. And rightfully so. It's been 19 games since the 6'2" 207 lb. forward has scored a point. October 14, to be exact when he scored a goal at Los Angeles vs. the Kings. "I wasn’t performing at my best," was how 'Gus' put it to the gathered media yesterday in St. Louis.

Girgensons went on to say that his play "wasn't good enough" and that he could ."work harder."

"Definitely the production isn’t good enough," he continued, "and the work ethic can be harder, I know that and everyone has seen from me that I can be better."

It didn't take a rocket scientist or long-time hockey person to figure out that Girgensons wasn't doing much of anything on the ice during games, or even at practice, and that's why Buffalo coach Phil Housley sent him to the press box for the last two games. “I thought this was one of his best practices in a long time," said Housley yesterday, "so we’ll make that decision tomorrow, but it’s good to see him with a little jump in his step and controlling the play in the small game area and he brought some good energy today.”

Interesting to note that a report pointed out how the team wasn't "down in the dumps" at practice after blowing a late lead and losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime on Friday. "We just talked about our preparation and execution beforehand and everyone being accountable for each other," said the coach.

"I thought there was a lot of life and a lot of energy out there and really quick puck movement," continued Housley, "and we've got to continue work on that as far as the fundamentals go because it's part of our execution up ice."

The Sabres are going to need a lot of energy and execution as they take on the league's second best team in the St. Louis Blues who are coming off a 6-1 pasting of the Detroit Red Wings last night. It's a team that hasn't been to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1970, the season before the Sabres, and the Vancouver Canucks, became a part of the league.

Like the Blackhawks, the Sabres have had nothing but trouble playing St. Louis. Buffalo is 1-8-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Blues and 1-6-3 on the road. The Sabres haven't beaten the Blues in St. Louis since December 27, 2009. Buffalo's Tim Connoly and Mike Grier had two goals and an assist each while Patrick Lalime stopped 32 of 35 shots in the Sabres 5-3 win. Jochen Hecht scored the other goal for the Sabres.

The Blues come into tonight's matchup sixth in the league in scoring with 99 goals with a league-leading 24 coming from their defense. Conversely the Sabres have scored a league-low 62 with only one goal coming from the defense corps, which is also dead last in the league.

Housley did a little juggling with his lines yesterday with Girgensons on a line with center Johan Larsson and Hudson Fasching.

Fasching played the last two games with Ryan O'Reilly and Benoit Pouliot but was dropped down while Kyle Okposo was moved up to that line.

According to reports, these were the lines yesterday:

Kane - Eichel - Pominville
Pouliot - O’Reilly - Okposo
Wilson - Rodrigues - Reinhart
Nolan - Larsson - Fasching

Defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian both sat out practice yesterday for maintenance days. Ristolainen played over 30 minutes for the second consecutive games, the first player to do so since Dmitry Kalinin in 2004, according to Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, and Harrington sites Elias Sports Bureau as saying no Buffalo Sabres player has ever played 30 minutes or more in three consecutive days.

A maintenance day indeed.


Game time is 7 pm.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sabres toddlin' in Chicago for Game-2 of their roadie

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-8-2017


Chicago, Chicago that toddlin' town
Chicago, Chicago, I'll show you around...


So the song goes.

What the word toddlin' means is up for debate and although it revolves around walking with difficulty, they're not sure if the early 20th Century nomenclature involves inebriation, a leisurely stroll or is a derivative of toddler.

Perhaps toddlin' works for the Sabres in the latter sense as it seems as if they're just beginning to walk. They've had to learn all over again how to play hockey, most notably in today's NHL, and they seemed to have picked it up rather well. Buffalo began a three game Central-U.S. road-trip with a 4-2 win at Colorado on Tuesday and hit the Windy City tonight to take on the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Hawks have been stumbling lately, which is unusual for one of today's marquis hockey franchises. They're on a five-game winless streak (0-3-2) and have been outscored by a 19-10 margin in those games. Chicago is also in an unusual position as their 12-11-5 record places them sixth in the Central Division.

But that's for them to figure out. Once a largely forgotten Original-Six member, the Blackhawks have been on a roll since making the Western Conference Finals in 2009. In that span they've made the playoffs nine consecutive seasons with three Stanley Cups within six years (2010, 2013, 2015) and another Western Conference Final appearance in 2014.

Inebriated may not be the proper word for them. Perhaps it's more like hung over from all the success they've had over the past nine seasons.

If ever there was a time for the league's last place team to steal one on the road, tonight might be the time. The Sabres stopped an awful 1-9-2 skid with that win over the Avalanche and looked good in the process. However, Buffalo is 0-8-2 in their last 10 against Chicago and according to Sabres PR, haven't beaten the Hawks since a 2-1 victory at home December 11, 2009. Buffalo has been slightly better on the road againAst Chicago going 2-7-1 but haven't won there since January 10, 2007.

Just how bad has it been for the Buffalo Sabres this year? This is the list of Sabres players amongst the league leaders:

Evander Kane:  3 SHG (T-1st), 3 SHP (T-1st), 126 S (2nd)(T-4th)
Jack Eichel:  2 SHP
Ryan O'Reilly:  424 FOW (1st), 61.2% FO% (1st), 693 FO (2nd), 2 SHP (T-4th)
Rasmus Ristolainen:  27:00 TOI/GP (2nd)

With the Sabres playoff hopes all but extinguished at this point, word on the street is that the Sabres are "open for business," with the only untouchable being Eichel. Kane has been the hot rumor all season, although it's being said the Buffalo GM Jason Botterill would like to re-sign him. Others like Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart are said to be available, but they won't be given away.

Buffalo is heading to the United Center to face a Blackhawks team that's somewhat in desperation mode right now. They just got spanked in Washington 6-2 by the Capitals and are on their longest losing streak since 2010-11.

Chicago, Chicago


Friday, December 8, 2017

Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens talks of culture and confidence in Rochester

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-7-2017


If you noticed a difference in the way the Buffalo Sabres played on Tuesday night in Colorado, you weren't seeing things. Heading into the matchup the Sabres were in a serious 1-9-2 rut that included being shut out three times in a row (a franchise record for futility) and goal-less drought that lasted almost four full games in length.

Frustrated with the way his team was playing, GM Jason Botterill shook things up by waiving veteran forward Matt Moulson and his $5 million salary and trading for forward Scott Wilson, a player he was quite familiar from his time in Pittsburgh. In addition, center Evan Rodrigues got the call from Rochester to join Hudson Fasching who had been called up from the Amerks the prior game.

None of Wilson, Rodrigues or Fasching scored a point in the game, but they had an impact in how the team looked as a whole. Buffalo played a fast, north/south game up and down the lineup and were hard on the puck which eventually lead to a 4-2 victory. Two of the Sabres goals were scored at even strength, compared to zero for the Avalanche, one was scored short-handed and the last was into an empty net. It's the type of game that Botterill and coach Phil Housley had wanted to see their team play more often and it may have been their best 60-minute performance in a winning effort this season.

When Botterill took the job this past April, the Sabres organization was in need of a culture change. He had two problems, one in Buffalo and the other in Rochester. Both teams were flailing and on July 1, the first time GM went to work to stabilize Rochester. He signed five players ticketed for Rochester that day including Kevin Porter, who had spent the previous two seasons with him in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

When Botterill came to Buffalo, he brought in Randy Sexton as his assistant GM, and the general manager of Rochester, as well as Chris Taylor to be his head coach, both of whom came from the Penguins. Sexton followed Botterill's lead with Porter and signed more 'Baby Pens' to the Amerks in an effort to help stop a losing culture in Rochester using an influx of personnel that knew success and what it took to get there.

"[The Sabres] came in with Botterill and Randy Sexton and the rest of the group," long-time Amerks broadcaster Don Stevens told me, "and the number-one focus was to change the culture. As Sexton said," continued Stevens, "it's a lot easier to change the culture here (at the AHL-level) than it is up-top because of salaries and all the different things that go on up above. You can't do it as rapidly (in the NHL) as you can here.

"I think we've seen a pretty good change in culture here.

The results have been very good so far as the culture change is taking hold. The Amerks are 12-5-3-2 on the season and sit in second place in the North Division after finishing near the bottom of the league for the prior three seasons.

Porter, whom Botterill knew well from his time in Pittsburgh and whom he spoke very highly of, is the captain and leads the charge of 'Baby Pens'. Sexton, who was Pittsburgh's director of amateur scouting prior his role in the Sabres organization, continued by bringing in four more former Pens--centers Sahir Gill and Adam Krause, defensemen Stuart Percy and Barry Goers.

In addition, the Amerks brought in players like Kyle Criscuolo, Nathan Paetsch and Connor Allen, all of whom were on last year's Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins (DET) team.

It's a good mix of players overall. And when you add in young players and rookies from the Sabres pipeline it creates something the team hasn't had in a while, depth, an aspect that's rather crucial to the success of an AHL team.

The Sabres went through a rash of injuries on the blueline earlier this season and have dressed 11 defensemen so far. Although injuries haven't hit the forward ranks as hard, the Sabres did call up a number of forwards from Rochester including Criscuolo for eight games and Justin Bailey for seven. Seth Griffith looked to be ticketed for Rochester out of camp but stayed in Buffalo and played in 18 games for the Sabres. It's the nature of the beast. "But the difference (for the Amerks,)" said Stevens, "is that there's enough depth here, which we haven't had in the past decade or so, to weather the storm.

The AHL is a tough business in that they're in it to win, but they also have a very important role in developing the youngins. The two aren't mutually exclusive and as we've seen, development without winning may not be development at all (Buffalo,) and that winning is the best form of development (Pittsburgh.)

Every time we've talked, Stevens has mentioned needing an environment that allows prospects and players to develop at their own pace and the need to keep them at the AHL-level until they're ready to make the jump. As our attention moved towards individual players, like 20 yr. old d-prospect Brendan Guhle, the word confidence, "which seems to be an overall theme for the team," according to Stevens, came to the fore.

Guhle is playing all-situations, top-pairing minutes as a rookie in his first full pro season. In 21 games he has 14 points (5+9) and is a plus-8. Those are just the numbers, but what Stevens has been seeing from the young player is "more confidence rushing the puck" and that he "is now one of those who is willing to take chances." However, Guhle's successes circle back to the depth in Rochester. "He's doing things he might have held back on," said Stevens, "and trying more things than he used to because he knows he's got somebody back there who's going to cover up for him."

Coach Taylor seems to have made a lot of good moves in his first stint as a head coach and he has the team in a good place. After Fasching got called up, he told the gathered media about the feel in Rochester. "Guys there are happy," he said. "We're excited to be there every day. There's a lot of energy at the rink. It's fun to be there, fun to play like that.

"We're almost playing more loose, more relaxed."

Earlier in the season it wasn't quite that way as the Amerks had lost three of their prior four games and were down 3-0 vs. the Laval Rocket (MTL) at Blue Cross Arena. They were being booed by the home crowd as they left the ice for the second intermission but came back to tie the score with three unanswered goals in the third and won the game in overtime.

Taylor told his team during the intermission to relax and just play their game. A reporter stated that with his team down 3-0, he had to have a lot of confidence in them. "For sure I have a lot of confidence," said Taylor. "I see them every day. I have confidence in everyone of those guys in the locker room and that's what it's all about. And they have to have the confidence in me. We're all in this together."

That was on October 27th, since then his team has gone 8-2-5 and have gotten points in 13 of their last 14 games (8-1-5.)

Rodrigues and Fasching both seem to have benefitted well from the change in culture, especially Fasching. The 6'3" 204 lb. winger was traded for by the former regime for his size and ability to work the front of the net. The issue with him, other than youthful inconsistencies, has been his skating. Fasching will never have blazing speed but the difference between last season and this year is that he's playing the game faster and it looks as if he's a faster player because of it. Although he still needs to produce at the NHL-level and will need to develop more consistency, which is typical of most young players, he looks like he took a big step forward.

Rodrigues had shown marked improvement last season and looked to be on the Sabres roster until an injury sidelined him in training camp. After being sent to Rochester to start his season and managing one assist through his first three games, Rodrigues used a four-point game and a three-point game to leave Rochester with 10 points (5+5) in eight games. "Again, it's that confidence-level," said Stevens.

Another player playing with a lot of confidence is goaltender Linus Ullmark.

Ullmark took the reigns of the starting goalie position last season and was the Amerks MVP. Back in October, Stevens said that the best thing for Ullmark was that the Sabres got back-up Chad Johnson in the off season which kept the 24 yr. old developing in Rochester.

That may change, however, as Buffalo's goalies are becoming a part of trade rumors. Should one of Robin Lehner or Johnson be moved and the Sabres receive no NHL goalie in return, Ullmark may end up in Buffalo. It's something Stevens doesn't want to see for Ullmark and the Amerks, but something that may happen.

When asked if he thought Ullmark was ready to make the jump, Stevens, who's always been an advocate of keeping young players in the AHL for as long as necessary, said, "yes," but qualified it by saying, "but I would like to have him [finish the year here] so that when he goes into next year, he's just brimming with confidence."

We need to keep in mind that despite the Sabres playing one of their best games of the season on the road and winning on Tuesday, they're still a 7-17-4 team, something that may not be conducive to proper development if they continue down that road.

"[Ullmark's] built up to where he's at now and I would hate to see him go into a situation on a team that's really struggling the way they are, and he plays well but doesn't get the wins and starts to lose that confidence."

Which happens all the time, especially with team trying to rush players.

But Botterill seems to have Rochester on the right track which benefits the Amerks right now and will eventually make it's way up to Buffalo. There are a lot of players who've played under Botterill and they're beginning to make their way onto the Sabres. Players like Wilson, and to an extent Rodrigues and Fasching, know what he and his staff are trying to do and know their roles are in this process.

Rochester is having success right now but by no means are they an AHL juggernaut at this time, as inconstancies still rule. It's something they "really need to develop," according to Stevens, but the foundation seems to be there which is a major step in the right direction.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The "Scott Wilson-era" in Buffalo has begun. Kind of.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-6-2017


When the news broke that the Buffalo Sabres had traded a 2019 fifth round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for forward Scott Wilson, the first question on the minds of many in Sabreland was, "who?" followed by, "why?" It wasn't a blockbuster deal by any means but the reasoning behind that trade, and the moves made in concert with it, was made clear as there was a pronounced effect on the Sabres in last night's game at Colorado.

Wilson is a former Pittsburgh Penguin with two Stanley Cup rings to his name and Buffalo GM Jason Botterill, who had spent the previous 10 years in the Pittsburgh organization, knew him well. The seventh-round pick out of UMass-Lowell was selected 209th overall in 2011 and after leaving college Wilson spent parts of two seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before moving up to the big club full time last season. He was dealt to the Red Wings on October 21 after playing three games for the Pens.

On Monday after the trade was announced, Botterill addressed the gathered media saying, "We are very happy to add Scott to our roster. [He] is a hard-working, young player that will be a great fit for our club. As a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, his experience will be an asset both on and off the ice."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Earth's beginning to move as Botterill makes some roster moves

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-4-2017


It's news that many Sabres fans have been yearning to hear for a long time, but today the Sabres did something with the struggling Matt Moulson as the 34 yr. old winger from North York, Ontario was waived by Buffalo in a move that was surprising in that they finally did it.

Moulson was signed to a 5 yr./$25 million contract at the July 1, 2014 opening to free agency by former GM Tim Murray. The Sabres were in the midst of tearing down their roster and at the time he said that he found players "who wanted to be [in Buffalo]."

"We finished in 30th place," he continued, "and today shows that there are quality players that want to come here. And there were more than what we got done. There were other choices. There still are. These were the guys we thought that we should go forward quickly with for what we wanted to achieve."

Moulson was named an assistant captain for the 2014-15 season, part of a leadership trio that included captain Brian Gionta and assistant captain Josh Gorges, both of whom came to Buffalo on the same day, Gionta as a free agent and Gorges via a trade with Montreal. All three had hefty price tags on contracts that varied in length by one year. Last year was Gionta's last under contract, this is the last season for Gorges' contract and next year will be Moulson's last.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Elliotte Friedman says teams feel the Sabres are "open for business"

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-3-2017

Let's get this out of the way early. The Buffalo Sabres dropped back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined 9-1 score. The first game was an utter embarrassment as the Pens treated them as a play toy while on their way toy 4-0 win. Last night was a much better effort by the Sabres but breakdowns coupled with a lack of scoring and the lack of key saves at key moments resulted in a 5-1 defeat.

In looking at last night's game, Buffalo skated hard and fast while barreling to the net, which is exactly the way coach Phil Housley wants his team to play but they couldn't score. Goal opportunities presented themselves on a few occasions, but with a 6-17-4 hockey club the puck usually takes the worst possible bounce, or in the case of Jack Eichel last night, the smallest area of the goalie's equipment, the shaft of the stick, makes the save.

At least they were able to score a goal to end a franchise mark for goal futility. Prior to Jason Pominville's tally with 9:42 left in the third period, the Sabres were shut out three games in a row and went 232:09, which is almost four full games, without scoring a goal.

Some will say it's the hockey gods bestowing their wrath upon the Sabres for the tank of 2014-15, which is a mythological way of stating it. Although karma can be a bitch, there are other, more tangible things that have lead this team to the point where they look like a 70's era expansion team. Lack of team speed in a fast league is one thing. Lack of finish is another. Defensive breakdowns and average goaltending, at best, combine for the blueline portion of the program.

Constant change isn't helping either as this edition of the Buffalo Sabres has been compiled by three different general managers, yet, as we'll see later, more change is on the way.

During the second intermission of Hockey Night In Canada's Toronto/Vancouver telecast, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said that "there's a sense from other teams that the Sabres are sending signals that they are open for business."

Friedman also said that teams can "ask about anybody whose name isn't Jack Eichel," but he also qualified that statement by saying that some are off limits unless the price is right. "I do think that if you're going to ask about a Rasmus Ristolainen or Marco Scandella or a Sam Reinhart," he continued, "you'd better be coming with a serious offer because I don't think Buffalo is going to trade those guys unless the offer is great.

"But I think they are prepared to listen to [offers for] everyone except their franchise player (Eichel.)"

It's something you'd expect from a last place team who has some talented players that are struggling both individually and as a team.

Sabres GM Jason Botterill inherited a dysfunctional NHL club and a poor AHL club and he's been able to turn around at one team, their Rochester Americans affiliate. As of today the Amerks are sporting a 12-5-3-2 record, good for second in the North Division and some of his prospects and younger pros are leaving their mark.

Free agent winger CJ Smith cracked the AHL's top-10 in scoring last night with a three point effort (1+2) in an Amerks 5-2 win over Wilkes Barre-Scranton (PIT) last night. Another free agent signee, Evan Rodrigues, has been hot ever since he came off of injured reserve with 10 points (5+5) in eight games. Two of Buffalo's younger prospects are also doing extremely well. Defenseman Brendan Guhle is playing all-situations minutes on the top pair and has 14 points (5+9) placing him third in the league amongst rookie defensemen while Linus Ullmark is tied for third in the league with 11 wins.

The cupboards aren't bare in Rochester, however, neither one, nor even all four, could have that much of a positive impact in Buffalo right now meaning it looks as if the rebuild continues.

With his Sabres team a wreck and the season lost for all intents and purposes, Botterill will have an opportunity to continue filling the cupboard with picks and prospects by trading away desirable players. The most valuable of them right now is Evander Kane who, ironically, is the exact type of player they need moving forward.

Kane has been at the forefront of trade rumors since June 2016 when he was involved in an incident in Buffalo at the NHL Draft. They couldn't get a bag of pucks for him last season but things have changed dramatically and right now "alot of people are talking about Evander Kane," said Friedman last night.

Since coming back from injury, and staying out of the spotlight off the ice, Kane has 40 goals and 67 points in 96 games. He has the speed to keep up with anyone in the NHL and he's also has the physicality to play a more rugged, Western Conference-style game.

Friedman asked what the price would be for a player like Kane and he said that a couple of the people he'd talked to referred to a couple of deadline deals from the two previous years. He pointed to deals for Andrew Ladd (2016) and Martin Hanzal (2017,) both of whom got a first round pick in return with Ladd being sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for an additional pick (conditional) and former first round pick Marko Dano (2013, 27th-overall, CBJ.)

"The sense is that Buffalo feels that Kane is a better player then both of those players," said Friedman, "so they're going to be aiming higher. I don't think they'll get a franchise defenseman for him but I think that's the idea of what they want to be."

Kane would be an obvious play for Botterill as he'll be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. So would defenseman Josh Gorges, forwards Benoit Pouliot, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Nolan, all of whom will also be unrestricted free agents this summer.

The tougher play for Botterill would be trying to move higher-salaried players. Kyle Okposo has a $6 million cap hit for five more seasons. He's had rough go of it in 2017-18 which may be tied to the trauma he went through late last season and into the summer. Word from some of our own here in the Sabres thread is that Botterill would need to entice a team to take on the five-plus years remaining on his contract.

Should Botterill want to move Ryan O'Reilly, any team agreeing to that is taking on $7.5 million per season until 2023. Zach Bogosian, although shorter in term, has a $5.14 million cap-hit but will only have two more seasons under contract at the end of this one. However, he's averaged just over 60 games/season the last three years.

And then there's the (seemingly) immovable object that is Matt Moulson. Odds are that he remains in the Buffalo organization for the remainder of the season only to have the final year of his $5 million AAV contract bought out. On the positive side for Botterill, Moulson's actually salary for this season is only $2 million while next season drops to $1 million. Perhaps a cost conscious team looking to stay above the cap floor could be enticed into takin him on. Then again, he has modified no-trade clause, according to cap-friendly, and can submit a 12 team no-trade list.

Open for business.








Sunday, December 3, 2017

Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-2-2017


Yeah. You can put that headline to the theme of Ghostbusters.

If there's something strange, in your locker room,
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!
If the team's a mess
and it don't look good,
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Sorry if that song is stuck in your head. It could be worse. I could've used that 'Friday' song, which would be akin to tying a noose while nudging a chair your way.

Ray Parker Junior's theme song to the movie of the same name has a groove to it. It's light and playful song that's rather simple and easily lends itself to parody and/or satire. And it's the first thing that popped into my head this morning while at the keyboard.

The tire fire that is the present Buffalo Sabres hockey team may have reached the point of no return last night as they dropped a 4-0 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins. And my did they look bad in the process. They looked like an expansion team against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions. Maybe worse than an expansion team, at least when it comes to the Sabres. For the first time in the 47 year history of the club, they endured a third consecutive shutout and God knows, the original Buffalo Sabres expansion team from 1970-71 could probably disperse this present team with a flick of the wrist.

WWPD?

What would Punch do? It was a question posed by the late jtswineheart here on hockeybuzz back when the team was owned by B. Thomas Golisano and they were floundering with a core of players built by GM Darcy Regier and coached by Lindy Ruff. Those players were thrown into a difficult situation after upper management failed miserably in the summer of 2007 and just didn't have the wherewithal to get past a certain point.

George "Punch" Imlach, of course, is the late, great Hockey Hall of Famer who was the first coach and general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. He won four Stanley Cups as the Toronto Maple Leafs GM in the 60's before the Knox brothers brought him to Buffalo to lead their expansion team. The Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I'm not sure there's anything that Punch could do for the Sabres this season as this team's at an all-time low nearly a third of the way through, but God knows he'd have a much better idea of how to approach this mess than a marketing guy.

When Sabres owner Terry Pegula was introduced to us in his first presser, his emotions lead us to believe he had direct ties to that era through the Sabres first ever draft pick, Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault. "I am a Sabres fan and have been since 1975," declared Pegula on February 22, 2011. After that statement, he was overcome by emotion when he looked in the direction of Sabres players and alum gathered to his right. "I'm going to try and not look this way," continued Pegula, visibly fighting back tears. "Because...some of the old faces...Where's Perreault?"

He looked directly at the Sabres legend and said, "You're my hero."

However, six years later, it might be Perreault holding back the tears as a franchise he was so proud to play for may be at it's lowest point ever.

Pegula did some wonderful things early on. He cut the financial chains that the previous owners had on the club. He got Rene Robert to come back into the fold and had the entire French Connection of Perreault, the late Rick Martin and Robert, together and on the ice for a skate, for the first time in decades. He put money in to the arena and tried to make it a world class facility. In addition, what he through Pegula Sports and Entertainment did in building HarborCenter on a vacant lot adjacetnt to KeyBank Center is first class.

But what has happened with his Sabres since he took over in February, 2011 has been a disaster leaving the entire franchise in a death spiral right now. Unfortunately everyone in Sabreland, nearly everything Pegula has tried to do with this club has blown up in his face.

--Keeping Regier and Ruff? Boom!
--Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino? Boom!
--Pat LaFontaine? Boom!
--Tanking for McDavid?  Boom!
--Hiring Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma? Boom!
--Replacing them with a rookie GM and rookie coach? Boom! (at least partially)

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill is a rookie GM but he spent many years as a member of the Penguins front office and was a part of three Stanley Cups. We really shouldn't consider that a Boom! yet as at least part of his plan, reviving the Rochester Americans, is working. But bringing in a rookie head coach in Phil Housley? Let's just say that the team is 6-16-4 and just set a franchise mark for futility in being shut out three times in a row.

Housley has the potential to be a great head coach someday, but that day won't come in Buffalo as it looks like he might not even make it out of the calendar year. This team is a wreck, and although his inexperience is part of the problem, there are way too many other factors involved to lay the blame squarely on his shoulders.

This is a franchise disaster that begins at the top and what's worse for Pegula is that all of this is being filmed right now for "The Road to the Winter Classic." The Sabres will be playing the NY Rangers in the Big Apple on January 1 in the 10th Anniversary of the Winter Classic and NHL film crews began shooting this week.

Amidst all the turmoil surrounding the team, and with them just getting spanked by Pittsburgh last night, who was in the locker room having a one-on-one with franchise center Jack Eichel?

When you're all a lone
pick up the phone.
Who ya gonna call. Russ Brandon!

That's right. None other than marketing maven, Russ Brandon who, it should be known, is the Sabres President/Alternate Governor and Managing Partner/President of PSE. It's the same Russ Brandon who worked his way up with the Buffalo Bills to GM of that team despite no pro football experience in any capacity other than the business side, and was eventually named CEO of the NFL team.

Brandon started with the Bills in 1997 and, according to an article by Tim Graham of The Buffalo News last December, "has been involved in football decisions...since he became general manager in 2008. Although his official bio in the Bills' media guide suspiciously omits any reference to him being GM, the Bills' record is 58-83 (as of December 15, 2016 when I referenced the article.")

It should also be noted that the Bills have not made the playoffs this century and if it weren't for the Cleveland Browns, would be considered the worst-run franchise in the NFL.

Since Brandon replaced Sabres' Ted Black as team president in July, 2015 his hockey team took a big leap forward after coming off their tank season, but have regressed to the point where they're the second-worst team in the league two years later.

Last season's set-back and struggles had Pegula deciding clean house. He fired GM Murray and head coach Bylsma in April, 2017and who lead the search for the new GM? According to NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman, "It sounds like it's Russ Brandon, who is the President of the Buffalo Bills and the President of the Buffalo Sabres." Freidman did qualify things a bit by continuing with, "But, I think the league would have a lot of input on this one."

When he comes through your door
and wants some more.
Who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!

Brandon is a shrewd marketer who once signed wide receiver Terrell Owens to add a circus element to his middling team. Owens was a great receiver, and still had skills when he came to Buffalo, but there wasn't much else on the team. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the quarterback and Dick Jauron was the head coach who was eventually fired after a 3-6 start to the season. Jauron was replaced by Perry Fewell who guided the team to a 4-3 finish and the Bills' third consecutive 7-9 season.

The prior year, in what would be Brandon's first as GM, the Bills came up with "The Toronto Series" where they'd play one home game in Toronto, Canada every season. The idea promoted by the team was to make the Bills more of a regional commodity, but it was a disaster for the team as they went 1-5, the fans who lost their team for a week, and the Bills image as it was seen as nothing but a money-grab.

This is the Russ Brandon whom the Pegula's hired as their President/Alternate Governor back in 2015. And this is the Russ Brandon who was in the Sabres locker room last night talking with the Sabres' franchise center.

What on earth could he offer Jack Eichel in that situation? Some popcorn?

If the Pegula's like him and what he can do on the business side, that's their prerogative, but Brandon has a definable history and you get what you deserve. Their team is in deep trouble right now and many would much rather have a Brendan Shanahan, John Davidson, Glen Sather or David Poile-type president who's roots are deep in the game and the hockey side of the equation instead of a shrewd marketer an businessman.

Marketing may fool the public, but when it comes down to it on the ice, this version of the Sabres is fooling no one.

It's a disaster and an embarrassment.

But, who ya gonna call? Russ Brandon!





Saturday, December 2, 2017

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Team Stats--November

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-1-2017


The Buffalo Sabres stumble into the month of December with a record we haven't seen since the tank years and in honor of that, we've added that 2013-14 season to our list just so we can see how this team stacks up (or, more appropriately, falls down to that level.)

For posterity's sake, here is their record after 25 games:

2017-18: 6-15-4 (16 points)
2016-17: 9-10-6 (24 points)
2015-16: 10-12-3 (23 points)
2014-15: 9-14-2 (20 points)
2013-14: 5-19-1 (11 points)

It's the 2017-18 NHL and across the league, goals are up. However, in Buffalo it's a different story. In 2015-16 they managed to come to within .80 of the league-leader in goals/game but last season they slumped to about minus-one g/gm. This season the Sabres have reverted back to being about 1.4 goals/game worse than the top team which was where they were during the tank years and, as their record would indicate, that's just not cutting it.

The Sabres could use some help from the powerplay in the goal-scoring department like they did the prior two seasons, but it has been abysmal. Buffalo had the league's best powerplay last season at 25.4% but it has collapsed under the stewardship of the new coaching regime to a second-worst 12.8% conversion rate which is actually worse than their tank-era percentages.

One constant throughout the last four-plus years has been poor 5v5 goal-scoring as they've ranked at or near the bottom of the league every year. Last month they had a bit of a reprieve but it's back down to 28th through November. When you have a bottom-feeding powerplay and only 37 5v5 goals this season, one can see why the Sabres are scoring a league-worst 2.20 goals/game which is smack-dab in the middle between the two tank seasons and the two post-tank seasons.

When a team can't score, they'll need to rely upon stopping goals and the Sabres have done a fairly decent job of that. Yet they'd need a Dominik Hasek-like performance night-in/night-out to save them from being a 30th place team. In November they cut down the shots-against to just under 31 (20th in the league) and their penalty kill has gotten slightly stingier, but the tandem of Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have a combined goals-against of 3.36/gm. Even in 2014-15, their worst season, all five Buffalo goaltenders managed a 3.28 GAA.

The Sabres begin December with a home-and-home vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins beginning tonight and they're deep in the abyss. Last year at this time the Sabres were seemingly coming back from the depths of despair with the return of Jack Eichel, who was out for the first 21 games of the season. Eichel's high-ankle sprain and other injuries had crippled Dan Bylsma's team, especially on offense but they started out December extremely well and looked to be on the road to recovery. But the Sabres fell apart at the end and finished with 5-6-3 for the month. In December, 2015 under Bylsma they went 5-7-2.

Ironically, they had better December rankings during the tank years going 5-5-2 in 2013 and 6-7-1 in 2014 with a much less talented team and Ted Nolan as head coach.

Go figure.


Buffalo Sabres Team Stats (League Rankings)...(Leader):


Wins

--October:  3, (T-29th)...(STL, TBL, 10)
--November:  6, (T-29th)...(TBL, STL, TOR, 17)

--2016-17:  33 (25th)...(WSH, 55)
--2015-16:  35 (23rd)...(WSH, 56)
--2014-15:  23 (30th)...(ANA, 49)
--2013-14:  21 (30th)...(BOS, 54)


 Atlantic Division Standing

--October:  8th...(TBL)
--November:  8th...(TBL)

--2016-17:  8th...(MTL)
--2015-16:  7th...(FLA)
--2014-15:  8th...(MTL)
--2013-14:  8th...(BOS)


 Eastern Conference Standing

--October:  16th...(TBL)
--November:  16th...(TBL)

--2016-17:  15th...(WSH)
--2015-16:  14th...(WSH)
--2014-15:  16th...(NYR)
--2013-14:  16th...(BOS)


 League standing/Points

--October:  29th/8...(TBL/21)
--November:  T-30th/16...(TBL/36)

--2016-17:  26th/78...(WSH/118)
--2015-16:  23rd/81...(WSH/120)
--2014-15:  30th/54...(NYR/113)
--2013-15:  30th/52...(BOS/117)


 Points Percentage

--October:  .333 (30th)...(STL, TBL/.808)
--November:  .320 (30th)...(TBL/.720)

--2016-17:  .476 (26th)...(WSH, .720)
--2015-16:  .494 (23rd)...(WSH, .732)
--2014-15:  .329 (30th)...(NYR, .689)
--2013-14:  .317 (30th)...(BOS, .713)


 Goal Differential

--October:  -15 (30th)...(TBL, +17)
--November:  -30 (30th)...(TBL, +25)

--2016-17:  -36 (24th)...(WSH, +81)
--2015-16:  -21 (20th)...(WSH, +59)
--2014-15  -113 (30th)...(NYR, +60)
--2013-14:  -91 (30th)...(BOS, +84)


 Goals/Game

--October:  2.42 (29th)...(TBL, 4.08)
--November:  2.20 (31st)...(NYI, 3.67)

--2016-17:  2.43 (24th)...(PIT, 3.39)
--2015-16:  2.43 (25th)...(DAL, 3.23)
--2014-15:  1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)
--2013-14:  1.83 (30th)...(ANA, 3.21)


 Shots/Game

--October:  31.5 (17th)...(MTL, 38)
--November:  30.9 (20th)...(CAR, 35.7)

--2016-17:  30.4 (15th)...(PIT, 33.5)
--2015-16:  29.5 (17th)...(PIT, 33.2)
--2014-15:  24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)
--2013-14:  26.3 (30th)...(SJS, 34.8)

5v5 Goals

--October:   18 (19th)...(CLB, 28)
--November:  37 (29th)...(TOR, 66)

--2016-17:  126 (28th)...(MIN, 187)
--2015-16:  121 (28th)...(DAL, 167)
--2014-15:  110 (29th)...(TBL, 181)
--2013-14:   96 (30th)...(ANA, 190)


 Powerplay

--October:  14.3 (23rd)...(DAL, 30.8)
--November:  12.8 (30th)...(TBL, 27.4)

--2016-17:  24.5 (1st)
--2015-16:  18.9 (12th)...(ANA, 23.1)
--2014-15:  13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)
--2013-14:  14.1 (29th)...(PIT, 23.4)


 Goals-against/Game

--October:  3.58 (27th)...(LAK, 2.00)
--November:  3.36 (28th)...(SJS, 2.17) 

--2016-17:  2.82 (19th)...(WSH, 2.16)
--2015-16:  2.62 (15th)...(ANA, 2.29)
--2014-15:  3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)
--2013-14:  2.96 (25th)...(LAK, 2.05)


 Shots against/Game

--October:  32.5 (19th)...(SJS, 28.7)
--November:  31.2 (T-11th)...(SJS, 28.7)

--2016-17:  34.3 (30th)...(LAK, 25.9)
--2015-16:  30.6 (22nd)...(NSH, 27.3)
--2014-15:  35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)
--2013-14:  34.3  (28th)...(NJD, 25.5)


 Penalty Kill

--October:  82.5 (11th)...(LAK, 93.0)
--November:  81.1 (13th)...(LAK, 89.5)

--2016-17:  77.6 (25th)...(BOS, 85.7)
--2015-16:  82.6 (9th)...(ANA, 87.2)
--2014-15:  75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)
--2013-14:  81.4 (20th)...(NJD, 86.4)


 Faceoff Percentage

--October:  50.4 (18th)...(OTT, 53.9)
--November:  51.4 (11th)...(PHI, 53.0)

--2016-17:  49.6 (17th)...(ANA, 54.7)
--2015-16:  49.4 (21st)...(ARI, 54.7)
--2014-15:  44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)
--2013-14:  46.8 (29th)...(NSH, 53.1)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

It's deja vu for Sabres fans.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-29-2017


The Buffalo Sabres lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night 2-0 in a game where they held the high-scoring Lightning in check for the most part. However, no matter how well you defend, if you do not score a goal, you're not going to win no matter how well you played. Such is the dilemma that has this Sabres team losing two in a row first to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night and against Tampa last night. They did not score a goal in either game, this despite outshooting both teams (MTL, 36-26 and TBL, 34-26.)

What's the dilemma? It's the shots they're taking and the lack of a net front presence either to screen the goaltender or pounce on a rebound. Or even have one deflect off of oneself or the opposition d-man. Both of Tampa's goals last night came from a deflection off of a Buffalo defender who was battling with a Lightning player in front of Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

After the game Housley addressed the situation. "The bottom line is, we out-chanced a team. We outshot a team, but I just don't think we're making it difficult enough on the goaltender," is how he put it to the gathered media. "We've got to find a way to make it more difficult. We've got to get in the trenches and get a dirty goal. When's the last time we got one of those?"

Unfortunately for Housley it's been a while and it doesn't seem as if he has players who want to do be bothered with the physicality it takes to score a goal like that.

WGR's Paul Hamilton put it this way. "They're not paying the price," said Hamilton post-game. "It might have been the easiest shutout [Andrei] Vasilevsky has ever had. What did he face, [34] shots? I think he saw them all. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a screen shot all night that he didn't see. If there was there might have been one or two."

The Buffalo Sabres have become a perimeter team. Or maybe they've been that all along and it's really coming to the fore as they've faced three top-notch goalies in the last five games and have scored two goals in those games while getting shut out twice in a row now.

For Sabres fans who've been watching this team for the last decade, this is a very sad case of deja vu.

This is where we stand 10 years after Darcy Regier’s Core took charge post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere and nothing has really changed. The Sabres have forwards who are talented on an individual basis but play a perimeter game and don’t seem to have any passion to their games. Buffalo has a defense that leans towards puck-movers who, as a group, are having trouble with the basic premise of puck-moving—passing the puck. They can’t score either.

These not bad players, for the most part, we're talking about, but their inability to play the game the right way is yielding bad results both individually and as a team.

Is Jack Eichel a bad player? How about Ryan O’Reilly? Or Kyle Okposo? Jason Pominville?

No, none of them are.

Neither were Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, or…Jason Pominville.

However, just as the former core was a collection of talented, perimeter players, so is this one.

Why did we see fourth-liner Jordan Nolan in the final minutes with the goalie pulled? Not to score, but to add some grit to the group that was out there. Housley, according to Hamilton, had him out their to plant his ass in front of the net. Come hell or highwater, Nolan’s job was to plant himself in the crease and create a screen, or to at least draw the attention of the defense.

Is Nolan a skilled player? Not by any means, but he was willing to pay a price to get the job done.

Nolan’s usage is no different than how former bench boss Lindy Ruff used fourth-liners Adam Mair and Matt Ellis, among others. Ruff had himself a group of perimeter players in the top-six and used players like Mair and Ellis in top-six roles to add sandpaper because none of their skilled players had any.
 
How many times did we hear Ruff at his post-game presser bemoaning a loss and saying that his guys needed to "play out of character?" Housley is asking the same thing as it might not be in their character to go to the dirty areas of the ice. But what's worse is that this is an easier game now than when Ruff was saddled with this problem.
 
"I don't think the game is being called as tight as it was," Ruff said back in November, 2010. "Before (post-'04/05 lockout,) as soon as you put a stick on someone, it was a penalty. Now you're getting a free tug at times. You're getting a free paw at times...I think there's games where the whistle has been put away."
 
Not so today as the refs have even taken to a slap on the stick as a penalty. The players have it much easier today than they did some seven years ago and we won't even get into how difficult it was to play in the clutch and grab 90's or the Billy Smith "whack to the ankles in front of the net" era.
 
Powderpuff hockey, and this Sabres team can't even muster up the kahunas to deal with that.
 
Housley can only do so much, although we shouldn't expect more from him as he pretty much played the same way, and GM Jason Botterill seemingly has no intentions of doing anything to shake this team out of it. Botterill seems more intent upon building a winning culture in Rochester and thereby letting this thing burn to the ground this season. Without the coach getting through or the GM shaking things up, it's in the hands of the leadership group and the leaders on this team should be taken to task.

Eichel was once touted as a player who hates to lose. We were lead to believe that he’d chew his leg off to get out of a loser’s trap. He wears and 'A' and is an extremely talented player with speed to burn who's really starting to pick up his two-way game. However, as of late, he looks like a poor-man’s Alexander Ovechkin out there while making some very lazy plays.
 
Ryan O'Reilly also wears an 'A'. However, as much as he wants to be a leader, he only brings it on the ice half the time. The other half he looks like a higher-paid version of Roy.

Pominville doesn't wear a letter and is the same player today as he was 10 years ago when he did--a steady player who contributes offensively but lacks sandpaper. Why hasn’t he scored a goal in over a month (13 games?) Because he doesn’t go to, nor has ever gone to, the dirty areas where goals are scored. In those 13 games he has two assists and is a minus-5 yet the media continue to flock to him as some kind of veteran leader. They’re asking him the same questions now, and getting the same canned responses, as they did 10 years ago.

Okposo where’s an ‘A’ and is considered a leader on the team, but he’s just snake-bitten right now in the scoring department. Not only that, he missed a month last season and it took him a while to get up to speed this season. Okposo has been doing everything except score lately and it would be surprising to see him finish with these type numbers should he continue to play that way.

It's been hell for Sabres fans watching this as well. From 2007-12 they watched the same thing and became emotionally detached from the players as a whole. Near the end of Regier's "Core-era" they often times booed the team.
 
It became bad enough that the Sabres went through a scorched-earth rebuild that left little standing.
Yet, after two years of “suffering,” three general managers, five head coaches and one VP, the Sabres are back to the same point they were prior to the 2013-15 tank seasons. A soft, fragile team in need of an overhaul. And the worst part about it is that the most anti-core like player, leading scorer Evander Kane, will most likely be gone after this year.

It's deja vu all over again.

 

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats Leaders--November

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-30-2017


I haven't had this easy of a time gathering stats since last November. The Sabres didn't do much scoring this November as they only scored 26 goals or an average of two per game, although the usual suspects were at the top of the list.

Once again, Evander Kane topped Buffalo scorers with 11 points. Kane's six goals lead the team for the month, matching his total from October, while his five assists were second on the team. Ryan O'Reilly also showed some consistency in the points department with another eight points (4+4) for the month.

It was good to see Kyle Okposo take some strides forward in the scoring department. Okposo admittedly struggled through the early part of the season but began pulling himself out of the muck with some hard work and a refusal to succumb to the pressures of not producing. He was second on the team in points (9) and lead the team with six assists while also netting his first three goals of the season.

Buffalo not only had trouble scoring, they also had big problems keeping the puck out of their own net. Starter Robin Lehner saw his goals-against rise and his save-percentage fall while struggling all month to a 1-9-1 record. The Sabres allowed 41 goals for the month and came out a minus-15 in goal differential for the 13 games played in November.

That minus-15 differential reeked havoc on individual plus/minus for the team...again. On the positive side, Four players--Sam Reinhart, Jordan Nolan, Marco Scandella and Victor Antipin--came away with an even plus/minus rating while O'Reilly, for the second month in a row, had the worst rating amongst Sabres. O'Reilly was a minus-9 in October and was a minus-8 in November to total a team-worst minus-17 this season. Johan Larsson also had a minus-8 for the month bringing his overall plus/minus to a minus-13 which is second-worst on the team.

Jack Eichel leads the team in assists with 12 and is tied for second in goals with seven. Eleven of his 12 assists have been primary and he once again lead the team this month with four primary assists.

We'd get into powerplay stats except that they only scored four powerplay goals this month (on 36 powerplays.) All four powerplay goals were scored by different players.

December begins tomorrow and the Sabres begin the third month of the season with a home-and-home vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday and Saturday.




Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats leaders:


Points
--October: Pominville, Kane, Eichel, 12; O'Reilly, 8
--November:  Kane, 11;  Okposo, 9;  O'Reilly, 8

Goals
--October: Pominville, Kane, 6; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--November:  Kane, 6;  Pouliot, 4;  Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, 3

Powerplay Goals
--October: O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Kane, Reinhart, 1
--November:  O'Reilly, Pouliot, Reinhart, Okposo, 1


Assists
--October: Eichel, 8 Pominville, Kane, 6
--November:  Okposo, 6;  Kane, O'Reilly, 5


 Powerplay Assists
--October: Kane, Ristolainen, 2; six players with 1
--November:  Kane, 3;  Okposo, 2;  three players with 1


Primary Assists
--October: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Beaulieu, 2
--November:  Eichel, 4;  O'Reilly, Okposo, 3;  four players with 2


Plus/Minus
--October: Pominville, +3; Girgensons, Gorges, +1; Pouliot, even
--November:  Reinhart, Nolan, Scandella, Antipin, even;  Kane, Griffith, Gorges, -1


Plus/Minus (Bottom)
--October: O'Reilly, -9; Reinhart, -8; Okposo, -7
--November:  O'Reilly, Larsson, -8;  McCabe, -7;  Beaulieu, -6


Goalies (composite)

Robin Lehner
--October: 4-2-1; 2.78 GAA; .911 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November:  5-11-2;  2.92; .906, 1

Chad Johnson
--October: 1-3-1; 4.06 GAA; .879 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November:  1-4-2;  3.59;  .885;  0

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Matt's last chance?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-29-2017


Matt Moulson would probably be the first to admit that things haven't gone exactly as planned since signing with the Sabres as a free agent in 2014. Moulson signed a 5-yr/$25 million contract with Buffalo that off season and proceeded to score 13 goals and 41 points in the 2014-15 season. It was a pretty mediocre season for him, but considering he was on a last place team that challenged the league record for fewest goals in a season, stats like that from him could be rationalized.

Much was expected of him while being surrounded by more talent. The Sabres had drafted Jack Eichel in 2015 and also traded for Ryan O'Reilly on Draft Day. A few months prior to the draft, then GM Tim Murray traded for an injured Evander Kane who would be back on the ice for the 2015-16 season. Moulson was slated for top-six duties with work on the first powerplay unit. In 81 games he scored eight goals and added 13 assists and was often times found flailing on the fourth line.

The following season, then head coach Dan Bylsma and his assistant in charge of the powerplay, Bob Woods, at least found a niche for Moulson. Although they had him playing mostly fourth-line minutes, they kept him on a Buffalo powerplay that would finish tops in the league. Moulson scored 14 goals last season, with 11 of them coming on the powerplay.

Unfortunately for him, and for the powerplay in general, that regime is gone and has been replaced by new head coach Phil Housley.

The powerplay has been a disaster this season. After converting 24.5% of their opportunities last season, the Sabres powerplay has a 13.3% conversion rate going into tonight. Moulson's season has been a disaster as well with zero points and sits at a minus-8 rating in only 12 games played. Housley had him on the powerplay earlier in the season but that didn't help and so he sat the last six games as a healthy scratch.

Moulson, however, is back in the lineup tonight thanks to an injury to center Jacob Josefson and the waiving of forward Seth Griffith. According to Housley Josefson will be out 4 to 6 weeks with an ankle injury. Griffith cleared waivers and is in Rochester making a pretty strong Amerks squad even better.

What also helped Moulson get back on the ice is that Sabres GM Jason Botterill didn't call anybody up from Rochester. Forward CJ Smith has had a heck of a season thus far and forward Evan Rodrigues, who many thought was a shoe-in to make the team out of camp, came off of an injury and has played five real strong games. Winger Hudson Fasching has also played well as of late and any one of them could've gotten the call thus keeping Moulson on the bench.

But with Rochester going well and the Sabres struggling mightily at 6-14-4, perhaps Botterill wants to keep the Amerks going for just a little while longer while giving Moulson another opportunity to crack the lineup. Which is strange to say for a $5 million man.


*****

Word from KeyBank is that the lines from practice yesterday will be what Housley goes with tonight vs. the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning who have a .739 winning percentage:


Kane-Eichel-Reinhart
Pouliot-O'Reilly-Okposo
Nolan-Larsson-Pominville
Girgensons-Criscuolo-Moulson


*****

Defenseman Zach Bogosian has returned to practice but according to reports from the rink this morning, he will not be in the lineup. Bogosian skated with Josh Gorges as the extra pairing and won't see the ice tonight. Housley told the gathered media today, “I really like the progress that [Bogosian's] been making, but we want to be cautious with this type of injury.

“He looks really good out there and I feel with just one practice and a pregame skate, I think he just needs more time.”

After tonight's game the Sabres are off until Friday when they begin a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For tonight's game these look to be the d-pairings:

Ristolainen-Scandella
McCabe-Antipin
Beaulieu-Falk


*****

As mentioned earlier, the powerplay has been a disaster. After Saturday's loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Housley said that he and his staff would focus on playing with the man advantage.

This is what they came up with for powerplay units:

#1--Kane Eichel Reinhart Antipin Beaulieu
#2-- Okposo O’Reilly Moulson Ristolainen Pominville

Sabers beat writer Paul Hamilton was on WGR550 Radio today and said that unlike prior powerplay schemes, the men on the point were locked in meaning Antipin/Bealieu and Ristolainen/Pominville stayed at the point.

We'll see how that works out.


*****

Finally, two seasons ago the Sabres played the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Lightning four times in a 30-day span. Tampa apparently got bored beating the Sabres and after winning the first three matchups while outscoring them 10-3, Buffalo finally won the fourth meeting.

Last season the Sabres went winless vs. the Lightning going 0-3-1 and being outscored by a 14-6 margin.

In those eight games vs. Tampa over the past two seasons, Moulson has one goal, zero assists and is a minus-3.




Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Some are in, others are out and one is heading to Rochester

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-27-2017


The Buffalo Sabres blueline has been ravaged by injuries so far this season. But they're getting healthier.

During the first quarter of the season for Buffalo, players came and players went and one of them, Zach Bogosian, still hasn't hit ice for a game. The Sabres have dressed nine defenseman thus far and recalled another one, Casey Nelson, who never dressed. Every d-man save for Jake McCabe and Victor Antipin has spent time on the injured list this season and that includes top-pairing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who missed nine games recently. Ristolainen returned on Friday and played in Buffalo's back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens and was his usual self logging 27:32 and 25:49 of ice-time, respectively.

After playing six games in nine nights (1-5-0) the Sabres had Sunday off and were back at practice today. Word from the rink had Bogosian at center ice leading the stretch and participating for the first time since a lower-body injury took him out in the last preseason game. According the media at the rink, coach Phil Housley said after practice that they will see how Bogosian responds to a full practice and that he will be a game-time decision.

Housley also told the gathered media that center Jacob Josefson "tweaked his ankle" in the Montreal game and will be out "four to six weeks." Jacobsen missed 14 games after an injury in Anaheim but returned with two strong performances (1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating) before injuring his ankle in the first period against the Canadiens. He centered what was arguably Buffalo's best line over those two games as he Kyle Okposo and Jordan Nolan combined for four goals,  four assists, and were a cumulative plus-7 in a third-line role.

The injury to Josefson provided a golden opportunity for forward Seth Griffith to stick with the club, but Housley said he"thought a lot of the games [Griffith] was looking to pass instead of shoot. When you're not doing well, you're going to make changes."

Griffith was waived yesterday, cleared today and was sent to Rochester. In 18 games he had three points (2+1,) was a minus-4 and registered 14 shots on goal.

The Sabres now have only 12 healthy forwards with the club. Housley sais that they may bring a forward up from Rochester. In lieu of that, these were the lines from today's practice:

Kane-Eichel-Reinhart
Pouliot-O'Reilly-Okposo
Nolan-Larsson-Pominville
Girgensons-Criscuolo-Moulson

Two Rochester forwards who might get consideration for a call-up are CJ Smith who leads the team in scoring with 19 points (6+13) in 19 games and Evan Rodrigues who has six points (2+4) in five games after missing the season with an injury.

With Bogosian back practicing, reports from the rink had these pairings:

Ristolainen-Scandella
McCabe-Antipin
Beaulieu-Falk
Gorges-Bogosian


*****

Housley also said that they'd be taking a hard look at their 30th-ranked powerplay and according to WGR550's Paul Hamilton, he made some changes with these being the units today.

PP1:  Kane  Eichel  Reinhart  Antipin  Beaulieu
PP2:  Okposo  O’Reilly  Moulson  Ristolainen  Pominville

The Sabres haven't scored a powerplay goal in the last six games going 0/15 in the process. During that time they went 1-5-0 losing two games by one goal and two more by two goals.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Sabres finish rough 6 games in 9 night stretch by being shutout 3-0

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-26-2017


Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley didn't ride his team after they were shut out by the Montreal Canadiens last night, 3-0. Nor should they have been  taken to task, save for a play or two which, of course, ended up in the back of their net.

Housley's Sabres played well for most of the game, at times clearly dominating play and puck possession. However, that's not quite good enough when you're playing the best goaltender in the game.

Montreal's Carey Price is so smooth and precise when he's on his game that he makes everything look easy. From his positioning to glove-work, crease-movement to puck-movement, everything about his game seems worthy of the huge contract he received on July 2. Although some would say that an AAV of $10.5 million is way too high, he's clearly the best player on the Canadiens and just because he's a goalie shouldn't diminish his status.

The Sabres went into Montreal last night having just snapped a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) with a win over the equally hapless Edmonton Oilers. Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was out with an upper body injury for the duration of that slump and then some but came was back in the lineup skating over 27 minutes and adding two assists in the Sabres 3-1 win. Ristolainen and his mates played one of their best all-around games of the season and were looking to continue that same play the following night against in Montreal.

They accomplished that part of the equation but could not solve the Price puzzle. Buffalo pumped 36 shots on goal against the Canadiens but couldn't light the lamp. Actually, they did with less than a minute to play and trailing 3-0, however the suits in Toronto nullified Evander Kane's goal after a review. They deemed that Buffalo's Sam Reinhart had interfered with Price and overruled the goal.

Maybe "Price shuts out Sabres 3-0 in return to action" makes for a better headline than "Canadiens beat Sabres 3-1 in Price's return."

Regardless of that, the Sabres have been having trouble beating top-notch goaltenders for years and last night was no different. Price doesn't have many weak spots and it might take hours of reviewing tape to find just one. Every goaltender can be beat when there's traffic in front of him and/ or with players crashing the net jumping on rebounds. That's the way Kane scored his non-goal.

It's also advantageous to attack that way early, which is something Housley pointed out the gathered media post-game. "We ran into a hot goaltender who came back and made some terrific saves. If there's one thing, we could have tried to get to him a little earlier."

Housley said he "couldn't fault the effort" either. "

"I thought the guys dug down deep tonight," said the coach. "It was our sixth game in nine nights and [they] had every reason not to give it their best and put their best foot forward. I thought the last two games has been some of our best hockey and tonight we didn't get rewarded.

"I know the bottom line is winning. You can say what you want to say, but if we continue to play this way moving forward, we're gonna get a lot more wins."

That's the test for his Sabres team--continuing to play that style of hockey game-in, game-out. The team as a whole has been deviating from game-plan from game to game, period to period and in their worst moments, shift to shift. The inconsistencies have cost them dearly as they spend today away from the rink letting a 6-14-4 record an minus-28 goal differential sink in.

The Sabres have a very tough schedule coming up which begins with a game against the Eastern Conference-leading, goal-scoring machine known as the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. After that it's a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday and Saturday before heading out on a three-game road trip out west visiting Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis.

It seems strange to say this 24 games into the season, but having his team play the same way every night, win or lose, may be the most important factor for Housley. The last two games were great in that aspect but anyone can follow the game-plan while winning. It harder to do when you're losing as doubt creeps in, players try to do too much, and the confidence in oneself and the coaching staff necessary to win erodes to the point where a losing month or two turns into a lost season.

As a player you either have faith or you don't.

And they're gonna need a lot of faith through this next stretch.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thoughts on the MIN game, "McEichel-3" tonight and Risto's back.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-24-2017


A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Hope you all enjoyed warmth, happiness and great food amongst family and friends yesterday with a bow to the heavens for the blessings bestowed upon us.


The Buffalo Sabres take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at KeyBank Center and enter the game reeling on a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2.) But before we get to Connor McDavid and the Oilers coming to town, some notes on Buffalo's 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thanksgiving Eve.

Everyone from the coach to the players to the media were beside themselves after the Sabres pulled their usual stunts en route to the loss. Buffalo scored first and looked great in the process before giving up three unanswered goals in a span of 5:27. Twice they would answer another Wild goal, coming to within one goal with just over six minutes left but could they not tie the game.

Afterwards, bottom-six forward and two-time Stanley Cup winner Jordan Nolan, called out his team mates for not holding each other accountable using his examples from his time in Los Angeles playing for the Kings. Head coach Phil Housley channeled his inner John Tortorella with short, terse answers at his post-game presser and veteran forward Jason Pominville was visibly upset while fielding questions.

WGR550 radio's Paul Hamilton was as irate as we've heard him all season in his post-game thoughts. Hamilton, who's been GR's Sabres beat reporter for years, took the players to task for their play and called for action in the form of waiving players while also saying that maybe they should consider benching a player no one would expect to be benched. That last remark seemingly referred to Jack Eichel without calling him out by name.

Interesting to note that every player was available post-game for an interview with the media having their pick of the litter when they walked in. It was something Hamilton said he hadn't seen since Chris Drury was co-captain of the Sabres. It's also interesting to note that they went to Pominville after interviewing Nolan.

Nolan was an easy one as he just scored his first two goals of the season and was a beast out there. But why Pominville, a former player who doesn't wear a letter? "If I have seen him madder," said Hamilton of Pominville, "I don't know when it was. He just had steam coming out of his ears. He was extremely upset."

Pominville was indeed emotionally upset to the point where it looked as if he might break down in his quivering. This is the same Pominville that captained GM Darcy Regier's core to the exact same play we witnessed for years before it was blown up. "This is what he left," continued Hamilton, "and it's no better than when he left as far as the attitudes in there and what goes on."

Yet, the 34 yr. old came into the game with a nine-game goal-drought (extended to 10 against the Wild) and a seven-game pointless streak. He was originally credited with Buffalo's first goal but received the primary assist when the goal was given to Eichel. He was also credited with two of his four shots on goal in that sequence and all of his shots within the first 8:04 of the game. After that he was invisible.

There was plenty of blame to throw around at most players after the game, and Housley rightfully took his players to task for "not following the game-plan for 60 minutes, not being on the same page, taking things into their own hands and [poor] decisions and choices at the wrong time of the game." Yet his decision to start back-up goalie Chad Johnson was questionable at best and blew up in his face as Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period before being pulled to begin the second period.

The first goal Johnson let in as weak a goal as you'll ever see and he couldn't rise to the challenge on the second one with his defenseman covering the pass on a 2-on-1. The 31 yr. old goalie, whom GM Jason Botterill signed to provide quality as a back-up, went into the Wild game with a 1-4-2 record, a 3.36 GAA and a .892 Sv%.

When asked why Johnson got the nod over starter Robin Lehner giving him two of the last three starts, Housley's short response was, "we're losing games so we have to make some decisions and we decided to go with Chad."

End of press conference.

The coaching staff is also responsible for a Sabres powerplay that has plummeted from No. 1 last season to 30th in the league as of today. On Wednesday a powerplay could've either added to their momentum or swung it in their favor but they were disjointed on all three. Conversely, the Wild scored on two of three powerplay opportunities which made a big difference in a one-goal game.

"Jason Botterill has a problem on his hands," noted an agitated Hamilton, while also stating that it's the middle of the season and it would be difficult to fix at this point. Then again, Botterill seems intent upon letting this thing burn to the ground in Buffalo while simultaneously cultivating a winning culture in Rochester.

Which isn't such a bad idea.

Botterill looks like he has more problems than he bargained for and he's willing to let them figure it out on their own, short-term consequences be damned.

The Sabres play an Edmonton Oilers team tonight that's been struggling so far this season but are coming off a 6-2 win at Detroit on Wednesday.

The Oilers and Sabres have met four times since the "McEichel Sweepstakes" known as the 2015 NHL Draft with Buffalo going 2-1-1 thus far. Edmonton took the first post-draft matchup minus McDavid, 4-2 and in "McEichel-1" they beat the Sabres in overtime 2-1 as McDavid scored both goals. Last season the Sabres crushed Edmonton 6-2 without Jack Eichel and in "McEichel-2" Buffalo won 4-3 in overtime.

McDavid has four points (2+2) in three games versus the Sabres while Eichel has two points (1+1) in three games as well with the 2015 first-overall pick outscoring the 2015 second-overall pick four points to one in head-to-head action.


*****

According to reports from the rink, here are the Sabres lines at the skate:

Kane-Eichel-Pominville
Pouliot-O'Reilly-Reinhart
Nolan-Josefson-Okposo
Girgensons-Larsson-Criscuolo

Of note:  The Josefson line was listed as the fourth line during the morning skate on Wednesday but played third-line minutes and looked very good in the process as Nolan scored those two goals and Josefson got his first point (an assists) as a Buffalo Sabre. Kyle Okposo failed to hit the scoresheet but like his linemates was a plus-1 on the night.


*****

It looks as if Rasmus Ristolainen will be back in action tonight for the Sabres. Ristolainen was felled by an upper-body injury for nine games. During that time the Sabres are 1-6-2 and have presently lost four in a row and are winless in their last seven.

The d-pairings are reported as being:

Ristolainen-Scandella
McCabe-Antipin
Beaulieu-Falk

Perhaps Jake McCabe should have gotten some attention last night after the game. The 24 yr. old played one of his best games of the season with a nice primary assist after joining the rush and three pretty solid hits on the night. He also was well aware of his d-partner, Victor Antipin, in their own zone and provided an outlet on numerous occasions when Antipin was in trouble. He also looked genuinely ticked off at the plight of his team during the game.

It looks as if Housley's going back to Lehner for tonight.


*****

Two final notes.

Props to the fans at KeyBank Center on Wednesday as they avoided booing en masse during portions of the game although there was one lunkhead that seemingly tried to get a chorus of boos going on a number of occasions.

And it's time for the goal-song to go the way of the "turd burger" third jersey they had a couple years back. Both of them might have been good ideas in the eyes (and ears) of those in positions of power at the time, but both were/are lame at best. One's been tossed away and the other should follow soon.



Friday, November 24, 2017

Will health help the Sabres climb out of the morass their in?

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-22-2017


The 5-12-4 record says it all and the attendance figures at KeyBank Center lately (announced attendance for the last game was 16,551 but looked like a lot less) backs up the notion that the product on the ice in Buffalo isn't really that good.

So much for the Captain Obvious moment.

Why this Buffalo Sabres team is off to such a horrible start is varied, dependent upon who you ask, and it's a multitude of things that are keeping this team to depths of the standings right now.  The tangibles include a lack of overall team speed and talent, namely in the support roles while lack of compete and leadership headline the intangible side of the equation. Other aspects like injuries and a rookie head coach should also be factored in as well.

With that said, the Sabres head into tonight's matchup against the Minnesota Wild a little healthier up front as center Jacob Josefson is expected to return to the lineup. Josefson went down in a game at Anaheim back in October.

It's not like the return of the 26 yr. old center is expected to single-handedly turn this thing around, but he adds positive elements to a team in need of all the positives they can get their hands on. Josefson will once again anchor the fourth line and will stabilize the middle of the ice. "[Josefson] is somebody you can trust to play in any situation, especially on our penalty kill," said Housley to the gathered media yesterday after practice. "He can relieve some minutes off of our top guys.

"He provides speed and positionally he's one of the best on our team. Very reliable."

Josefson, a former first round pick (20th-overall, NJD) was signed on July 1 by Sabres GM Jason Botterill, had zero points in five-plus games for Buffalo before his injury. At yesterday's practice Housley had him centering Jordan Nolan and Kyle Okposo.

Okposo was dropped by Housley to the fourth line due to largely ineffective play. As we saw with the demotion of Jack Eichel to the third line, only to be back up on the first line at practice yesterday, it might simply be an attempt to jar him out of his slump.

"Kyle's a tremendous competitor," said Housley of Okposo. "He evaluates his game and really gets down on himself. Obviously he would really like to contribute more offensively and he holds that burden on himself. But I think if he continues to work at both ends of the rink and [take] what the game can give him and keep going hard to the net he's going to continue to get those opportunities."

Okposo has two goals and eight points in 19 games this year and is a second-worst minus-12 on the team.

The Sabres had an optional skate today, but these were the lines from yesterday's practice according to Sabres.com:

Kane-Eichel-Pominville
Pouliot-O'Reilly-Reinhart
Girgensons-Larsson-Criscuolo
Nolan-Josefson-Okposo

Matt Moulson and Seth Griffith were the extras.


*****

Reports from the rink had two inured defensemen skating at today's optional practice--Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen.

Bogosian has yet to play this season and Ristolainen has missed the last eight Sabres games.

Buffalo's blueline has been ravaged by injuries this season to the tune of 10 defensemen dressing for the club so far this season with another in Casey Nelson who was called up but has yet to play. Players like Matt Tennyson (who is currently injured) and Justin Falk (who started the season on IR) have played as good as can be expected considering they were placed in positions well above their talent-level. Buffalo's ninth and 10th d-men--Zach Redmond and Taylor Fedun (who is also on the injured list)--were also place in difficult positions and did the best they could with Fedun looking like a legit NHL'er.

Having Bogosian go down is one thing as not only was this a seemingly annual trip to IR for the 27 yr. old, he was also slated for second-pairing duties, but losing Ristolainen really hurt.

Most will say that Ristolainen was having a rough year both in production and overall play, but he was a workhorse once again for the Sabres on the back-end averaging 27:09 a night, 20:24 at even strength. When he went down with his upper body injury he was tied with d-partner Marco Scandella at a minus-4 plus which was tops amongst Sabres defensemen.

As was mentioned in the last blog, the Sabres have been atrocious in his absence. A quick update has them on a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) and are 1-5-2 without him in the lineup. The team has scored 14 goals and has allowed 26 goals against.

Falk has been skating on the top pair in Ristolainen's absence and has been doing yeoman's work despite playing a role that's a couple spots higher than where he should be, which is true for all the defensemen not named Scandella.

At yesterday's skate, here's what the pairings were:

Falk-Scandella
McCabe-Antipin
Gorges-Beaulieu


*****

Robin Lehner took part in the optional skate today, according to John Vogl of The Buffalo News. Vogl tweeted that the others on the ice were Ristolainen, Bogosian, Tennyson, Nelson, Nolan, Griffith, Criscuolo, Josefson, Moulson.


*****

One final note, forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno are back in town to face off against their former team for the first time. The duo was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Scandella and Pominville on June 30th.

Ennis, who was a first round pick for Buffalo (26th, 2008) has five points (3+2) in 20 games for Minnesota while Foligno has seven points (3+4) in 19 games.

While Foligno chose his father Mike's old number 17 to wear in Minnesota, Ennis will be donning a more familiar #63.