Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-14-2017
The Buffalo Sabres are in Ottawa tonight to take on the Senators for the fifth and final time this season. The Sabres have won three of the four contests with two of those wins coming in Canada's Capital and they're 2-0 vs. Ottawa with Jack Eichel in the lineup. Buffalo defeated the Senators 5-4 in Eichel's return after missing the first 21 games in the season and the Sabres dominated Ottawa only 10 days ago in a 4-0 shutout.
It's been rough and rocky travellin' for the Sabres this season as not only did the Eichel injury have an impact earlier in the season but there have also been plenty of key players like Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane as well as a plethora of defensemen who've been sidelined due to injuries this season. It seem like just as one regular comes back, another one is out.
Tonight may be no different as defenseman Zach Bogosian should be back in the lineup after a six-game absence with a rib injury while Kane is said to be ill and may not be able to go tonight and is a game-time decision. According to the media, Matt Moulson replaced Kane on the Eichel/Sam Reinhart line. Here were the lines at this morning's practice according to Jourdon LaBarber of sabres.com:
Justin Bailey-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Matt Moulson-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno-Evan Rodrigues-Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Tyler Ennis
And according to WGR550's Paul Hamilton here were the d-pairings:
Jake McCabe-Rasmus Ristolainen
Josh Gorges-Dmitry Kulkiov
Justin Falk-Zach Bogosian
Head coach Dan Bylsma said that Robin Lehner will get the start in net tonight marking his sixth start in seven post-All Star break games.
Game time is 7:30 pm
There was a big ruckus after the Sabres laid an egg against Vancouver on Sunday night. It was a winnable game against the Canucks and the feeling is that Buffalo gave away at least a point, maybe two.
Goalie Robin Lehner was vocal about the team not following the game-plan to the point where he stated that he's angry because of it while winger Kyle Okposo said the same thing while calling Buffalo's second period performance, "gross." Although neither, especially Lehner, used individual names but there was a strong indication that they Jack Eichel was in their thoughts.
One of Buffalo's gaffes came in their own end in the waning seconds of a Vancouver powerplay when Eichel had the puck beside his own goal and chose to try and stick handle his way out of trouble. It didn't work and the smart thing to do was simply get the puck out of the zone and down the ice. Instead, it ended up in the back of Buffalo's net. So when a miffed Lehner talked post-game about the need to get the puck out of the zone, "but we get too fancy," it's not hard to think that the play Eichel muffed was stuck in his craw.
Things have subsided and everyone's saying the right thing. Head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 this morning acknowledging things could have played out better and said that he's been stressing "situational hockey" where he wants his team to be aggressive, but at the right times. Bylsma wants his players aware of their surroundings which includes who's on the ice in what situation at what point in the game.
Probably the coolest thing to come out of the weekly spot with hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White is that he told the boys at GR that he expected Eichel to make mistakes handling the puck and that if Eichel wasn't turning the puck over, he wasn't carrying the puck enough. Bylsma told the hosts what he said he told Eichel yesterday, "If you don't turn the puck over five times a game, you're not playing well."
To solidify his point that he wants Eichel carrying the puck and trying to make plays with his top-notch skills, Bylsma said, "If he gets to the red line and chips every puck in, I'm gonna bench him."
As the hosts said afterwards, it was a very refreshing approach.
So now we know. Bylsma is doing anything but stifling his best, most skilled offensive player.
Eichel felt the heat for what transpired on Sunday and after practice yesterday spent six minutes in front of the microphones talking about the game. In general he said that he didn't play a good game, said that they needed to stop blaming each other and get down to business.
Eichel was intent upon looking forward because nothing could be changed so "you can't sit there and dwell on the losses." He said he knows who he is and knows what he has to do and that every player in the locker room is in the NHL for a reason, because of a talent they have, and that his thing is to push the play offensively and take chances.
He admittedly said that there were areas he needed to clean up, but that he wasn't about to change who he is or the game he plays.
Add that in with what Bylsma said today and it's safe to say that they're both on the same page.
Bylsma and many of the fans weren't on the same page when it came to the coaches system. When Bylsma used the term "grinding it out" a week or so ago, fans got in a tizzy because they had visions of former coach Ted Nolan or conjured up untruths about former coach Lindy Ruff stifling the creativity of his skilled players.
Not so said Bylsma and he explained how the terms "grinding" and "speed" are not mutually exclusive.
The system Bylsma uses is fairly simple and is used in one variation or another throughout the NHL, something captain Brian Gionta mentioned yesterday after practice. Gionta, who's played in 924 games for three NHL teams said, "Systems don't matter one bit," said the captain. "There are very subtle differences between systems. There's maybe two types of forechecks and maybe a couple different ways to play d-zone."
When Gionta was asked about a possible change when Bylsma had mentioned playing up-tempo in 2015 but has is heard mentioning "grinding," he said it was the same thing. "Playing with pace, playing with speed is as much about grinding," he said. "It's getting the pucks behind their team and wearing them down."
Bylsma echoed those sentiments saying that whether it's Eichel or Evander Kane using their speed to get the puck deep or whether it's a player like Marcus Foligno chipping and chasing, it's all the same thing. It's about turning the defense and working the offensive zone. "The way we want to play is quick and north and fast to the offensive zone," said Bylsma, "we want to be an aggressive team where we're on the forecheck where we're on the teams defensemen. Us being an offensive zone team and grinding down with our skill and speed in the offensive zone."
Not sure if that clears things up for everyone, but I get the picture.
The Sabres have four games before their NHL mandated bye-week and will have three more to finish the month. The NHL Trade Deadline is 3 pm March 1.
Buffalo has two attractive pending UFA's on defense in Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson and I've said prior that the only one I'd trade is Franson. In this blogger's eyes he should be on the move regardless of where the Sabre are in the standings come March 1. That is if he's fully recovered from his foot injury.
I've also said that I'm all in for bringing in a fourth line center as the injury to Johan Larsson put a crimp in the bottom six. However, they might not need one if Evan Rodrigues continues to play the way he did the other night. He was quick and decisive and used his skill to set up Tyler Ennis for the first goal of the game. That could change dependent upon the status of third-line center Zemgus Girgensons who will miss his fifth game tonight with what's been described as a mid/full body injury.
I'm also of the opinion that the Sabres will continue to be "in the hunt" come TDL and if that's the case, GM Tim Murray should quit the losing ways and give this group of players the opportunity to do what they can to make the playoffs. And that would include keeping Kulikov and Gionta who's also a pending UFA.
If, however, the Sabres find themselves on a losing streak and are farther away than they are now, then all bets are off. Kulikov would be very enticing to a playoff-bound team and a top-four d-man like him should at least fetch a second-rounder. It's supply and demand and it's a seller's market right now so who knows what defensemen will bring in return?
The Sabres are in lose-one, win-one mode and I'm not sure if they have it in them to go on a run, but I think they deserve every chance to do so, even if that means facing a six-point deficit with 19 games left after the trade deadline.
It's no surprise that Gionta wants to stay in Buffalo. The Greece, NY native is nearing the end of his career and his roots are deep in the Rochester area. Gionta's been having an excellent season thus far as the 38 yr. old has 27 points (12+15) in 56 games, his best output in years.
If he wants to stay, he should stay.
Finally, Tyler Ennis has his own dressing out called Enzo Sauce. The mix of ranch dressing and hot sauce is set to hit the market with some of the proceeds going to charity.
Here's a link to the video for it: