Monday, February 20, 2017

Sabres have one more before their bye week. Blackhawks are in town

Published by 2-19-2017

After a blog that had "Friggen bye-week" as a part of the title, it didn't take long for a Western Canadian hockey fan to jump in and lambaste the premise that the bye week stinks and that it put an undo burden on the Sabres as there's will come in the shortest month of the calendar year. Simply put, the Sabres will play 14 games in 23 days which includes four sets of back-to-backs and their present four-game in six-day pre-bye stretch that concludes this evening with the second game of a back-to-back against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.

Vancouver Canucks follower Itsjustarash began a mini rant with this, "A team from the east complaining about the schedule?" before laying out some of the travel difficulties of Western Conference teams. That person concluded with, "About five years ago my boys (the Canucks, I assume) went on a 6 game trip that went from Edm-Nash-Det-NJ-Dal-Phoe. Thats 4 different time zones in 10 days. So to hear any team out east crying about the schedule is a joke among itself."

Regardless of that rant, the bye-week is bogus and puts undo stress on every team in the league and as Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News points out, coaches aren't very happy with it either. "We’ve had fewer practices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Harrington quotes Minnesota boss Bruce Boudreau as saying during the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. “We finished nine games in 15 days and we never practiced the other six days because you can’t kill the guys, especially your better players."

Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma concurred. "It feels like even less practice, fewer days than an Olympic year," Bylsma said last week. "It is a little bit tougher to get a feel for where you're at, how you're feeling. "

And Toronto's Mike Babcock also chimed in, "I think it's 100 percent wrong for player safety. You've got so many games in such a short period of time and you're jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in, the healthier you have a chance to be."

West or East, it doesn't matter. The bye-week is not a good idea.


Buffalo welcomes the Chicago Blackhawks today for the second of two meetings between the two clubs. Back in January Chicago's Artem Anisimov tied the game at 3-3 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation and Patrick Kane won it 45 seconds into overtime to complete the Hawks' come from behind victory.

The Hawks have dominated the series as of late with Buffalo winless in their last 10 overall vs. the Hawks (0-8-2) while also leaving the ice winless in their last four games at home. Chris Ryndak of also points out that the Sabres last beat Chicago 2-1 on December 11, 2009 and haven't garnered points in consecutive games against the Hawks since they went unbeaten in four games from December 13, 2002 to December 15, 2007.

The Sabres are coming off of a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues yesterday afternoon. Buffalo hadn't beaten St. Louis in their previous nine meetings and the last time they won was a 5-3 decision on December 27, 2009.

Interestingly enough, the wins against both the Blues and the Hawks came back in 2009 when Ryan Miller was in the first half of his 2010 Vezina Trophy winning season. It was also the last time the Sabres won the division.


Winning the division is merely a pipe dream at this stage of the season, although the division-leading  Montreal Canadiens are making things interesting while in the midst of a 2-7-1 slump that cost their head coach his job.

Buffalo's on a three-game winning streak for the third time this season and have climbed up the standings points-wise. However they've played more games than any of the teams surrounding them in the standings so teams will have plenty of opportunities to snare points with Buffalo on their bye week. Only six points separates seven teams in the wild card race and all seven teams have at least one game in hand on Buffalo as of right now.

The Sabres have been looking to get on a run all season but something always seems to get in the way. Buffalo has had points in four consecutive twice this season but have never won four in a row. The last time they got points in consecutive games was back in January when they started out the 2017 portion of the schedule with a win, the Chicago overtime loss and two more wins. Consecutive road losses brought them back down before winning four of the next five games.

After a three-game winless streak surrounding the All-Star break, Buffalo alternated wins and losses until last week with wins at Ottawa and consecutive home wins against the Colorado Avalanche and Blues.

Buffalo is tough at home this calendar year going 8-2-1 in 2017.


Player notes:

--Defenseman Taylor Fedun went unclaimed and was sent to Rochester. In a hockey world where defensemen seem to be a scarce commodity, Fedun went unclaimed while forward Derek Grant, who was waived in January was claimed. *scratches head*  I don't get it. Despite defensive shortcomings Fedun was a plus-3 in 25 games for Buffalo this season while contributing seven assists. Grant had four assists in 46 games and was a minus-5.

--Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen collected his 100th career point yesterday while assisting on Ryan O'Reilly's goal. The 22 yr. old Ristolainen is averaging over 27 minutes a game for the Sabres this season.

--Goalie Robin Lehner has been hot as of late with a February goals-against average of 1.89 and a .950 save percentage during a 5-3-1 month. In his last three games, which came after calling out the team after a 4-2 loss in Buffalo against Vancouver, he's been down-right stingy. Buffalo is 3-0-0 since and Lehner has a 1.33 GAA and a .961 Sv%. It should be noted that he includes the team in his successes. He gets the start this evening.

--In addition to saying Lehner will be in net vs. the Hawks this evening, Bylsma also said that Sam Reinhart will miss his second consecutive game with an illness. That means Nick Baptiste will remain in the lineup and on would think that there will be no changes in the lineup tonight:

Justin Bailey-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Nick Baptiste
Marcus Foligno-Evan Rodrigues-Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson-Nicolas Deslauriers-Tyler Ennis

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


Finally, there was a time when Buffalo choked regularly in front of a national TV audience  but this season, however, is a bit different.

The Sabres have yet to lose in regulation so far this season having gone 2-0-3 in their five nationally televised games. They blew a third period lead to Philadelphia and lost in the shootout back on October 25, beat the NY Rangers handily January 3 and two days later lost that overtime game to Chicago. They kicked off February with a 2-1 OT loss against the Rangers when they threw everything at Rags goalie Henrik Lundqvist but could only get one by him and this past Thursday they shutout the Colorado Avalanche 2-0.

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