Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bylsma shuffles the forward deck. Why? Not sure.

Published by, 2-28-2017

According to Jourdon LaBarber of, here were the Sabres' lines at this morning's skate:

Justin Bailey-Ryan O'Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno-Evan Rodrigues-Sam Reinhart
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Tyler Ennis

Losing to the two worst teams in the league while having playoff aspirations certainly complicated things for Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma and seems to be mixing up his forward lines as a was to jostle them out of a three-game losing streak. Then again with their playoff hopes fading and the trade deadline tomorrow, perhaps they're showcasing Gionta in a top-six role for a playoff team. Or maybe Bylsma just wanted to reunite the Moulson-Girgensons-Ennis line as two years ago they were the top line on a last place team.

Perhaps Bylsma felt that Rodrigues deserved a bump up (which he did,) or that Girgensons, despite playing some of the best, if not the best, hockey since 2015, wasn't producing enough offensively for his liking. Or maybe he wants Reinhart to be more defensively responsible after his minus-4 rating against Colorado.

The again, there's a good possibility that Bylsma's feeling the heat from the disaster of losing to the two worst teams in the league and this was the best he could come up with.

Simple fact is, Bylsma's Sabres, who were in the hunt for a playoff spot prior to their present three-game losing streak, couldn't get the job done against the Avs and Coyotes and it's a trend that's been going on for months.

We harken back to December with the return of Jack Eichel and the surge of Evander Kane and how the Sabres kicked off the month with 4-2-1 record before two shootout losses made it points in seven of nine games. Up ahead on the schedule were five games within the conference and division with 10 points on the table. They came up way short winning only won and finishing the month with a disastrous home-and-home versu divisional rival Boston when the opportunity to make up some serious ground vanished.

After Eichel threw a post-game tantrum to end December, the Sabres got their act together in early January, won a quick three of four and were on a four-game point-streak. With momentum on their side and a chance to put some distance between themselves and two Eastern Conference wild card foes, they dropped both games to Tampa Bay and Carolina by a combined 9-4 score.

The roller coaster continued as Buffalo ripped off three wins in a row, all in overtime after coming back in the third period. They almost did it once again, but that loss in Dallas sent the Sabres on a 1-3-1 dive and after alternating wins and losses Buffalo rattled off three wins in a row with one game to go before their bye week. They got steamrolled by Chicago, had their bye, and then, with an opportunity to garner four points via two winnable games, they proceeded to lose to Colorado and Arizona.

It seems as if every time the Sabres had the opportunity to do something special, they laid an egg. One can easily lay the blame at the feet of an inadequate defense-corps, but the forward group had struggled as well with injuries and illness hindering any sense of continuity. Even with the losses the Sabres have had, it would seem as if the forward group fell into place lately.

For all of his well documented scoring woes, Girgensons has been doing exactly what Bylsma has asked him to do which is focus upon the defensive side of the game. He did that extremely well and his reward was getting dropped to the fourth line. Although one goal and two assists in his last nine games won't lead to any Gretzky comparisons, but it's the exact same output that Bailey has had through his last nine games.

Maybe even more puzzling is why Bylsma's revisiting the Gionta/Eichel experiment again, or why he's even trying to put the 38 yr. old in a top-six role. Just look at the tape from last season. Gionta couldn't keep up then, and he certainly won't be able to keep up now, especially with Kane joining Eichel on a screaming fast line.

Nothing against Bailey, who I think has an incredibly bright future, or Gionta, who's been playing his best hockey since joining the Sabres in 2014, but facts is facts.

As for Rodrigues, he played on Eichel's left wing at Boston University and had a career year but the Sabres have a need down the middle and he's played well in a bottom-six center role since that call-up. Rodrigues started as third-line center while Girgensons was out with an injury then moved to the fourth line and has goals in consecutive games. Switching him and Girgensons is understandable but switching Reinhart and Gionta doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Anyone who's watched this team dating back to last season should be able to tell you that Gionta makes his linemates better on the third line, and that's what he is at this stage of his career, a third line right winger.

I'm not sure how this shuffling does anybody any good. Perhaps it's a desperate move to try and shake the team from it's three-game losing streak or it's rewarding players, like Rodrigues and Gionta, for their good work. Or maybe Bylsma was a bleary-eyed after being at KeyBank Center until 8:30 pm yesterday meeting with GM Tim Murray and scouts, according to WGR's Paul Hamilton.

Regardless, the Sabres have a home date vs. the Nashville Predators tonight. With the Sabres slumping and the Preds surging, I'm not sure how these moves will keep Bylsma's team from falling behind early or coughing up a lead late, which they've done plenty of during this month, but hey, at least he's trying something.


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