Published by hockeybuzz.com, 3-22-2017
With the shade slowly being drawn on Buffalo's hockey season and fans in Sabreland looking forward to an off season of moves that can hopefully get them into the playoffs next season, there are still a handful of games to be followed. Individual and team development form a thematic for the remainder of the season so here are some questions for the Sabres after they finished a back-to-back with a win at Detroit and a loss vs. Pittsburgh.
--the Sabres be able to match or exceed their 81 point total from last season?
Lest we forget, Buffalo went from 54 points in 2014-15 to 81 points last season which is significant regardless of how bad the team was. Expectations were for a modest to playoff contending point increase but they head into the final eight games of the season on an 80-point pace. Buffalo has games remaining against Toronto Maple Leafs (2,) Florida Panthers (2,) Columbus Blue Jackets, NY Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
--the Buffalo be able to play the role of spoiler?
The Sabres play three teams in the hunt for the final Eastern Conference wild card slot--Toronto, NY Islanders and Tampa Bay--with the Leafs in the driver's seat. Of the three, no doubt the Sabres would like to do the most damage to Toronto as there's a strong rivalry brewing. Hail to the Leafs, however, as head coach Mike Babcock has his talented, young group playing some impressive hockey when it counts including wins against foes from the east in Detroit, Philadelphia, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Boston as well as taking the Chicago Blackhawks to overtime before losing.
--Rasmus Ristolainen face suspension for his hit last night?
"The Angry Finn" as Sabres coach Dan Bylsma calls Ristolainen, had Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel lined up and ready to demolish in the neutral zone as soon as the puck hit Guentzel's stick. However the pass was picked of by Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons and Ristolainen hit a man without the puck. Guentzel got to his skates bloodied and woozy while Ristolainen was hit with a five minute for interference and a game misconduct. Personally I thought he backed off as he turned to his back-side just before the collision. A game at most.
--Evander Kane be able to get on track before the end of the season.
From December 3 to March 11 Kane was on fire scoring all of his 25 goals but he's been goal-less in his last five. Much of it has to do with the March 2 injury to Kyle Okposo and Kane's consequent move off of Jack Eichel's line. In the 10 games after Okposo hit the injured list, Kane has only two goals both of them coming on the powerplay. The Eichel-effect no doubt.
--the loss of Okposo get the attention it deserves?
As a poster pointed out in one of our threads, not enough attention is being paid to the loss of Okposo who was at or near the top in Sabres scoring all season. Since he's been sidelined the Buffalo is 3-6-1.
--rookie defenseman Brady Austin continue to impress?
He was called up two games ago after Taylor Fedun (who was pretty impressive) and Cody Franson hit the injured list. Austin is a big guy at 6'4" 230 and was having a largely forgettable season with Rochester before being called up. He played a solid game against a quick Detroit Red Wings team and played another solid game against a faster and more talented Pittsburgh club. Austin skates well for his size and is fairly nimble, able to turn his hips like a man much smaller than him. Although expectations are tempered, he's exceeded what I thought he could bring to the table.
--Jack Eichel learn from Sidney Crosby and the like?
I love "Jack Flash" and think his skill-level and skating are off the charts but his desire and will doesn't seem to be at the level of Crosby. At least not on a consistent basis. When Crosby scores that scowl is his celebration of defeating the many who are draped all over him the entire game. Eichel shows that desire but there's still room for growth in that area.