Saturday, August 12, 2017

A look back at the 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres season--November

Published by, 8-11-2017

Buffalo started November well enough with a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild for their third win in a row but the injuries continued to mount as Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian went down with a knee injury in a 2-1 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. A 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators would give the Sabres wins in four of their last five games  pushing their overall record to 5-4-2 and into a spot just two points out of third place in the division.

Then it hit.

The Sabres would go on to lose to the Boston Bruins which began a six-game winless streak (0-4-2.) By mid-November they dropped to the bottom of the conference and had an injured list that now included Dmitry Kulikov, who was placed on IR to help his back heal, and Ryan O'Reilly. Entering a November 19 game against Pittsburgh the Sabres were without their top two centers in Jack Eichel and O'Reilly, two of their top four defensemen (Bogosian and Kulikov) and were also missing top-nine forward Tyler Ennis.

The lineup for that game looked like this:

Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno-Sam Reinhart-Brian Gionta
Zemgus Girgensons-Cal O'Reilly-Matt Moulson
William Carrier-Derek Grant-Cole Schneider

Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Cody Franson
Justin Falk-Taylor Fedun

Anders Nilsson got the start against the Pens and backstopped the Sabres, who were featuring five AHL recalls, to an odds-defying 2-1 shootout victory that included 46 saves in regulation/overtime while stopping Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the shootout. They went on to go 1-1-1 in their next three games and had a 4-6-3 record before the return of Eichel on November 29.

The Sabres won with defense as it was a brutal month for the Sabres in the goal-scoring department. Prior to Eichel's return they scored two or less goals in 13 of the 14 games played while averaging 1.63 goals/game. It was dismal hockey to watch and how they managed to win five games during that stretch was a minor miracle.

Despite all that transpired in November, Buffalo would finish the month on a strong note as Eichel returned and helped lead the team to an exciting, fun-filled 5-4 win at Ottawa. He had a goal and added an assist in his first game of the season and O'Reilly contributed two goals and an assist in his third game back from a stint on IR. Yet, however fun this was for the players and fans, it was a game that might represent the basis for a disconnect between coach and players, one that seemed to plague them for the rest of the season.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged the obvious saying that the return of Eichel brought "a different level of execution" and "a different level of speed" to his team. Bylsma watched as they flew up and down the ice drawing five minor penalties and scoring three powerplay goals on the night. Yet, despite the positives which included abundant fan excitement and his team scoring five goals (while admittedly giving up four,) Bylsma wasn't really thrilled with the overall play of his team. "It was a little bit of a haphazard game and those aren't easy on the heart," he said postgame. "It's not the way we want to play the game."

Buffalo finished 5-6-3 in the month of November with their scoring for the season at a paltry 1.95 g/gm, which was just barely above their 1.87 g/gm during the 2015-16 tank season.  Yet, as they looked ahead towards December with Eichel back in the lineup and the team seemingly on the mend, at least up front, Sabres fans had a lot to look forward to

For their November team stats, click here, and for individual stats click here.

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