Thursday, November 30, 2017

It's deja vu for Sabres fans.

Published by, 11-29-2017

The Buffalo Sabres lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night 2-0 in a game where they held the high-scoring Lightning in check for the most part. However, no matter how well you defend, if you do not score a goal, you're not going to win no matter how well you played. Such is the dilemma that has this Sabres team losing two in a row first to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night and against Tampa last night. They did not score a goal in either game, this despite outshooting both teams (MTL, 36-26 and TBL, 34-26.)

What's the dilemma? It's the shots they're taking and the lack of a net front presence either to screen the goaltender or pounce on a rebound. Or even have one deflect off of oneself or the opposition d-man. Both of Tampa's goals last night came from a deflection off of a Buffalo defender who was battling with a Lightning player in front of Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

After the game Housley addressed the situation. "The bottom line is, we out-chanced a team. We outshot a team, but I just don't think we're making it difficult enough on the goaltender," is how he put it to the gathered media. "We've got to find a way to make it more difficult. We've got to get in the trenches and get a dirty goal. When's the last time we got one of those?"

Unfortunately for Housley it's been a while and it doesn't seem as if he has players who want to do be bothered with the physicality it takes to score a goal like that.

WGR's Paul Hamilton put it this way. "They're not paying the price," said Hamilton post-game. "It might have been the easiest shutout [Andrei] Vasilevsky has ever had. What did he face, [34] shots? I think he saw them all. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a screen shot all night that he didn't see. If there was there might have been one or two."

The Buffalo Sabres have become a perimeter team. Or maybe they've been that all along and it's really coming to the fore as they've faced three top-notch goalies in the last five games and have scored two goals in those games while getting shut out twice in a row now.

For Sabres fans who've been watching this team for the last decade, this is a very sad case of deja vu.

This is where we stand 10 years after Darcy Regier’s Core took charge post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere and nothing has really changed. The Sabres have forwards who are talented on an individual basis but play a perimeter game and don’t seem to have any passion to their games. Buffalo has a defense that leans towards puck-movers who, as a group, are having trouble with the basic premise of puck-moving—passing the puck. They can’t score either.

These not bad players, for the most part, we're talking about, but their inability to play the game the right way is yielding bad results both individually and as a team.

Is Jack Eichel a bad player? How about Ryan O’Reilly? Or Kyle Okposo? Jason Pominville?

No, none of them are.

Neither were Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, or…Jason Pominville.

However, just as the former core was a collection of talented, perimeter players, so is this one.

Why did we see fourth-liner Jordan Nolan in the final minutes with the goalie pulled? Not to score, but to add some grit to the group that was out there. Housley, according to Hamilton, had him out their to plant his ass in front of the net. Come hell or highwater, Nolan’s job was to plant himself in the crease and create a screen, or to at least draw the attention of the defense.

Is Nolan a skilled player? Not by any means, but he was willing to pay a price to get the job done.

Nolan’s usage is no different than how former bench boss Lindy Ruff used fourth-liners Adam Mair and Matt Ellis, among others. Ruff had himself a group of perimeter players in the top-six and used players like Mair and Ellis in top-six roles to add sandpaper because none of their skilled players had any.
How many times did we hear Ruff at his post-game presser bemoaning a loss and saying that his guys needed to "play out of character?" Housley is asking the same thing as it might not be in their character to go to the dirty areas of the ice. But what's worse is that this is an easier game now than when Ruff was saddled with this problem.
"I don't think the game is being called as tight as it was," Ruff said back in November, 2010. "Before (post-'04/05 lockout,) as soon as you put a stick on someone, it was a penalty. Now you're getting a free tug at times. You're getting a free paw at times...I think there's games where the whistle has been put away."
Not so today as the refs have even taken to a slap on the stick as a penalty. The players have it much easier today than they did some seven years ago and we won't even get into how difficult it was to play in the clutch and grab 90's or the Billy Smith "whack to the ankles in front of the net" era.
Powderpuff hockey, and this Sabres team can't even muster up the kahunas to deal with that.
Housley can only do so much, although we shouldn't expect more from him as he pretty much played the same way, and GM Jason Botterill seemingly has no intentions of doing anything to shake this team out of it. Botterill seems more intent upon building a winning culture in Rochester and thereby letting this thing burn to the ground this season. Without the coach getting through or the GM shaking things up, it's in the hands of the leadership group and the leaders on this team should be taken to task.

Eichel was once touted as a player who hates to lose. We were lead to believe that he’d chew his leg off to get out of a loser’s trap. He wears and 'A' and is an extremely talented player with speed to burn who's really starting to pick up his two-way game. However, as of late, he looks like a poor-man’s Alexander Ovechkin out there while making some very lazy plays.
Ryan O'Reilly also wears an 'A'. However, as much as he wants to be a leader, he only brings it on the ice half the time. The other half he looks like a higher-paid version of Roy.

Pominville doesn't wear a letter and is the same player today as he was 10 years ago when he did--a steady player who contributes offensively but lacks sandpaper. Why hasn’t he scored a goal in over a month (13 games?) Because he doesn’t go to, nor has ever gone to, the dirty areas where goals are scored. In those 13 games he has two assists and is a minus-5 yet the media continue to flock to him as some kind of veteran leader. They’re asking him the same questions now, and getting the same canned responses, as they did 10 years ago.

Okposo where’s an ‘A’ and is considered a leader on the team, but he’s just snake-bitten right now in the scoring department. Not only that, he missed a month last season and it took him a while to get up to speed this season. Okposo has been doing everything except score lately and it would be surprising to see him finish with these type numbers should he continue to play that way.

It's been hell for Sabres fans watching this as well. From 2007-12 they watched the same thing and became emotionally detached from the players as a whole. Near the end of Regier's "Core-era" they often times booed the team.
It became bad enough that the Sabres went through a scorched-earth rebuild that left little standing.
Yet, after two years of “suffering,” three general managers, five head coaches and one VP, the Sabres are back to the same point they were prior to the 2013-15 tank seasons. A soft, fragile team in need of an overhaul. And the worst part about it is that the most anti-core like player, leading scorer Evander Kane, will most likely be gone after this year.

It's deja vu all over again.


Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats Leaders--November

Published by, 11-30-2017

I haven't had this easy of a time gathering stats since last November. The Sabres didn't do much scoring this November as they only scored 26 goals or an average of two per game, although the usual suspects were at the top of the list.

Once again, Evander Kane topped Buffalo scorers with 11 points. Kane's six goals lead the team for the month, matching his total from October, while his five assists were second on the team. Ryan O'Reilly also showed some consistency in the points department with another eight points (4+4) for the month.

It was good to see Kyle Okposo take some strides forward in the scoring department. Okposo admittedly struggled through the early part of the season but began pulling himself out of the muck with some hard work and a refusal to succumb to the pressures of not producing. He was second on the team in points (9) and lead the team with six assists while also netting his first three goals of the season.

Buffalo not only had trouble scoring, they also had big problems keeping the puck out of their own net. Starter Robin Lehner saw his goals-against rise and his save-percentage fall while struggling all month to a 1-9-1 record. The Sabres allowed 41 goals for the month and came out a minus-15 in goal differential for the 13 games played in November.

That minus-15 differential reeked havoc on individual plus/minus for the team...again. On the positive side, Four players--Sam Reinhart, Jordan Nolan, Marco Scandella and Victor Antipin--came away with an even plus/minus rating while O'Reilly, for the second month in a row, had the worst rating amongst Sabres. O'Reilly was a minus-9 in October and was a minus-8 in November to total a team-worst minus-17 this season. Johan Larsson also had a minus-8 for the month bringing his overall plus/minus to a minus-13 which is second-worst on the team.

Jack Eichel leads the team in assists with 12 and is tied for second in goals with seven. Eleven of his 12 assists have been primary and he once again lead the team this month with four primary assists.

We'd get into powerplay stats except that they only scored four powerplay goals this month (on 36 powerplays.) All four powerplay goals were scored by different players.

December begins tomorrow and the Sabres begin the third month of the season with a home-and-home vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday and Saturday.

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats leaders:

--October: Pominville, Kane, Eichel, 12; O'Reilly, 8
--November:  Kane, 11;  Okposo, 9;  O'Reilly, 8

--October: Pominville, Kane, 6; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--November:  Kane, 6;  Pouliot, 4;  Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, 3

Powerplay Goals
--October: O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Kane, Reinhart, 1
--November:  O'Reilly, Pouliot, Reinhart, Okposo, 1

--October: Eichel, 8 Pominville, Kane, 6
--November:  Okposo, 6;  Kane, O'Reilly, 5

 Powerplay Assists
--October: Kane, Ristolainen, 2; six players with 1
--November:  Kane, 3;  Okposo, 2;  three players with 1

Primary Assists
--October: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Beaulieu, 2
--November:  Eichel, 4;  O'Reilly, Okposo, 3;  four players with 2

--October: Pominville, +3; Girgensons, Gorges, +1; Pouliot, even
--November:  Reinhart, Nolan, Scandella, Antipin, even;  Kane, Griffith, Gorges, -1

Plus/Minus (Bottom)
--October: O'Reilly, -9; Reinhart, -8; Okposo, -7
--November:  O'Reilly, Larsson, -8;  McCabe, -7;  Beaulieu, -6

Goalies (composite)

Robin Lehner
--October: 4-2-1; 2.78 GAA; .911 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November:  5-11-2;  2.92; .906, 1

Chad Johnson
--October: 1-3-1; 4.06 GAA; .879 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November:  1-4-2;  3.59;  .885;  0

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Matt's last chance?

Published by, 11-29-2017

Matt Moulson would probably be the first to admit that things haven't gone exactly as planned since signing with the Sabres as a free agent in 2014. Moulson signed a 5-yr/$25 million contract with Buffalo that off season and proceeded to score 13 goals and 41 points in the 2014-15 season. It was a pretty mediocre season for him, but considering he was on a last place team that challenged the league record for fewest goals in a season, stats like that from him could be rationalized.

Much was expected of him while being surrounded by more talent. The Sabres had drafted Jack Eichel in 2015 and also traded for Ryan O'Reilly on Draft Day. A few months prior to the draft, then GM Tim Murray traded for an injured Evander Kane who would be back on the ice for the 2015-16 season. Moulson was slated for top-six duties with work on the first powerplay unit. In 81 games he scored eight goals and added 13 assists and was often times found flailing on the fourth line.

The following season, then head coach Dan Bylsma and his assistant in charge of the powerplay, Bob Woods, at least found a niche for Moulson. Although they had him playing mostly fourth-line minutes, they kept him on a Buffalo powerplay that would finish tops in the league. Moulson scored 14 goals last season, with 11 of them coming on the powerplay.

Unfortunately for him, and for the powerplay in general, that regime is gone and has been replaced by new head coach Phil Housley.

The powerplay has been a disaster this season. After converting 24.5% of their opportunities last season, the Sabres powerplay has a 13.3% conversion rate going into tonight. Moulson's season has been a disaster as well with zero points and sits at a minus-8 rating in only 12 games played. Housley had him on the powerplay earlier in the season but that didn't help and so he sat the last six games as a healthy scratch.

Moulson, however, is back in the lineup tonight thanks to an injury to center Jacob Josefson and the waiving of forward Seth Griffith. According to Housley Josefson will be out 4 to 6 weeks with an ankle injury. Griffith cleared waivers and is in Rochester making a pretty strong Amerks squad even better.

What also helped Moulson get back on the ice is that Sabres GM Jason Botterill didn't call anybody up from Rochester. Forward CJ Smith has had a heck of a season thus far and forward Evan Rodrigues, who many thought was a shoe-in to make the team out of camp, came off of an injury and has played five real strong games. Winger Hudson Fasching has also played well as of late and any one of them could've gotten the call thus keeping Moulson on the bench.

But with Rochester going well and the Sabres struggling mightily at 6-14-4, perhaps Botterill wants to keep the Amerks going for just a little while longer while giving Moulson another opportunity to crack the lineup. Which is strange to say for a $5 million man.


Word from KeyBank is that the lines from practice yesterday will be what Housley goes with tonight vs. the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning who have a .739 winning percentage:



Defenseman Zach Bogosian has returned to practice but according to reports from the rink this morning, he will not be in the lineup. Bogosian skated with Josh Gorges as the extra pairing and won't see the ice tonight. Housley told the gathered media today, “I really like the progress that [Bogosian's] been making, but we want to be cautious with this type of injury.

“He looks really good out there and I feel with just one practice and a pregame skate, I think he just needs more time.”

After tonight's game the Sabres are off until Friday when they begin a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For tonight's game these look to be the d-pairings:



As mentioned earlier, the powerplay has been a disaster. After Saturday's loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Housley said that he and his staff would focus on playing with the man advantage.

This is what they came up with for powerplay units:

#1--Kane Eichel Reinhart Antipin Beaulieu
#2-- Okposo O’Reilly Moulson Ristolainen Pominville

Sabers beat writer Paul Hamilton was on WGR550 Radio today and said that unlike prior powerplay schemes, the men on the point were locked in meaning Antipin/Bealieu and Ristolainen/Pominville stayed at the point.

We'll see how that works out.


Finally, two seasons ago the Sabres played the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Lightning four times in a 30-day span. Tampa apparently got bored beating the Sabres and after winning the first three matchups while outscoring them 10-3, Buffalo finally won the fourth meeting.

Last season the Sabres went winless vs. the Lightning going 0-3-1 and being outscored by a 14-6 margin.

In those eight games vs. Tampa over the past two seasons, Moulson has one goal, zero assists and is a minus-3.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Some are in, others are out and one is heading to Rochester

Published by, 11-27-2017

The Buffalo Sabres blueline has been ravaged by injuries so far this season. But they're getting healthier.

During the first quarter of the season for Buffalo, players came and players went and one of them, Zach Bogosian, still hasn't hit ice for a game. The Sabres have dressed nine defenseman thus far and recalled another one, Casey Nelson, who never dressed. Every d-man save for Jake McCabe and Victor Antipin has spent time on the injured list this season and that includes top-pairing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who missed nine games recently. Ristolainen returned on Friday and played in Buffalo's back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens and was his usual self logging 27:32 and 25:49 of ice-time, respectively.

After playing six games in nine nights (1-5-0) the Sabres had Sunday off and were back at practice today. Word from the rink had Bogosian at center ice leading the stretch and participating for the first time since a lower-body injury took him out in the last preseason game. According the media at the rink, coach Phil Housley said after practice that they will see how Bogosian responds to a full practice and that he will be a game-time decision.

Housley also told the gathered media that center Jacob Josefson "tweaked his ankle" in the Montreal game and will be out "four to six weeks." Jacobsen missed 14 games after an injury in Anaheim but returned with two strong performances (1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating) before injuring his ankle in the first period against the Canadiens. He centered what was arguably Buffalo's best line over those two games as he Kyle Okposo and Jordan Nolan combined for four goals,  four assists, and were a cumulative plus-7 in a third-line role.

The injury to Josefson provided a golden opportunity for forward Seth Griffith to stick with the club, but Housley said he"thought a lot of the games [Griffith] was looking to pass instead of shoot. When you're not doing well, you're going to make changes."

Griffith was waived yesterday, cleared today and was sent to Rochester. In 18 games he had three points (2+1,) was a minus-4 and registered 14 shots on goal.

The Sabres now have only 12 healthy forwards with the club. Housley sais that they may bring a forward up from Rochester. In lieu of that, these were the lines from today's practice:


Two Rochester forwards who might get consideration for a call-up are CJ Smith who leads the team in scoring with 19 points (6+13) in 19 games and Evan Rodrigues who has six points (2+4) in five games after missing the season with an injury.

With Bogosian back practicing, reports from the rink had these pairings:



Housley also said that they'd be taking a hard look at their 30th-ranked powerplay and according to WGR550's Paul Hamilton, he made some changes with these being the units today.

PP1:  Kane  Eichel  Reinhart  Antipin  Beaulieu
PP2:  Okposo  O’Reilly  Moulson  Ristolainen  Pominville

The Sabres haven't scored a powerplay goal in the last six games going 0/15 in the process. During that time they went 1-5-0 losing two games by one goal and two more by two goals.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sabres finish rough 6 games in 9 night stretch by being shutout 3-0

Published by, 11-26-2017

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley didn't ride his team after they were shut out by the Montreal Canadiens last night, 3-0. Nor should they have been  taken to task, save for a play or two which, of course, ended up in the back of their net.

Housley's Sabres played well for most of the game, at times clearly dominating play and puck possession. However, that's not quite good enough when you're playing the best goaltender in the game.

Montreal's Carey Price is so smooth and precise when he's on his game that he makes everything look easy. From his positioning to glove-work, crease-movement to puck-movement, everything about his game seems worthy of the huge contract he received on July 2. Although some would say that an AAV of $10.5 million is way too high, he's clearly the best player on the Canadiens and just because he's a goalie shouldn't diminish his status.

The Sabres went into Montreal last night having just snapped a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2) with a win over the equally hapless Edmonton Oilers. Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was out with an upper body injury for the duration of that slump and then some but came was back in the lineup skating over 27 minutes and adding two assists in the Sabres 3-1 win. Ristolainen and his mates played one of their best all-around games of the season and were looking to continue that same play the following night against in Montreal.

They accomplished that part of the equation but could not solve the Price puzzle. Buffalo pumped 36 shots on goal against the Canadiens but couldn't light the lamp. Actually, they did with less than a minute to play and trailing 3-0, however the suits in Toronto nullified Evander Kane's goal after a review. They deemed that Buffalo's Sam Reinhart had interfered with Price and overruled the goal.

Maybe "Price shuts out Sabres 3-0 in return to action" makes for a better headline than "Canadiens beat Sabres 3-1 in Price's return."

Regardless of that, the Sabres have been having trouble beating top-notch goaltenders for years and last night was no different. Price doesn't have many weak spots and it might take hours of reviewing tape to find just one. Every goaltender can be beat when there's traffic in front of him and/ or with players crashing the net jumping on rebounds. That's the way Kane scored his non-goal.

It's also advantageous to attack that way early, which is something Housley pointed out the gathered media post-game. "We ran into a hot goaltender who came back and made some terrific saves. If there's one thing, we could have tried to get to him a little earlier."

Housley said he "couldn't fault the effort" either. "

"I thought the guys dug down deep tonight," said the coach. "It was our sixth game in nine nights and [they] had every reason not to give it their best and put their best foot forward. I thought the last two games has been some of our best hockey and tonight we didn't get rewarded.

"I know the bottom line is winning. You can say what you want to say, but if we continue to play this way moving forward, we're gonna get a lot more wins."

That's the test for his Sabres team--continuing to play that style of hockey game-in, game-out. The team as a whole has been deviating from game-plan from game to game, period to period and in their worst moments, shift to shift. The inconsistencies have cost them dearly as they spend today away from the rink letting a 6-14-4 record an minus-28 goal differential sink in.

The Sabres have a very tough schedule coming up which begins with a game against the Eastern Conference-leading, goal-scoring machine known as the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. After that it's a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday and Saturday before heading out on a three-game road trip out west visiting Colorado, Chicago and St. Louis.

It seems strange to say this 24 games into the season, but having his team play the same way every night, win or lose, may be the most important factor for Housley. The last two games were great in that aspect but anyone can follow the game-plan while winning. It harder to do when you're losing as doubt creeps in, players try to do too much, and the confidence in oneself and the coaching staff necessary to win erodes to the point where a losing month or two turns into a lost season.

As a player you either have faith or you don't.

And they're gonna need a lot of faith through this next stretch.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thoughts on the MIN game, "McEichel-3" tonight and Risto's back.

Published by, 11-24-2017

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Hope you all enjoyed warmth, happiness and great food amongst family and friends yesterday with a bow to the heavens for the blessings bestowed upon us.

The Buffalo Sabres take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at KeyBank Center and enter the game reeling on a seven-game winless streak (0-5-2.) But before we get to Connor McDavid and the Oilers coming to town, some notes on Buffalo's 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thanksgiving Eve.

Everyone from the coach to the players to the media were beside themselves after the Sabres pulled their usual stunts en route to the loss. Buffalo scored first and looked great in the process before giving up three unanswered goals in a span of 5:27. Twice they would answer another Wild goal, coming to within one goal with just over six minutes left but could they not tie the game.

Afterwards, bottom-six forward and two-time Stanley Cup winner Jordan Nolan, called out his team mates for not holding each other accountable using his examples from his time in Los Angeles playing for the Kings. Head coach Phil Housley channeled his inner John Tortorella with short, terse answers at his post-game presser and veteran forward Jason Pominville was visibly upset while fielding questions.

WGR550 radio's Paul Hamilton was as irate as we've heard him all season in his post-game thoughts. Hamilton, who's been GR's Sabres beat reporter for years, took the players to task for their play and called for action in the form of waiving players while also saying that maybe they should consider benching a player no one would expect to be benched. That last remark seemingly referred to Jack Eichel without calling him out by name.

Interesting to note that every player was available post-game for an interview with the media having their pick of the litter when they walked in. It was something Hamilton said he hadn't seen since Chris Drury was co-captain of the Sabres. It's also interesting to note that they went to Pominville after interviewing Nolan.

Nolan was an easy one as he just scored his first two goals of the season and was a beast out there. But why Pominville, a former player who doesn't wear a letter? "If I have seen him madder," said Hamilton of Pominville, "I don't know when it was. He just had steam coming out of his ears. He was extremely upset."

Pominville was indeed emotionally upset to the point where it looked as if he might break down in his quivering. This is the same Pominville that captained GM Darcy Regier's core to the exact same play we witnessed for years before it was blown up. "This is what he left," continued Hamilton, "and it's no better than when he left as far as the attitudes in there and what goes on."

Yet, the 34 yr. old came into the game with a nine-game goal-drought (extended to 10 against the Wild) and a seven-game pointless streak. He was originally credited with Buffalo's first goal but received the primary assist when the goal was given to Eichel. He was also credited with two of his four shots on goal in that sequence and all of his shots within the first 8:04 of the game. After that he was invisible.

There was plenty of blame to throw around at most players after the game, and Housley rightfully took his players to task for "not following the game-plan for 60 minutes, not being on the same page, taking things into their own hands and [poor] decisions and choices at the wrong time of the game." Yet his decision to start back-up goalie Chad Johnson was questionable at best and blew up in his face as Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period before being pulled to begin the second period.

The first goal Johnson let in as weak a goal as you'll ever see and he couldn't rise to the challenge on the second one with his defenseman covering the pass on a 2-on-1. The 31 yr. old goalie, whom GM Jason Botterill signed to provide quality as a back-up, went into the Wild game with a 1-4-2 record, a 3.36 GAA and a .892 Sv%.

When asked why Johnson got the nod over starter Robin Lehner giving him two of the last three starts, Housley's short response was, "we're losing games so we have to make some decisions and we decided to go with Chad."

End of press conference.

The coaching staff is also responsible for a Sabres powerplay that has plummeted from No. 1 last season to 30th in the league as of today. On Wednesday a powerplay could've either added to their momentum or swung it in their favor but they were disjointed on all three. Conversely, the Wild scored on two of three powerplay opportunities which made a big difference in a one-goal game.

"Jason Botterill has a problem on his hands," noted an agitated Hamilton, while also stating that it's the middle of the season and it would be difficult to fix at this point. Then again, Botterill seems intent upon letting this thing burn to the ground in Buffalo while simultaneously cultivating a winning culture in Rochester.

Which isn't such a bad idea.

Botterill looks like he has more problems than he bargained for and he's willing to let them figure it out on their own, short-term consequences be damned.

The Sabres play an Edmonton Oilers team tonight that's been struggling so far this season but are coming off a 6-2 win at Detroit on Wednesday.

The Oilers and Sabres have met four times since the "McEichel Sweepstakes" known as the 2015 NHL Draft with Buffalo going 2-1-1 thus far. Edmonton took the first post-draft matchup minus McDavid, 4-2 and in "McEichel-1" they beat the Sabres in overtime 2-1 as McDavid scored both goals. Last season the Sabres crushed Edmonton 6-2 without Jack Eichel and in "McEichel-2" Buffalo won 4-3 in overtime.

McDavid has four points (2+2) in three games versus the Sabres while Eichel has two points (1+1) in three games as well with the 2015 first-overall pick outscoring the 2015 second-overall pick four points to one in head-to-head action.


According to reports from the rink, here are the Sabres lines at the skate:


Of note:  The Josefson line was listed as the fourth line during the morning skate on Wednesday but played third-line minutes and looked very good in the process as Nolan scored those two goals and Josefson got his first point (an assists) as a Buffalo Sabre. Kyle Okposo failed to hit the scoresheet but like his linemates was a plus-1 on the night.


It looks as if Rasmus Ristolainen will be back in action tonight for the Sabres. Ristolainen was felled by an upper-body injury for nine games. During that time the Sabres are 1-6-2 and have presently lost four in a row and are winless in their last seven.

The d-pairings are reported as being:


Perhaps Jake McCabe should have gotten some attention last night after the game. The 24 yr. old played one of his best games of the season with a nice primary assist after joining the rush and three pretty solid hits on the night. He also was well aware of his d-partner, Victor Antipin, in their own zone and provided an outlet on numerous occasions when Antipin was in trouble. He also looked genuinely ticked off at the plight of his team during the game.

It looks as if Housley's going back to Lehner for tonight.


Two final notes.

Props to the fans at KeyBank Center on Wednesday as they avoided booing en masse during portions of the game although there was one lunkhead that seemingly tried to get a chorus of boos going on a number of occasions.

And it's time for the goal-song to go the way of the "turd burger" third jersey they had a couple years back. Both of them might have been good ideas in the eyes (and ears) of those in positions of power at the time, but both were/are lame at best. One's been tossed away and the other should follow soon.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Will health help the Sabres climb out of the morass their in?

Published by, 11-22-2017

The 5-12-4 record says it all and the attendance figures at KeyBank Center lately (announced attendance for the last game was 16,551 but looked like a lot less) backs up the notion that the product on the ice in Buffalo isn't really that good.

So much for the Captain Obvious moment.

Why this Buffalo Sabres team is off to such a horrible start is varied, dependent upon who you ask, and it's a multitude of things that are keeping this team to depths of the standings right now.  The tangibles include a lack of overall team speed and talent, namely in the support roles while lack of compete and leadership headline the intangible side of the equation. Other aspects like injuries and a rookie head coach should also be factored in as well.

With that said, the Sabres head into tonight's matchup against the Minnesota Wild a little healthier up front as center Jacob Josefson is expected to return to the lineup. Josefson went down in a game at Anaheim back in October.

It's not like the return of the 26 yr. old center is expected to single-handedly turn this thing around, but he adds positive elements to a team in need of all the positives they can get their hands on. Josefson will once again anchor the fourth line and will stabilize the middle of the ice. "[Josefson] is somebody you can trust to play in any situation, especially on our penalty kill," said Housley to the gathered media yesterday after practice. "He can relieve some minutes off of our top guys.

"He provides speed and positionally he's one of the best on our team. Very reliable."

Josefson, a former first round pick (20th-overall, NJD) was signed on July 1 by Sabres GM Jason Botterill, had zero points in five-plus games for Buffalo before his injury. At yesterday's practice Housley had him centering Jordan Nolan and Kyle Okposo.

Okposo was dropped by Housley to the fourth line due to largely ineffective play. As we saw with the demotion of Jack Eichel to the third line, only to be back up on the first line at practice yesterday, it might simply be an attempt to jar him out of his slump.

"Kyle's a tremendous competitor," said Housley of Okposo. "He evaluates his game and really gets down on himself. Obviously he would really like to contribute more offensively and he holds that burden on himself. But I think if he continues to work at both ends of the rink and [take] what the game can give him and keep going hard to the net he's going to continue to get those opportunities."

Okposo has two goals and eight points in 19 games this year and is a second-worst minus-12 on the team.

The Sabres had an optional skate today, but these were the lines from yesterday's practice according to


Matt Moulson and Seth Griffith were the extras.


Reports from the rink had two inured defensemen skating at today's optional practice--Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen.

Bogosian has yet to play this season and Ristolainen has missed the last eight Sabres games.

Buffalo's blueline has been ravaged by injuries this season to the tune of 10 defensemen dressing for the club so far this season with another in Casey Nelson who was called up but has yet to play. Players like Matt Tennyson (who is currently injured) and Justin Falk (who started the season on IR) have played as good as can be expected considering they were placed in positions well above their talent-level. Buffalo's ninth and 10th d-men--Zach Redmond and Taylor Fedun (who is also on the injured list)--were also place in difficult positions and did the best they could with Fedun looking like a legit NHL'er.

Having Bogosian go down is one thing as not only was this a seemingly annual trip to IR for the 27 yr. old, he was also slated for second-pairing duties, but losing Ristolainen really hurt.

Most will say that Ristolainen was having a rough year both in production and overall play, but he was a workhorse once again for the Sabres on the back-end averaging 27:09 a night, 20:24 at even strength. When he went down with his upper body injury he was tied with d-partner Marco Scandella at a minus-4 plus which was tops amongst Sabres defensemen.

As was mentioned in the last blog, the Sabres have been atrocious in his absence. A quick update has them on a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) and are 1-5-2 without him in the lineup. The team has scored 14 goals and has allowed 26 goals against.

Falk has been skating on the top pair in Ristolainen's absence and has been doing yeoman's work despite playing a role that's a couple spots higher than where he should be, which is true for all the defensemen not named Scandella.

At yesterday's skate, here's what the pairings were:



Robin Lehner took part in the optional skate today, according to John Vogl of The Buffalo News. Vogl tweeted that the others on the ice were Ristolainen, Bogosian, Tennyson, Nelson, Nolan, Griffith, Criscuolo, Josefson, Moulson.


One final note, forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno are back in town to face off against their former team for the first time. The duo was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Scandella and Pominville on June 30th.

Ennis, who was a first round pick for Buffalo (26th, 2008) has five points (3+2) in 20 games for Minnesota while Foligno has seven points (3+4) in 19 games.

While Foligno chose his father Mike's old number 17 to wear in Minnesota, Ennis will be donning a more familiar #63.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Third line Jack, Plus, in absence of Risto.

Published by, 11-20-2017

He's the team's second-leading score a soon-to-be $10 million man and the face of the Buffalo Sabres franchise, yet Jack Eichel found himself in an unfamiliar spot at the morning skate today. According to reports from the KeyBank ice this morning Sabres bench boss Phil Housley sent Eichel to the third line at practice. His wingers were Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, two players who had been on his wing before, but only in a top-six role.

Center Ryan O'Reilly moved between Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart while third line center Johan Larsson was in the top-six between Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo.

The Sabres are in a terrible slide right now having gone winless in their last 5 (0-3-2) and are coming off of a listless effort at home vs. the Carolina Hurricanes with Eichel being called out by the media for his lollygagging through the first two periods which included the game's first goal.

On the play, the Sabres were on the powerplay and with :45 seconds left in the penalty, Eichel stayed on the ice after a Carolina turnover in their own zone. The Hurricanes gathered the puck as their penalty expired and Justin Williams lead a two-on-one into the Buffalo zone. Williams got in close and dipsy-doodled before potting a wrister past Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson. At the end of the play Eichel was on camera gliding into the zone with his stick on his knees doing his best Alexander Ovechkin impersonation.

"How concerned are you about the body language?" asked a reporter post-game. "He lollygags off the ice with the shifts, the way he floats back on the (Justin) Williams goal tonight.

"You're seeing a lot of these plays from your key guy who everyone is expecting to carry this team."

Apparently Housley was concerned enough to drop Eichel down to the third line.

Credit to the coach, he didn't call out Eichel in public in response to the question. Housley had been in those shoes before. Housley was highly-skilled player drafted by, and playing for, legendary Scotty Bowman as an 18 yr. old, and he had his fair share of failures as a young player. The Sabres are 5-11-4 under the first year coach and he's had plenty of opportunities to call out individual players and the team as a whole and only once has he done it thus far. That was after a lackluster performance at Detroit the night before the Carolina loss.

"We've got to be smarter," he told the gathered media after the Detroit game. "We just got outbattled, outworked and outcompeted tonight. At times we even looked slow and I don't know why that is. We played one game in six nights. It's disappointing."

It doesn't get any easier tonight as the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on a three-game winning streak. During that streak they've allowed a total of two goals against and that doesn't bode well for a Sabres team that's last in the league in goals scored (2.30 goals/game) and has scored only one goal in five of their last seven games.

Like the rest of the team, Eichel has been cold in the points department lately with only one goal and one assist in his last five games with both of those points coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins. What seems to be more problematic at this juncture is his plus/minus which is a minus-5 over that five-game span and his performance in the first two periods against the 'Canes didn't help much.

Eichel will be between two wingers he's played with before in Girgensons and Pominville. Both wingers bring something different to the table and both have had varying degrees of success on Eichel's wing. Girgensons is a hard-working battler in the corner who has enough speed to get up and down the ice. Although Pominville doesn't quite have the same speed he uses his veteran savvy to get find open ice and is a good finisher. Unfortunately for the 34 yr. old, he's cooled considerably and is an 0'fer in his last five with a minus-6 rating. had this to say about the changes via their twitter feed:  "Coach Housley on new lines: "Haven’t been scoring, need to make some changes. Looked at some guys who have had success together in the past. Like the balance.'" They also listed the Eichel line as second in the lineup behind the Kane-O'Reilly-Reinhart line.

Very crafty moves by the Sabres PR department but one gets the sense that behind the curtain a message is being sent and that the team is dressing it up the best they can.


Good news for those of us who think that the bottom-six must start contributing more. No, we're not talking about the team's second leading scorer anchoring that line, but fourth-line center Jacob Josefson was back on the ice skating according to reports.

Josefson has been out since October 17 with a lower-body injury and it's not that he'll single-handedly turn the fourth line around, but he was beginning to play well before his injury against the Anaheim Ducks.

The 26 yr. old former first round pick (NJD, 2009) is now listed as day-to-day.


Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has missed the last seven Buffalo Sabres games and despite calls that he was largely ineffective, the numbers say otherwise.

It's not that Ristolainen is the second coming of Denis Potvin, but his absence on an already thin blue line created a huge hole in the d-corps that is not being filled even close to adequately. Prior to Ristolainen's injury, the Sabres had begun to right the ship by going 4-3-1 after a debilitating 0-4-1 start. In those eight games prior to his injury the Sabres had only one clunker, a 5-1 loss at Columbus. They had two lackluster efforts that resulted in identical 3-2 losses at home against Vancouver and San Jose' but other than that they played some pretty good hockey which included a 5-4 overtime win at Boston against the Bruins.

During that span, Buffalo scored 23 goals-for (2.875 g/gm) and allowed 25 against (3.125 ga/gm) for a minus-2 goal differential in those games. Since then the Sabres have scored a total of 12 goals in their last seven games and have given up 23 goals against for a minus-11 goal differential.

Ristolainen still leads the league in average time on ice at 27:09/game with most of it coming 5v5 as he's 44th in the league with and average of 3:44/game in powerplay time and 49th with 3:00/game on the penalty kill.

With him out of the lineup the team has a 1-4-2 record.

Just sayin'.

Monday, November 20, 2017

With Sabres in a deep rut and out of answers, what will Botterill do (or not do?)

Published by, 11-19-2017

The Buffalo Sabres are in a rut that they just can seem to get out of. Last night's 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes puts their losing streak at five in a row (0-3-2) and their lone tally against Carolina means that they've only managed one goal in four of their last six games.

The litany of excuses and/or reasons for their demise are many and varied but the loss to the 'Canes added another wrinkle. After the game Buffalo head coach Phil Housley was asked this about franchise center, Jack Eichel, who was invisible up until about the last 10 minutes of the game, "How concerned are you about the body language?" asked a reporter. "He lollygags off the ice with the shifts, the way he floats back on the (Justin) Williams goal tonight.

"You're seeing a lot of these plays from your key guy who everyone is expecting to carry this team."

Housley's response to those gathered for the post-game presser was to defend Eichel's play as of late. He pointed out some positives noting that Eichel's play in his own end was better and that he liked the speed he brought through the neutral zone. The reporter then followed up with, "did you like his play through the first two periods?" Once again Housley came to his defense noting his special teams play before with "I think there's an improvement in that area."

We're not seeing the Eichel we saw during his first two seasons on a consistent basis nor are we seeing anywhere near the "Jack Flash" we were genuinely excited about through his first 142 games in the Blue and Gold. It would appear that the 21 year old has a huge weight on his shoulders that may be the product of a number of things which probably includes the struggles of this team. We might also add to the equation that he was put in a position of leadership this year and just signed a max-term contract that will pay him $10 million per season for the next eight years.

Although leadership isn't the main culprit in the Sabres tailspin, one would think that not having a genuine leader on this team isn't helping matters. Both Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly are looked to for that leadership but they've been faltering in that area. Sabres GM Jason Botterill once (famously or infamously) said that "the days of Mark Messier and one guy leading the team doesn't exist anymore," in reference to perhaps the greatest team captain of all time. It may be a small piece to a complex puzzle, but many in Sabreland might love having a player like Messier help guide this team through their early perils.

But that doesn't seem to be the way Botterill wants to do things and it would seem as if right now he's leaving his rookie head coach and 5-11-4 team to their own devices. Botterill seems supremely focused on the Rochester Americans and building a winning culture down there. It's something he set out to do in from the beginning as he and Amerks GM Randy Sexton built a veteran team, with a proven leader in captain Kevin Porter, that would produce a winner in Rochester while also serving as an incubator for their young talent.

Last night the Amerks lost for only the second time in their last nine games. That streak that put them in second place in the AHL's North Division.

Despite the Sabres woes, Botterill has kept the organization's top d-prospect in Rochester to continue his development. Buffalo's problems on defense include a rash of injuries and the ignominy of having zero goals from their defense through 20 games. It's a non-move that should really be lauded, however, as it keeps the focus on proper development of their prospects, something Botterill said he'd do from the get-go. "What we're trying to accomplish with our young players isn't just survive in the NHL," he told WGR550 Radio back in October. "For the long term projection it might be better to be in the AHL, playing 20 minutes a night, instead of in the NHL playing five minutes."

Fair enough, and what few prospects they do have in Rochester should be given the opportunity to develop at their own pace. It's good for the player, good for the team long-term and it's great for the local community as they have a winner right now after two very down years.

Good for Rochester but for those in Buffalo, it looks like it's going to be a long season. Many (myself included) felt that the Sabres could take a step forward, albeit not without early struggles while adjusting to a new coach and system. Very few thought that the team would be this bad and it's making for a very trying season with many exasperating and displeasurable subplots which include, but are not limited to:

--the aforementioned franchise player getting called out by the media
--a leading scorer who's in the final year of his contract and whose success may price him right out of Buffalo
--bad contracts in the form of a forward whom the league left in the dust and injured defenseman  who hasn't played yet this year
--underachieving players in the top six one of whom who has a contract that might be classified as bad in the not to distant future
--an inconsistent top-six center whom the Sabres paid a premium for to acquire and to keep
--a secondary overhaul of the defense after doing one this off season

There are more. The list should include a dud trade by Botterill for a defenseman and lineups from Housley that included forcing a young forward to play center when it's not his cup of tea and a heavy top-four reliance on defensemen more suited to a bottom-pair/reserve role.

Lest we forget goaltending, Buffalo's starter boldly proclaimed he had nothing left to prove prior to the season then promptly laid an egg, and their backup was shaky at best through his first few games of the season.

Any way you slice it, Botterill has a mess on his hands right now in Buffalo and it doesn't look like he's even cares about what happens with the Sabres, preferring to continue laying a foundation in Rochester. Case in point.

Forward Evan Rodrigues looked like he'd be a good addition to the Sabres bottom-six out of camp but suffered a hand injury. Very little was said about his recovery and most simply forgot about him until he showed up in the lineup card for Rochester on Friday. There was no press release that he came off of injured reserve, no release that he was sent down, and no announcement that he would be playing that night for the Amerks. Why it was kept hush-hush is a head-scratcher and why he was sent to Rochester instead of filling a need in the bottom-six for the Sabres was a curious move as well.

Only 20 games into the season, Housley seems out of answers and so do his players. Perhaps Botterill has some answers should he talk to the media this week, although Sabres fans shouldn't expect much besides lauding the Amerks and his insistence upon the youngins incubating properly.

However, there are a ton of questions concerning his Sabres that stretch from personnel to coaching to players and contracts. It would also be interesting to see if he has the same philosophy today as he did in October concerning leadership and what, if anything, the first time GM will do to help his NHL team out of their rut.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sabres carrying a four-game losing streak to start a four-game home-stand

Published by, 11-18-2017

Although it wasn't on the scale of the back-to-back shellackings this edition of the Buffalo Sabres were handed back in October, last night's 3-1 loss in Detroit at the hands of the Red Wings turned out to be a real dud none-the-less. Buffalo had five shots on goal mid-way through the first period but managed only 15 shots the rest of the way and as Phil Housley pointed out, when they don't shoot, they don't win. The Sabres are now 0-8-0 when they have less than 30 shots on goal.

Regardless of the generally mundane play from the team overall, Buffalo was still very much in it as Ryan O'Reilly scored 5:50 into the third period to tie the score at 1-1. However, lack of true compete hurt them later as three Sabres were outworked in the Buffalo zone and a Detroit shot from the point sailed past a screened Robin Lehner to give the Wings the lead for good. Detroit's Dylan Larkin scored through a listless group of Sabres with just over four minutes to play to seal Buffalo's fate.

It would be hard for anyone to find positives in a game like this, save for the goaltending, and if anyone could find one it would be Housley. But even he couldn't. "We've got to be smarter," he told the gathered media post-game. "We just got outbattled, outworked and outcompeted tonight. At times we even looked slow and I don't know why that is. We played one game in six nights. It's disappointing."

That one game they did play was on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins when they went into the third period with a one-goal lead only to see the Pens win it in overtime.

It's been well over a week since the Sabres managed a win. Since beating the Washington Capitals on November 7, Buffalo is 0-2-2 with 10 goals for and 14 goals against. Both of those numbers are right in line with what this team has done to this point in the season. The Sabres have scored a league-low 2.37 goals/game while allowing a third-worst 3.53 goals-against/game. Numbers like that lead to a 5-10-4 record and a points percentage of .368 ranking them second-last in the league (ARI.)

Buffalo fans at KeyBank Center tonight will see a reeling Sabres squad that hasn't given the hometown crowd much to cheer about this season as they're only 2-4-1 at home. And for those who've either been in attendance or have watched the broadcast, it's like a morgue in there most of the time. In saying that, attendance is starting to dwindle as this is not what the fans bargained for while watching the team spend two years in the tank. Capacity at KeyBank Center is 19,070 and only once did they hit that mark, which was on opening night against the Montreal Canadiens. Their low attendance mark this season is 16,882 for a game vs. Detroit last month.

Regardless of what has transpired, this is the team that we Sabres fans have. It consists of a first line that can skate with pretty much anybody in the league, a second line that's slower than many in the NHL but still has two-way acumen and scoring ability. And the Sabres have a bottom-six consists of a mishmash of misfits that are having trouble keeping pace with the way the game is played.

It's even worse on defense although injuries can be blamed for many of their woes. Housley has a top-three d-man playing in the top pair with a player more suited to a bottom-pairing role as his d-partner. After that, the other four slots are being held down by a rookie and three other players more suited to a bottom-pairing or reserve roles.

Although goaltending has been stout as of late, early woes helped put the team in a hole and despite solid play the past few games, the weight of a season that began rough and is slipping away fast is making things extremely difficult on all involved.

Tonight the Sabres face off against the Carolina Hurricanes who have been playing very well as of late. The 'Canes are 3-0-2 in their last five games and have started to climb their way up the Eastern Conference standings. Buffalo and Carolina have been fairly even in their matchups with the Sabres going 5-4-1 in their last 10 against the 'Canes.

As we head into tonight's game, O'Reilly continues to put his poor start to the season further in the rearview mirror with four goals and three assists in his last eight games. However, he's minus-7 in those games. Buffalo's leading scorer, Evander Kane, continues to see his off-season price tag go up as he has three goals and two assists in his last five games.

After tonight's matchup the Sabres host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and the Edmonton Oilers on Black Friday to complete the home stand and if they don't do anything in these four games, black will be the color of the armband we'll be wearing in Sabreland as we say goodbye to the season.

Tonight is Buffalo's fifth set of 16 back-to-back games. They're 1-4-0 in the first game and 2-1-1 in the second game.

Puck drop is at 7:00 PM with tonight being Hockey Fights Cancer Night.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sabres in Detriot tonight at the new Little Caesar's Arena

Published by hockeybuzz, 11-17-2017

The Buffalo Sabres said goodbye to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit last season with a 2-1 victory over the Red Wings. "The Joe" had been the Red Wings home since 1979, three years before owner Mike Ilitch took over the franchise. The arena was home to the last vestiges of "The Dead Wings Era" and welcomed a new era under Ilitch that would see the Red Wings make the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons from 1990-91 to 2015-16, capturing four Stanley Cups in the process.

Illitch founded the Little Caesars pizza franchise and bought the Red Wings in 1982 and saw the team go from NHL laughingstock to the preeminent hockey franchise in league. In an ode to both his entrepreneurial roots and his love of hockey, Ilitch began building Little Caesars Arena with a ground breaking ceremony in September, 2014 with a completion date set for Fall, 2017. Unfortunately he wouldn't see the finished product, nor would he see the Red Wings out of the playoffs for the first time in 25 year as he passed away on February 10, 2017.

Detroit wears a 'Mr I' patch on their jersey in honor of him, an owner considered one of the best in the business.

All respect and sympathy aside, the Sabres have a job to do tonight, and that's getting back in the win column. Buffalo is beginning a stretch of six games in nine nights, bookended by back-to-backs, and are coming off of an overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The Sabres played a strong game vs. the Penguins despite having a defense that's been decimated by injuries this season. Buffalo struck first and added a second before Pittsburgh scored and the Sabres went into the third period with a 4-3 lead. But the Penguins' pressure became too much and Buffalo ended up losing on a goal only :16 seconds into the overtime session.

Players bemoaned not playing "their game" in the third period as visions of former head coach Dan Bylsma and his infamous "parking the bus" strategy came to the fore. But new Sabres head coach Phil Housley said he favored a lock-down strategy even though it eventually bit them. The reasoning behind his approach probably comes from a number of things, but one thing we did find out yesterday is that defenseman Taylor Fedun suffered an injury during the Pittsburgh game and will be out 6-8 weeks.

Housley used the typical vernacular to describe Fedun's injury--"lower body"--and the team did announce that the defenseman will be out 6-8 weeks. He also praised Fedun for being a trooper, "He was trying to work through it," Housley said. "He wanted to be a part of the team and it's good to see him try to gut it out for a little bit but it just didn't happen for him." Housley didn't say what or when the injury happened but it appears Fedun took a Kris Letang shot off of his ankle very early in the second period and managed to make it through the rest of the period and for one shift in the third before they he was shut down.

In light of that, perhaps Housley had apprehensions about playing an up-tempo, run-and-gun game with only five defensemen.

Regardless of that, the Sabres are starting to really take to what the coaching staff is teaching. Their top line continues to skate and is becoming a nightmare for many an opponent while the second line is starting to sustain more pressure while producing. After that, depth is an issue up-front as the third and fourth lines are in a state of flux due to injuries, inconsistencies and/or incompetence.

The injuries on defense are well chronicled but they're managing to hold their own despite missing two top-four defensemen. It should be noted that after 18 games, no Buffalo defenseman has scored a goal. And finally goaltending has been inconsistent from game to game and even from period to period but both goalies seem to be playing better as of late.

Buffalo heads into Detroit tonight in need of a win not only for the standings but for a confidence boost as well. Nothing will try a team's patience more than playing good games but continually coming out on the losing end. The Sabres last two games have both ended in overtime after they gave up a one-goal lead in the third period.

The Sabres are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games against the Red Wings, 3-6-1 in Detroit. Last season, the Wings' first under coach Jeff Blashill, and Buffalo went 3-0-1 with the only loss coming in the shootout. When adding in this year's 1-0 victory over Detroit, the Sabres are now 4-0-1 in their last five games with none of those games decided by more than one goal.


Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Criscuolo was called up from Rochester the other day and it looks as if he'll be playing in his first NHL game tonight.

The 5'9" 172 lb. Harvard graduate had spent the prior two seasons playing for the Red Wings AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids and helped the Griffins lift the Calder Cup last season. Criscuolo had 41 points (17+24) in 80 regular season games for the Griffins while adding none points (5+4) in 19 playoff games.

Criscuolo is tied for the Amerks lead with 11 points this season and got the call to add some speed to Buffalo's bottom-six something he showed Housley, among other things, during two preseason games this year. "It's just his competitive nature, jis willingness to get in the tough areas, go down low and win puck battles against bigger guys and using his speed and the energy he brought," said Housley of Criscuolo to the media yesterday. "I thought it really rubbed off well on our bench and our coaching staff."

With Criscuolo in the lineup, it looks as if a struggling Matt Moulson will take a seat. Moulson has zero points in 12 games and worse yet is a minus-8. His best attribute was contributing on the powerplay last season, but this year he was taken off after being ineffective.

Here are the probable lines for tonight:


Defenseman Casey Nelson also got the call from Rochester, but it looks as if he'll sit this one out, according to reports from Detroit, in favor of rookie Victor Antipin who returns to the lineup after a two-game stint in the press box. Antipin has two assists and is a minus-4 in 12 games so far this year. Tonight's d-pairings look like this:


Robin Lehner looks to get the call in net for Buffalo tonight. He was behind a 1-0 shutout win vs. Detroit last month stopping all 32 shots he faced including 12 in the third period.


After tonight's game the Sabres head home to take on Carolina tomorrow, which is the start of a four-game home stand. On Monday the Columbus Blue Jackets are in town and the Minnesota Wild visit on Wednesday.

On Black Friday Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers visit KeyBank Center and afterwards the Sabres travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens the following night.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Injuries on defense continue to mount for Sabres. Two Amerks recalled

Published by, 11-16-2017

Although the news isn't quite as earth-shattering as the Buffalo Bills going to their backup quarterback while still in a playoff spot, for Western New York hockey fans, the injuries hitting the Buffalo Sabres is becoming more of an issue. The Sabres announced today that defenseman Taylor Fedun was placed on injured reserve (out 6-8 weeks, according to reports from today's practice) and that defenseman Matt Tennyson was moved to IR from the injured list.

The Sabres have been getting hit hard by injuries on defense and have already dressed 10 defensemen just 18 games into this season. Zach Bogosian, who has yet to play this season, remains on IR while their top defender, Rasmus Ristolainen, suffered an upper body injury on November 2 and was also placed on IR. Justin Falk missed the first the first 12 games of the season while Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges both suffered injuries that placed them on the injured list.

To help fill the holes in the defense-corps this season, Buffalo brought up Zach Redmond on recall, appearing in three games, while Fedun skated in seven games. Today the Sabres announced that they recalled defenseman Casey Nelson from Rochester. Nelson was a 2016 free agent signing out of Minnesota State and played seven games for Buffalo late that season. He started out his NHL career with a three-game point-streak (4 assists.)

Nelson began last season with the Sabres and played in eight forgetful games through November 15 registering zero points and a minus-4 rating while averaging around 12 minutes of ice-time per game. He came back for two more stints for a total of three games and showed improvement. He began this season in Rochester doing yeoman's work with four points (1+3) and a plus-2 rating in 14 games for the Amerks.

Where Nelson fits in will be determined tomorrow as Falk, according to reports, had a maintenance day at today's practice. According to the Sabres these were the pairings for practice:



The Sabres also recalled forward Kyle Criscuolo who was signed by the Sabres to a two-year, two-way contract on July 1 by GM Jason Botterill.

Criscuolo came over from the Detroit organization after helping their Grand Rapids Griffins to the 2017 Calder Cup Championship. The 25 yr. old graduate of Harvard is tied for Amerks lead in scoring with 11 points (5+6) in 14 games while his plus-4 rating also leads the team.

At the time of the signing, Botterill said that Criscuolo "can play center...plays with a high compete [level] and can play the type of pace that (coach) Phil (Housley) wants to play." The Sabres could use some pace in the bottom-six as that group has struggled mightily thus far. The forward lines at today's practice were:


Head coach Phil Housley told the gathered media today that Criscuolo will be a game-time decision for tomorrow night's game at Detroit.


Nelson and Criscuolo were called up from an Amerks team that's really starting to gel. After a rough start where they went 2-3-0 the Amerks have gotten points in eight of their last nine games while posting a 6-1-2 record. Rochester has outscored their opponents 33-25 during that stretch and the Amerks now find themselves second in the AHL's North Division.

Botterill got the ball moving in Rochester by making some July 1 moves strictly related to fortifying a franchise that had been neglected the past few years. He brought in center Kevin Porter from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization as captain to anchor the revival in Rochester. Once the Penguins AGM, Botterill ran their AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and saw what Porter had to offer."He's a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill of Porter. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

With Porter and Criscuolo in the fold, Rochester was eventually handed over to Botterill's AGM, Randy Sexton, who is the general manager of the Amerks. Sexton began adding more players and more depth with signings like defenseman Stuart Percy and forward Sahir Gill (both from Wilkes-Barre) along with right wing Steve Moses (KHL) to help anchor the club. The goal was to build a winning culture and simultaneously provide an atmosphere where their young players can develop properly.

Only a handful of Sabres draft picks are in Rochester right now and that includes Brendan Guhle. With all the injuries on defense, many believe the Sabres top blueline prospect could be with the big club right now, at least on a temporary basis. But word out of Rochester is that the team is intent upon developing him the right way.

From a Let's Go Amerks tweet, Rochester head coach Chris Taylor had this to say about Guhle:

"He understands the process of it. Does he want to be a guy that goes up for one or two games or does he want to be a guy when he goes up, he's going to be there forever? He's got to understand that and that's what the best interest here is for him. That's what we have for every player (their best interest) and him especially. He's still learning. He's still making a lot of mistakes. We don't want to ruin his confidence. One of those mistakes up in the NHL is in the back of the net. We're being patient with him and he's understanding that. That's why he's still playing well right now with us."

That thought process should come as no surprise to any hockey fan in Western New York as Botterill is following through with what he said he'd do. All along he's been saying that he wants, needs, Rochester to be a winning environment that will allow the youngins to develop properly. It's what he saw in Pittsburgh during his 10 years with the organization and what he wants in the Buffalo organization.

The short-term pain in Buffalo will hopefully be a long-term gain for the entire Sabres organization.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Game night--Pittsburgh. News and notes

Published by, 11-14-2017

“That’s my job, my job is to produce and I haven’t produced in the fashion I would’ve liked in the beginning of the year.”--Sabres center, Jack Eichel after practice yesterday.

Such is the case for the soon to be $10 million a year franchise center. In fact not only has he been in a scoring slump, the entire team has, to the tune of six goals (including on empty net) in the last four games. Were it not for some pretty stout goaltending, this team would be on a losing streak instead of being 1-2-1 in their last four.

What's so exasperating with this club right now is that they're playing well. Sabres coach Phil Housley has pulled things back in an effort to try and move the team forward. The Sabres started out with a fine game against the Montreal Canadiens to open the season, but lost 3-2 in overtime. They followed that up with two disasters as they tried to run before learning how to walk. Although Buffalo did suffer a few lopsided defeats game-to-game, and even within games, they've been playing the kind of aggressive hockey that leads to good things.

Unfortunately for this team good things have been happening, but not enough good things to get them more goals and more victories.

The Sabres have learned to defend better, albeit with some serious deficiencies at times, and they're beginning to get that puck moving with more accuracy more frequently. That leads to a better transition game, more possession, more shots and quality chances. In an interview with the gathered media, Housley said this about his teams shot totals. “I read a stat that if we had 30 shots or more, we’re 5-2-3 and when we don’t get 30 shots, we’re 0-7-0, so what does that tell you?"

Even with the shot totals up, they're still having difficulty scoring and thus the debate right now--is it the players? Or are they victims of circumstance?

It's a little of both, although lack of talent is a big issue for this club, especially in the bottom-six. Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons, Jordan Nolan and Johan Larsson have all been regulars down there and thus far they've contributed a combined two goals and five assists in 57 total games. Seth Griffith, who was a regular on the wing had two goals and an assist in 14 games before heading to the press box and Sam Reinhart has five points (2+3) in 17 games playing third line center almost exclusively. He was bumped up to second-line right wing last game and had his best game of the year.

However, regardless of what the bottom-half does, as Eichel said, it's up to him and the top players to produce.

Ryan O'Reilly has started to bring his game around but remains unhappy with his overall game. He was the lone Buffalo scorer in the Sabres 2-1 overtime loss at Montreal on Saturday. Jason Pominville started out hot, but has slowed considerably scoring only one goal and adding one assist in his last eight games. Kyle Okposo has been playing world's better than how he started the season (2+2 in his last five games,) but still only has six points (2+4) on the season.

Oddly enough, the most consistent scorer on the team is Evander Kane. He started out hot with five goals and five assists in his first seven games then followed it up with four goals and three assists in his last 10. He's on a pace to shatter his previous career highs.

One can say it's lack of talent, at least overall, or one could say that it's puck luck, but a huge factor in scoring goals is confidence, and that's lacking right now. Eichel has had the puck jump all over the place on him and his shots have atypically gone wide. He's on an eight-game goal-scoring drought right now and thinks that if they keep up their play, goals will come. “It’s a long season and the puck luck and the bounces will start coming around," he told the media after practice.

“When you’re playing good and you’re getting your chances, it’s a positive, it’s just those games when you’re feeling it, it’s important to bury your chances.”

It' will probably take a series of positive things and some luck to get the entire team "feeling it," which is another way of saying confidence. They're trying to beat down a door but it's proven to be a rather formidable task and it's up to the leaders on this team--Eichel, O'Reilly, Okposo and even Kane--to continue to "kick at the darkness 'till it bleeds daylight," to use a quote from Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn.

That's where effort and will and a little bit of faith come into play. This team is playing better, and playing more consistently and that's a good thing, but they need to start scoring more and they'll need contributions from everyone. Until then, we'll continue to have this same conversation and the same quotes.


Speaking of effort, and ultimately compete-level, forward Justin Bailey has been sent to Rochester.

The third-year pro, which includes 47 NHL games to his credit, once again had a fast, impressive start for the Sabres only to loose his way. Bailey is a big, fast powerforward who can score but he needs to consistently use his size and speed to create scoring opportunites for himself and his linemates. He'll do that fore a few games and then get a bit complacent. "I thought he started out really well the first couple of games," said Housley to the media today. "[but] I thought his play dipped a little bit from that. That urgency he had on the forecheck, using his speed and even in providing a physical element.

"He's going to go down (to the Rochester Americans) and work on that."

If it hasn't occurred to him yet, someone needs to hammer this point home to him--before him lies a golden opportunity with the Sabres and all he needs to do is bring it every game. Bailey could easily be slotted on the third line and if the Kane rumors are for real, there could be a top-six slot waiting for him.

*****'s Jourdon LaBarber has these probably lines and pairings for tonight:



It also looks as if Robin Lehner will get the nod tonight.


The defending two-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins have played a lot of hockey over the last two years and perhaps that has much to do with their slow start this season. And if there ever was a time for Buffalo to grab a win vs. Pittsburgh, tonight would be the night.

The Sabres are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games against the Penguins, 3-6-1 on the road.

Buffalo has lost two in a row to the Penguins with their last win being a minor miracle on November 19, 2016. The Sabres came into that game on a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) and had backup goalie Anders Nilsson in net. The game went to the shootout and Nilsson stopped Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the shootout as the Sabres pulled of the victory.

Buffalo's heroes in that game were William Carrier who scored Buffalo's only goal and Cal O'Reilly, who scored the only goal in the shootout. Carrier was lost in the expansion draft and O'Reilly, brother of Ryan O'Reilly, was loaned to the Toronto Marlies last March by the Rochester Americans, and signed with the Minnesota Wild in the off season.

Although it won't take a minor miracle to beat Pittsburgh tonight, methinks that a lot will need to go right for the Sabres to come away with two points.

A mishmash of problems keeps Buffalo spinning it's wheels

Published by, 11-13-2017

The Sabres are spinning their wheels and just can't seem to get out of the muck. Sure, there are injuries, especially on defense with Rasmus Ristolainen sidelined the last four games, but scoring has been the real problem with this team as of late. Buffalo has scored just one goal in three of their last four games while going 1-3-1 in the process. Prior to that the Sabres had been held to one goal twice all season, and that came in consecutive games late last month..

As mentioned recently here, it's been a schizophrenic season for this addition of the Buffalo Sabres and it's enough to make anyone in Sabreland want to bang their heads against the wall. Head coach Phil Housley has stuck with a mostly positive message for his players thus far and in the process took some heat for it in the press. After Saturday's overtime loss in Montreal it continued with that approach as he told the gathered media that he liked his team's effort and that they created a number of opportunities, but that they just couldn't capitalize on them.

"I can't fault the effort of our guys," said Housley, "we outshot them and out-chanced them. I thought the guys played real hard."

When asked about the difficulties his team has had scoring as of late, Housley went back to what the team was doing right. "I thought tonight was a start," he said, in reference to his team trying to get out of a scoring slump. "I thought it was our best night, we got pucks to the net, we were really gritty and dirty in front of the net. What was intriguing to me is when we delivered shots to the net guys were willing to pay a price in front of the net and get second opportunities.

"If we continue to do that, we'll score more goals, but we have to do it on a consistent basis."

Consistency has been a huge issue for this team thus far, whether it's shift to shift, period to period or game-to-game. But it would seem as if they're beginning to bring it on more consistent basis as they've played three good games in a row and have either won or kept it tight in four of the last five yielding a 2-2-1 record.

The one troubling game of those five was the 5-1 loss at Dallas. It was the fourth time 14 games to that point where the Sabres were beaten by three or more goals. The Stars game was also the one where Housley caught some grief after saying his team got the start they wanted, and played well, but were victims of a couple of bad bounces early in the game.

Housley's 2017-18 Buffalo team is in a similar spot to where former coach Dan Bylsma had the Sabres last year. This year Buffalo is  5-9-3 (13 points) while last season they were 5-8-4 (14 points) through 17 games. When you count the 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, albeit with two empty net goals against, Buffalo has lost five games by three or more goals this season while last season they posted the same number of three-goal or more lossess. This year none of Buffalo's five wins were by three or more goals whereas last season the Sabres had two wins by three or more.

Those huge swings under Bylsma last season were also evident in their streakiness at the same 17-game point of the season. After beginning 1-3-2, they won three in a row and four of five before going 0-5-1 in Games 12-17. After a 1-4-1 start this season, with their first win coming in Game-6, Buffalo has been roughly alternating wins and losses while compiling a 4-5-2 record since.

Further comparisons have the Sabres living off the powerplay a bit last season with 11 goals in 53 opportunities (20.8%) which helped contribute to two wins and three other loser-points (1 shootout, 2 overtime.) This season the Sabres are 8/57 (14.0%) with the powerplay contributing to zero wins and three loser points (1 shootout, 2 overtime.)

Goal scoring is also up for Buffalo this season--through 17 games this they've scored 40 (2.35/game) while last season the team scored 31 goals in 17 games (1.82 goals/game.) However, there's a big difference in goals-against as this edition has given up 3.47 ga/gm whereas last season it was only 2.58.

All the above numbers may show improvement, but none of hose are playoff numbers by any means. With goal scoring on the minds of those in Sabreland we're starting to hear about problems that have existed for years, namely, not being able to finish, and with that it would seem as if the narrative has begun to be directed towards the overall talent-level of this team.

"If you want to be Mr. Positive," said WGR550 Radio's Paul Hamilton after the Montreal game, "you could say the glass is half-full [and] it seems like more and more they're starting to catch on to Housley's system. It's not translating to points, it's not translating into wins, it's not translating into goals.

"Maybe they have to be a better team. Maybe they have to get better. Maybe they have to find more talent."

Hamilton went on to say that the team has five or six holes in the forward group to fill and that they're playing games with guys "that if you want to be a playoff team and a good team, probably aren't on the team."

Brutal, but probably true. Hamilton has also said time and again that their best players must be their best players, something that's been lacking on a consistent basis in the top-six.

Buffalo continues their three-game road trip with the next two on the road beginning with a Tuesday game at Pittsburgh against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins Then it's on to Detroit to face a Red Wings team that's won four of their last seven (4-2-1) on Friday.

Where will the Sabres find some answers to their scoring woes?

Methinks they'll continue to look within. Housley will juggle his lines and make some adjustments to a powerplay that scored a goal in each of it's last two games. Will it be enough?

We'll see.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Sabres schizophrenia alternating between good and bad, wins and losses

Published by, 11-11-2017

Much respect and gratitude to all veterans. This is your day.
Thank you for your service.

And Congratulations to Dave Andreychuk. Your Hockey Hall of Fame ring was well deserved and long overdue.

The Buffalo Sabres are coming off of a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers. After scoring first, the Sabres gave up four unanswered goals to a Panthers team that came into KeyBank Center on a five-game losing streak (0-3-2.)

Two of Florida's goals came late in the third period with Robin Lehner pulled in favor of the extra attacker which now brings the total to five empty net goals given up on the season (NYI, LAK, VAN, FLA-2) an two players have been on the ice for all five--Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. Evander Kane has been on the ice for four while Sam Reinhart,, Jason Pominville and have been on the ice for three each.

The Sabres have scored two empty net goals with Eichel being on the ice for both. Larsson scored one for Buffalo at Anaheim with O'Reilly getting the primary assists while Kane scored against Washington on a Pominville feed.

Buffalo heads to Montreal tonight for the second of a back-to-back, their fourth such set this season. With the 4-1 loss at home to Florida last night, the Sabres fell to 1-3-0 in the first game and are 2-1-0 in the second game thus far.

Some interesting info on the Sabres/Canadiens matchup recently. Buffalo is 4-4-2 in their last 10 vs. Montreal, 6-4-0 on the road. And, since 2014-15, the Sabres have gone 7-4-3 against Les Habitants, 4-2-0 in Montreal. That would include a whale of a game last season in Montreal where the Sabres came out on top 3-2 in overtime. The goaltending duel between Montreal's Carey Price and Buffalo's Robin Lehner extended into overtime and included this beauty of a save from Lehner in the extra session:

(Thank you, NHL Magazine)

The Canadiens have struggled this season but seem to have righted the ship. After starting out with a dismal 1-6-1 record, Montreal has put together a nice 6-3-0 stretch which moved them up to sixth place in the conference, three points ahead of the Sabres.

Price has been out for Montreal but in his absence back-up Al Montoya chalked up a win before he was sidelined. In stepped rookie Charlie Lindgren who proceeded to shut out the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0. The 23 yr. old undrafted free agent followed that up with a win over the Vegas Golden Knights before dropping a 3-0 decision to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.


The Sabres are looking to overcome a lackluster performance at home against the Panthers. After skating to a 1-0 lead in the first period while doing many things right, their play slowly disintegrated and early in the third they found themselves down 2-1, eventually losing by a 4-1 score. Periods two and three were a departure from how they played in the first period. Through the first 20 minutes we saw a carryover from their 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals, a game widely considered their most complete game of the season.

It was something not lost on head coach Phil Housley as he said that all the work they did, and the success they had against the Capitals was thrown out the window in the second period due to poor decisions, penalties and turning the puck over. It put undue pressure on the defense, which has been hit hard by injuries, and allowed Florida to tie the game. A screened shot put the Panthers up by 2-1 early in the third and the Sabres couldn't get the game-tying goal.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill, who's managed to remain very positive through a rather difficult season thus far, was on WGR550's Schopp and the Bulldog Show yesterday prior to the game and talked about consistency. He pointed to isolated positives throughout the season thus far but told the hosts that the team "hasn't been able to carry it on into the next game" saying it's "an element we need to work on."

The Sabres have yet to string together more than two wins in a row this season an the one time they did win back-to-back games, they got shellacked the next game. Through the last eight games they're 4-4-0 having won two and lost two before alternating between wins and losses the next four. Within those games there were a couple of dismal losses (CLB and DAL by the same 5-1 score,) a couple of schizophrenic wins (BOS and ARI by an identical 5-4 score) and two well played games, one that they lost (SJS) and the other a win (WSH.)

What will we see tonight?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Game night: Florida Panthers plus, Evander Kane

Published by, 11-10-2017

Just the facts, ma'am.

Buffalo record:  5-8-2 (12 points);  Last 10, 5-4-1
Florida record:  4-8-2 (10 points);  Last 10, 2-6-2

The Sabres are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Florida Panthers and have the exact same 3-6-1 at home in their last 10 vs. the Cats.

In 2015-15 Florida finished with 103 points to lead the Atlantic Division while the Sabres were in their first year with Jack Eichel. Buffalo went 1-3-0 vs. Florida and were outscored by a 17-10 margin. Last season the Sabres were 2-1-1 against the Cats while outscoring them 10-8, which included a 3-0 shutout pitched by backup goalie Anders Nilsson last October.

The Sabres started out the season with an 0-4-1 record scoring only 11 goals for (2.2/gm) while allowing 21 (4.2/gm) with a goal differential of minus-10. Since then they've gone 5-4-1 in their last 10 games scoring 27 goals (2.7/gm) allowing 32 goals against (3.2/gm.)

The Panthers have had a rough go of it lately with a 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games scoring 35 goals for (3.5/gm) while allowing 43 goals against (4.3/gm.)


The Panthers have had a rough go of it since their surprising 103-point finish two years ago. Changes were made on defense which included acquiring more analytics friendly players with more mobility on the back end. Out went Eric Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov and in came Mark Pysyk and Keith Yandel. Although it's not the lone reason for the team's 39-44-13 record since the 2015-16 season, disrupting team chemistry with a philosophical change while coming off of the most successful regular season in team history doesn't look like the greatest of moves.

That defense is the worst in the NHL right now as they're giving up a league-leading 4.14 goals-against on a league-leading 38.1 shots-against/game. As pointed out by Matthew DeFranks of the Sun Sentinal in Broward County, FL, the Panthers right now are on a pace for 59 points which would be their lowest full season point total since the 1994-95 season.

Cats GM Dale Tallon built much of the team before being pushed into the front office during the 2016 off season. Ownership seemed to favor a more analytical Tom Rowe over Tallon and Rowe took over, eventually firing head coach Gerard Gallant, a Tallon hire. After Florida's struggles became too much, Tallon was back at GM this past off season, but without his coach. He hired former Sabre player Bob Boughner as his new coach.

Tallon has been stressing "the process" while watching his team flounder and they're coming into Buffalo on a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) while being outscored 25-15. I just want our players to believe in the process," he told DeFranks. "They got to start believing in themselves a little more, show a little more confidence in themselves,” he said. “It’s a project. We understand where we’re going, and I’m very patient. I like how things are going as far as the coaches, the players buying into the new systems. Just trusting it now.”

Although the Sabres may not have turned the corner yet, the team has been playing much better as shown by their record and their goal-differential. Buffalo is still struggling in some areas, most notably secondary scoring and the powerplay, but structurally they've made significant progress with coach Phil Housley's system despite a boatload of injuries on defense and questionable goaltending at times.

Tonight the Sabres will once again be without the services of the one-time league-leader in ice-time, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen as he'll be sitting out his third game because of an upper-body injury. At the time of his injury Ristolainen was leading the NHL in average time on ice and now he's second by 02: seconds behind Drew Doughty (LAK.)

However there is some good news on defense as Nathan Beaulieu was taken off of injured reserve and will be in the lineup tonight. According to reports from this morning's practice, Justin Falk will once again take Ristolainen's place on the top-pairing and Beaulieu looks to be skating third-pairing minutes with time on the second powerplay unit. Here are the pairings from practice:


Buffalo coach Phil Housley may have found his top two lines, although as we've seen in the past, that could change. Scoring aside from the top line has begun to pick up with Ryan O'Reilly and Benoit Pouliot hitting the scoresheet with more regularity. Here are the forward lines:



It looks like Robin Lehner will be in net tonight.

After the game the Sabres will travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens, the first of three straight on the road. After Montreal they travel to Pittsburgh and then on to Detroit.

Game time tonight is 7 PM.


Last season, NHL teams wouldn't touch Buffalo winger Evander Kane with a 10-foot pole and he proceeded to have a 28-goal season in only 70 games for the Sabres in 2016-17. This year he's off to a hot start with nine goals and 15 points in 15 games which puts him on a pace to shatter his previous career highs.

Kane has always had the talent, and from what's been said and printed about him in all of his NHL stops, his on-ice work-ethic is impeccable. Yet his off-ice troubles seem to have been getting in the way of his true potential. Last fall Kane was placed on six-months of probation for an incident that took place in Buffalo at the NHL Draft and there have been no reports of off-ice incidents since.

To say he's having a good run is an understatement and he's setting himself up for a big payday sometime between now and July 1, the start of free agency. Kane is in the final year of a six-year, $31.5 million contract he signed with the Winnipeg Jets which coincided with having just finished a 30-goal/57-point campaign with the Jets in their first season back in Winnipeg.

The Hockey News' Matt Larkin has Kane in the top-10 of his unrestricted free agents to be in 2018. Wrote Larkin of Kane, "Talent has never been the issue for Kane. He’s big, strong, mean and gifted, like a young Todd Bertuzzi. Kane is also quietly just 26 and on pace for a career year. As long as his head’s on straight, which is never a guarantee, he’s a high-impact UFA."

Kane comes in behind some pretty talented forwards in the likes of center Johan Tavares (#1 on Larkin's list,) left wing James Van Riemsdyk (#3,) right wing James Neal (#4,) C, Mikael Badklund #6) and RW Cam Atkinson (#7.) Of the top-10, Kane is the youngest at 26 yrs. old and Tavares is second at 27. All the rest are 28 and older with four of them at 30 or older.

This has been very successful season for Kane thus far which presents a very interesting dilemma for Sabres GM Jason Botterill. Kane is a unique player who seems to have put his off-ice life into place thus allowing his on-ice game to grow. God knows it doesn't hurt to be playing next to Jack Eichel on a nightly basis, but Kane has begun to grow into a more complete player because of it.

And, of course, because of his past troubles, his recent successes, the great season he's having thus far and the fact that he'll be an unrestricted fee agent come season's end, Kane was No. 1 on TSN's trade list.

It's a situation to keep an eye on. The Sabres are far from the playoff picture right now and if they continue on this pace, they'll be able to trade him and get a nice return and maybe even sign him as a free agent after the season. However if they're in a playoff race, how do you trade away the probable team leader in goals with a six-year playoff drought hanging over your franchise?

We shall see.