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Unfortunately for him, and for the powerplay in general, that regime is gone and has been replaced by new head coach Phil Housley.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