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.