Published by hockeybuzz.com, 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.