Saturday, December 30, 2017

Matchup Friday: CAN/USA; RCH/TOR; BUF/NJD. Mittlestadt, plus

Published by, 12-29-2017

Western New York hockey fans have a full slate of games beginning at 3pm today with Casey Mittelstadt and Team USA taking on Team Canada at New Era Field. In the evening the Rochester Americans are at Toronto to take on the Marlies (TOR) and the Buffalo Sabres travel to New Jersey to face off against the Devils Both of those games are 7pm starts.

USA vs. Canada

Perhaps Team USA got caught looking ahead last night and when you add in that they faced a non-descript Slovakian goalie in Roman Durny who probably had a career game while stopping 43 of 45 Team USA shots, it had all the makings for a classic trap game.

The turnaround is all that great for the Americans either as their 8pm start had them playing well into the night and they'll be back on the ice for a 3pm puckdrop today. Reports from New Era Field, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, has rough conditions with temperatures in the teens, and an even colder wind-chill. They're also saying the ice will be less than ideal.

Team Canada has been flying on the ice through their first two games outscoring their first two opponents (Finland and Slovakia) by a combined 10-2 score. Having ice conditions as they're expected to be may slow them down a bit. Team USA needs to recover from the loss last night as another loss will make it very difficult to defend their gold medal-winning run last year.

This is the first-ever outdoor game in IIHF World Junior Championships history. Early indications are that they expect 40,000+ fans for the game, which would be the largest in the tournament's history.

Rochester Americans vs. Toronto Marlies

Right now, the Amerks and Marlies are tied atop the AHL's North Division with 44 points each.

Rochester is a pleasant surprise this season after finishing 26th-overall the previous two seasons. The Amerks have a new coaching staff and a revamped lineup that has been on a tear lately. They lost for only the fourth time in regulation dating back to the end of a three-game skid on October 25. In that 27-game span Rochester is 17-4-6.

This is the second meeting between the two North Division rivals. Toronto won the first game 3-2 in Rochester to end the Amerks 10-game point-streak.

Linus Ullmark, who is tied for the AHL lead in wins (14) looks to get the start in net while Garrett Sparks and his second-best 1.85 goals-against average will be in net for Toronto after Calvin Pickard was called up to the Maple Leafs.

Buffalo Sabres vs. New Jersey Devils

The last time these to teams met would be a game the Sabres would like to forget. Buffalo had been dispatched by the NY Islanders two days prior and returned home to get spanked by the Devils.  It was a game where the Sabres tried to run with New Jersey but it turned into a battle between the thoroughbred Devils and the wanna-be race horse Sabres.

Things have change for the Sabres since then, mostly in the style of play as they pulled back the reigns and are playing a much more conservative game. Because of that, they're in games more often these days, and have been playing much better, but their league-low 2.16 goals/game and their 9-20-8 record is an indication that they still have a ways to go. The young and fast Devils sit atop an extremely tough Metropolitan Division with a 22-9-5 record.

Buffalo is 1-7-2 in their last 10 vs. New Jersey, 3-4-3 on the road and hopefully put that dismal October performance against the Devils far away where they'll never see it again. New Jersey won their first meeting with Buffalo by a 6-2 score.

The Sabres are on Game-3 of seven games away from KeyBank Center. By all standards, it's actually a seven-game road trip save for the fact that their game against the NY Rangers in the 10th Winter Classic has been dubbed a home-game in spite of the fact that they're playing in at Citi Field in NY City.

Go figure.

Casey Mittelstadt

If you haven't seen it by now, go to the 1:20 of this video provided by USA Hockey and check out Casey Mittelstadt game-tying goal for Team USA vs. Slovakia.

Gotta love the Bobby Orr-type ending.

Mittelstadt has been outstanding for the Americans this year as he leads the tournament with three goals.

Slovakians to watch

Team Slovakia won beat the Americans last night on the strength of the aforementioned goaltending of Durny, and he's not even their best goalie.

Slovakia's No. 1 goalie is David Hrenak and although he and his mates got crushed by Team Canada, the 6'2" 192 lb. netminder kept it from being worse as he faced 52 shots on goal.

Hrenak plays for St. Cloud State, the top ranked team in NCAA Men's D-I hockey where he leads the college ranks with a 1.40 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage while being a back-up. Sabres scouts should be very aware of the 2018 draft eligible Hrenak two Sabres prospects, F, Judd Peterson (2012, 204th-overall) and D, Will Borgen (2015, 92nd) both play for the Huskies.

Another Slovakian player who may have already gotten noticed by Sabres scouts is forward Filip Krivosik who scored their first two goals last night. Krivosik, a 6'4" 190 lb. forward plays for LeKi Lempaala of the second-tier Finnish League, Mestis. Also on that team is Sabres goalie prospect Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th.)

The game-winning goal was scored by Samuel Bucek, a 6'3" 194 lb. forward who plays for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. It's Bucek's second season in the USHL and he has 18 points (7+11) in 20 games for the Steel. The moves he put on the entire USA team and his follow through for the winner was impressive.

Mittelstadt, Eichel & Ullmark serve up WNY sweep yesterday

Had this trio of games taken place last month, the results probably would have been different. One can't say what Team USA may have looked like playing in much better conditions outdoors against Team Canada, but odds are the Buffalo Sabres would not have made it out of New Jersey with a 'W'. The Rochester Americans have been playing some excellent hockey as of late, but they lost their only meeting versus Toronto Marlies (TOR) who, up until last night, were leading the AHL's Eastern Conference.

Western New York sports fans haven't had a whole helluva lot to cheer for the past few years as the Sabres have been in a rut with the Amerks right down there with them. Add in the NFL's Buffalo Bills current 17-year playoff drought, the longest in the four major North American sports and it makes for some pretty rough sledding for WNY sports fans.

But yesterday was a good day for hockey those fans. No, make that a great day for not only the present, but for the future as well. All three teams--Team USA, the Sabres and the Amerks--won yesterday. USA and the Sabres won in dramatic fashion while the Amerks pitched a perfect road-game to overtake the Marlies for the Eastern Conference lead. And if that wasn't good enough for you the future of the Buffalo Sabres--Casey Mittelstadt, Jack Eichel and Linus Ullmark--all lead their team's to victory.

Casey Mittelstadt

He's a 6'0" 203 lb. center from Edina, Minnesota who opted to play his senior season at Eden Prairie High School (MIN) prior to the 2017 NHL Draft, which was a somewhat unusual path. And it's good for the Sabres that he did. Mittelstadt scored 64 points (21+43) in 25 games for the Eagles in his final high school season. He started out that hockey season playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL scoring 21 points (8+13) in 16 games and after his Eagles were ousted in the semifinals of the state tournament, he rejoined the Gamblers and added another nine points (5+4) in 14 games.

It was a season that placed him top-10 in pre-draft rankings with Central Scouting ranking him as the third best North American skater behind only Nico Hischier and Patrick Nolan who went first and second overall, respectively, in the 2017 NHL Draft. Most thought he was a top-five pick but he slipped to Buffalo and they swooped in to nab him with the eighth-overall selection.

Mittelstadt is in his freshman season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and has 17 points (5+12) in 19 games. Division-1 hockey features older players, stiffer completion and systems, like the one he faced recently at Ohio State, that are lockdown and defensive. Every inch of ice Mittelstadt has gotten at the D-I level has been earned and although 17 points in 19 games doesn't give the aire of dominance, the work he did prepared him well for a tournament like this against his peers.

Mittlestadt scored three goals in the first two games of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships being held in Buffalo, NY, including a highlight reel goal on Thursday night, and then he followed that up by continuing to prove that he's been the best player at the tournament so far. In a crucial game that the U.S. needed to win, against the rival Canadians, Mittelstadt came through by assisting on every goal including two primary assists that brought the team back from a 3-1 deficit.

After the game yesterday at New Era Field where conditions were difficult with frigid temperatures and abundant snow through a good portion of the game, Mittelstadt talked about relying on facets of his game other than scoring when things proved difficult. And make no mistake, it was difficult for every player on the ice yesterday.

"Even during the year, that's the first thing I go to if I feel I'm not playing well," he said, via Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. "I go back to stick-handling and my vision. That's the biggest key for me, to make sure that I'm always fine-tuning it."

And that he did as seen on his two primary assists beginning at the 2:22 mark of the highlight video below (courtesy USA Hockey.) Mittelstadt almost had a fairy tale ending to the game but just missed on a shootout attempt that could've have won it, but regardless, for the second game in a row he was name Team USA's player of the game.

That he was able to not only rise to the occasion in difficult conditions, but do so against a fierce rival like Team Canada, in front of the largest crowd to see an IIHF WJC game, no-less, has got the Buffalo fan-base excited. The 4-3 shootout win is being called an instant classic and Mittelstadt's MVP performance has them looking towards the future with a big smile as those talents are not that far away from hitting the NHL.

Jack Eichel

Although Eichel's future with the Sabres became the present in 2015, the same year he was drafted second overall by Buffalo, his "franchise status" has been delayed. He came to the NHL riding a media-fueled "McEichel" wave as he and top-pick Connor McDavid were ready to take the league by storm. But Eichel struggled through large portions of his first two NHL seasons.

We've seen bursts of his incredible skating and skill-level in the past but Eichel had neither the consistency of McDavid nor did he lead his team to the playoffs like McDavid did last season. Instead of his Sabres team moving forward after a solid 2015-16 season, they went backwards and Eichel rumored to be in a power struggle with then coach Dan Bylsma.

Bylsma was fired at the end of the season and was replaced by rookie head coach Phil Housley.

What ensued to begin this season was an on-ice embarrassment that rivaled that of the tank years. The Sabres plunged to the bottom of the league after a rough start and have remained close to last ever since. The month of November was a particularly abysmal month and ended with the team in a rut as the won only once in a 10-game span (1-7-2) to finish the month.

It continued into December with an embarrassing 4-0 shutout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home followed by an equally embarrassing loss to the Pens in Pittsburgh the next night, all of this with NHL cameras beginning to roll for the "Road to the Winter Classic Series." Eichel was visibly shaken after that first Pittsburgh loss, according to reports from the locker room, and was seen in a one-on-one with team President Russ Brandon. What Brandon said has never been divulged but the follow-up 5-1 loss to the Pens didn't bode well.

Eichel had been playing some pretty good hockey prior to that but the team's struggles had been weighing him down and eventually something clicked. He hit for a goal and an assist in leading the Sabres to victory in Colorado following the back-to-back embarrassments against the Pens, and continued to play a strong, hard-skating 200' game thereafter, although his stat-line might say otherwise.

The virtues of playing a full game in overdrive would finally pay off vs. the Carolina Hurricanes as Eichel scored his first career hat trick and completely dominated regulation. After a tough game against Boston he proceeded to hit for seven points (4+3) in his next four games, including his two goals last night, and carried his team to a 2-1-1 record in the process.

With his Sabres' team down 3-1 late in the second period to the Metropolitan-leading New Jersey Devils last night, Eichel tipped Jake McCabe's shot from the point with 1:55 left and the Sabres went into the third period down only one goal. He then proceeded to score the game-tying goal on the powerplay ala Alexander Ovechkin with a blast from the right circle. Just listen to call from Sabres broadcast legend Rick Jeanneret (courtesy NHL):

What we're seeing of the future is Eichel emerging as a leader through his play. Despite all of the struggles this team has faced all season, he and his teammates, seemed to have fully bought into Houlsey's system and they're slowly trying to turn that into wins. Although the record still isn't there, and they still have many holes to fill, this edition of the Sabres is playing much better hockey and they're slowly building confidence in themselves and the team with Eichel leading the charge.

Last night's win over the Devils wasn't just some run-of-the-mill win. They beat the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, on the road in front of a packed house while being outplayed in the second period as they only had three shots on goal (yet scored on two of them.) The Sabres broke a six--game overtime skid and even got the game-wining goal from a defenseman as Rasmus Ristolainen scored his first goal of the season.

But the driving force behind their 4-3-4 run has been Eichel who's looking more and more like their future captain.

Linus Ullmark

The Rochester Americans are the top team in the AHL's Eastern Conference. Rochster got to that point after a tremendous run that saw them go 17-4-6 since late October and cap it off with a 2-0 shutout win vs. the Marlies in Toronto last night. With the win, Rochester's 20-7-6 record and .697 win-percentage barely edges out the Marlies .667 win-percentage.

Not bad for a team that finished in 26th place the last two seasons and in 28th the year before that.

The Amerks have a lot of things clicking for them centered around a team that was put together with veterans who've won in the past. Although Rochester doesn't have a ton of homegrown prospects in the ranks, the ones they have are really shining.

Free-agent forward C.J.Smith (2017, UMass-Lowell) is having a banner rookie season. His 30 points (10+20) leads all rookies, by far, and places him tied for 10th in the league. And fellow rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle has upped his game with 17 points (6+11) on the season while playing on the top pairing in all situations.

But the backbone of the team is goalie Ullmark.

This is Ullmark's third pro season after coming over from MODO of the Swedish Elite League. Buffalo's 6th-round pick (163rd-overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft split his rookie season between the Sabres and the Amerks when Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner went down with a high-ankle sprain in October, 2015. Ullmark looked solid during his time in the NHL but stayed in Rochester to hone his game.

Last season Ullmark was named the Amerks team MVP after facing the most shots in the AHL(1,678) and compiling a 26-27-2 record with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .919 save-percentage. When it came to the Amerks last season if Ullmark wasn't in net, the team didn't have much of a chance of winning as the rest of the goalies went a combined 6-14-1.

Ullmark learned a lot last season, first and foremost about having to carry a heavy workload as a starter, but also about giving his team a chance to win no matter how many goals were scored against him and that carried over to this season.

This year he once again leads the league in shots-against (721,) yet is fourth in Sv% (.926,) seventh in goals-against (2.33) and is tied for the league lead in wins with 15.

Ullmark was named the AHL Player of the week leading up to the Christmas break after going 2-0-0 with 1.46 GAA and a .956 Sv% and stopping 65 of 68 shots in those two games. He followed that up with a first star performance last night stopping all 22 shots he faced.

To their credit, the Sabres organization made a conscious decision to keep Ullmark in Rochester for one more year of seasoning and for his part, he embraced that role. As the team waddled through some early difficulties and began to find ways to win, or to a least gain a point, Ullmark was in there giving them a chance to win.

Since giving up six goals in a November 22 game vs. the Syracuse Crunch (TBL,) the 24 yr, old has been outstanding. In his last 11 games he has the one shutout (last night,) has allowed two or less goals in eight games and has not allowed more than three goals. Ullmark has faced 284 shots and allowed 19 goals (.933 Sv%) with the Ameks going 7-2-2 in his those games.

If yesterday was any indication of what this franchise has in store for the future, things are looking much brighter in Sabreland. We've all seen Eichel's game-changing play and the fact that Mittelstadt has risen to the top amongst his peers is a strong indication that he could have a major impact at the NHL-level. Ullmark is a tribute to the process of letting players fully develop and along with him in the AHL are players like Smith and Guhle who are learning the pro game and the Sabres systems that are in place.

The Western New York sweep with Team USA, the Sabres and Amerks all winning was a great day for hockey fans in Sabreland and it's one that should be savored as we look towards the future.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The maturation process of a team and of their future leader

Published by, 12-28-2017

Over the last couple of seasons the most dreadful in-game thought for Sabres fans was the team heading to the shootout, especially with Robin Lenher in net. Lehner has had an unusually difficult time with the skills competition and one would think it's a good thing that the Sabres haven't been to the shootout this season since opening night at home against the Montreal Canadiens, which, of course, was a loss.

However overtime has been almost as much of a problem for this team as the shootouts are. Since pulling off a split in overtime during a four-day span back in October—a 5-4 loss at Las Vegas and a 5-4 win at Boston—the Sabres have now dropped their last six overtime decisions including last night’s 3-2 OT loss in Brooklyn vs. the NY Islanders. Lehner has been in goal for four of them including back-to-back losses at Chicago and at St. Louis.
Getting to overtime has been a small victory for this club and based upon what we saw of this team early on, the optimist in me might say that this team has made great strides in just being competitive enough to get it to that point. Yet the pessimist would (and should) say that it's not good enough.
Yet both sides would be right.
The Sabres had an awful time through the first two months of the season going 6-15-4. Through December they've tightened things up and have a 3-5-4 record thus far with one more game to go. Since getting blown out in the first two games of the month, the Sabres have had six one-goal games, but have finished only 1-1-4 in them. 
Buffalo has been playing decidedly better as of late but scoring woes continue to be their downfall. That includes improving upon their league-worst 2.16 goals/game and making them count in crucial situations, especially in overtime, as winger Evander Kane will attest to. He had an overtime breakaway thwarted at Carolina vs. the Hurricanes and was stopped from in close last night on a glorious opportunity in the extra session.
It seems like a never-ending series of hurdles for the club this season and it seems as if it takes a long time before each can be cleared.
Perhaps we can chalk it all up to a learning process as this franchise tries to shake two bottom-dwelling seasons and is trying to learn how to win. Buffalo is on the right track to win much more than it did the first two months of the season. However, with Kane as a pending unrestricted free agent and Lehner's name popping up in trade rumors, they may end up having fall back down again before they try to pick themselves up.
Such is the process.
The maturation process of Jack Eichel is unfolding right before our eyes on this abysmal season. The franchise center whom Buffalo tanked for in 2015 seems is starting to figure out just what kind of an impact he can have on the game, and it's impressive.
Eichel, an offensively gifted player with a sick release, has been criticized for loafing on the ice and not playing well defensively. That's changed lately. It seems as if every game he's hitting turbo-boost on the back check and disrupting odd-man rushes in a way that completely surprises the opposition. It happened last night on the powerplay when Rasmus Ristolainen stumbled and fumbled at the Islanders blueline early in the second period and coughed up the puck. Eichel hit the after-burners and caught the Islanders Casey Czikas on a breakaway and disrupted him just enough that the shot went wide past Lehner.
His offense is still there and improving. Eichel has 33 points, second only to Kane's 34 on the team, and in his last five games he has nine points (5+4.) He had a hat trick in one of those games against the Hurricanes and completely flustered that team in the process. And he distributing as well. In the last two games Eichel has set up Zemgus Girgensons for a goal.
Girgensons has been having an awful time ever since Ted Nolan was relieved of his duties as Buffalo's head coach back in 2015. Against the Hurricane's in the game prior to the Christmas break, Eichel set up Girgensons in what looked like a designed play off a faceoff in the Carolina zone. Last night a deflected shot from the point went to Eichel behind the net and Girgensons planted himself in the crease for the redirect.
There's no doubt that Girgensons has been having a rough go of it these past couple of seasons. At once he was thought of as a top-six/top-nine forward but as things went along he fell to more of a fourth-line/defensives specialist role. Although he won't be confused with a bona fide top-six player, Girgensons has been doing good things up there and Eichel is making him a better player.
Most felt as if this would be Eichel's team once he was drafted with the second-overall pick in 2015. Where once it was an assumption that turned into more of a question, Eichel's play as of late has it looking more definitive as his maturation process takes hold.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

NHL gets rolling again. Mittelstadt impressive. Trade freeze ends at midnight

Published by, 12-27-2017

Both the NHL and AHL return to action tonight after their Christmas break. For Western New York hockey fans that means the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans will be back on the ice. The Sabres, because the 2018 World Junior Championships are being held in Buffalo right now, are in Brooklyn, NY gearing up for tonight's contest against the NY Islanders while the Amerks are at home and will take on the Laval Rocket (MTL) for the third time in a row.

Buffalo heads into their game against the Islanders tonight with dismal team stats and individual players that are, or have been, struggling most, if not all of, the season. Winger Evander Kane is the exception. He has been the most consistent Sabres player all season and has lead the team in scoring since the last time these two teams met in Buffalo's second game of the season. That particular game was a disaster that saw the Sabres on the losing end of a 6-3 score, but Kane showed some serious mettle by answering three second period Islander goals in 1:47, two of them shorthanded, with two shorthanded goals of his own.

Hot on Kane's trail for the team lead in scoring is Jack Eichel. The 21 yr. old has kicked in his game as of late. In three of the Sabres' last four games with five goals, including his first career NHL hat trick, and three assists while also playing an impressive 200' game. It would be great to say, "As Eichel goes, so do the Sabres," but in that one game where he notched the hat trick and was simply dominant, goaltending and team defense let the Sabres down as they lost in overtime 5-4.

Early struggles and injuries had really put a hurtin' on the Sabres defense corpse, but they're healthy and playing much better as of late while Robin Lehner has been very solid in goal. Where this all leads the rest of the way is still to be determined as this team continues to have trouble scoring. Lehner has been a victim much of the time in that situation and overall the Sabres are dead last in the league scoring a measly 2.17 goals/game.


Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula acknowledged that his NHL hockey team needs some scoring. He was on WGR550 prior to the opening of the 2018 WJC, which the Pegula's and the city of Buffalo are hosting.

Three Buffalo forward prospects are in the tournament and Pegula said that he "wants to see how they perform," meaning Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th-overall,) Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th) and Marcus Davidson (2017, 37th.) Nylander went from the NHL Draft right to the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. He struggled as an 18 yr. old, was felled by an injury this past off-season and has struggled a bit since he returned from his injury. Mittelstadt is having a very solid season in D-I at the University of Minnesota while Davidsson has put up some very respectable numbers as a teenager in Sweden's top pro league.

"It's pretty obvious our team in the NHL needs some goal-scoring," Pegula said. "So it'd be nice to see these guys fill the net a little bit."

Nylander and Davidsson both play for Team Sweden who romped through their opening matchup with Belarus defeating them 6-1. Neither Buffalo prospect scored but Nylander collected primary assists on Sweden's second and fifth goals of the game.

Mittlestadt had whale of a game in the day's final matchup which pitted Team USA vs. Team Denmark. The 6'0" 203 lb. Minnesota native scored two goals in USA's 9-0 shoutout win, but more than that he dazzled with his skating and stickwork. It was a continuation of what he did in two exhibition games leading up to the tournament as he scored goals in both of those games as well.

Last night there was a lot of open ice for Mittelstadt and he took advantage of it. But he also showed great tenacity as he followed his own rebound for his first goal of the game (which can be seen in the video below at the :44 second-mark.) Mittelstadt showed off some wicked stick skills from in-tight as he lofted a shot top-shelf from the edge of the crease (1:18) for his second goal.

(video courtesy USA Hockey)

Mittelstadt has been battling at the D-I level were teams trap all over the ice and leave you very little room to breath. However, for a freshman playing against mostly older competition, he's managed to work for some ice and is doing very well with 17 points (5+12) in 19 games. With that said, there are times where he does have a little space to show off his skills, like this goal courtesy

As the tournament goes on and the competition gets tougher, especially when they hit the medal rounds, the cream will rise to the top and perhaps one or more of those players will be in that group.


The NHL trade freeze will be lifted at midnight and the name that keeps popping up from Buffalo is, of course, Evander Kane. Reports have a number of teams interested in Kane with the most recent one being the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey delved into that this morning using the Buffalo/Pittsburgh ties between Sabres present GM Jason Botterill and the Pens whom  he spent the prior 10 seasons with.  If anyone knows what Pittsburgh has in the cupboards, it's Botterill as he was driving force in building a Penguins farm system that was instrumental in them winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.

If you're the Sabres and you potentially have the best rental forward available in this year's trade market, supply and demand means that a return for a powerforward like Kane and his 33 points 15+18) could be substantial. And if you want to remake the team for the way the NHL is played, it makes sense that you'd be looking for a younger, more dynamic player to go along with a probable first round pick.

So when the rumor-mill somehow starts linking Kane and 30 yr. old Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang in the same paragraph, you might wonder what people are thinking.

That's not to take anything away from Letang and what he did in his 11+ year career with the Penguins. He's a winner and has three Stanley Cup rings to prove it. But he also carries a $7.5 million cap-hit for four more seasons after this and injuries are starting to creep into the equation. Last year he played 41 games and in two of his last four seasons he played in 51 or less games.

Is that really something Botterill wants? I get the leadership and all but they already have a defenseman in Zach Bogosian who has had injury problems and is making over $5 million a season. The Sabres also have forward Ryan O'Reilly and his $7.5 million cap-hit and Kyle Okposo who's making $6 million/season. Next year Jack Eichel and his $10 million cap-hit kicks in.

I mean, really? How does that make any sense for the Sabres at this time?

It doesn't.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2018 IIHF World Junior Championships open today in Buffalo

Published by, 12-26-2017

The 2018 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships kick off at today at KeyBank Center with a noon puck-drop between the Czech Republic and a Russian team that has medaled in the last seven tournaments. Team Russia won the gold the last time the tournament was held in Buffalo (2011) and followed up with three silver and three bronze medals during their streak.

Unlike 2011 when the WJC games were held at HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo and Dwyer Arena on the campus of Niagara University in Lewiston, NY, all the games this time round will be downtown. Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula built HarborCenter on a once vacant lot adjacent to the arena now named KeyBank Center for the express purpose of making downtown a hockey destination for events both big and small.

The Sabres have five prospects playing in the tournament that runs through January 5 beginning with defenseman Vojtech Budik taking the ice with the Czech Republic to open the tournament at 12-noon. The 6'1" 185 lb. Budik will wear #19.

At 2pm Team Sweden will take on Belarus at HarborCenter. Sweden has two Sabres prospects on the team, forwards Alexander Nylander and Marcus Davidsson.

The 19 yr. old Nylander was the eighth-overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, which was held in Buffalo. In his prior two WJC appearances for Sweden the 6'0" 190 lb. winger totaled 21 points (9+12) in 14 games. He will be wearing #19. Davidsson was selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft (37th-overall) and will be wearing #10. This will be his first WJC.

Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Team Finland face off against tournament favorite Team Canada at 4 pm on the KeyCenter ice. The 6'4" 196 lb Luukkonen (wearing #1) has been putting up solid numbers for LeKi in Finland's second-tier professional league, Mestis.

In the final game of the day, Team USA takes on Denmark at 8 pm. Buffalo's 2017 first round pick Casey Mittelstadt, who was selected eighth-overall, will try to help lead the Americans to back-to-back gold medals. Since 2010 Team USA has won three golds and added two bronze medals. Mittelstadt is wearing a number very familiar to Sabres fans, #11.

There are other 2018 draft-eligible players to keep an eye on as well, most notably defenseman Rasmus Dahlin who plays for Sweden. Dahlin is expected to be the top overall pick in the upcoming draft and Kris Baker of writes in his WJC preview "fans that appreciate speedy end-to-end rushes and slick puck skills will certainly be enamored with Dahlin whenever the puck comes to him."

Sabres fans certainly have been paying attention to Dahlin most of this season as the team has been near the bottom of the league all year, and they will now have the opportunity to seem him up close beginning today as he, Nylander and Davidsson will begin in the small, HarborCenter setting.

Another player of interest for the 2018 draft is Team Russia forward Andrei Svechnikov who is rated very high in the pre-draft rankings. "At 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds, Svechnikov has the size and reach that National Hockey League scouts crave," wrote Baker, "but it's the speed and soft hands packed into the ideal frame that will see him among the first forwards taken in the June draft."

Baker also gives a shoutout to Czech forward Filip Zadina, whom he describes as "a high-end shooter."

"Zadina has been impressive in his first foray into North American hockey, compiling 24 goals and 46 points in his first 32 games," wrote Baker. "His mix of size and offensive dominance will likely see him become a top-10 pick come June."

For a link to the Baker article, click here.

For an easy to read Buffalo WJC schedule, click here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sabres notes while wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy Holilday's to all

Published by, 12-25-2017

It's the Christmas Break for hockey and if ever a reprieve was needed, now's the time. We Sabres fans know the numbers, but it's good to see that Jack Eichel is heating up.

For the second year in a row Eichel has been out of the national spotlight while the headlines are being grabbed by another strong group of young players making their mark in the NHL. However, after a slow start Jack is back. He had his first career hat trick four games ago against the Carolina Hurricanes and posted five goals and eight points in the four games heading into the break. Of his 32 points (13+19,) only three (all assists) have come on the powerplay and two assists have come with the Sabres shorthanded. Eichel's 27 points at even strength rank him eighth in the league.

Another bright spot for Buffalo is Evander Kane who is still leads the Sabres in scoring with 33 points (15+18) with three of his goals coming with the team shorthanded. Kane, who's in the final year of his contract, has been remarkably consistent in the points department this season. His longest point drought is three games (once) which coincided with a six-game goal drought, also his longest of the season, but even through that rough patch Kane still had four assists and was a plus-3.

The Sabres are off until Wednesday when they head to Brooklyn to take on the NY Islanders and then they travel to New Jersey to face the New Jersey Devils. Buffalo played both those teams very early in the season and got their butts handed to them by scores of 6-3 and 6-2, respectively. Those two games will be a tune-up for the Sabres as they're set to play the NY Rangers at Citi Field in NY City for the 10th Winter Classic.


After the 4-2 loss at Carolina on Saturday, the Sabres last game before the Christmas break, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News releases some quotes he obtained from Eichel in the locker room. "Jack Eichel was calm, direct and to the point late Saturday night," began Harrington. "No ranting and raving, no rolling of the eyes. Dare we say he was captain-like?"

Eichel has been known for a number of things post-game, but this may be the first time that Harrington, or any other Sabres beat reporter called him "captain-like," especially after a loss. Could it be that the 21 yr. old is in the process of passing through a threshold?

During his hattrick performance at home against the Hurricanes eight days earlier, I was left with the impression that Eichel had finally figured out that when he skates like he can and plays his game, he scares the crap out of the opposition. No further proof was needed of that then on his third goal when he had the 'Canes lost in an effort to follow him:

(thx, Sabres)

It may have been only the second time in his career that he took over a game, the first one almost two years ago in Boston when he and the Sabres defeated his hometown Bruins on the strength of his two-goals and two-assists.

The tools have always been there, but the maturity seems to have been lacking somewhat and it seems as if Eichel is starting to get a handle on the importance of him and his role on the team. In a span of eight days he showed just how much fear he could strike into an opponent and be the voice of the team in absence of Ryan O'Reilly, who missed the game to witness the birth of his and his fiancé's first child.

"I think it shows a lack of maturity as a group for us right now with the position that we're in," Eichel told The Buffalo News after the game. "We played last night. We're traveling, we're in a back to back. They're here and ready and waiting for us. They're at home right before break. You know they're going to come out and play hard. And from the first shift, we're chasing the game.

"We knew what to expect tonight and still weren't ready to go," Eichel said. "It's all about reflection now. Like Coach told us, we've got to look in the mirror here. That was a big game for us to try to win two in a row. Now we have three or four days to think about it. Not good enough."

With the Sabres still in a though spot, it's too early to say whether those two Carolina games were lauching pads for him to take his place amongst the elite, but in the very least, it's a good starting point.

For a link to the Harrington piece, click here.


Rochester Americans forward Stevie Moses was suspended by the team on Friday for breach of contract. No details were given but we've come to find out that he bolted for Finland to join Jokerit Helsinki of the Kontinental Hockey League, according to a tweet from the team.

"This explains why the Amerks suspended him," wrote Keith Wozniak of the website, Let'sGoAmerks in reply. "he took off overseas."

Moses signed a two-year deal with the team through 2019-20.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sabres and Amerks on divergent paths at the Christmas break.

Published by, 12-24-2017

Last night was pretty much a microcosm of two teams on two different paths. The Buffalo Sabres, fresh off of a solid 4-2 win at home vs. the Philadelphia Flyers travelled to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes in the second of a back-to-back. Meanwhile, the Rochester Americans were in Laval, Quebec for a back-to-back in their second consecutive game against the Rocket (MON.) The Amerks took the first game in overtime after tying the game late in the third period.

What we saw last night in Carolina was simply one of the uglier games of the season for the Sabres as they dropped a 4-2 decision in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score might indicate. The avalanche started early as the Hurricanes scored a mere :33 seconds into the game. They controlled the faceoff and the entire play up until Sebastian Aho scored from the slot against an obviously confused and unprepared Sabres team.

It was a harbinger of things to come, beginning with the faceoff win as Carolina would finish the game winning an astounding 75% (45/60) of the draws taken. If Buffalo fans were wondering what Ryan O'Reilly, the league's faceoff leader at 61.9%, was doing, he was on a plane back to Buffalo to witness the birth of his first child, a boy.

Congratulations and best wishes to O'Reilly and his fiancé,  Dayna Douros.

While O'Reilly was witnessing the wonders of his first child coming into the world, Buffalo head coach Phil Housley moved fourth-line center Johan Larsson up into O'Reilly's spot between Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo. Larsson lost the opening draw then proceeded to get blown past by Jordan Staal who got the puck into the zone where it wouldn't leave until the referee was ready to drop it at center ice with the' Canes up 1-0.

The Sabres looked grossly undermanned without O'Reilly in the lineup last night. Buffalo has some good complimentary players, like Okposo and Kane, but other than Jack Eichel, O'Reilly's the only one who can take over a game, or at least a good portion of it. That is, when he's on his game, which hasn't been too often this season.

In a situation like that, without one of their top forwards, the Sabres needed some big saves and although Chad Johnson did have a couple, he needed to be much better. However, it looks as if he doesn't have it in him this season. Johnson had won 22 games with the Sabres during the 2015-16 season and 18 games with the Calgary Flames last season and he's presently sitting on one win, which came on October 15 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Regardless of what's in front of him skater-wise, Johnson is just letting in too many goals. He has given up six goals once, five goals three times, the four-goal game last night and three goals twice. The Sabres lost in overtime in two of those five-goal against games. He has a 1-6-3 record with a 3.78 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage.

Heading into the Christmas break, which starts today, the Sabres are in 30th place with a 9-20-7 record, a minus-42 goal differential and have won back-to-back games only once this season.

Conversely, the Rochester Americans pulled off back-to-back wins against the Rocket to go into the break on a four-game win streak. The Amerks have gotten points in 21 of their last 23 games (15-6-2) and with the win last night tied the Toronto Marlies (TOR) for first place in the AHL's Eastern Conference.

Goalie Linus Ullmark is tied for the league-lead in wins (14) while sporting a 2.46 GAA and .924 Sv% while facing the most shots in the league (674) and the Amerks also have the rookie points-leader in C.J. Smith who's seventh overall in the league with 30 points (10+20.)

It's not surprising that the Amerks are doing well. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill began rebuilding Rochester at the July 1 start to free agency and his assistant GM, Randy Sexton continued by adding upper-level AHL vets into the mix. Players like forwards Kevin Porter, Seth Griffith and Sahir Gill along with defensemen Zach Redmond and Stuart Percy are a big part of a veteran leadership group guiding that's won in the past and in the process, younger prospects like Smith, defenseman Brendan Guhle, forward Alexander Nylander and even Ullmark, are learning what it takes to win from players who've been there.

Learning to win is something that the Sabres haven't been able to grasp yet, as indicated by their record, but Botterill seems intent upon laying the groundwork for future success by making Rochester a winning environment, seemingly at the expense of the parent club. One highly doubts that he foresaw his NHL club as being this bad, for a number of reasons, but he's resisted the temptation to graduate players like Smith, Guhle and Ullmark until they have the proper seasoning in Rochester.

The Sabres will be off until Wednesday, as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, when they touch down in Brooklyn to take on the NY Islanders that night. After that they head to New Jersey to take on the Devils before playing in the 10th  annual Winter Classic at Citi Field in Queens, NY to kick off the 2018 calendar year.

Rochester also returns to action on December 27 to face the Laval Rocket once again, this time in the friendly confines of Blue Cross Arena. After that it's a back-to-back beginning Friday at Toronto of Friday and another home date with the Rocket on Saturday.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Some hockey happiness in Western New York last night

Published by, 12-23-2017

Both the Buffalo Sabres and Rochester Americans got wins last night bringing Western New York some holiday cheer. The Sabres beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in their last home game until January 9, 2018 and the Amerks beat the Laval Rocket (MTL) 3-2 in overtime to continue a roll they've been on for a month. Add in that Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt scored a goal and added an assist in Team USA's final tune up before the World Junior Championships that begin in Buffalo on Decemeber 26, and it was a pretty good night for hockey fans in Sabreland.

The Sabres have been struggling as of late in a number of ways, mostly centered around scoring goals. Although not as bad as a stretch earlier in the season, Buffalo was having trouble scoring lately, especially with Robin Lehner in net. In his six starts prior to last night he allowed an average of just over two goals/game on a .940 save percentage yet he was only 2-2-2 through that stretch as the team only averaged two goals per game.

Last night they were having trouble with Flyers goalie Brian Elliott until Ryan O'Reilly squeezed a shot in from below the goal line. It was just  a little lucky, but it was the type of goal they needed at the time. Just over seven minutes later Evander Kane put the Sabres up 2-0 as he tipped in a Josh Gorges shot from the point. Kyle Okposo got the secondary assist on that one but the whole sequence was set up by O'Reilly through his work from behind the net.

From there it was a matter of hanging on for dear life. The Flyers went on the powerplay late in the third as Buffalo defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen was called for delay of game with 3:58 left in the third period. Philadelphia pulled Elliot for the extra attacker and scored with just 12 seconds left on the penalty to make it 2-1. Jack Eichel scored an empty-netter to make it 3-1 but the Flyers closed the gap again with :32 seconds left. But Eichel scored his second empty net goal with :0.6 seconds left on the clock.

It was the first time in Sabres history that one player scored two empty net goals in a game.

That was a good win for the Sabres who were in desperate need of one. Even though they'd remained rather loose through their recent three-game skid (0-2-1,) winning is a good thing, especially the way they did it. Despite being frustrated throughout the game they kept to the game-plan, like coach Phil Housley had been imploring them to do, and eventually broke through.

"I give credit to our guys because we've been in that position before where nothing is going in and, 'Here we go again,'" Housley said to the gathered media afterward. "But they stuck with it. We kept telling them to just keep throwing pucks to the net, it's going to happen.

"Finally, we broke through. We didn't get away from what we were talking about."

Housley juggled his lines for last night's game and inserted Gorges into the lineup in place of rookie Victor Antipin. And it worked.

Buffalo is in Carolina tonight to take on the Hurricanes before the Christmas break in the third and final meeting between the two teams this season. Carolina has beaten the Sabres twice, 3-1 and 5-4 in overtime.

Meanwhile, the Amerks continued their roll with a 3-2 overtime win in Laval, Quebec against the Rockets. Kyle Criscuolo, who scored two goals, tied the score at 2-2 with 1:40 left in the third period while Nick Baptiste scored the game-winner in overtime.

Rochester is has now gained points in 13 of their last 14 games (9-1-4) and are two points behind the Toronto Marlies (TOR) in the AHL's Eastern Conference.

Here are the highlights courtesy the Laval Rocket:

And here's the USA/Sweden highlights courtesy USA Hockey:

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sabres finish off three-game homestand tonight before yeilding to 2018 WJC

Published by, 12-22-2017

The Buffalo Sabres will close out a three-game homestand tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team they faced off against just over a week ago. In that game, Buffalo was looking to extend their points-streak to five games for the first time since 2012 but were throttled 2-1 in that game. Ryan O'Reilly scored just 1:29 into the game, but Flyers goalie Brian Elliott shut the door on them the rest of the way.

This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and the Flyers this year and the conclusion of the series will take place on January 7 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Sabres are 4-5-1 in their last 10 versus the Flyers, an identical 4-5-1 in their last 10 meetings in Buffalo. Last year the Sabres went 1-1-1 vs the Flyers losing the first meeting in the shootout after blowing a three-goal third period lead (all on the powerplay,) winning the next one 4-1 (at home,) then getting blown out 6-3 at home to conclude the season series.

The Sabres come into this game on a three-game losing streak that began with that 2-1 loss at Philly. They lost 5-4 in overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes the following night, then got shut out 3-0 by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. Head coach Phil Housley changed his lines after the 'Canes game, even though his team scored four goals, and they came up empty in the shutout loss vs. the Bruins. And he's at it again.

According to reports from the morning skate, Housley moved Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons, both of whom were on the fourth line against Boston, up to the top line with Jack Eichel. Evander Kane moved from the Eichel line to the O'Reilly line meaning Benoit Pouliot is back in the bottom six. Rookie Evan Rodrigues gets the night in the press box in favor of Scott Wilson.

These were the lines at the skate:

Kane - O'Reilly - Okposo
Girgensons - Eichel - Reinhart
Pouliot - Josefson - Pominville
Nolan - Larsson - Wilson

Housley also juggled his defense a bit by sitting Victor Antipin who'd been getting his groove on as of late, in favor of Josh Gorges. These were the defense pairings this morning:


Robin Lehner looks to get the nod in net tonight.

Speaking of Lehner, he's been a veritable wall as of late. In his last six games he's faced 217 shots and allowed only 13 goals (.940 save percentage.) He's given up three goals twice in that span--vs. Chicago and St. Louis consecutively--and faced 96 shots in those two games for a .937 Sv%. The Sabres forwards haven't given him a lot of love during that stretch as they managed to score only 12 goals, which is right about where their lowly 2.12 goals/game average is at right now, and Lehner left the crease with a 2-2-2 record.

After tonight the Sabres hit the road for the next seven games although one of them, the Winter Classic, is treated as a home game despite the fact that they player the NY Rangers at City Field in...New York City.

Go figure.


While the Sabres are on the road, the city of Buffalo will be hosting the World Junior Championship for the first time since 2011. Housley was an assistant coach for the Bronze Medal winning USA team that year and he would coach Team USA to the gold medal two years later in Ufa, Russia.

The Sabres look to have five prospects participating in the 2018 WJC:

USA--C, Casey Mittelstadt, (2017, 8th-overall)
SWE--LW, Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th)
SWE--C, Marcus Davidsson (2017, 37th)
FIN--G, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th)
CZE--D, Vojtech Budik (2016, 130th)

Mittelstadt is in his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and has 17 points (5+12) in 19 games for the 10th-ranked Golden Gophers. Davidsson is playing in the top league in Sweden and the 19 yr. old has nine points (2+7) in 23 games. The 18 yr. old Luukkonen has spent most of his season on loan to LeKi in Mestis, Finland's second highest league. Budick skates with the Prince Albert Raiders of the CHL's Western Hockey League where the defenseman has 11 points (2+9) and a plus-1 rating in 32 games.

The Sabres announced earlier this week that they're loaning Nylander to Team Sweden. Buffalo's 2016 first-round pick has been struggling in the AHL and was injured this summer. The loan is good for Sweden and they added a strong piece to a team that's a favorite to medal and it should be good for him. With those struggles in Rochester with the Americans, confidence could be waning and putting him in a tournament that he's very familiar with while playing against his peers, could help him get back on track.

The WJC is always a big thing for hockey fans as these are the stars of the future all in one tournament. Plus there's a continued rivalry between the US and Canada which will be heightened a bit this season as they take their preliminary round matchup outdoors. On December 29, the two teams will hook up at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

The World Junior Championships run from December 26-January 5 with the other games being held at KeyBank Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, and the adjacent HarborCenter.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Evander Kane was at it again. Making memories.

Published by, 12-21-2017

Evander Kane threw a party at a fine dining establishment onWednesday night. He and his special guests got together at Tempo on Delaware Avenue for a Christmas gathering. 

Fifty underprivileged kids from King Center Charter School were invited to dine with the Sabres winger who was more than happy to treat them to some cheer. "There's a lot of kids that aren't as fortunate as others," said the 26-year old, via the Buffalo News yesterday. "When Christmas time comes around, the gifts, the presents and all that go into it, some kids don't get to experience that. I'm fortunate enough to be able to provide an opportunity to help some kids that are less fortunate and wouldn't be able to experience those things."

It was the second time in three years that Kane opened up his heart and wallet to the less fortunate in the Buffalo area. Back in 2015 he treated 50 kids to dinner at Chef's before taking them on $10,000 shopping spree at Target. Said the Vancouver, B.C native at the time, "Not everybody gets an opportunity, especially as a kid, to get exactly what they want or have an opportunity to get gifts and presents,” Kane said. “It’s something that I wanted to do, give back a little bit and hopefully put some smiles on some kids’ faces, possibly when they have not been as excited for Christmas.

“It’s exciting. It probably makes my day more than theirs."

For those who've followed him and his travails in Winnipeg when he played with, was ostracized and traded by the Jets, it's a rather unexpected side we see of him. Especially when with visions of the him and his "Money Phone" blocking our view.

It's not just Christmas either. This past September, Kane delivered some pizza's to those in need in East Vancouver, where he grew up and tweeted simply, “Decided to take some lunch to the very appreciative people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside"

Kane is having a career year in Buffalo this season and with deeds like the aforementioned, his image seems to be changing as well. He may have had this type of generosity within him before and may have shown it on occasion, but whatever good he may have done got overshadowed by off-ice issues that have plagued him since his Winnipeg days.

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News did an extensive piece on Kane and how he's found a home in Buffalo and how he has teammates that accept him for what he is. "The media is going to say what they want and he’s got a personality with him," said teammate and frequent linemate, Sam Reinhart in the article. "you’ve got to embrace that. I enjoy being around it. It’s fun.”

Reinhart was one of a trio that include Jack Eichel and Zach Bogosian who bought Kane a bottle of King Louie Cognac in honor of his 500th game. "Ever try to buy a bottle of Louis XIII?" asked Larkin rhetorically. "Don’t, unless you’ve recently won the lottery. It will set you back $3,000, give or take."

It's not the fact that those three players have more than enough money to buy cases of expensive cognac, it was the act itself, the knowledge of the player and his tastes and their appreciation of him as a teammate and friend. Lest we forget, in his first game back in Winnipeg since they traded him away, Kane had an empty net to shoot at with Buffalo ahead, but he opted to feed a wide-open Reinhart for the rookie's first NHL hat trick, something that went counter to his selfish persona.

Kane is in the final year of his deal and no matter how much he likes Buffalo and his teammates, he's set up for a pretty big payday at the end of the season. “You’ve got to live in reality,” he said, via the Larkin piece. “This is my ninth year in the league. I’m very aware that, as much as it’s a game, No. 1, it’s always a business. It’s always about money. You see that with lockouts and CBA negotiations and player holdouts. That’s why you have an agent, to make you aware of your options, your possibilities that may happen and what goes on during or after a season."

Does that mean he'll completely cash in his services to the highest bidder? He may and no one could blame him. That's how the business of sports works.

No matter what happens, what we've witnessed in Buffalo first hand is a side of Kane that not very many people have been exposed to. Whether we've witnessed a Saul to Paul transformation is yet to be determined, but a bunch of underprivileged kids were treated to some good eats, and some treats and it will be something they'll never forget.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sam Reinhart bumped up to the Eichel/Kane line at practice

Published by, 12-20-2017

Buffalo forward Sam Reinhart was, for all intents and purposes, benched in last night's 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. Reinhart got on the ice at the 1:22 mark of the third period and skated a one-minute shift, then was on the ice again at the 7:18 mark. Head coach Phil Housley put him on the ice again at 12:09, but skated a mere two seconds as Boston goalie Anton Khudobin stopped a Zach Bogosian shot and they went to a commercial break.

To say that Reinhart has been having a tough time this season would be an understatement. He has 11 points (5+6) in 34 games, with seven of those points (2+5,) coming on the powerplay and he's a minus-12 on the year. Housley thought Reinhart could play center, his natural position, but that was abandoned and since then he's been moved up and down the lineup. His ice-time had been in the 15-18 minute range, but in the last eight games Reinhart has eclipsed the 15-minute mark once (15:01,) has one assist and is a minus-4. He skated 11:05 against Boston last night and was only on the ice in for 9:09 in a 4-2 Sabres win over the Avalanche.

After last night's (lack of) performance and his virtual benching, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him in the press box so he could get a better look away from the ice. But, alas, it was not so today at practice according to reports from the rink. Housley had Reinhart on Jack Eichel's right wing in preparation for Friday's home tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a line that former bench boss Dan Bylsma used last year quite often and one that they had a decent amount of success with.

Housley seemed determined to fit Reinhart into the center slot, but when it became clear that it wasn't working out as planned he moved the former second-overall pick back to the position he played last year. Although Reinhart did play with Eichel and Kane, it wasn't for long and he often found himself moving up and down between the 2nd and 4th right wing slots, spending most of the time on the third line.

Where this leads is still to be determined. In fact, things could change between now and Friday and Reinhart could be somewhere else.

The Sabres have had a lot of trouble on offense this season. Housley's team has basically been trying to learn to play hockey again, this time in a much faster NHL. It's been a slow process, but there are signs that they're starting to get a feel for what Housley wants in today's NHL. We saw that in the first period last night, as we've seen often over the last few weeks. However, they've been unable to sustain that into the middle-latter stages of the game.

Housley attributes it to the team abandoning the game-plan and a lot of that has to do with frustration. This team has generally been controlling possession and getting pucks to the net, but they're having a bear of a time scoring. Last night they threw 17 shots on net in the first period against the Bruins only come away empty. From there they get frustrated and begin to get away from how they were playing with many trying to do it all themselves. That leads to breakdowns and inevitably a deficit to overcome. At time they're lucky if it's just a one-goal deficit as on far too many occasions, one goal by the opposition has opened up the floodgates.

Having said that about the players, Housley and his staff need to shoulder some of the blame for what's transpired. We're not sure why the first-year coach tinkered with the lineup but he changed up the lines that had scored four goals the previous game. The only line that remained the same from the Carolina game to the Boston game was the Eichel/Kane/Jason Pominville line. All the rest were different including him moving Evan Rodrigues to the wing, Zemgus Girgensons down two lines and putting Scott Wilson in the press box.

They also need to take responsibility for destroying the confidence of last year's best powerplay. Buffalo's powerplay kept them afloat last season and this year they're second-worst in the league. The talent is still there, but the confidence is not.

Confidence is lacking with this club as any smidgen of it has been beaten out of them through the course of 26 total losses in 34 games. That's why it was a curious move on Housley's part to make major changes to a lineup that presumably was confident after scoring four goals, which is a rarity for this team.

Reinhart seems to be suffering under the weight of his ineffectiveness this season and to the casual eye, it doesn't seem as if he's doing anything extra to get him through this rough stretch. Why Housley placed him on the top line is rather quizzical, but here's how he put it to the gathered media after practice today.

"When you're not winning – like I've said before – we're going to mix things up and change our lines, try to find a winning formula," coach Phil Housley said in KeyBank Center (via Jon Vogl, The Buffalo News.) "Just with Sam, there's a different expectation with him. He's proven he can provide points and production offensively, and he's getting an opportunity.

"He's got to consider it more of a challenge. He's trying to find his game," Housley said. "I don't think you can focus on what has happened in the past. I think you can learn from it, move forward and try to get better."

The lines and pairings for today's practice:




Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Quick hits on the forwards prior to the December 19 trade freeze

Published by, 12-18-2017


The above record equals 23 points on the year for the Buffalo Sabres, which is good for 30th in the league right now and as we did in a reminder in yesterday's blog on the Buffalo's goalies and defensemen, here's the Sabres' record through 33 games the prior four seasons:

2016-17: 12-13-8 (32 points)
2015-16: 14-16-3 (31)
2014-15: 13-18-2 (28)
2013-14: 7-23-3 (17)

For as much as the defense and goaltending have been issues for the Sabres this year, the lack of scoring is very troublesome. Last year they came out of November scoring a paltry 1.95 goals/game, which rivaled modern NHL lows for futility. Sad to say that this year isn't much better. As a team Buffalo is scoring a league-worst 2.18 g/gm and were particularly futile during a nine-game stretch where they were shut out a franchise record three games in a row and scored a total of 12 goals while going 1-8-0 in the process.

Individual goal-droughts cost Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo regular spots in the top-six and an 0'fer on the season cost Matt Moulson a spot on an NHL team as the Sabres waived him and he's presently playing for the Ontario (California) Reign of the American Hockey League. And as mentioned in the last blog, Jake McCabe is the only defenseman to score a goal (2) for the team thus far and to add to their scoring woes, the Sabres have the league's second-worst powerplay converting on only 13 of 101 opportunities (12.87%.)

It might be odd to say some 33 games into the season, but players are beginning to find their roles in coach Phil Housley's system. Both he and the players have struggled mightily trying to figure it out but much of that can be attributed to injuries up and down the lineup. However, with the return of the injured, the overall health of the team has allowed them to stabilize their forward group.

Here are some quick takes on the forwards:

Evander Kane--The team's leading scorer is having a career year with 14 goals and 17 assists through 33 games. Kane had one bad goal drought (six games) but other than that he's consistently contributed and has been held point-less in only 11 games this season. The irony in all this is that after finding a home in Buffalo, Kane, an outcast in Winnipeg, could be on the move again as the best rental forward available between now and the 2018 NHL trade deadline. Sabres GM Jason Botterill, who supposedly wants to re-sign Kane, may end up with an offer to good to refuse and 26 yr. old winger may be headed for another team.

Jack Eichel--"Jack-trick." That's how Sabres broadcaster Dan Dunleavy called Eichel's first NHL hat trick on Friday. It was a good call by Dunleavy after Eichel produced a dominant performance against the Carolina Hurricanes. We're not sure if that might prove to be one of those watershed moments, but he was dominant in that game. The Sabres need more play like that from him. He just wasn't good enough through the first third of the season. He's said that and it sounds like he means it. The future of this team is on his shoulders and if that four-point outing vs. the 'Canes is his way of fully accepting that responsibility, the future looks pretty bright.

Ryan O'Reilly--The 26 yr. old center is another one who will be the first to admit that he needs to be better, as he's told us that time and time again. He sounded sincere the first 50 or so times he said that but it's gotten to the point where his words just seem empty anymore. O'Reilly is notorious for rather long goal droughts and this year is no exception. However, as the team's top two-way center, he's expected to pick up his defensive play when his offense grows cold. Sure, he takes every key faceoff and has most of his zone starts in the d-zone, but a team-worst minus-16 rating? He needs to be better.

Kyle Okposo--Although it sounds like an excuse, it might not be too far-fetched to believe that the late-season/off-season health issues he recovered from actually took a lot longer than anyone thought. And it showed in his early season struggles as Okposo didn't score his first goal until the 11th game, and has had a couple long stretches where he didn't hit the score sheet. But as of late it looks like he's found his legs and his shot. Housley has been moving him up and down the lineup but he and O'Reilly seem to always end up on the same line. They work pretty well together and they may have found a hard-working compliment on the left wing.

Zemgus Girgensons--Normally a player with only one goal and three assists in 28 games would be way down the list, but after being a healthy scratch, Housley gave Girgensons a shot in the top six and he's doing his part. The points still aren't there, and they may never be, but he's working the corners and is the net-front presence Housley wants him to be. The O'Reilly/Okposo/Girgensons line represents some big bodies that can skate pretty well and they have some chemistry, at least for now. Perhaps the bubble will burst and Girgensons will be in the bottom-six again, but for now his work up-top is one of the reasons Housley's able to roll three lines.

Evan Rodrigues--The 5'11" 182 lb. Rodrigues is another player who helped solidify the top-nine for Housley as he gives the Sabres a strong top-three down the middle. In six games Rodrigues has three points (2+1) but it's the way he approaches the game which makes a difference. Rodrigues is in constant motion on the ice and his play without the puck has put him in favorable on-ice situations. Although he's always played that way, it's good to see that he fit right in with the Amerks after returning from injury and that the style he's accustomed to playing is transferring to Buffalo.

Jason Pominville--Has been a fixture on Eichel's right wing for a good majority of the season thus far. Pominville started out on fire but has cooled considerably and at 34 yrs. old, has looked his age on more than one occasion. Ideally he'd be on the third line playing in a veteran leadership role similar to Brian Gionta last season, but right now he's in the top-six. Pominville seems always available for post-game interviews and unfortunately he's being asked the same questions about team failures now as were asked of him five-plus years ago when he was a key component, and one-time captain, of Darcy Regier's core. Which isn't a good sign. Pominville carries a $5.6 million cap-hit through 2018-19 and right now is the third-highest paid player on the team.

Benoit Pouliot--Basically there's been the good Pouliot, which is more reflective of a player picked in the first round (although it's nowhere near No. 4-overall good) and there's the Edmonton, bad version of Pouliot, the one that caused him to get bought out by the Oilers. Pouliot has size some jump to his step and he can skate very well for a player that's 6'3" 200 lbs. and Housley has moved Pouliot up and down the wing. Lately he's been on Eichel's left side and it hasn't amounted to much but it is good to say that his eight goals in 33 games this season equals the number he posted in 65 games for the Oilers all last season.

Sam Reinhart--Is catching a lot of flack in Sabreland, as he should. Reinhart has been inconsistent at best, invisible at worst and at times has looked disinterested on the ice. Former head coach Dan Bylsma babied Reinhart as a rookie and put him in favorable positions to score. The result was a 23-goal rookie season for the kid. This year he's had to work harder and it hasn't transferred well as he may only barely eclipse 23 points if he continues to play the way he has. He's got to get his head into the game. Case in point, against the Carolina Hurricanes Sabres analyst Marty Biron pointed out that a Sabres player jumped over the boards thinking it was his shift on a change. It wasn't and that space-moment caused Pominville to lose valuable seconds on the change as he was a half-second late on a zone-clear in the Buffalo. A few seconds later Carolina scored their first goal. The unnamed player was Reinhart.

Johan Larsson--Has the second-worst plus/minus on the team at a minus-15 and averages fourth-line minutes. Larsson only has one goal this year, and it was an empty-netter. Like the rest of the team he's looked better as of late, but those first 25 games or so were brutal. With the Sabres returning to health, ice-time will go to those who produce and/or earn it and Larsson will need to up his play if he wants to be in the lineup. Center Jacob Josefson is nearing return from injury and will probably take over that No. 4 center's role meaning Larsson will either be bumped to the wing or bumped up into the press box.

Jacob Josefson--Speaking of Josefson, he was playing extremely well before being felled by an injury. Things haven't gone as expected for Josefson since being drafted by the New Jersey Devils 20th-overall in 2009 but it looks as if he'll manage to scrap out a long career in a journeyman's role, much like David Legwand did. Josefson was skating with the team last week and Housley listed him as week-to-week but liked what he saw. When he comes back, Josefson will more than likely be the team's fourth-line center.

Jordan Nolan--One of Nolan's biggest contributions this year is calling out his teammates after a loss to the Minnesota Wild on November 22. "We need to turn the page here and start holding each other accountable, I think," said Nolan after the loss, “It’s the little things. That’s what I learned coming into the league. And I think we are missing that a little bit in this room. But guys are young and I think they need to be told.” It didn't translate into immediate results, but the point eventually got through. Nolan is one of two players on the team with a Stanley Cup ring.

Scott Wilson--Wilson is the other Sabres player with a Stanley Cup ring (two, acutally) and he was traded for while Buffalo was in the midst of a terrible slump while playing terrible hockey. Botterill brought Wilson in to help show what championship hockey looks like. Sure, he's no Mark Messier but the former Pittsburgh Penguin, whom Botterill knew very well, came to Buffalo on December 4 and since then the team has been playing some of it's best hockey of the year. Although he's only contributed one assist in six games. with Wilson in the lineup the Sabres are 2-1-3.

Hudson Fasching--Is the latest prospect to get the call to Buffalo and like many who've been called up only to be sent down, Fasching impressed the first couple games but then regressed to the point where he's been a healthy scratch. The work they're doing in Rochester seems to be working in some aspects. As mentioned, Rodrigues continued to produce at the NHL-level and Fasching, although point-less so far, looks like a better, faster player this year in Buffalo as opposed to last season. But, he has to produce if he wants to stay in the lineup.

Justin Bailey--Like Fasching, Bailey impressed early in his call-up but faded. He has all the tools which include size and speed, and he's shown he can score at the AHL-level, but he hasn't been able to do it consistently at the NHL-level. The 22-yr. old Bailey will probably have outgrown the AHL come next season and it's time for him to put up or shut up. Would make for a very interesting addition in a trade for an upper-level player.

Nicolas Baptiste--The third of the big-three forward prospects who have spent ample time in the AHL. Baptiste is in the same boat as Fasching and Bailey. He's appeared in four games for the Sabres, but has failed to have an impact. Baptiste is also 22, has had good success at the AHL-level and would make for an interesting add-in trade piece.

Seth Griffith--Perhaps he was mislabeled when fans (myself included) called him this year's Derek Grant. Griffith scored two goals in 18 games for the Sabres this year while Grant had zero in 40 games for Buffalo last year (we won't talk about his seven goals and 15 points for Anaheim this year.) Griffith was originally signed for Rochester but injuries gave him an opening. He played as well as could be expected in a role that was beyond his talents. He was sent to Rochester after clearing waivers and is a great addition to the Amerks.

Kyle Criscuolo--Another player signed more for the Amerks than Buffalo. 'Criso' was also the beneficiary injuries to the Sabres roster and ended up playing in eight games for Buffalo. He failed to register a point but is playing very well for Rochester.

Matt Moulson--As mentioned, the 34 yr. old Moulson was waived by the Sabres. In 14 games he failed to register a point and was a minus-9 despite Housley giving him ample opportunity to succeed.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Quick hits on the goalies and defenseman prior to the Dec. 19 trade freeze

Published by, 12-17-2017


That's the Buffalo Sabres record after 33 games. It translates to 23 points and the second-worst record in the league.

The season started with a new GM in Jason Botterill, new head coach in Phil Housley, a somewhat revamped defense-corps and expectations that this team would be able to start fresh and move forward from last year's 78-point disappointment. Unfortunately for the team and it's fans, it hasn't quite worked out that way.

The Sabres today, with two top-2 picks into their third NHL season and a group of young vets brought in to take the heat off the youngins, are struggling to the point where they're point total is right between that of the two tank seasons from 2013-15, as we see below.

2016-17:  12-13-8 (32 points)
2015-16:  14-16-3 (31)
2014-15:  13-18-2 (28)
2013-14:  7-23-3 (17)

Alas, there are still 49 games to go and unlike those tank years, this team is trending modestly upwards.

But after 33 games, we've gotten a good look at players in coach Phil Housley's system and we'll take a look at how they've performed thus far beginning with the goalies and defensemen.


Robin Lehner--The 26-yr. old native of Gothenburg, Sweden boldly proclaimed that he "had nothing left to prove" as he signed his one-year contract extension. And he ended up eating a lot of those words early on. Lehner has been great as of late, but prior to this six-game run of good solid team play, he sported a 5-12-3 record, a 2.98 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. And he lost another shootout. Still plenty to prove and if the Sabres ever want to really turn this season around, he needs to continue his strong play as of late. It should also be noted that his name has come up in the rumor mill.

Chad Johnson--If the Sabres ever want to really turn things around, then odds are that Johnson won't be in net. We expect a certain, sometimes rather large, drop-off from starter to backup, but he has been brutal this season. Once again, prior to the last six games, Johnson was 1-5-2 with a 3.64 GAA and .883 sv%. And after the 5-4 loss to Carolina on Friday, those numbers became worse. Johnson's name is also in the rumor mill.


Rasmus Ristolainen--The 23 yr. old Ristolainen is still anchoring the Sabres defense and logging tons of ice-time which right now is at a career-high of 26:55/game. There's a group in Sabreland that no longer see him as a true No. 1 defenseman (maybe not even top-pairing) while others believe he's still evolving. There's no doubt that Ristolainen struggled mightily at times this season but we've also seen spurts of a mobile power game from the backend, just not enough. His stat-line through 24 games is zero goals, nine assists and a minus-10 rating. Ristolainen was injured for a nine-game stretch (Nov.5- 22.) In his absence the Sabres went 1-6-2 scoring 18 goals and allowing 31. Although not untouchable, rumor has it that Botterill would only trade Ristolainen for a big return.

Marco Scandella--Botterill acquired Scandella in a trade with the Minnesota Wild this past off season saying that he believed the big, 6'3" 208 lb. defenseman could transition from second-pairing in Minnesota to top-pairing in Buffalo. He's there and although he's had his good moments, that top-pairing designation might be a stretch right now. Speed is a problem for him, not so much his own, which is pretty good for a man his size, but the speed of the game playing against top players. In an ideal world he'd be on the second pair in Buffalo, but as we've seen, it's been anything but ideal with the club this year. The 28 yr. old Scandella is under contract until 2019-20 with a reasonable $4 million cap-hit.

Jake McCabe--Although he'll never be looked at as a top-pairing defenseman and some might question his abilities in a second-pairing role, McCabe has been holding his own and has generally played pretty well. He still has his gaffes and issues, but like Ristolainen, the 24 yr. old is still evolving. McCabe can play an hard-hitting, standup game which gets him in trouble at times, and he can defend. But it should also be noted that he's the only defensemen on the Sabers to score a goal this year and has done so twice, which is good for him, bad for the team.

Zach Bogosian--The 27 yr. old Bogosian was injured to start the season. And in other news, the sun rose today. After a rather poor season last year under a different coach, there was much anticipation involved in Bogosian playing under a coach like Housley who's system is predicated on an offensively involved d-corps. Bogosian has the speed, and the shot to be effective, but we've only seen him in eight games this year beginning on Dec. 1. During that time the Sabres went 2-3-3 which, sadly, is one of their better stretches of the season. With him and McCabe in the middle-pairing, the rest of the defense falls into place.

Nathan Beaulieu--Botterill sent a third-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for Beaulieu with the thought that he acquired a d-man with top-four upside. With Bogosian out, Beaulieu saw a lot of time there and it really didn't go all that well. From his torso on down, the left-handed shot from Strathroy, Ontario looks great as he's mobile and can get to a puck in earnest. But somewhere along the line there's a disconnect between what his head wants him to do and what his hands end up doing as he cannot keep the puck on his stick. Should that synapsis ever fully engage, the Sabres have themselves a nice find, but right now he looks like a mobile, bottom-pairing d-man.

Victor Antipin--The highly sought after Russian defenseman was pursued by Buffalo's former GM and Botterill closed the deal. In Russia, Antipin was noted for his mobility and having a nose for finding soft spots in the offensive zone. He's beginning to find those here after only 23 NHL games. Twitter has a #FreeAntipin hashtag in that there are those in Sabreland who wanted to see more of him. He struggled early for a number of reasons including the language barrier but has really begun to get a feel for the North American game. His defense isn't bad either as he leads all defensemen who've played 20 or more games in plus/minus with a minus-3.

Josh Gorges--At one point during an extremely rough stretch, the Sabres needed a solid, defensive-defenseman like Gorges just to settle down the entire d-corps. It started in San Jose' as the Sabres were coming off back-to-back drubbings only three games into the season. Of all the players who've played 15 games or more this season, Gorges is the only player on the positive side of the plus/minus rating (plus-1.) He's the consummate good soldier and will probably be acquired by a playoff team for depth. It would be great to see him hoist the Stanley Cup.

Justin Falk--Falk, like Gorges, is more of a defensive defenseman and props to him for earning a spot on the Sabres roster. Prior to Buffalo the 6'5" 223 lb Falk had bounced from team to team and from league to league, but last year an opportunity came and he impressed. He continued on with a strong camp but was injured and in 17 games since he's done yeoman's work in a third-pairing role. Not sure what the future holds for him as the Sabres (hopefully) add more speed and skill to the back-end, but he'll always be reliable in his own zone.

Matt Tennyson--Although probably ticketed for the Rochester Americans upon his signing in July, injuries to Bogosian and Falk meant NHL duty for the NHL/AHL tweener. Tennyson was thrust into a spot way above his skill-level, especially when Ristolainen was out, and held his own to the best of his ability. Kudos to him for that. However, as the injured returned, he fell down the depth chart to Rochester where he should be able to help the Amerks not only reach the playoffs, but succeed in the playoffs as well.

Taylor Fedun--Like Falk, injuries created an opportunity for him and Fedun took full advantage of it. Although he didn't make the opening night roster for the Sabres, the undrafted free agent did very well when he got the call this season and looked like the mobile top-six defenseman Housley was looking for. Then came a tough lower-body injury that still has him on the injury list. In seven games for Buffalo this year Fedun has one assist and a minus-1 rating.

Zach Redmond--Redmond came up for a quick cup of coffee with the Sabres skating in three games. Most of the time he looked a bit overwhelmed but he did have his moments like a plus-2 rating in a 3-1 win over Washington. Botterill traded Nicolas Deslauriers to the Canadiens for Redmond.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The future looks brighter amidst the shadow of losses

Published by, 12-16-2017

Their record is what it is, that of the Eastern Conference's last place team. But the Buffalo Sabres have shown marked improvement in their game lately, and although it hasn't gotten them two points on most nights, the door to success they've been beating on is beginning to show cracks.

Buffalo's game last night against the Carolina Hurricanes seemed to be the kind of game that head coach Phil Housley and his players wanted to play going back to the beginning of the season. However, the differences between playing a responsible, up-tempo game now as opposed to then begin with health, a slight up-tick in talent and players with a better understanding of who they are, where they fit in and what they need to do.

The Sabres and 'Canes combined for nine goals on 75 shots in a game that was played a little tight to begin with, but opened up as it went along culminating with a combined six goals less than 10 minutes into the third period. It ended up being a very exciting game for the fans to watch, which included a breakaway in overtime that could've sent the KeyBank Center crowd home in a frenzy. Yet, as games have gone so many times, especially as of late, it was not to be for Buffalo and they lost to Carolina in overtime, 5-4.

It was the third time in the last five games that Buffalo went to overtime and lost, and it was the second time that they overcame a two-goal, third-period deficit to force the extra session. Last Sunday Evan Rodrigues scored two goals, one early in the third and the other with 1:27 left, to force overtime against the St. Louis Blues but the Sabres lost 3-2. Last night Jack Eichel scored two goals a mere 10 seconds apart in the third period to tie the game at 4-4 after the Sabres gave up three unanswered goals.

With the overtime loss last night, the Sabres are now 1-6 in overtime (plus 0-1 in the shootout) and seem to be very close to breaking through. Evander Kane was stopped on a breakaway last night as he lost control of the puck in tight. Eight days prior, Jack Eichel had an overtime breakaway in Chicago but was stopped as he tried to go five-hole. In both instances the puck wound up going the other way and ending up in Buffalo's net.

Eichel was a beast last night as he scored the a trick, the first of his career, and added the primary assist on Jake McCabe's early third period goal that put Buffalo up 2-1. He had 11 shots on goal and was dominant as the 'Canes could not corral him on any of his three goals:

(Thx to the Buffalo Sabres for the vid and to Dan Dunleavy for "Jack-trick")

It was as dominant a game as we've seen from the 21 yr. old and is the type of game we've been expecting for a while now.

Although he's been playing well and covering the entire ice surface with his long strides and unique skating style, Eichel hasn't been producing like he's capable of. In Thursday's 2-1 loss at Philadelphia, he played a strong game, but was held off the score sheet. The official tally against the Flyers had him with zero shots on goal but he did clank two shots off the post.

We're not sure if his breakout, four-point night will lead to Connor McDavid-type numbers in the future, but one would think that after playing the way he did, Eichel will realize that he, like the McDavids, Crosby's and Matthews' of the league, can scare the crap out of the opposition.

Which is one of the reasons why this team future is looking brighter.

The holes in the Sabres lineup are still there as are the mental lapses and the missed opportunities (see Philadelphia game,) but Buffalo has been playing much better hockey since their back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh to begin the month of December. It began with a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche to begin a three-game road trip and they've now gotten points in five of their last six games (2-1-3.)

The addition of Rodrigues to the lineup has helped immensely as he's been able to anchor the third line at center. Both he and Eichel are in their third pro season with Rodrigues climbing his way up to the Sabres squad.

Rodrigues came up from the Rochester Americans who entered last night's game second in the
AHL's North Division, fourth-overall in the league. Last night they had a big matchup against the division-leading Toronto Marlies but fell short by a 3-2 score.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill focused upon turning the Amerks fortunes around this season and thus far he's been highly successful. It's much easier to complete a turnaround at the AHL-level than it is in the NHL and what Botterill and his staff have been able to do is change the culture and get those players playing the right way. Although Rodrigues was ready for full-time NHL duty prior to this season while playing an aggressive, up-tempo game, upon return from injury he worked right into what the Amerks were doing. After eight games where he scored 10 points (5+5,) Rodrigues got the call to Buffalo and continued that same type of play to help lead the bottom-six.

Along with the Sabres' Eichel and Rodrigues, Rochester defenseman Brendan Guhle is tearing it up for the Amerks. The 20 yr. old former second-round pick (51st-overall, 2015) is in his first full pro season logging top-pairing/all-situations minutes and is fourth on the team in scoring with 16 points (6+10) which ranks him third in the league amongst rookie defensemen. Last night Guhle scored a goal while joining the rush and wiring a shot from the top of the circle that beat Toronto goalie Calvin Pickard glove-side.

Rochester's Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th-overall) started the play by jumping on a turnover in his own zone and moving it up-ice. The 19 yr. old former first round pick (2016, 8th-overall) has been struggling since making the move to North America last season but shined last night against the league's best team. In addition to the secondary assist on Guhle's goal, Nylander added his own tally as he pounced on his own rebound in the slot and buried it.

One would be remiss not to mention rookie C.J. Smith, a free agent signee by Botterill this past spring. Smith leads the Amerks, by far, with 27 points (9+18) which is also tops in the AHL amongst rookies.

Despite the Sabres early woes and the desperate need for speed on the big club, Botterill stuck to his guns and kept some of his faster,more talented players in Rochester developing. It kept the Amerks strong and let the Sabres figure it out mostly on their own. Last night both teams lost but some of their bright spots shined through, lead by Eichel.

The Sabres are off until December 19 which happens to coincide with the NHL's holiday trade freeze. Botterill's been fielding calls on some of his players, which is what the GM of the league's second-worst team should be doing, but he's got to be a bit satisfied knowing that his vision of how he'd like to see his teams play, is beginning to take hold. It was ugly for a while in Buffalo, but his patience is beginning to pay off with some continuity stretching from Rochester up to Buffalo and in the process, some players are beginning to grab the spotlight.