Thursday, December 14, 2017

More depth helping Sabres pull out of a deep rut

Published by, 12-13-2017

After pulling off a 3-2 win last night against the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres have now picked up points in four straight games (2-0-2.) It's the first time this season that they've done so. Granted, the Sabres beat a Senators team that was on the last leg of a 7-game/15-day road trip and were 1-9-2 since returning from Stockholm, Sweden back in early November. But it was a solid two points for Buffalo after taking four of six points on their own road trip.

Although this may be nothing more than a last place horse closing the gap on a group that's far off the pace in the conference, that they managed to put together a four-game point-streak for the first time this season is a sign that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Last season the Sabres had a three-game point-streak five times and a four-game point-streak twice. From December 13-20, 2016 Buffalo secured 6 points in four games (2-0-2) and from January 3-10, 2017 they went 3-0-1 for seven points. In between, however, was a bad 1-4-0 stretch against Eastern Conference teams that was punctuated by back-to-back losses to the Boston Bruins to finish the calendar year.

Up next for the Sabres is a Thursday night game at Philadelphia against the Flyers as they try to extend their point-streak to five games. Buffalo hasn't gone on a point streak of five games or more since a nine-game streak (7-0-2) from March 3-27, 2012.

Sabres bench boss Phil Housley was on WGR550 this morning talking about an influx of players into the lineup and how that helped the team through increased internal competition. Players like Evan Rodrigues and Scott Wilson, although not top-six players, have contributed with their play and have also caused their teammates to step up their game for fear of being in the press box. "When you add pieces like that and guys that are contributing," said Housley to host Jeremy White, "it puts a little pressure on guys to get up to pace."

Housley was asked specifically about defenseman Zach Bogosian and what he brought to the team upon return from injury. The coach pointed out that in the preseason "you saw the type of player he can be, he's a powerful skater" and that now his defense-corps is falling into place. Bogosian missed the first 25 games of the seaso because of injury and Houlsey said that an argument could be made for him as the team's best defensemen over the six games he's been back.

"Last night [Bogosian] had a really good game just with his poise with the puck," said Housley. "It puts guys in the right seat on the back end. We've got a really good top-four with some good, solid depth in the five, six, seven, eight position with guys in Rochester and guys chomping at the bit to get into the lineup."

Rodrigues, Wilson and Bogosian were all adds to the lineup that pushed depth players back to the AHL. Forwards Seth Griffith and Kyle Criscuolo spent 18 and 17 games with the Sabres, respectively, before the acquisition of Wilson and the call-up of Rodrigues. They were sent them back to the AHL while Matt Moulson was waived. Defenseman Matt Tennyson, who was injured but was back skating, was sent pack to Rochester as well upon Bogosian's return.

The top-four Housley was talking about consists of Rasmus Ristolainen/Marco Scandella up top and Bogosian/Jake McCabe on the second pairing.

Ristolainen has been a Sabres' workhorse on defense for the last two seasons and it carried into this season with the 23 yr. old once again near the top of the NHL average time on ice. In the three games prior to last night, Ristolainen logged over 30 minutes in two consecutive games and came within 43 seconds of hitting the 30-minute mark in the third game, which would have been a franchise record three, 30-plus minute games in a row.

Last night Ristolainen logged 22:31 minutes of ice-time, which was tops on the team while three other defensemen logged 20 minutes or more. The last time the Sabres had four defensemen log 20 or more minutes in a game was on November 14 in a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo was without Ristolainen that game and lost Taylor Fedun after he logged just 10:22 of ice-time. The only other time it happened this year was against the San Jose' Sharks in a 3-2 losing effort with Zach Redmond skating just under 12 minutes and rookie Victor Antipin logging 11:14 minutes of ice-time.

Josh Gorges and Justin Falk were the third-pairing last night and logged 15:40 and 15:33 minutes of ice-time, respectively.

The Sabres have been stuck in the muck all season and have been trying to dig themselves out. Points in four straight games helps and having a lineup that's close to what they expected to have at the start of the season helps even more with most everyone in their proper places. Buffalo has four winnable games in front of them as they play Philadelphia twice with Carolina and Boston sandwiched between the Flyers' games. They're playing better overall hockey, are on a four-game point streak and there are some good things happening for the them, which includes some very solid goaltending by Robin Lehner.

Where it leads from here is, as usual, up in the air as you just don't know, but it's nice to see them moving in the right direction.

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