Published by hockeybuzz.com, 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.