Monday, December 31, 2018

Sabres need a shot in the arm, but it probably won't happen

Published by, 12-30-2018

Sabres-talk lately has centered around lack of secondary scoring, as it should and even though they got some of that last night, neither of their two goals came from the middle six forward group. Defenseman Marco Scandella opened the scoring with a nice follow-up on a Jeff Skinner rush and Johan Larsson scored shorthanded to put Buffalo up 2-1 in the second period, but it wasn't enough. Buffalo's top line was the driving force on Scandella's goal, but other than that they were shut down and the group of players composing Buffalo's second and third lines went AWOL once again as couldn't find the scoresheet.

The formula for beating Buffalo right now is fairly simple, contain the top line and apply pressure on the rest of the team until mistakes are made then capitalize on them. Boston is the master of that and they did so again last night. They kept it tight and then in the third period they dominated. The Bruins outshot the Sabres 18-5 in the period and scored the game-tying goal with less than four minutes to go on a powerplay where the puck never left the Buffalo zone. For the entire 1:14 duration of that powerplay Boston won both faceoffs, one missed shot, had two blocked shots and a couple of missed passes plus four shots on goal. That series of events led to the Bruins taking advantage of a tired Sabres PK with an uncontested, tipped shot that beat Sabres goalie Carter Hutton to tie the game.

Buffalo had a powerplay opportunity of their own in overtime, but the Bruins shut them down. The Sabres OT powerplay consisted of one lost faceoff and one missed shot on goal by the first PP unit and one missed shot by the second PP unit. A minute later, the Bruins scored.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sabres and Amerks return to action post-Christmas with (far) different results

Published by, 12-28-2018

Both the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres had to travel after spending the Christmas break away from the ice. Rochester took a four-hour bus ride to Cleveland the day after Christmas where the Monsters (CLB) awaited them while the Sabres jumped on a plane for a two-hour flight to St. Louis to take on the Blues last night. Both left in the morning and played that night.

The Amerks faced off against the Monsters for the third time in less than two weeks in what's being promoted as the Great Lakes Rivalry Series. A restructuring of AHL divisions this off-season moved the two teams on the shore of Lake Erie. who are only 200 miles apart, into the North Division meaning the teams will play each other eight times a year. Rochester and Cleveland hadn't played each other since 2014-15 when the Amerks and the Cleveland team known as the Lake Erie Monsters battled it out in the Western Conference.

Rochester was 3-0 this season vs. Cleveland heading into Wednesday's matchup at Quicken Loans Arena as the Amerks won in November and won a home-and-home in mid-December. Earlier in the season the two teams were battling near the top of the standings but the Monsters faultered until just prior to the break when they won three games in a row. Rochester, on the other hand, had lost three in a row so something had to give and it was Cleveland. The Amerks scored goals on three of six powerplay opportunities en route to a 4-0 win.

Despite the long bus ride and the weight of a three-game losing streak weighing on them the entire break, the Amerks found their legs, skated a full 60 minute and took it to a sluggish Monsters club. Amerks coach Chris Taylor had three lines working and though they only scored one 5v5 goal, their work drew penalties leading to the three powerplay goals. Props to the penalty kill as well as one of the league's worst PK units snuffed out all four Cleveland powerplay opportunities.

In St. Louis, things were a bit different.

Friday, December 28, 2018

December quick hits on the Sabres forwards, Part 2

Published by, 12-26-2018

The Christmas break is winding down for the NHL with 16 games set for tomorrow night to get the season rolling again. For hockey fans  in the U.S., the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in Vancouver, B.C. begin this evening with Team USA and Sabres d-prospect Mattias Samuelsson (2018, 32nd-overall) taking on Team Slovakia at 6:30 ET. Three other Buffalo prospects will be in action this year beginning today:  the Czech Republic and forward Matej Pekar (2018, 94th) open up the tourney vs. Team Switzerland at 4:00 ET while defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (2017, 54th) and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 89th) of Team Finland hit the ice at 10:30 ET to take on Team Sweden, last year's silver medal winner.

Down in Cleveland, Ohio the Rochester Americans will be trying to shake a three-game losing streak against the Monsters. The Amerks haven't won since defeating Cleveland in a home-and-home Dec. 14-15.

The Sabres return to action tomorrow night in St. Louis against Ryan O'Reilly and the Blues. The two teams pulled off a blockbuster deal in the off season with Buffalo sending O'Reilly to St. Louis for forwards Patrick Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson along with a conditional first round pick and a 2021 second rounder. And with that in mind, we'll continue our quick hits on the Sabres forwards with one of those players involved in the deal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December quick hits on the Sabres forwards, Part 1

Published by, 12-25-2018

Merry Christmas!

For those of us in Sabreland, Christmas came a little early this year although we didn't quite know just how great a present Buffalo general manger Jason Botterill gave us when he traded for Jeff Skinner over the summer. In doing so Botterill added a player that constituted 1/3 of Sabres top line that would be amongst the potent in the NHL.

Head coach Phil Housley still has work to do with his middle-six forwards, but for now he's got a top line that's carrying the load and it begins with the captain.

Jack Eichel--Not only did Botterill and the Sabres receive over the summer, he also gave in the form of Ryan O'Reilly, whom he traded to the St. Louis Blues. Although the return for O'Reilly was three players and two draft picks, the most important aspect of the deal right now centers around Eichel, who was drafted as a franchise center but for various reasons was never able to call the Sabres his team. After dealing with drama and injuries his first three NHL seasons, Captain Jack is coming into his own  and has been every bit the player who was drafted second overall in 2015 reaching an overall maturity-level that has catapulted him towards his full potential. He started out this season being a deft distributor of the puck while leading the team with a full 200' game and recently rediscovered his shot (after changing to a stick with a little less flex, according to reports.) He heads into the Christmas break tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 48 points and is on pace to become the first Sabres player to record 100 points in a season since Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny both did it in 1992-93. Eichel's 34 assists rank him tied for fifth in the NHL and his main benefactor has been...

Jeff Skinner--When Botterill mentioned Skinner's scoring at even strength, he wasn't kidding. The three-time 30-goal scorer is presently second in the league with 26 goals with 21 of them coming at even strength, which is also second in the league. Skinner already beat his 24 goals from last season and he's on pace to shatter his career high of 37 set in 2016-17. The guy most definitely has a deft touch around the net but the most fascinating part of his game might be his skating. Skinner learned figure skating as a young lad and as we've been lucky enough to see through 37 games in the Blue and Gold, he uses those skills to advantageously square himself to the play. In the offensive zone it's proven to be deadly. The chemistry between him and Eichel is unmistakable and the big question moving forward is, how long will be a Buffalo Sabre? Skinner is a pending unrestricted free agent but there's said to be a mutual interest in him re-signing with the club. After watching him game-in, game-out most in Sabreland want him re-signed yesterday and unless something weird happens, he should end up in the Blue and Gold long-term.

Sam Reinhart--He's been called the "Forgotten One" in these blogs on more than one occasion and even though he's on pace to put up career numbers, again, Reinhart still doesn't seem to get full recognition for the skills he brings to the ice. Housley had moved him around a bit in the lineup but in a November 13 game against Tampa, Housley stuck with him on the Eichel/Skinner line and the trio has combined for 30 goals and 72 points over those 20 game with Reinhart wielding a stat-line of six goals and 18 assists over that span. Although his skating is well behind that of his linemates, Reinhart is a very heady player who gets the puck where it needs to go and he's been a top-notch compliment to Buffalo's dynamic duo. Botterill re-signed Reinhart to a two year bridge deal this off season for a team friendly cap-hit of $3.65 million and it might be safe to say that we won't be seeing numbers remotely close to that with any new deal he signs.

Casey Mittelstadt--The mid-six in Buffalo's lineup has been in a constant state of flux this entire season as Housley can't seem to find the right mix, at least on a consistent, long-term basis. Having said that, the most skilled of those players is Mittelstadt. The 20 yr. old rookie has been thrown into the fire somewhat with the trade of O'Reilly, Buffalo's No. 2 center, and the failure of various players, including vets, to fill that spot. Mittelstadt isn't lighting up the scoreboard as he only has 10 points (5+5) in 37 games, but Housley has raved about him at times while calling attention to his focus upon playing a 200' game. As of late Mittelstadt has really been showing off some of the skills that made him a 2017 eighth-overall pick and we've seen him skating and stickhandling with much more confidence after getting acclimated to the speed of the NHL. He's done pretty much everything but consistently hit the scoresheet all while playing with a surprising amount of grit and dogged determination that belies his baby face. Some of his scoring woes can be traced back to little or no chemistry on a line that's facing tough competition on a nightly basis while some of it also has to do with the lack of time and space he's yet to adjust to. Mittelstadt has been finding himself in good spots on a consistent basis, especially as of late, but his trigger needs to be a touch faster and once he gets that, we should see his numbers spike upward.

Kyle Okposo--We all  know about Okposo's contract, his health issues and his struggles scoring. The Sabres could be getting the same production of 15 points (5+19) and a minus-4 rating through 37 games from a player with a cap-hit much less than Okposo's $6 million but they're stuck with that for four and a half more seasons.  It's the type of contract that could haunt Buffalo in the near future as Skinner, Reinhart and defensemen Rasmus Dahlin will all need new, and lucrative, contracts within the next two years. Buffalo desperately needs a No. 2 right wing that can score on a consistent basis and Okposo was supposed to be that guy. Outside of some solid, but somewhat modest, numbers in his first season with the Sabres that type of top-six production hasn't materialized and Housley's been forced to play him up and down the bottom-nine. Okposo is a player that's easy to pull for as he's overcome adversity and exudes professionalism on a daily basis, but there comes a point in time where said player needs to step up his game and help this team move forward. That time has come. 

Conor Sheary--Botterill needed to bolster the left wing position and his first move was to acquire Sheary from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheary was a known quantity as Botterill had 10 years in the Penguins front office prior to becoming Buffalo's GM. He knew Sheary brought speed and was tenacious on the puck and he also was familiar with a player who could play along side a superstar like Sidney Crosby and light the lamp for 40 goals over two full seasons. Sheary was on the outs in Pittsburgh as his stat-line dipped and Botterill was happy to bring him aboard. Although Sheary is always in overdrive, he runs hot and cold in the scoring department. He was solid out of the gate with six goals in 16 games but has only one in his last 17 games. The Sabres need some consistent production at left wing outside of Skinner and it was hoped Sheary could be that guy. He still could be, but we're really not sure.

Jason Pominville--The 35 yr. old is in his 15th NHL season and is far removed from the days where he was scoring at least 20 goals and 60 points on a consistent basis. At this stage of the game Pominville is looked to for leadership on the ice and wisdom off it as he's is really beginning to show his age. The adrenaline of a new season has worn off and the long grind of the NHL season has set in. Like last season, Pominville started out strong scoring eight goals and adding seven assists in his first 16 games but has only one goal and two assists in his last 17 games. He went into the Christmas break on an 11-game pointless streak before being sidelined with a what looks to be a concussion for the last two games. The last time the Sabres made the playoffs was in the 2010-11 season, Pominville's last full season in Buffalo before getting traded, and this year they're in the driver's seat for a playoff appearance which would bring Pominville full circle. And probably make for a nice sendoff whenever their season ends.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sabres win, Sabreland feeling a loss early in the third period

Published by, 12-23-2018

A little over two minutes into the third period of Buffalo's 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks last night, there was silence emanating from the Ted Darling Memorial Press Box at KeyBank Center. It wasn't a full broadcast malfunction as audio from the ice was still coming over the airwaves and analyst Rob Ray would still interject with his insight.

There was no Rick Jeanneret.

The legendary Sabres play-by-play has been putting his listeners smack-dab in the middle of the on-ice action dating back to Buffalo's second season in 1971-72 and it was strange when things went silent. Come to find out that the 76 yr. old was wheeled off from the press box on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.

Prior to being felled Jeanneret everything was quite normal save for the Santa outfit he had on while doling out treats to the fans directly below the box prior to the game. But in those few minutes when there was dead-air from his mike, we Sabres fans realized just how much he's woven into the Buffalo hockey experience. Kudos to studio host Brian Duff for coming in cold and calling the last 15 minutes or so as he did a standup job, but for a brief moment life without Jeanneret left us with an empty feeling.

However, there is good news, according to The Athletic's John Vogl, Jeanneret tweeted, "still kicking" this morning.

Long may you run, Rick.

December quick hits on the Sabres goalies and d-men

Published by, 12-24-2018

Going into the NHL's Christmas break with a win is much better than going with a loss, and being third in the division is much better than...well, we Sabres fans know where this team has been at this time of year the last seven or so years. And it hasn't been good.

What's been good for the Sabres, however, is that they've have been getting the job done in tight games even though there are definitive holes throughout the lineup and it's taken them to an overall record of 21-11-5 which is good for 47 points. For as young a team as they are at their core, Buffalo's 11-3-5 record in one goal games is near the top of the league.

Some of the big reasons for those numbers above have been a top line that's been hot, a defense that's solid and relatively deep when healthy, and goaltending that may not have the overall numbers, but has had a tendency to come up big when needed at various points in the game.

Today we'll take a quick look at Buffalo's goaltending and defense and 37 games into the 2018-19 season.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

On a downward trend with one game before Christmas break

Published by, 12-22-2018

The Sabres will head into the Christmas break with a very solid record no matter what happens tonight vs. the Anaheim Ducks. A 10-game winning streak assured that but as of late they've tailed off considerably. Buffalo followed that streak with a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and are now 3-2-1 in their last six games after losing to the Washington Capital 2-1 last night. At a post-streak pace of nine points from their 3-5-3 record, the Sabres would end up with around 93 points, or in a heated battle for a playoff spot.

That's how costly it can be when you only win three of your last 11 games.

Through it all Buffalo has played some good hockey over the last few weeks, most notably against the Stanley Cup champion Capitals, whom they played twice on the road in a span of seven days. In their first meeting on December 15 the Sabres, in a game they could have definitely won, lost 4-3 in the shootout and last night the also lost by a goal, 2-1. It was another game against the champs they could have definitely won, or at least tied as they really ramped up the pressure in the third. However, they ran into a wall in Caps goalie Brayden Holtby.

The game was reminiscent of a game back in early November at Madison Square Garden where the Rangers "King" Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 of Buffalo's 40 shots on goal for the 3-1 win. Last night Holtby and company snuffed out every chance Buffalo had save for a puck that pinballed to Johan Larsson just outside the crease before he chipped it home. There were opportunities galore for the Sabres but they could not get another past Holtby even with a 2-minute powerplay near the end of the game. In all he stopped 36 of 37 Buffalo shots on goal.

Sabres can put to rest a major screw up with Skinner extension. Plus...

It was the summer of 2007 and Buffalo was coming off of a President's Trophy-winning season that ended a little too soon for their liking. The Sabres lost their second consecutive Eastern Conference championship game and were headed into the off season with some big questions looming.

The NHL was finishing up their second season with the new salary cap structure and the first year was a big success with three smaller market teams in their respective conference championships. When the league came out of the '04-'05 lockout the salary-cap ceiling was $39 million and for the Sabres it was a very manageable figure. The following season it went to $44.9 million (a 15% jump)which would still afford a team like Buffalo the opportunity to compete with the larger market teams while still "breaking even," which was the organizational mantra under owner B. Thomas Golisano.

However, one could sense that individual star salaries were due for a sharp increase as evidenced by the arbitration award to Sabres center Daniel Briere of $5 million. Briere had an exceptional season with 25 goals and 33 assists in 48 games during an injury shortened season. Regardless of that, the award was still a stunner and would set team up for an imminent fail the following season.

Briere's one-year extension meant that he and co-captain Chris Drury would be unrestricted free agents at the end of the '06-'07 season. In addition, budding superstar Thomas Vanek would be a restricted free agent as well. Throughout the season there was that sinking feeling in Sabreland as the mantra would not allow for both Briere and Drury, along with Vanek, to be re-signed. As we would come to find out, team president Larry Quinn had decided upon re-signing Drury and letting Briere walk. Unfortunately for them, Drury signed a lucrative long-term deal with his boyhood idol NY Rangers while Briere, after being shunned by Buffalo, signed a lucrative, long-term deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. And to make matters worse, Vanek signed a seven-year offer-sheet with an average annual value of over $7 million.

It was a decision that would haunt them for over a decade.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Housley struggling to figure out his middle-six forward group

Published by, 12-19-2018

Buffalo's top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart have been carrying the offensive load for the Sabres dating back to the end of their 10-game winning streak with the trio combining for a red-hot 20 goals and 25 assists in the last 10 games. Eichel is second in the NHL over that span with 18 points (9+9,) Reinhart is tied for third with 17 points (5+12) and Skinner comes in at 10 points (6+4.)

The next closest Buffalo forward during that span is fourth-liner Zemgus Girgensons with three points (1+2) and he missed a game while sitting in the press box. Between the top line and Girgensons are two defensemen--Rasmus Ristolainen (1+7) and Rasmus Dahlin (1+4.) After that it gets pretty ugly on the scoresheet. Ranked by average time on ice, here's what the middle six forwards have done on the score sheet for the Sabres along their plus/minus rating:

Vladimir Sobotka--0+0, -7
Kyle Okposo--0+0, -5
Conor Sheary--0+1, -3
Tage Thompson--1+1, -4
Casey Mittelstadt--1+1, -3
Jason Pominville--0+0, -2

Is it any wonder the Sabres are 3-4-3 over that span?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Jack Eichel making a statement

Published by, 12-17-2018

When Jack Eichel was a rookie back in 2015 his first game against his hometown Boston Bruins was quite memorable. It was the day after Christmas and it was the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Boston went into the third period with a 2-1 lead and made it a two goal lead about seven minutes in.

Buffalo would counter with three goals in a 4:23 span to take the lead with Eichel scoring the middle goal to tie the game. He would add an empty-netter from 150' away with less than two minutes to go and fed Ryan O'Reilly for another empty net goal to add emphasis. Two goals, two assists and the game's first star while leaving an indelible mark on the TD Garden crowd.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Getting a good feel for the Sabres after last night

Published by hockeybuzz, 12-16-2018

That this is Jack Eichel's team is not to be debated and as captain of the Sabres he's proving it. Eichel always had the skill and skating and shot...and drive to win and that beet-red, post-game face after leaving it all on the ice. We seen glimpses of that but lately those of us in Sabreland, as well as the rest of the NHL and national media outlets like ESPN, are just starting to realize what we have in No. 9.

Last night was a litmus test for the Sabres both individually and as a team and we could see how they matched up against an Eastern conference power. Despite playing a Washington team that was travelling back home for the second game of a back-to-back, the Capitals are still the defending Stanley Cup champions, still have the greatest goal-scorer of his generation in Alex Ovechkin and are still loaded for bear. Plus they seem to be extremely motivated as of late.

Eichel was up to the task last night scoring two goals on three shots while doing everything he could to try and lead his team to a win which included this beauty of a goal showing off his extreme skating ability, his deft stickwork and wicked shot:


"Coming soon to a theater near you," indeed, Mr. Jeanerette, or for now, to the ESPN top-10 highlights this morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Buffalo @ Washington notes and such, plus, Patrik Berglund suspended

Published by, 12-15-2018

The good news for the Buffalo Sabres is that they'll be playing against a team that went to the sixth round of the shootout on the road last night and will be flying back home for the second game of a back-to-back against them. The bad news is that Buffalo be playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals who've won four in a row and are led by captain Alexander Ovechkin who extended his 13-game point streak (16 goals, 6 assists) last night by posting his second consecutive hat trick.

There's been no Stanley Cup hangover for "The Great Eight" this season as he's been ready, according to his head coach Todd Reirden. "[Ovechkin] came back after winning the Stanley Cup and was ready to go from Day One," said Reirden to the gathered media after Washington's come-from-behind win, "and he hasn't stopped since. He's doing it game after game, obviously. It's very impressive. He's been outstanding."

Ovechkin leads the league with 28 goals, is now tied for seventh with 42 points and he's got his team on a roll. Washington has won 11 of those 13 games during his streak and the Caps have gone from fourth in the Metropolitan division, four points out of the top spot, to leading the division by five points. They extended their present streak in dramatic fashion last night by overcoming a three-goal, third period deficit, killing a penalty in overtime then winning it in the shootout.

Here's Carolina Hurricanes forward, and three-time Stanley Cup champion, Justin Williams put it to the local media last night. "Once they got down, they started playing a different game and scored some goals because of it. There's a reason they are who they are. They had guys flying the zone, and they figured they were either going to lose it 7-1 or tie it up."

The Sabres haven't exactly been chopped liver this season but going into Washington has always been a challenge. Buffalo is only 2-6-2 in it's last 10 games at Capital One Arena with their last win coming November 22, 2014. Buffalo is 0-4-1 since that win. Oddly enough the Sabres had their most success vs. Washington during the tank years going 3-1-2 vs. the Caps overall and 2-1-0 on the road.

Buffalo said goodbye to a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) with back-to-back wins and head into this weekend with a tough assignment as they play the Capitals tonight then head to Boston to take on the Bruins tomorrow. Perhaps the Sabres caught a break with Washington in an emotionally and physically draining overtime game last night, but then again the Caps don't play again until Wednesday and Ovechkin seems to be on a mission once again which could make for a very difficult game.


A lot of attention has been given to the Sabres fourth line and their lack of scoring this season. Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson have anchored Buffalo's checking line for most of the season and they've combined for 11 points (5+6) in 55 combined games and the Capitals offer an interesting comparison.

The Capitals this season have a fourth line anchored by Dmitrij Jaskin and Nic Dowd with the duo combining for 19 points (5+14) in 52 games. They've been particularly hot as of late scoring a goal and adding five assists in their last three games, which is pretty potent for two players whose average even-strength time on ice is 9:45 and 8:35, respectively.

Girgensons and Larsson have also been contributing for Buffalo lately with a goal each in their last two games and have logged even-strength average time on ice of 11:09 and 11:38, respectively, on the season.

Many times Sabres head coach Phil Housley has said that their fourth line has been one of the best lines on the ice for them despite the duo of Girgensons (11.86%) and Larsson (11.44%) having the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts, by far, on the team. By contrast, Dowd comes in at 32.98% while Jaskin is at 48.68%. The huge discrepancy is due in large part to Buffalo's duo being on the top penalty kill unit with Girgensons and Larsson both at 2:36 SH ATOI while in Washington, Dowd is part of a multi-layered PK with four Caps forwards logging more PK ice time than his average of 1:53/game. Jaskin is an afterthought on the PK (:08.)

Despite the heavy defensive responsibilities, Buffalo's fourth line has been able to flip the ice, get on the forecheck and create opportunities. Although a Roberto Duran "Hands of Stone" analogy is fitting on most occasions, they're doing what is asked of them with their duo contributing as many goals as Washington's.


Buffalo's top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart have also been doing their part as they've carried the load for the team.

Over the last 17 games which includes a 10-game winning-streak followed by a five-game losing streak and these last two wins in a row, the Sabres scored 36 even strength goals in regulation. The top trio has accounted for 20 of those which is a pretty solid ratio of about 56%. Girgensons and Larsson have scored a combined four goals with Evan Rodrigues, who's spent much of his time on their line, adding another. With the Sabres first and fourth lines accounting for 25 of Buffalo's 36 EV goals in that span, that leaves the middle-six with a combined 11 EV goals.

The breakdown of the middle six:

Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt--3
Vladimir Sobotka--2
Jason Pominville, Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary--1

Luckily Buffalo has gone 12-3-2 during that span which puts them solidly in the Atlantic Division's top three, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place but still only four points ahead of the Boston Bruins. However, it would behoove that middle-six, and the coaching staff, to figure things out before the Sabres find themselves in a nutty wild card race.


Speaking of the Eastern Conference, there could be a huge cluster in the middle of the conference at season's end. As of right now the Tampa Bay Lightning is the class of the conference with the Capitals surging towards them and there's no reason to believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs will finish anywhere else but second in the division behind the Lightning.

Over in the Metropolitan the Caps are in the driver's seat of a seemingly weak Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins on the move ready to over take the second place Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Sabres lead every team in the Metropolitan division and are four points ahead of the Bruins, who hold the first wild-card spot with 38 points. The Montreal Canadiens have 37 points and there are four teams in the conference with 32 points.

Over the years the Sabres have bemoaned lost points in October and November leaving them to scramble for every possible point later in the year. With 26 of a possible 34 points in the bag over the last 17 games, they've been able to create a cushion between themselves and that group of teams presently in the wild-card hunt.

It's something that shouldn't be taken for granted, but it's something they may look back upon with pride.


While writing this blog it was announced that forward Patrik Berglund "has been suspended indefinitely by the organization due to failure to report to the team," according to the Sabres. 

Berglund came over from the St. Louis Blues in the Ryan O'Reilly and has been in a bottom-six/reserve role for much of the season. He wasn't in the lineup the last two games due to illness, according to Housley via reports. In 23 games for Buffalo Berglund has scored only four points (2+2) and he's played in only nine of the Sabres last 17 games with zero points and a minus-8 rating.

The team had no further comment.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sabres have some momentum heading into a tough weekend roadie

Published by, 12-14-2018

With a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes last night, the Buffalo Sabres completed a four-game  homestand with a 2-1-1 mark after starting out the stretch with two straight losses. The back-to-back wins, even if they were against lesser teams, should give them some positive momentum heading into a tough weekend coming up.

Buffalo was struggling with a number of issues including a barrage of injuries on the blueline as starters Marco Scandella and Jake McCabe were lost to injury and reserve d-man Casey Nelson also went down. For the first time all season the Sabres were forced to use a callup in a game as 2018 free agent signee Lawrence Pilut made his NHL debut on defense November 30. After Nelson was injured against the Toronto Maple Leafs, journeyman Matt Tennyson got the call for his first NHL game of the season. From the time Scandella went down against on November 27 to their game last Saturday when Tennyson mad his season debut, the Sabres found themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak (0-3-2.)

In addition to the blueline blues, Buffalo was also having trouble scoring outside of their top line. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart scored 10 of the Sabres 12 goals during that losing stretch and did all the scoring in the last four games of that season-worst streak.

And if that wasn't enough, starting goalie Carter Hutton tweaked something at practice prior to last Saturday's game and missed his next two starts.

Granted, it's not like the Sabres lost a superstar like Eichel or key players like Skinner, Rasmus Ristolainen or Rasmus Dahlin, but for a team that had 14 of their last 16 games decided by one goal, injuries like that disrupted their balance and put their depth to the test.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Notes and thoughts after the Sabres 4-3 OT win over Los Angeles

This is how we do it

The Sabres five-game losing streak is over. Or if you may, their winless streak is over as Buffalo managed a loser-point in two of those losses. Getting back in the win column was huge for the team especially while playing the type of up-tempo, Corsi-heavy game head coach Phil Housley prefers. Housley's charges got up and down the ice and pumped a total of 47 shots on goal against Los Angeles to the Kings' 27 shots. Overall the Sabres pumped 74 shots at Kings rookie goaltender Calvin Petersen while Los Angeles managed a total of 48 against Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark.

A rather cold Sabres powerplay also came through for them as they went 2 for 8 in the game on a total of 11:33 seconds of powerplay time. Having the Rasmi--Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin--at the point really helped as Ristolainen was at the top of a 1-3-1 set-up with Jack Eichel on the left half-wall and Dahlin on the right. Eichel and Dahlin peppered the Kings with shots, which was a good sign even if it was against the league's 29th-ranked penalty kill, with Eichel finally breaking through. Buffalo's other powerplay goal came in overtime as Jeff Skinner poked home a puck in the crease for his 21st goal of the season.

Ristolainen picked up the primary assist on both of those goals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Housley shuffles bottom-six and PP units with team in a tailspin

Published by, 12-10-2018

There's much to be made in the fact that Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner, a trio that comprises Buffalo's top line and three-fifths of their first powerplay unit, are the only players to score goals in the last four games. The Sabres are 0-2-2 in those games with that trio accounting for all eight Buffalo goals.

As we delve a little deeper into those numbers, that trio accounted for 15 (8+7) of the 21 total points on those goals and of the seven primary assists involved (one, by Reinhart, was unassisted,) that trio had four of them. Here's a list of what the rest of the team has done on the scoresheet in those four games:

3-2 OT loss at Florida
--goalie Linus Ullmark, secondary assist on second goal

2-1 loss at Nashville

4-3 OT loss vs. Toronto
--defenseman Nathan Beaulieu primary and Rasmus Ristolainen secondary assists on first goal
--Ristolainen primary assist on second goal

6-2 loss vs. Philadelphia
--Lawrence Pilut primary assist and Ristolainen secondary assist on second goal

Although it's good to see the defensemen continue to push the play and contribute to the offense, the fact that Ullmark's one assist outscored every Buffalo forward outside of the top trio is rather alarming.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sabres need to move on from yesterday's stinker.

Published by, 12-9-2018

Linus Ullmark suffered his first regulation loss of the season yesterday afternoon in Buffalo's 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even thought six goals ended up behind him, no blame should be thrown Ullmark's way as the skaters in front of him suffered an extreme case of hubris that caused a meltdown with six unanswered Flyers goals.

Sabres head coach Phil Housley called it a "stinker" yesterday, the stench of which could be smelled to the top row of the 300's and beyond. It was a "Core-like" performance from his club where they got out to an early lead, found themselves in a dog fight and wilted as Philadelphia willed their way to a lopsided win.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sabres hobbled as they head into a matinee versus Philadelphia today

It was a great run for Buffalo through much of November as their 10-game winning streak propelled them to the top of the NHL standings for a brief stint. In all they had 11 wins during the month, something they haven't done in over a decade. The key components of that run was timely scoring up front and key saves from their goaltending tandem and those two components have held steady even in their recent post-streak 0-2-2 slide. There's a thin line between winning and losing a one-goal game and the Sabres have had 13 such games in their last 14 outings, but what's been missing during their present four-game losing streak (all one-goal games) has been the overall health of the team with injuries taking their toll on the blueline.

Defenseman Marco Scandella was the first to go down. He was placed on injured reserve November 27 prior to the game at Tampa Bay. Fellow top-six blueliner Jake McCabe suffered an injury against the Lightning that night and he was placed on IR as well. The Sabres loss in Tampa snapped their winning streak and began their present losing streak.

Casey Nelson has played in 22 games for Buffalo as a reserve defenseman and had seen his ice-time fluctuate throughout the season but with injuries to Scandella and McCabe, was settling into a bottom-pairing. He ended up getting injured in the first period of Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been placed on IR as well. 

The Sabres are down to four regular defenseman as they head into this afternoon's game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers at KeyBank Center. They recalled 22 yr. old rookie Lawrence Pilut from the Rochester Americans on November 27 and tapped into the Amerks once again with the recall yesterday of d-man Matt Tennyson, whom coach Phil Housley said would be in the lineup today.

And it didn't stop there. Starting goalie Carter Hutton is out of the lineup for today's game with an upper-body injury apparently sustained, according to Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, after he "got stiff on the bench while serving as a backup during Tuesday's overtime loss to Toronto." The Sabres recalled Rochester goalie Scott Wedgewood as a backup to Linus Ullmark. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Bandwagon filling up, injuries and, this Pilut ready for takeoff?

Published by, 12-7-2018

All Aboard!!!

It's been a long time since Sabres fans had that feeling of being fully invested in their beloved hockey team. Since 2006-07 when Buffalo won the President's Trophy and made their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance there have been flashes of enthusiasm, most notably the Sabres division crown in 2009-10 and the run to the playoffs the following season under new owner Terry Pegula, but in and around those? Mirages in a desert.

"The Core" years of Darcy Regier did include those two playoff teams and a load of individual talent that could never mesh into a playoff threat, but unlike those two ECF teams, they generally wilted when the heat was turned up. After he was fired in 2013, his core was dispersed and the team fell in a deep rut with a number last place finishes and a high of only 81 points the past seven seasons. Despite the haul the Sabres got from Regier's core and two second-overall picks from back-to-back tank seasons, the Sabres were still a train wreck. Under yet another new GM and coach, the Sabres fell to the bottom again last season after an atrocious start and a downward spiral that had Sabreland talking draft as early as December.

Such was the plight of Buffalo's beleaguered hockey fans over the past decade-plus.

Friday, December 7, 2018

No head-hanging here. Sabres/Leafs was a blast despite Buffalo on the wrong end

There was a time last season when Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley came off as an over-protective mother in a post-game presser after his team got shellacked 5-1 by the Dallas Stars. On November 4, 2017 the Stars scored three goals in the first 10 minutes en route to crushing the hapless Sabres. Afterward, Housley tried to gloss over his team’s performance saying that he thought his team "played well" in the loss. "The score tells you differently and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me."

Yup, pretty much everybody disagreed with Housley on that with one beat-reporter writing, "That was one of the most egregious quotes I've heard from a Buffalo coach in a long time. An affront to a battered fanbase. 

"There's a difference in being positive and being a Pollyanna Phil."

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sabres stumbling home with Leaf Nation invading downtown Buffalo tonight

The winning streak was never going to last forever, but a win in one of the two games after would have been nice. After winning 10 in a row the Buffalo Sabres now find themselves on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) having lost 2-1 last night at Nashville to the Predators. The home team bottled the Sabres up through much of the game then choked them off in the third period while holding a one-goal lead. Of the eight third period shots on goal for the Sabres, five of them came with the goalie pulled late in the frame and none of them got by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

Nashville won despite missing a lot of firepower in leading goal-scorer Filip Forsberg, forwards Viktor Arvidsson  and Kyle Turris plus defenseman P.K. Subban. Head coach Peter Laviolette wanted his players to stick to their up-tempo identity but also needed them to keep things tight against a team like Buffalo. "With a lot of key pieced out of our lineup, I just think it's important to stick to our identity," he told the local media post-game. "But, we also understand there's less room for error and we have to make sure we're sharp.

"They've (the Sabres) have a lot of people that can hurt you. They're a dangerous team, they're playing fast and they're on the attack. I thought our guys did a real good job of just trying to stay above them, stay tight and check tight in the defensive zone."

Welcome to playoff-style hockey.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Looking to get back into the win column after two straight losses

Published by, 12-3-2018

The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's contest in Nashville having lost two games in row for the first time since October 16-18. Most probably wouldn't be surprised that Buffalo went 0-1-1 in Florida as 1.) they've had trouble on that Sunshine State road trip for years and 2.) a demanding schedule and the pressure of tying a franchise-high winning-streak may have finally gotten to them both physically and mentally. The Tampa Bay Lightning ended the Sabres winning streak with a come-from-behind win in a see-saw battle that saw five lead changes in the game. The following night Buffalo was in Sunrise, Florida to face off against the Panthers where they proceeded to lose 3-2 in overtime.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Team Stats--November

Published by, 12-1-2018

When the final horn sounded at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on Thursday night the Buffalo Sabres were on the wrong end of a 3-2 score and their franchise-tying 10-game winning streak had come to an end. Buffalo had not lost a game in nearly three weeks and it seemed as if they were running on pure adrenaline by the end of that game against the Lightning. Perhaps that's what 10 games in 20 days, with a three-game road trip and a couple of back-to-backs will do to a team that's still very young at it's core.

Where this Sabres team ends up moving forward remains to be seen but a run like that puts them in a fine position to end a playoff-drought that's lasted seven years.

The Sabres finished the month of October with two overtime losses and a five-game point streak (3-0-2) which turned into a three-game losing streak after a 4-2 loss at Ottawa to kick off November. The loss put them below the real .500-mark at 6-5-2 but two days later they smoked the Senators 9-2 in the second-game of a home-and-home. That big win vs. Ottawa sent them on the road with some confidence heading to the Big Apple to face off against goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the NY Rangers and though they peppered Lundqvist with 40 shots on goal that night, they lost 3-1. What followed would be an historic 10-game run that took Sabres from 18th in the league all the way to No. 1. No team in NHL history had led the league 25 games into the season after finishing the prior season in last place until the 2018-19 Sabres.

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Individual Stats Leaders--November

Published by, 12-2-2018

The Buffalo Sabres as a team enjoyed a lot of national media attention last month and they should have as their franchise-tying 10-game winning streak catapulted them to the top of the National Hockey League. There was a lot of love thrown Buffalo's way, especially towards the fans who endured years of dreadful hockey that at times looked as if there was no end in sight, and a lot of  video dedicated to individual efforts that led the way for the Sabres. Just yesterday the NHL named 18 yr. old Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as their rookie of the month for November.

Dahlin was heralded as one of the best d-prospects to come into the league in a long time and by the looks of it, he may very well be. The Sabres have been easing him into the lineup and last month he was moved him up a notch. In November Dahlin averaged just under 20 minutes of ice time and scored 10 points (1+9) in 15 games while also tying for the team lead in plus/minus with a plus-9 for the month. He was one of a trio of Sabres up front that led the team to an 11-win month, which was the most wins in a month for Buffalo since December, 2005.

Jeff Skinner was another member of that trio as he led the Sabres with 14 goals. The 26 yr. old left winger was acquired by Buffalo in August to provide goal-scoring, especially 5v5, and he's done just that. His 20 goals on the season is second in the league and he has a team-best plus-15 rating (sixth-best in the league) on the season for a Buffalo team that is ninth in the league in 5v5 goals.

When Sabres captain Jack Eichel wasn't leading a rush into the offensive zone or high-tailing it back on the back check, he was busy setting up his teammates for goals. Eichel led the team with 19 assists during the month of November, 14 of them being primary. Of the 15 games the Sabres played, Eichel had primary assists in 10 of them and four times he registered multi-primary assist-games.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Although the streak is lost, the Sabres may have gained a rival

Published by, 11-30-2018

Had you been at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida last night without any indication the time of year it was, the atmosphere and the game played between the Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres might have told you it was April or May and that the two teams on the ice were battling in the playoffs. The streaking Sabres began a three-game Southern road-trip sitting atop the entire NHL with a 10-game winning streak in tow and the opportunity to set the franchise mark with a win in Tampa. The Lightning, who've been one of the best teams the Eastern conference for three of the last four seasons had turf to defend against the upstart Sabres and were looking to reclaim their spot at the top.

What ensued was a great battle in a playoff-like atmosphere between two teams vying for supremacy not only in the conference, but in the entire league.

The Sabres came into the game as the top team in the NHL and the first team ever to have finished in last place the prior season and be atop of the league after 25 games. The 10-game win streak they were on served notice that they were saying goodbye to doormat-status and they were out to prove further that they belonged in the same class as the heavyweights of the league. Buffalo went toe-to-toe with Tampa but came out on the losing end of a 5-4 score and dropped to third in the Atlantic division, one point behind the Lightning.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Sabres at Lightning: Showdown for King of the Mountain tonight in Tampa

Published by, 11-29-2018

If there's a hockey fan on earth who predicted that the last place Buffalo Sabres from 2017-18 would be atop the National Hockey League just over a quarter-way into this season, stand up and be counted...and bring the proof. Fact is, no one predicted that quick of a last-to-first move as it's never been done before. According to the team, the 2018-19 Sabres are the first team ever to lead the NHL outright in points 25 games into the season after finishing the prior season with the worst record in the league.

Buffalo sits atop the mountain and heads into tonight on a 10-game winning-streak, which ties franchise-best, and will face a Lightning team that is only one point behind them in the league standings. With their win last night the Toronto Maple Leafs are second-overall, tied with the Sabres at 36 points apiece but having played one more game. The Nashville Predators, who host the Arizona Coyotes tonight, are tied with Tampa at 35 points.

It's jumbled at the up their right now, but just the very fact that Buffalo is a part of that jumble is pretty amazing. The Sabres started out the month having lost two of three but that lone win represented a breakout offensively as the pummeled the Ottawa Senators 9-2. They had a 7-6-2 record prior to their road game at Montreal to start this run and sat fifth in the Atlantic division, 18th in the league, which actually wasn't so bad for a team that finished dead last the season before. But Buffalo has managed to cobble together a 10-game run by winning in many different ways with all but one of the games having been decided by one goal including four that went to overtime and three  in the shootout. The Sabres three regulation wins included one-goal wins vs. Tampa (2-1) and at Minnesota (3-2.) Buffalo defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at home for their only win of more than one goal.

Along with timely goals and an overall team resiliency giving them the belief that no lead is too large to overcome, goaltending has played a key role in this run. Starter Carter Hutton is on an eight-game winning streak, giving him the third-longest winning streak in franchise history. He, like the team, started out his run against the Canadiens as he made a relief appearance for backup Linus Ullmark and won in overtime. Prior to that Hutton was 4-6-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .909 save-percentage. He heads into tonight's game with a 12-6-1 record, a 2.50 GAA and .920 Sv%. Although it doesn't show up in the overall stats, Hutton and Ullmark have both been excellent during this run (and even beforehand) in that they're coming up with the big save when needed.

The duo of Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel have been on fire during this run, both with 11 points. Skinner has 10 goals during the streak, two of them game winners while Eichel has 10 assists with his lone goal being the overtime winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Adding to that duo is a defense that has been a handful for the opposition. During the streak d-men have contributed eight goals  including three multi-goal games with Rasmus Ristolainen potting the game-winner in overtime at Montreal to start the winning -streak.

And in a tribute to Buffalo's depth, nine different players have scored game-winning/deciding goals. In order they were Ristolainen (overtime,) Casey Mittelstadt (shootout-winner,) Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary (SO,) Jason Pominville, Eichel (OT,) Evan Rodrigues, Skinner (OT,) Sam Reinhart (SO,) Skinner.

Lest we forget while basking in the enthusiasm of this run, the Sabres face Tampa team that has been a final four playoff team in three of the last four seasons while making it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2014-15. The Lightning came into the season as Cup contenders and still remain so despite the loss of starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for up to six weeks. From their speed and firepower up front to their solid d-corps, Tampa boasts the league's second-best goal-scoring rate at 3.68 goals/game and the league's sixth-best powerplay unit at a 26.7% conversion rate. The Sabres own the league's eighth-best penalty kill with an 81.9% kill rate.

Interesting note, Buffalo's defensemen have outscored the Lightning d-men 14-12 on the season with every Sabres blueliner scoring at least one goal (Tampa has two without.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Skinner w/the OT winner as (now) NHL-leading Sabres win-streak hits 10

Published by, 11-28-2018

Just how much fun are the Buffalo Sabres having right now? Maybe this goal by defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a good indication.

And just how into it are the fans? Listen to the roar as Buffalo's Jeff Skinner scores the game-winner in overtime of the 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Ten games, 10 wins, three in regulation, four in overtime, three in the shootout and a Buffalo Sabres team that once again sits atop the NHL standings.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

KeyBank should be rockin' as Sabres reach for a piece of franchise history

Published by, 11-27-2018

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley has said that he and his team aren't thinking about the winning streak, preferring to focus their energies on the task at hand. It's a pretty good philosophy as you only play one game at a time and looking ahead will only get you in trouble. But while he and his Sabres are focused upon tonight's matchup against the San Jose Sharks, for those who still may not have heard, Buffalo is on a nine-game winning streak with the opportunity tonight to match two Sabres teams for the longest winning streak in franchise history.

With some of the talent that's run through Buffalo since they came into the league beginning with the 1970-71 season, it's a bit of a surprise to think that the Sabres have had a double-digit win-streak only twice in their 48 yr. history. The first time was 1983-84 when a 19 yr. old Housley was in his the sophomore season of his Hockey Hall of Fame career. It was the year the Edmonton Oilers finally dethroned the NY Islanders and their four consecutive Stanley Cups before they went on their own run winning four of the next five Cups. Speed and skill was the name of the game and the Sabres were in transition being led by 33 yr. old veteran, and Hockey Hall of Famer, Gilbert Perreault and his 90 points (31+59,) followed by 20 year old Dave Andreychuk (38 goals, 80 points) who was also in his sophomore season and would eventually join Perreault and Housley in the Hall of Fame.

Housley was third on that team in scoring that year with 77 points (31+46.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Another tough group of upcoming games for the streaking Buffalo Sabres

Published by, 11-26-2018

It's been over 12 years since the 2006-07 edition of the Buffalo Sabres began the season with an NHL record-tying 10 game win-streak while on their way to the President's Trophy for best record in the league. That streak also tied a franchise record for longest winning streak and for those who may not remember, Buffalo took the league by storm that season as they were likened to a Ferrari and were capable of coming back from any deficit at any time.

We're getting glimpses of that this season with a fast Sabres team that's feeling very comfortable regardless of the score or time of game. During this nine-game winning streak the Sabres have overcome third period deficits six times, twice they scored the game-tying goal with less that three minutes to go and in one of those two games scored twice to tie it. Six of their games have gone beyond regulation with three wins in overtime and three won in the shootout, including the last one when Tage Thompson scored to extend the session.

The adrenaline rush this team is on carried them through a tough patch where they played a total of nine games in 17 days including a mid-continent back-to-back as part of a three-game road-trip. They started out this run with a win against Atlantic division rival Montreal and faced off against division leaders Vancouver and Tampa Bay before heading west to take on Winnipeg and Minnesota, who were two top-five teams in the NHL at the time. After a stint in Pittsburgh against the struggling Penguins where they overcame a three-goal deficit, Buffalo came home to face Philadelphia before a back-to-back Friday vs. Montreal at home and at Detroit on Saturday to finish this stretch.

It doesn't get any easier for the NHL's third-best team beginning tomorrow night when they take on the San Jose Sharks at KeyBank Center before facing off against three of the NHL's heavyweights. After the Sharks the Sabres hit the road to face off against the top two teams in the league--the No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning followed  by a trip to Nashville to take on the No. 1 Predators. It will be no rest for the team as they fly back to Buffalo to take on arch-rival Toronto who are fourth in the league, two points behind the Sabres.

Buffalo head coach Phil Housley is icing a talented, yet imperfect, group of players that continue to find ways to win. Against Tampa they held on to a one-goal win (with the help of a couple of Lightning posts late in the game,) against the Philadelphia Flyers they jumped out to a four-goal lead in the first period and in Detroit they pulled it out despite giving up a one-goal lead in the third period and falling behind in the shootout.

Continuity has been a contributing factor as well. The Sabres have been largely injury-free with this lineup so far this season, save for Zach Bogosian starting the year on the injured list, Marco Scandella missing the Montreal game and forward Patrik Berglund hitting IR recently. However, Housley has been able to integrate his depth players into the lineup without his team missing a beat.

That could change somewhat as reports from the rink have forward Conor Sheary taking the ice for this morning's practice but leaving shortly thereafter. Buffalo has called up only one player so far this season as defenseman Lawrence Pilut was brought up from the Rochester Americans for the injured Scandella. Pilut did not get into game-action and was sent back down a few days later.

Regardless of who they ice, the streaking Sabres will be looking to tie the longest winning streak in franchise history held by the 1983-84 Sabres, of which Housley was a part of as a defenseman, and that '06-'07 Sabres squad. They'll have as good a chance as any facing off against a Sharks team that is sixth in the Western conference with a 12-8-4 record but after that it's showdowns with the heavy-weights for Buffalo as Tampa Bay, Nashville and Toronto have a combined 50-20-2 record this season and occupy three of the top four spots in the league.

The third-place team?

The streaking Sabres.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The beat goes on. Buffalo heads to Hitsville, U.S.A on and 8-game win-streak

Published by, 11-24-2018

When it comes to the Buffalo Sabres NHL-high eight-game winning streak there will always be some that offering up deficiencies in their game or schedule meant to detract from an impressive run. The might be the argument that the overall record of their opponents isn't the greatest and/or they're facing a lot of backup goalies and/or the analytics aren't where they should be, etc. etc. etc.

Some, maybe all, of the above may end up being true either for a portion of a game or like the one against the Tampa Bay Lightning, nearly the entire game, but the fact of the matter is, the Buffalo Sabres are "King of the Mountain" right now and no one has been able to knock them off.

A key point to make in all of this is that Buffalo isn't catching any teams off guard as the opposition is prepared to bring their 'A-game'. Take Buffalo's latest , the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs came to KeyBank Center last night having given up five goals in each of their last two games, both losses. "There's two parts to the game," said Habs coach Claude Julien prior to yesterday's game. "and defense is an important part as well.

"I've been saying it over and over again, we're giving up too much on the defensive side of the game. It goes back to a commitment to closing the play quickly, a commitment to take pride in our defensive game."

Montreal did that for large chunks of the game against Buffalo yesterday despite giving up 40 Sabres shots and allowing three goals. The Canadiens gave up the first goal 12:39 into the game and did a good job of doing what Julien asked, being quick to the puck on defense and closing the play throughout much of the rest. They did, however, have their moments of trepidation and goalie Antti Niemi had to come up with some big saves which included one that was described by TSN announcers as "not textbook." That type of attention to the defensive side of the equation allowed for Montreal to score two unanswered goals and keep a one-goal lead until late in the third period.

However, they couldn't finish the Sabres off something four other teams failed to do. Buffalo started this run coming from behind to beat Montreal back on November 10. After the Canadiens, the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal again yesterday all had third period leads on the Sabres. None of them could hold it. Buffalo tied the game every time and five of those six, including the Canadiens twice, were decided after regulation.

It's not a dream, 9-game winning streak propels Sabres to top spot in NHL

Published by, 11-25-2018

There's a nice symmetry to the Buffalo Sabres nine-game winning streak as they've won three in regulation, three in overtime and three in the shootout. In addition to that, nine different Buffalo players have scored the game-winning/game-deciding goal during the streak.

Last night in Detroit it was Sam Reinhart's turn. But it almost never happened as his giveaway in the neutral zone with only :17 seconds left led to a golden opportunity for the Red Wings that was snuffed out by the quick glove-hand of Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark. After the whistle one could see Reinhart in a gesture of thanks then saying some words that might have included, "I owe you one."

Seven rounds into the shootout both goalies had allowed one goal each and Reinhart skated to center ice with a chance to win it. He roofed a nifty backhand from in tight past Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard for the 3-2 shootout win and the call from Sabres play-by-play man Dan Dunleavy said it all, "Say hello to your first place Buffalo Sabres."

Prior to this winning streak Buffalo sat fifth in the Atlantic division with a 7-6-2 record good for 16 points and had just come off of a 3-1 loss in New York where they were stonewalled by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. All-in-all their place in the standings at the time wasn't bad considering where they came from the prior year and the difficulties they had coming out of the gate this year.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Shrug off the tryptophan and pecan pumpkin pie, it's game day

Published by, 11-23-2018

Grab your plate of Thanksgiving leftovers and settle in this afternoon as the Buffalo Sabres are hosting the Montreal Canadiens for a 4pm start at KeyBank Center. The two teams met just over two weeks ago in Montreal with the Sabres coming out on top of a 6-5 overtime thriller which kicked off their present, league-high seven-game winning streak.

The goal-fest at Bell Centre featured Buffalo goals from Vladimir Sobotka (2,) Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner (2) and an overtime blast from gassed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Four times the Sabres took a one-goal lead only to see it matched before the Canadiens took a 5-4 lead on a shorthanded goal by Nicolas Deslauriers, who was traded by Buffalo to Montreal last October, late in the second period. Sabres backup goalie Linus Ullmark was in net for the first two periods before being pulled in favor of Carter Hutton to start the third period.

Neither Ullmark nor Habs starter Carey Price had a particularly good night as Ullmark only stopped 27 of 32 shots on goal (.843 save percentage) while Price was worse stopping only 25 of 31 (.806 Sv%.) Hutton only faced five shots in the third period and none 1:38 of overtime for the win.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Sabres roll into Thanksgiving savoring a seven-game win-streak

Published by, 11-22-2018

What a way to come off of a three-game road trip. By the time Johan Larsson scored Buffalo's fourth goal with only seven seconds left in the first period, KeyBank Center was rockin' and there was a collective "Wow!" rolling through Sabreland. Unlike the previous three games where they staged comebacks after being down one, two and three goals, respectively, Buffalo found themselves ahead 4-0 in this game with the hometown crowd going crazy and the team in front of them clinging to dear life.

The Philadelphia Flyers, however, weren't about to roll over. They had staged a voracious four-goal comeback with less than 10 minutes to play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday so folding wasn't in the cards for them. Although they eventually lost to Tampa in overtime, they had proven that they had capacity mount a comeback of that magnitude and after Buffalo scored their fourth goal, the Flyers decided to take matters into their own hand.

At the puck-drop, Philly's Scott Laughton engaged Larsson for a center-ice tussle where some good punches were thrown but no real damaged done. Oddly enough it was the Flyers first fighting major of the season. That fight and a goalie change after the first intermission were enough to get Philadelphia back on their toes and they turned the tide in the second period scoring two goals while outshooting Buffalo by a 9-5 margin.

However, as they'd done the previous four games, the Sabres would not allow a third period goal and an empty-netter sealed the 5-2 win for them.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Plenty of anticipation at KeyBank Center tonight as the Sabres host Philly

Published by, 11-21-2018

When was the last time there was this much excitement for a Buffalo Sabres home game outside of opening night? It's been a while and even the excitement of hockey season may have been based more upon potential than actualities. Especially in Buffalo these last seven seasons.

It's been said time and time again that in the NHL you pretty much know what kind of team you have by Thanksgiving and when the Sabres hit the KeyBank Center ice tonight to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, the team that Sabreland will be cheering for sits fourth in the Eastern conference with a 13-6-2 record and is riding a six-game winning streak.

That's the record. But, what kind of team is Buffalo?

A resilient one, we know that much. During this streak, their longest since 2010, the Sabres have overcome third period deficits in five of those six games and four of those wins have come in overtime or the shootout. They've erased a two-goal deficit with less than three minutes to play in one game and overcame a three-goal hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.

They're also a team that's been getting solid goaltending. The overall goalies stats won't invoke visions of Dominik Hasek, but what Carter Hutton (and Linus Ullmark for a game) has been able to do is keep his team in the game (sometimes with Hasek-like incredible saves) while the skaters in front of him found their legs. Very few of the 16 goals allowed during this streak have been due to goaltender miscues as there have been breakdowns and mistakes up and down the lineup.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ooh, aah, Sabres on the warpath!

Published by, 11-20-2018

Six games. Six one-goal wins. Two in overtime, two in the shootout.

Just who are these guys?

That's what Saberland is waking up to this morning after another thriller, this one in a 5-4 overtime win in Pittsburgh.

There should be nothing but respect for a Pittsburgh Penguins organization that has won three of the last 10 Stanley Cups and even though they're in a very unusual position at the bottom of the Eastern conference, and played last night's game against the Sabres without superstar Sidney Crosby, they still have firepower and have the heart of champions.

Such was on display last night through the first 25 minutes as Pittsburgh staked their claim to a 4-1 lead over Buffalo with equal parts desperation, ferocity, skating and skill. It was something the Sabres have seen often, especially when playing in Pittsburgh, however, what we haven't seen from Buffalo is the intestinal fortitude to come back from a blitzkrieg like that.

But we're seeing it now.

Three goals down? No problem. Defenseman Zach Bogosian makes it 4-2 mid-way through the second period and with less than two minutes to go in the frame and another defenseman, Casey Nelson, cuts the lead to one goal with his first of the season. Just past the midway point of the third period Casey Mittelstadt wired a wicked wrister top-shelf to tie the score at 4-4. This one's worth another look (via

Then, in overtime, it was time for Captain Jack (via

It was the fifth time during this six-game winning streak that the Sabres overcame a third period deficit to win the game.

For as much as Sabres head coach Phil Housley wants his team to come out of the gate faster, it hasn't happened. Actually, what he's gotten has been just the opposite as Buffalo goalies look like ducks in a shooting gallery through the first two periods. During this six-game stretch Buffalo's opponents have outshot them 85-57 in the first period with four of those teams registering 15 shots or more. Somehow Buffalo has managed to come out even over those six games as both they and their opponents have scored seven goals apiece.

There's a similar shot deficit in the second period (77-54) and their goal differential is worse as they've been outscored 8-4 over that span.

However what is happening, much to the delight of the team and it's fans, is that the Sabres are owning the third period. During this six-game win-streak Buffalo has outshot their opponents by a collective 71-46 margin in the final stanza and have outscored them 7-1. The Sabres haven't given up a third period goal in the last four games and to stretch it a bit further, Buffalo hasn't allowed a goal past the 7:10-mark of the second period in those four games.

Sabres goalie Carter Hutton faced a 40-shot onslaught last night with 31 of them coming in the first two periods. Like he's done throughout this streak, Hutton single-handedly kept Buffalo in the game last night despite giving up four goals. Over his four starts and a third period relief appearance at Montreal, Hutton has faced a total of 140 shots through 17 periods of play and has allowed nine goals for a rather remarkable .936 save-percentage.

Hutton, and to an extent backup Linus Ullmark, have kept the Sabres in games they had no business being in and they've also allowed Buffalo's skaters to make their mistakes while getting into the flow of the game. Both Hutton and Ullmark (who allowed two goals on 29 shots in a win at Minnesota) were rewarded with some remarkable clutch play and goal-scoring by the team in front of them.

It's something we haven't seen in Buffalo since Chris Drury and Daniel Briere co-captained the "Ferrari Sabres" back 2006-07 when they fearlessly pushed the puck up ice while goalie Ryan Miller held the fort stopping odd-man rushes on a nightly basis. That season just happens to be the last time the Sabres had a winning streak over six games. The eventual President's Trophy winning Sabres started out that season with 10-game winning streak which matched a franchise high and also tied an NHL record for most wins in a row to start the season.

Buffalo takes on the Philadelphia Flyers tomorrow night at KeyBank Center but until then enjoy some of the sights and sounds from that 2006-07 season mikeak21 on YouTube:

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Buttah, because this Sabres team is on a roll right now

Published by, 11-18-2018

It may not be the prettiest five-game winning streak hockey has ever known, but the record states that the Buffalo Sabres haven't lost since they dropped a 3-1 decision to the NY Rangers on November 4. Although they've struggled at times within each individual game, sometimes a lot more than really was deserved of a win, at the end of the day the Sabres have snagged 10 out of a possible 10 points the past two weeks and they've done so playing against some of the best teams in the league with three of the five games being won on the road.

The "weakest" team Buffalo faced during this stretch was the Montreal Canadiens, who were 8-5-2 at the time and were two points ahead of the Sabres in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres defeated the Habs 6-5 in overtime and followed that road win with a 4-3 shootout victory at home over the 10-6-1 Vancouver Canucks, who were atop the Pacific Division at the time.

Next up would be a matchup against the Eastern conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (12-4-1) before embarking on three-game road trip. Unlike the prior two come-from-behind wins, the Sabres took a 2-0 lead, allowed one goal to Tampa, and held off a relentless Lighting push to tie the score late in the game and with the help of two goal-posts rung by Tampa with less than :30 seconds to play, Buffalo came away with the 2-1 win.

After that it was off to the middle of the continent for a back-to-back against the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild.

The 10-5-1 Jets were third in the Central Division at the time and whipsawed the Sabres over the first 30 minutes but were only up 1-0. Buffalo tied the score early in the third period, wiggled out of an egregious turnover with less than :05 seconds left and won the game in the shootout before heading down to take on the 12-5-2 Minnesota Wild who were second in the Central. Minnesota dominated the game early in the first period and went up by two goals but the Sabres cut the lead by one heading into the first intermission. Buffalo would score two more and leave Xcel Energy Center with a 3-2 win.

For those counting that's four come-from-behind wins and the entire stretch hasn't come against the creampuffs of the NHL either. The combined record of all five teams Buffalo beat during this winning streak was 52-25-7.

There's a giddiness in Sabreland right now the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time, possibly dating 10+ years to Buffalo's back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances, and there should be as this is a team with a lot of skill and a lot of confidence right now.

No less than five Sabres first round picks are forming a nucleus that's on the rise and none of them were taken lower than eighth-overall. The eldest of this group is 24 year old Rasmus Ristolainen, selected with the eighth pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Forward Sam Reinhart is 23 yrs. old and was the second-overall pick in 2014 while 22 yr. old team captain Jack Eichel was taken second-overall in 2015. Nineteen year old center Casey Mittelstadt was an eighth-overall pick in 2017 and the top pick in the 2018 NHL Draft was defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Although he isn't considered a core player, the "elder statesman" of Sabres first rounders is 25 yr. old forward Zemgus Girgensons who was taken 14th-overall in 2012.

In addition to those homegrown first round picks, the Sabres have added six more to his year's roster, all via trade save for Kyle Okposo (2006, seventh-overall, STL) who was signed as a free agent in 2016. Former GM Tim Murray traded for defenseman Zach Bogosian (2008, 3rd, ATL) while present GM Jason Botterill added four more first-rounders--D, Nathan Beaulieu (2011, 17th, MTL,) C, Patrick Berglund (2006, 25th, STL,) RW, Tage Thompson (2016, 26th, STL) and Buffalo's leading goal scorer LW, Jeff Skinner (2010, 7th, CAR.)

With that amount of skill about the only things lacking were chemistry and confidence. Although the chemistry thing is a work in progress up-front save for Eichel/Skinner on the top line and Girgensons/Johan Larsson anchoring the fourth line, their confidence is growing with each game and one of the big reasons for that is their starting goalie, Carter Hutton.

Hutton's overall numbers are decent (2.52 goals-against average, .919 save-percentage) but the 32 yr. old undrafted free agent who signed a three-year free agent deal with Buffalo this summer has managed to come up with clutch saves to keep the game within reach. In each of the games on this five-game winning streak, Hutton has held firm when needed and with the help of a little luck, never let things get out of hand. Backup Linus Ullmark did the same thing last night against the Wild as he recovered from getting pulled in the Montreal game to post his fourth win of the season. Ullmark's stat-line is very similar to Hutton's (2.65 GAA, .922 SV%) but he's yet to lose in regulation (thx to Hutton and the Sabres comeback-win in Montreal) and has the team's only shutout this year.

Although no one should be planning a Stanley Cup parade at this juncture, Buffalo's 12-6-2 start should be savored, and the present five-game winning streak hasn't been seen in these parts since mid-late March in 2012. The Sabres at the time were in the midst of a desperate run towards the playoffs in Terry Pegula's first full year as owner of the team while Coach Lindy Ruff and company were trying to overcome a brutal 3-12-2 stretch from December 16, 2011 to January 21, 2012. That gruesome stretch included losing streaks of three, four and five games, the latter of which consisted of five regulation losses.

The Sabres finished strong that season (20-8-6) but ended three points out of a playoff spot which started a playoff drought that has stretched to seven years, second longest streak in the NHL.

There are young fans in Saberland that have known nothing but mediocrity at best and failure at worst over those seven seasons and who've yet to taste success on this level. For those of us who go back to the 2005-07 ECF years and even farther back to the '99 Cup Finals, the LaFontaine/Mogilny, early-90's era and even before as us old-farts hearken back to Buffalo's first SCF berth in 1975, it's hard to fathom that there are some Sabres fans who haven't seen this level of quality hockey from their team. But it's here right now and there's a lot to be excited about.

As we hit the quarter pole, it's best to keep in mind that this Sabres team does have flaws and despite being third in the Atlantic Division and tied for fourth overall in the league, there are still 62 games to play and a lot can happen. They've been lucky so far with injuries as this group has remained largely intact for most of the season and in a game of inches, those posts that have saved them a couple times during their five, one-goal wins in this streak could turn on them.

But for now, in a take on a catchphrase from the late Stuart Scott, "they're butter ’cause they're on a roll."

Sabres continue tough stretch in Pittsburgh tonight

Published by, 11-19-2018

The last time the Buffalo Sabres had a six-game winning streak was the 2009-10 season when they finished December with two wins and opened up 2010 by winning four in a row beginning with a come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Thrashers on New Years Day. For a flashback, take in the highlights below via

Buffalo won the division that season, had a Vezina-winner in goalie Ryan Miller and a Calder-winner Tyler Myers on defense but they couldn't get by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. Half-way through the following season Terry Pegula finalized a deal to buy the team and it sparked a late-season surge to a wild-card playoff spot. They were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.

From there it was all downhill.

While the Sabres were in decline, Jason Botterill was in Pittsburgh helping build a Penguins team that revolved around two highly paid superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh had broken a long playoff drought in 2009 but were struggling to regain their Stanley Cup Finals form and Botterill was instrumental in their back-to-back Cup wins in 2016 and 2017.

The Sabres and Penguins are intertwined beginning with owner Terry Pegula's strong ties to Pittsburgh. When he bought the team in 2011 names like Ted Black and Ken Sawyer, who were a part of the Penguins front office prior to the drafting of Crosby first-overall in 2005, represented a big part of his inner circle for a number of years. And Botterill had played in the Sabres organization before starting his front office career in Pittsburgh. Pegula had hired him in May, 2017 and in a show of respect for just how much he meant to the Penguins, Botterill was invited on the ice as Pittsburgh celebrated their second consecutive Stanley Cup while being the Sabres GM.

Pegula and the Sabres, lead by Black, also adopted the Penguins preferred choice for rebuilding their franchise which centered around securing consecutive high draft picks via losing seasons, otherwise known as tanking. And perhaps it was even a game against the Penguins that moved Pegula to go all-in on that philosophy.

After the Flyers playoff loss, Pegula entered his first full season as owner by ripping off the financial chains that the Sabres were under. He and then GM Darcy Regier went on a spending spree trying to lure and/or secure talent for their club. Armed with a playoff team bolstered by his off season acquisitions, Pegula sat in the Consol Energy Center owner's box for his first appearance in Pittsburgh as the Sabres owner. His team embarrassed him in an 8-3 loss and he sarcastically stated post-game, "that was some goaltending, huh?"

It was the first game of a franchise-record 12-game losing streak on the road for the Sabres, one of a few marks Pegula's Sabres would set for futility over the course of the next seven seasons.

The tank was on and it began with the trade of "Rochester Guy," Paul Gaustad at the 2012 trade deadline. In the following years one-by-one "La Core" would be dismantled--Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Miller would all be scattered in the wind while Regier and Black were preparing the fan base for "suffering."

It's been over six years since the process began and it finally looks as if Buffalo's tank/rebuild is beginning to take hold.

The Sabres are playing their best hockey in years and although it's not elite-level hockey, they've managed a five-game winning streak despite being outplayed for large stretches. Tonight they head to PPG Arena in Pittsburgh to take on a Penguins team that's reeling. The Pens are in the very unusual spot of dead last in the Eastern conference with a 7-8-3 record and they'll most likely be without Crosby, who's out with an upper-body injury.

It's a very winnable game for Buffalo but nothing should be taken for granted as the Sabres are just 1-7-2 in their last 10 games against the Pens, 2-6-2 on the road plus their in a stretch where they'll have played six games in 12 nights, four of them on the road.

And it doesn't get any easier as after tonight, Buffalo will play three games in four nights beginning on Wednesday with a home game vs. the Flyers.

It's been a long time since there's been this much positivity running through Sabreland. Like, eight years or so:

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sabres head to MIN on a four-game winning streak with some wind at their back

Published by, 11-17-2018

Last night was a battle of two teams, both of whom were on three-game winning streaks. The Winnipeg Jets, widely considered Stanley Cup contenders were hosting a possible playoff-bubble team in the Buffalo Sabres. And for the first period and well into the second, both teams were playing their respective parts. A very fast and extremely talented Jets team jumped all over Buffalo through the first 30+ minutes of the game and the Sabres were very lucky to be down only 1-0, thanks to goalie Carter Hutton.

One could almost see the steam coming out from Hutton's mask as mistake after Sabres mistake led to golden opportunities for the Jets and he vented his frustration during a TV timeout seconds after Winnipeg opened the scoring. Although the MSG feed only offered a tease prior to the break, the TSN feed showed the encounter with an obviously pissed-off Hutton skating over to the bench and laying into his team for their play.

It didn't really help, at least not right off the bat as a mere 32 seconds after the TV timeout the Sabres got caught in their own end again and a wide open Jacob Trouba teed off from the slot forcing Hutton to make another big save. Luckily for them another shot off of that long rebound went wide of a gaping net and the Sabres were spared a two-goal deficit.

Hutton is one of two players brought in by GM Jason Botterill who have been instrumental in the Sabres 11-6-2 start. The other is Jeff Skinner who once again played a role in helping this team to a win. With Hutton, and the hockey gods, keeping it a one-goal game, the Sabres finally did find their legs and it lead to a Jets penalty very late in the second period. Buffalo opened up the third period with the man advantage and for the first time in 12 opportunities (spanning the last four games and the first two periods of this one) they scored as Skinner roofed a wicked backhand from the crease to tie the game.

Holding the fort, whether his team is ahead or playing from behind, has been a Hutton-hallmark as he's been instrumental in Buffalo's present four-game winning streak. He held Montreal at bay in a third period relief appearance and allowed his team to tie a game they eventually won in overtime. Two days after that his play kept the Pacific division-leading Vancouver Canucks from increasing their 3-1 lead and the Sabres tied it on two late third period goals. He stopped two of three "Nucks players in the shootout while his skaters scored twice and they go another win.

Next up was a game against the Eastern conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. After going up 2-0, Tampa closed the gap and was relentless in the pursuit of the game-tying goal. A boat load of saves and two very late goal-posts later, Hutton and the Sabres emerged with a hard fought 2-1 win.

The combined record of those three teams was 30-15-2 at the time Buffalo faced them while Winnipeg's record heading into last night's game was 11-5-1.

Analytics and overall stats be damned, this Buffalo Sabres team is finding ways to win. Hutton has been making the big saves when needed and keeping things close while Skinner is scoring timely goals. He scored the game-tying goals against Montreal and Winnipeg, made the score 3-2 against Vancouver and opened the scoring against the Lightning. He's doing things for the Sabres the likes of which haven't been seen since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were scoring clutch goals for Buffalo's back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals teams over 10 years ago.

The Sabres head down to Minnesota for a 6 pm EST start against the Wild tonight. This season marks the fourth year in a row that their mid-continent road trip has them playing Winnipeg and Minnesota in consecutive games. Last season Buffalo lost to the Wild then proceeded to lose to the Jets. The prior two seasons they started out in Winnipeg and swept both teams each time.

Minnesota presently sits second in the Western conference with a 12-5-2 record and the Sabres have had a ton of difficulty against them as of late. The Sabres are only 2-7-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Wild with their only wins coming two and three years ago on the road at Xcel Energy Center. However, the Sabres are on a roll having won four in a row for the first time since December, 2014 and they've done so against some of the best teams in their respective divisions.