Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Can the Sabres pick up where they left off? Should they?

Published by, 1-30-2018

For the first time all season the Buffalo Sabres won three games in a row and in the process seemed to have found themselves. It took a lot of poor play and a multitude of blowout losses, including a 7-1 embarrassment versus the Dallas Stars just prior to their three-game winning streak, but something seemed to have clicked for the club.

After the Stars' embarrassment of the Sabres on "Kids Day" at KeyBank Center, Buffalo hit the road for a three-game, western Canada road trip just prior to the NHL All-Star break. They played a hot Calgary Flames team and came out of it with a 2-1 overtime win. Upon finishing that, they packed up and headed north to Edmonton where they proceeded to roast the Oilers 5-0 the following night. And to cap it off, Buffalo shut out the Canucks in Vancouver 4-0. For those counting, that's 11 goals for and only one goal against which is pretty impressive, especially for a team that went into that trip with an 11-26-9 record.

It's too bad the All-Star break came as it would have been interesting to see if the Sabres could have kept it going against the New Jersey Devils, their opponent tonight.

The Devils are an up and coming team that got off to a terrific start which included a 6-2 thrashing of the Sabres in Buffalo early in the season and they would ride that wave well into late December when the two teams would meet again. New Jersey went into the matchup on a five-game winning streak, had a seven-game point-streak and sat atop the Metropolitan Division with a 22-9-5 record before the 9-20-8 Sabres beat them 4-3 at home in overtime.

Since that game, the Devils are 2-7-2 and are on a four-game losing streak while the Sabres are 4-6-1 and are on a three-game winning streak.

The catalyst for that Sabres win over the Devils was Jack Eichel, who's been on a tear since early December. Eichel scored a goal late in the second period against the Devils on a tip-in with the Sabres down 3-1 then scored the game-tying goal with a laser one-timer on the powerplay at the 11:07 mark of the third. Eichel's tear got rolling with his first career hat trick on December 15th vs. the Carolina Hurricanes and in his last 17 games the 21 yr. old has 12 goals and 13 assists.

It was Eichel's goal against the Flames in overtime that started the Sabres winning streak.

Although Eichel contributed mightily to Buffalo's western Canada successes, especially with a four point night (1+3) against Edmonton and Connor McDavid, plenty of other players have been contributing. Forward Sam Reinhart seems to have emerged from his season-long slumber with two goals and two assists in his last two games. Ryan O'Reilly had three points (2+1) in his last three games and has eight points (4+4) in his last eight games. And defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who scored the overtime winner against the Devils in December extended his points-streak to five games with four assists in western Canada.

Props to goalies Chad Johnson and Robin Lehner as well. The two combined to allow only one goal against on the trip and despite not facing a multitude of odd-man rushes and golden scoring opportunities, they came through with a big save when necessary. Lehner faced 63 shots and has not allowed a goal since getting pulled in the blowout loss to Dallas. The NHL named him league's 3rd star for the week leading up to the All-Star break. Eichel was named the 2nd star.

For those of us who've been watching this team struggle mightily all season, a three-game winning streak was a welcome reprieve. But for those on the "Fallin' for Dahlin' train with eyes fixated on the upcoming draft, any climb up the standings would endanger having the best possible odds of winning the draft lottery.

The 'Dahlin' part of the equation references 2018 draft eligible defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a 17 yr. old Swede who is already drawing comparisons to the likes of Erik Karlsson and Niklas Lidstrom--a franchise-changing defenseman that could alter the future of a club for years to come. There isn't a team out there who wouldn't want or need him. But with the NHL Draft Lottery going through a significant change, due in large part to the 2014-15 Sabres/Arizona Coyotes tank seasons, the odds of landing in the upper portion of the draft have changed and even a last place finish could end up picking fourth overall with the top three picks being determined by the lottery.

After going through two horrendous seasons in tank-mode, perhaps it's best to say goodbye to the tank years in Buffalo and move on, although it's pretty hard to do with a franchise defenseman right there.

The Sabres are second-last in the league, nine points from of the lower rungs of respectability in the Eastern Conference and 19 points out of the last playoff spot. What's the difference between finishing last and in a respectable spot out of the playoffs? For the players it's competitive pride and trying to move forward after a disastrous first half of the season. For those in Sabreland ready to tank, the difference lies in percentages of landing at the top of the draft:

31st place--18%

That said, this blogger can't get enough of that winning feeling.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

All-Star weekend closes as the trade deadline inches closer

Published by, 1-29-2018

If Jack Eichel continues to up his game like he has over his short career thus far, he should be a perennial NHL All-Star for years to come. As of now, Eichel's point/game pace (49 points in 49 games) has him ahead of where he was last year (.93 ppg) and is far above his rookie season of .69 ppg. With 20 goals in 49 games the 21 yr. old is on pace for 33 goals this season or .40 goals/game, a hair above his .393 g/gm last season.

And there's still upside

Eichel was in Tampa Bay, Florida over the weekend participating in the festivities along with the best the game has to offer. He and his fellow All-Stars from the Atlantic Division, which included Lightning players from the host city, dropped a 5-2 decision to the Pacific Division All-Stars in the final game of the day. Although there was $1 million on the line for the winning team, the 3-on-3 format allowed for a highly skilled game of shinny high on entertainment value for the fans.

All-Star weekend is a break for those not participating and a celebration of hockey for those attending. The regular season begins again on Tuesday and Eichel was in the moment about what had just transpired. "Obviously we get caught up in our game (during the regular season,)" said Eichel to the gathered media after the final All-Star game of the evening. "But this is a weekend to kind of relax and take a step back and realize where you are and kind of admire all these great players in our game."

However, where he and his fellow Buffalo Sabres are upon returning to regular season action on Tuesday leaves much to be desired. The Sabres have been near the bottom of the league all season and will head into their final 33 games in 30th place with a 14-26-9 record, despite a three-game western Canada sweep just prior to the break.

With the playoffs a very faint statistical hope and the trade deadline nearing, changes are on the horizon. Buffalo has a number of pending unrestricted free agents including a prime one in left wing Evander Kane, who's trade seems to be not a matter of "if," but more like, "what will the return be?" Other UFA's of interest may include forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Nolan along with defenseman Josh Gorges, while fellow blueliner Justin Falk will also be a free agent at season's end. We Sabres fans might also be on the lookout for moves featuring two restricted free agents--starting goalie Robin Lehner and forward Sam Reinhart.

The Sabres begin a five-game homestand tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils. Also in that run is a visit from the Florida Panthers on February 1, visits from the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks as well the NY Islanders. In all there are 14 Sabres games before the February 26 trade deadline.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Riding a perfect road win into Edmonton. Plus, Ethan plays Jack on Xbox.

Published by, 1-23-2018

For one game it looked as if Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley's message got through to his players. After a thoroughly embarrassing 7-1 loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon, Housley was said to have put his players through a hard skate on Sunday while also drastically changing up his lines in an effort to shake his team out of their malaise. A western Canada swing lie ahead for Buffalo with three games in four nights before the All-Star break.

Housley's lines were as follows:

Zemgus Girgensons-Jack Eichel-Kyle Okposo
Scott Wilson-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Jason Pominville
Jordan Nolan-Evan Rodrigues-Nicolas Baptiste

The result was a 2-1 overtime win for the Sabres on the road in Calgary while attempting one more shot than the Flames (63-62) and matching them shot for shot on goal (33.)

Scattered about the talent within the top-nine for the Calgary game were three players known to be hard on the puck. Girgensons, Wilson and Larsson's skills lie more in their dogged pursuit of the puck than scoring goals (7 goals in 104 games combined) and each of them seemed quite content getting their noses dirty for the skilled players on their respective lines.

Girgensons and Wilson seemed to up the compete-level on their lines which resulted in Wilson scoring a goal that tied the game only :24 seconds after Calgary took a 1-0 lead. He and his linemates went in on a hard forecheck and when the puck squirted out to him in the high slot, Wilson wasted no time sending it home.

As for Girgensons, he was added to a pairing of Eichel and Okposo, two players that have been clicking as of late. With his role clearly defined as creating havoc in the offensive zone and getting the puck to his linemates, it was a situation that worked out well for all of them. From the get-go Eichel and especially Okposo, were getting loads of scoring chances but were continually stymied by a tough goalie in veteran Mike Smith.

Girgensons continued to do the dirty work for his linemates and with only :32 seconds left in the third period and the score tied 1-1, he drew a holding penalty while battling in front of the net. That powerplay carried into overtime where Eichel sent a blistering slapshot shortside to beat Smith a mere only one second after the man-advantage ended.

Props to Housley for that one as he kept his big guns--Eichel, O'Reilly, Okposo and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen--on the ice for the entire 4-on-3 powerplay in overtime.

The Sabres played a hard, tough game that included plenty of hits and a determined effort to win puck battles and commit to a strong back check.

All would have been for naught, however, had goalie Chad Johnsons not come up with some big saves at crucial moments. Johnson, who's not been very good this season, did his skaters a solid by keeping the score tied until they could win it in overtime. It was only his second win of the season and first one since a 3-1 road win in Anaheim on October 15, a span of 10 starts.

Of course, all the good will that came from last night's team win will prove meaningless unless they can put together another strong effort against another fast team in the Edmonton Oilers.

This will be the second and final regular season meeting between the two clubs. The first one came in Buffalo the day after Thanksgiving with the Sabres in the throes of an 0-5-2 slump. Goalie Robin Lehner lead the charge that night by stopping 29 of 30 Edmonton shots while the Sabres got goals from Jacob Josefson, Eichel and Okposo (empty-net.) In Sabreland, Lehner pulled off the 'Ryan Miller Shutout' by allowing the Oilers only goal with :20 seconds left in the game.

Edmonton's Connor McDavid was held off the scoresheet by Buffalo in the first meeting of the season and finished the game with a minus-2 rating in 22:13 of ice-time. Eichel had the goal and was a plus-2 in 17:10 of ice-time.

Since McDavid and Eichel were taken first and second overall, respectively, in the 2015 NHL Draft, Edmonton and Buffalo have met five times with both McDavid and Eichel missing one game each in the series. The Sabres are 3-1-1 so far against Edmonton in the McEichel-era. McDavid has four points (2+2) in his four games while Eichel has three (2+1) in his four. Edmonton won the first-ever meeting at home 4-2 minus McDavid in 2015 while the Sabres beat the Oilers 6-2 last year in Edmonton minus Eichel.


With Johnson getting the start last night in the first game of a back-to-back, Lehner will probably be in net tonight against Edmonton. Lehner's numbers have been terrible as of late as he's been pulled in three of his last five starts, is 0-4-0, has allowed 19 goals on 114 shots (.833 save percentage) and a 5.50 goals-against average. Although it's not all on him, when he's failed to make a big save at an important time, this team seems to fall apart.


Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu suffered a possible concussion, according to reports, only minutes into last night's game. Beaulieu was clipped by Flames forward Curtis Lazar clipped him behind the Buffalo net. Beaulieu didn't take kindly and dropped the gloves with a very willing Lazar who got a couple quick shots in during the short bout and ended up slamming Beaulieu's head into the ice.

With Beaulieu out tonight and defenseman Josh Gorges suffering an illness, we could see the return of rookie Victor Antipin to the Sabres blueline. Antipin had a long bout with a tough flu that was bookended by healthy scratches that have kept him off the ice since December 19, a span of 13 games.

Buffalo did call up Matt Tennyson from the Rochester Americans today and it's possible that he gets the start over Antipin. Most in Sabreland want to see more of Antipin, especially with the season lost already. Tennyson has played in 14 games for the Sabres this season  with zero points and a minus-8 plus/minus rating.

Antipin has played in 24 games with four assists and a minus-3 rating.


Grab yourselves a box of Kleenex when watching this Beyond the Blue and Gold video.

A young hockey-loving Sabres fan named Ethan Georger has had a difficult childhood dealing with a terrible disease that caused him to have two open heart surgeries before he turned seven years old. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ethan, who loves playing X-box hockey, got the opportunity to play the video game against his favorite player--the Sabres' Jack Eichel.

And from there, we'll let the video, courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres, speak for itself:

Sabres power past Edmonton. Is this the new reality?

Published by, 1-24-2018

With their 5-0 blowout win in Edmonton last night against the Oilers, the Buffalo Sabres have now won two in a row and three of their last five games but maybe more importantly, they look like a real good hockey team right now.

The Oilers, Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo's victims during this spurt, probably took the league's 30th place team for granted, which can happen. Edmonton's Milan Lucic (via the Edmonton Journal) voiced that opinion post-game to the local media last night. “It was pretty clear. I don’t think we had enough respect for that hockey team. That’s what happens when you aren’t ready to play the other team, no matter who they are or where they are in the standings."

Buffalo pounded the Oilers with the brunt of their offense coming via the powerplay. In a battle of inept special teams heading into the game, the Sabres 30th-ranked powerplay (14% conversion rate) faced off against the NHL's worst penalty kill (72.7% kill rate) and what transpired wasn't fair in the special teams department. Buffalo scored on their first three powerplay opportunities (moving them to 26th in the league at 15.6%) causing Oilers head coach Todd McClellan to call his penalty killing units "horrendous" in his post-game presser.

Buffalo was playing in the second game of a back-to-back while the Oilers hadn't played since extending their winning streak to three games with a win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Edmonton was certainly well rested (and perhaps a tad complacent) while the Sabres were coming off of a hard-fought, 2-1 overtime win at Calgary the night before and coming into the game Buffalo was only 2-6-2 in the second half of back-to-backs.

The consecutive wins (sadly) matched their lone previous two-game win "streak" which occurred October 12 and 24. Buffalo scored five goals for only the third time this season (5-4 win at Boston;  5-4 win at Arizona) and had plenty of their key players get in on the scoring. Center Ryan O'Reilly scored a pair of goals and he's been heating up again with eight points (4+4) in his last seven games. Sam Reinhart, who'd been invisible for much of the first half of the season, scored a goal and added two assists giving him six points (2+4) in his last four games. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen extended his points-streak to four games with two assists and now has five points (1+4) during his streak.

And then there's Jack Eichel.

The 21 yr. old scored the overtime winner in Calgary on Monday and followed that up with a one-goal/four-point performance last night. Eichel is on a seven-game point streak with five goals and eight assists bringing his season totals to 49 points (20+29,) which ties him for 17th in the NHL in scoring.

At least for last night, Eichel clearly overshadowed his 2015 draft counterpart, Connor McDavid, who was selected first overall that year. With those points, Eichel has now surpassed McDavid in Buffalo/Edmonton matchups brining his totals to eight points (3+5) in five games since the "McEichel" draft while McDavid remained at two goals and two assists in five games against Buffalo. Both missed one game in the series. Since McDavid and Eichel were drafted, the teams have met six times. Buffalo's record is 4-1-1 in those games.

With his goal last night, Eichel hit the 20-goal mark last night for the third consecutive season to start his career. An interesting note from John Vogl of The Buffalo News, only three other Sabres players have done that--Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Thomas Vanek.

Think about that for a second.

The sheer joy, and some would add in relief as well, of beating Calgary in overtime carried over into last night's win and reports from the Sabres dressing room have the players upbeat and feeling more confident. "That was fun," said left wing Zemgus Girgensons to the Buffalo media at Rogers Place. Girgensons scored his fourth goal of the season off the rush when a pass from Kyle Okposo on a two-on-one glanced off of his skate and into the net to make the score 3-0.

Buffalo coach Phil Housley pointed to the embarrassing 7-1 loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars on Saturday as a jumping off point for their two games of success. "I think we learned a lot of what we need to do as a team in our checking and our play without the puck," Housley said to the media in Edmonton. "I think the guys are really enjoying that. They're getting opportunities because of it. We're getting the puck on our stick because of that. We're drawing penalties."

And winning, which is a lot of fun.

For the last two games, this has been a different Sabres team, but as we've seen way too often, they've been unable to sustain that on a consistent basis. Which leads us to the real question, Is this a different team, or did they just catch some lightning for a couple of games?

Reinhart, who has been playing his best hockey of the season lately, put the Edmonton win and the team's 13-26-9 record into perspective. "We know where we're at" he said to the media, "and it's not just one game that's going to do anything at this point. We need to be consistent. All we can do is take it day-by-day, and this was another step for us."

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Down to the bottom with Calgary up tonight.

Published by, 1-22-2018

The Buffalo Sabres 7-1 loss on Saturday coupled with the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 win puts both teams at 31 points, right at the bottom of the 31-team league. All is not lost for Sabres fans, however, as Buffalo still has two games in hand over Arizona, but it's still a sad state of affairs. How ironic that the two teams who barreled to the bottom of the league in 2014-15 for a shot at drafting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel that year find themselves back where it started.

Both teams lost out on McDavid, who went to the Edmonton Oilers, a team that sunk to the bottom of the league after making it to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. The Oilers made it to the playoffs last season for the first time since, but they're also struggling this season with 45 points in 47 games (24th in the league.)

Buffalo heads into tonight's matchup against the Calgary Flames (9 pm EST) on yet another skid as they've been able to pull out a win only once this calendar year (1-6-1.) Losing is one thing, but the way they've been losing is even worse as three of those regulation losses were blowouts. To date their -59 goal differential is worst in the league and they're on pace for a -105 which isn't far off of the -113 of the 2014-15 tank season.

These parallels between the tank years and this edition of the Buffalo Sabres is a rather ugly one considering that this team has way more talent, but still can't seem to get it right. The horrors of the 2014-15 season could be captured in a franchise worst 14-game losing streak that included an 0-fer in January (0-12-0) while icing a team that had little or no talent.

What does that say for this edition?

Not much. A long series of events that's being tied directly to "terrible ownership," as Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News wrote yesterday, has brought this team to this level. The Sabres have not made the playoffs in any of Terry Pegula's seven full seasons as owner of the Sabres and it's like everything Pegula has done has backfired:

--In 2011 he took off the financial constraints of the previous owners and went after what they thought were prized free agents. They'll be paying Ville Leino $1.2 million for the next two seasons not to play and Christian Erhoff $857K per year through 2028-28.

--In 2013 Pegula grudgingly fired Ruff, whom he famously said "Ain't goin' nowhere" at his inaugural presser. The Sabres are on their fourth coach since then and a fifth one might not be that far off.

--Beginning with the 2013-14 season, the Sabres went into tank-mode as a rebuild model. Both that season and the next they finished last in the league but the NHL Draft Lottery left them with second-overall picks both times.

--In Fall, 2013 Pegula hired Sabres legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine to lead the hockey department. Five months later, a presumed philosophical chasm caused him to leave the organization.

--In January 2014 Pegula hired a long-time scout and former assistant general manager to be the GM in Buffalo. Tim Murray took over as a first-time GM and proceeded to dismantle the team in a scorched-earth rebuild with the focus upon landing at the top of the draft.

--After a rather successful 2015-16 campaign things deteriorated the following season with Pegula firing both Murray and his head coach of two seasons, Dan Bylsma.

--Pegula hired a rookie GM in Jason Botterill last spring. Botterill hired a rookie head coach in Phil Houlsey who ended up hiring a rookie defensive assistant in Chris Hajt. Botterill and Housley both played for the Sabres, with the latter having a long and productive career, while Hajt is the son of quite possibly the Sabres' best defensive-defenseman of all time, Bill Hajt.

Add it all up, and it leads us to this point, in the past two-plus seasons where the Sabres were supposed to be pulling out of the rebuild and into respectability with a franchise center in the fold (courtesy of the 2015 draft,) Buffalo has posted a 79-99-32 record good for 190 points. Only three teams were worse than the Sabres during that span--Arizona at 76-109-17 (169 points); Vancouver, 79-104-18 (176 points) and Colorado 87-111-11 (185 points.)

So where has it all lead us?

To a lot of finger pointing directed at Pegula for being a control freak, to the tank for a ill-conceived rebuild model (not to mention bad karma,) to Murray for wasting a wealth of picks on players built for an NHL that's seemingly becoming antiquated and to the players themselves as they soured on Bylsma only a year-and-a-half into his tenure. With their performance as of late, it looks as if they've soured on Housley only 40 some-odd games into his tenure.

"Country-club setting" is once again creeping into the vernacular and when senior Sabre Jason Pominville, a favorite of the local press, was asked by the gathered media about it yesterday he replied, ""As unfortunate as you say it, it's probably a little bit the case," he said. "You play on teams that haven't had success, and it's acceptable. But that's what has to change. Efforts like this aren't acceptable. Practices have to be a compete level that you need."

Pominville was described in that piece as a player "once part of a winning culture in Buffalo," and sure enough he was. The last time the Sabres won a playoff series was back in 2007 second of consecutive back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Pominville was a young player in a support role then and when he was in a leadership role from 2007-08 to February, 2013 when he was traded, his teams made the playoffs twice and were bounced in the first round both times.

Yet it was Pominville who was a part of Regier's "Core" that might be dubbed, "The Original Sabres Country-clubbers" and looking to him for any insight and/or answers doesn't really jibe. That group had many of the same attributes as this one does.

The Sabres start at three-game road trip tonight in Calgary after a brutal 7-1 loss at home to the Dallas Stars and a supposed very hard skate directed by Housley as a way of getting his club motivated again.

To further shake things up Housley went with these forward lines at practice yesterday, according to those at HarborCenter:


Nothing changed on the defense pairings.

Robin Lehner will probably be in net tonight and has been struggling. Amy Moritz of the Buffalo News points out that Lehner has been pulled in three of his last five starts, is 0-4-0 with a 5.50 goals-against average (19 goals on 114 shots) and has a .833 save percentage. It might have been worse but backup Chad Johnson was tagged with the 'L' in a 7-4 loss vs. Winnipeg at home that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.

Monday, January 22, 2018

It would be surprising if Phil Housley's head wasn't on the chopping block

Published by, 1-21-2018

It just can't happen. You just can't allow what happened yesterday afternoon to be swept under the rug as part of some learning process. Nor can you fully lay the blame at the talent-level of this team. Being outclassed by a fast Dallas Stars team is one thing, letting the game fall apart after working hard to cut a three-goal lead is yet another.

But, like someone said on twitter, perhaps it wasn't the greatest of ideas yesterday putting out the fourth line after a powerplay goal cut the Stars lead to 3-1.That fourth line featuring Johan Larsson, Scott Wilson, Jordan Nolan along with a suspect d-pairing of Jake McCabe and Justin Falk just might be the slowest five-man unit in the entire NHL yet there they were, deployed against the Stars' top line and top defensive pairing. What transpired was a comedy that wasn't too funny for any of the Buffalo players involved or, for that matter, those in Sabreland watching. It just wasn't fair as it took Dallas all of 38 seconds to restore their three-goal lead and leave Buffalo's players on the ice looking like Keystone Cops. After that goal to make it 4-1, the Sabres as a team checked out while the sound of many a TV were heard clicking off in Western New York. They didn't miss much. Final score:  Dallas-7  Buffalo-1.

AS for the players, we can debate whether or not highly paid professionals should just give up on any occasion, and I'm of the opinion that you play hard until the end, but they're humans just like you and I. An 11-25-9 team in yet another three-goal hole against a faster, more talented team with a coach in Ken Hitchcock that has over 800 NHL wins and a Stanley Cup to his name had the odds stacked against them to begin with. After the Stars scored their fourth goal with just over half the game remaining, the Sabres looks as if they were already on a plane to Western Canada where they'll kick off a three-game road trip in Calgary on Monday.

This is the seventh time in 46 games this team has gotten steamrolled. The first two times it happened in Games 2 and 3 of a young season as the NY Islanders (6-3) and New Jersey Devils (6-2) buried the Sabres. The latter loss came in a matinee on the first "Kids Day" of the season at KeyBank Center. Yesterday's 7-1 debacle was also on "Kids Day" and any kids attending either of those games might be scarred for life.

The Sabres also got shellacked against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a home-and-home to open December. In both of those games, it wasn't as close as the 9-1 combined score would indicate. And after seemingly righting the ship for the rest of December and into the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, Buffalo went on to lay eggs on the road against the Minnesota Wild (6-2 loss) and five days later at home against the Winnipeg Jets in a game that was 6-2 Winnipeg with just under 13 minutes left in the third period.

This is not good for the organization or their fans.

Although the local media might not be ready to say it and even though indications are that Housley will get a mulligan this season, there has got to be plenty of second-guessing when it comes to his hire to the point where they could, and maybe should, be ready to move on from him. Nothing personal, but whatever he's been doing hasn't been working and there's no indication right now that it would work even if they landed prized 2018 draft pick, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Housley was hired as an up and coming coach who worked wonders with the Nashville Predators defense. Last season they were the most feared d-corps in the league and they lead the Preds to the Stanley Cup Finals. When Housley came in he was expected to help turn around one of the worst defenses in the league that was mildly re-tooled with puck-movers to his and GM Jason Botterill's liking. Although some dead weight remained from the previous regime, the transition left the team with some new faces yet they've still been unable to play competent defense with any consistency.

Perhaps that lack of defensive awareness can be attributed to players (including forwards) cheating up-ice in order to run in Housley's aggressive system. Perhaps it could be a rookie coach hiring a rookie assistant to handle the defense. Or perhaps it was Housley's failure, as a rookie coach, to recognize after the Islanders and Devils debacles that what he wanted to do won't work with this personnel package and that in order to win and/or stay in games, he'd need to think more defensively. Or as a colleague of mine texted me in disgust, "Slowest team in the league, still haven't figured out they should be trapping."

Then again, one could place a good chunk of the blame on the players as well.

This Sabres team notorious for coming out of the gate slow and having to play catchup. When you're in a hole versus fast, talented and well-coached teams like the Devils, Penguins and Stars, that hole can get mighty deep incredibly fast. Why is this team coming out of the gate slow? Some of it might attributed to a perceived "country-club attitude" on the part of the players.

Fans would like to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the players saying that they should be motivated by playing a game and making a good living doing so and there's a lot of credence to that. But coaching styles do affect the players. Although the days of the "Iron" Mike Keenan bag-skate are long gone, getting players to practice with intensity and holding them accountable at all times is a necessity. That won't happen if there's no respect for the coach and we end up hearing the phrase, "losing the room."

It's been said that Housley has been calling for more intensity during practice for a while but, based upon his recent won/loss record, his message doesn't seem to be getting through. And if Housley's message isn't getting through, he's either lost the room, or is in the process of losing it.

Housley came in riding a wave of respect from his players, as well as those of us in Sabreland, based upon what he did in Nashville as an assistant coach in addition to his Hall of Fame career. But when you start the season on a five-game losing streak, go 6-15-4 through the fist two months of the season and have managed a season-high two-game win-streak only once all season, something's not right. After last night's loss, Buffalo (11-26-9) has less wins and the same number of points as the 2014-15 Sabres tank team had after 46 games (14-29-3.)

No one will ever be able to convince me coaches don't make a difference. The coach of that 2014-15 team was Ted Nolan, an old-school coach who lacked chalkboard savvy, but made up for it by somehow motivating his players to run through brick walls for him. With the Sabres intent upon finishing last that season, it got to the point where then GM Tim Murray had to move every ounce of borderline NHL talent from that team in order for them to finish last and thereby be assured of either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the draft.

It's not hard to imagine that Nolan would have a better (maybe even much better) record with this team than Housley presently has.

That's not to say that Nolan should be re-hired or that if he was that he would be able to take this team into the playoffs and beyond. Some coaches can take a destitute team and make them respectable, but not much more than that. Some coaches can take a below averaged team and get them into the playoffs, maybe win only a round or two. And some coaches might not be able to do any of that, but can take a playoff team that's on the brink of being a contender, all the way to the championship.

One thing we do know, in sports, most rookie head coaches have a tough go of it their first year and have a tendency to underachieve, sometimes abhorrently. Some of those will last through their first season, some will last into the next season and some may even last the length of their contract and maybe in to another one.

The Sabres need to figure out how Housley fits into that equation.

Right now it looks as if he's in way over his head and it's hard to see him getting out of this one. Odds are that he'll make it through the season, but the cost will be high. Tank fans love this as they'll finish near the bottom and have the best shot at landing at the top of the draft. But if the player they drafted comes into a losing situation that's toxic, what good is that? What 18 yr. old can handle the weight of a franchise that, according to WGR550's Mike Schopp, hasn't gone into a game with a winning record since January, 2013, as span of over 450 games?

The Housley honeymoon ended rather quickly as they dropped those two games to the Islanders and Devils early in the season. As the season went on injuries to his defense-corps and adjustments to his system kept the wolves at bay even though under Housley, the league's No. 1 powerplay unit last season dropped to 30th this year. After getting whopped by Pittsburgh in early December, the Sabres had a respectable month that carried into the new year with a hard fought, overtime loss to the NY Rangers. Since then it's fallen apart.

Where this all leads this season remains up in the air, but the Sabres have to at least be thinking about doing the unthinkable between now and the 2018 NHL Draft--firing another coach. It might be unseemly, but from what we've seen, it's not unwarranted. It might set them back again, but finishing with a record even close to the tank years means they've already been set back a few years.

What owners Terry and Kim Pegula, along with Team President Russ Brandon and Botterill come up with will be very interesting these next five months or so. The trade deadline means that in all likelihood the team's second-leading scorer will be on the move and it's a good possibility that their starting goalie will get traded as well. Other players on expiring contracts may also get moved so where does that leave this team?

Not in a good spot. And in instances like that, the head coach is usually the one with his head on the chopping block.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wake up! There's a Sabres game this afternoon.

Published by, 1-20-2018

Sure is. The Buffalo Sabres are hosting the Dallas Stars at 1 pm today and it's a game they have a good chance of winning. Despite the huge disparity in points (Dallas-56 and Buffalo-31) and the Sabres lackluster 3-7-0 record vs. Dallas in their last 10, Buffalo is 7-2-1 vs. the Stars at home. During the last four seasons, which includes the 2013-15 tank years, the Sabres are 2-2-0 vs Dallas alternating losses and wins beginning October, 2013.

The Sabres may have gotten a break today as the Stars are starting Kari Lehtonen in net as Dallas finishes up a four-game road-trip. Starter Ben Bishop was in net for Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss at Columbus and with the Stars going 2-0-1 on the trip so far and set to face a struggling Sabres team, Lehtonen gets the call. Not that it's any worry for the Stars as they thumped Buffalo 5-1 back in November with Lehtonen in net, but Bishop is 10-0-0 vs. Buffalo over the last five years allowing only 16 goals in the process.

It's no secret that the Sabres have had trouble scoring goals for...well...years and this matchup doesn't look all that great. But Sabres fans should take some solace in that it's a home game vs. the Stars and that their own star, Jack Eichel, is really heating up. The No. 2 overall pick in 2015 is on a three-game multi-point streak (3 goals + 4 assists) and has racked up 10 goals and nine assists in his last 13 games.

Sabres winger Kyle Okposo is also on a three-game multi-point streak (2+5) and seems to have finally recovered from his health-scare last April. Okposo has eight points (3+8) in his last nine games.

Buffalo is coming off of a tough loss at NY vs. the Rangers on Thursday night. Three times they battled back from a one-goal deficit to tie the score but the eventually lost 4-3. The Sabres came off of their bye week a little slow but found their legs as the game progressed and made it very difficult on the Rangers. Were it not for some stellar goaltending by future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist, the game may have gone to overtime.

Despite the loss, the takeaway from that game should be that they found a way to beat a premier goalie who was on his game. For years the Sabres have been having trouble beating both starwers and back-ups mainly due to their insistence on perimeter play. From Lindy Ruff to Ted Nolan to Dan Bylsma to Phil Housley, coaches have begged them to get to the dirty areas and create some havoc in front of the net. When the players did so, good things would happen but when they didn't, which has happened far too often, Buffalo ended up on the wrong end of the score.

Against Lundqvist and the Rangers, the Sabres had a strong net-front presence resulted in two of the Sabres goals from defensemen (Justin Falk and Rasmus Ristolainen) through traffic. They also had great movement on the powerplay as they went 2/4 with the man advantage.

Things are starting to click a bit more with the Sabres and despite their 11-25-9 record, as the Rangers found out, they're not a pushover when playing to their individual skill-levels.


The Sabres recalled winger Nicolas Baptiste yesterday, but it doesn't look as if he'll be in the lineup this afternoon. According to Jourdon LaBarber of Housley's going with the same lineup he had vs. the Rangers:



Robin Lehner looks to get the start for the Sabres.

Baptiste said yesterday about his call-up that he's been doing the right things away from the puck in Rochester and that it got the attention of the coaching staff in Buffalo as well. "I've definitely improved my game, I think, defensively and on the walls and penalty killing and all those things," Baptiste said yesterday to the gathered media at KeyBank Center. "I'm up here to show Coach Housley that he can trust me in the D-zone and I think that's part of the reason I'm up here.

"I don't think it's a change in my role. I think it's finding a way to play at this level and being able, if you're not scoring, being able to provide physical play, speed and helping in my D-zone. I think I've just developed my game."

Both he and defenseman Victor Antipin, who has been out of the lineup since December as a healthy scratch and because of the flu, are in the press box today.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Out of the bye week and into the fire for the Sabres last night

Published by, 1-19-2018

The 30th place Buffalo Sabres came out of their league mandated hockey hiatus with a game against the NY Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night. Bright lights, big city, and a Rangers team trying to turn things around before they head out West for a four-game road-trip prior to the All-Star break.

While the Sabres were scattered about completely away from team functions for five of their six days between games, the Rangers were busy busting out of a three-game losing streak that left their hold on a wild card slot in a precarious position. The Blueshirts ended that slump in a big way as they thumped the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 on Tuesday and facing a 11-24-9 Sabres team coming out of their bye looked to be a good follow up for them.

Sure enough New York got the ball rolling very early with a breakaway goal by Rick Nash less than two minutes into the game and owned much of the first period. However, the Sabres, rather surprisingly, gathered their senses and tied the score with, of all things, a powerplay goal. Yes, the NHL's worst powerplay (17 of 132, 12.9%) got the team on the board against the league's second-best penalty kill, compliments of Kyle Okposo.

It would be the first of three separate occasions where Buffalo would answer a Rangers goal with one of their own. Two came on the powerplay and one came from the stick of Justin Falk who scored his first goal since March 6, 2015, a span of 100 games for him.

All things considered, the Sabres played well against a desperate Rangers team who ramped up their game to near playoff levels. Had Buffalo not had a breakdown late in the third after tying it 3-3, and had there been someone else in net other than Henrik Lundqvist, it may have went to overtime.

Perhaps, as some in the media have said, being out of the playoff race already has them playing looser than they did earlier in the season. Buffalo had some nice flow to their game at times, looked real sharp on the powerplay and their top players up front did what they were supposed to do in creating opportunities. But defensive breakdowns still haunt them and goalie Robin Lehner's over commitment at times makes it too easy for the opposition.

Buffalo plays a matinee at home against the Dallas Stars on Saturday before heading out for their final Western swing of the season. They head to Calgary on Monday, Edmonton on Tuesday and play their final game before the All-Star break against Vancouver on Thursday.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Gamenight. Finally. Plus, Bogosian, Nelson and Lehner

Published by, 1-18-2018

If it seems like it's been a long time between games for the Buffalo Sabres, it has. Buffalo has been on their bye week since a 3-1 win vs. Columbus and based upon what we've been seeing within the last few threads, hockey's return in Sabreland couldn't come soon enough. For as bad as the Sabres have been for most of the season, discussing players, systems and coaching ends up being much less personal than, say, things like politics.

It's off the 'bye week' and into Madison Square Gardens tonight as Buffalo takes on the NY Rangers at 7:30 pm on NBCSN. In their only other meeting this season, the Rangers topped Buffalo 3-2 in overtime at CitiField in the 10th Winter Classic on January 1. The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games vs. NY and 4-4-2 on the road.

The Rangers are fourth in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and are in the first wildcard slot, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins (who have played two more games,) one point ahead of the NY Islanders. The Blueshirts, who went through a re-tool this past off season, have been riding the back of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who's faced the second-most shots in the league (1115.) His .924 save percentage is tied for third amongst goaltenders who have played in 20 or more games and after his 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, Lundqvist became the first goalie in NHL history to win 20 games 13 consecutive seasons.


Buffalo heads into the game tonight as the league's 30th place team with a league-low 2.41 goals/per game, a number of players who might be dealt at the trade deadline and d-corps that's been depleted by injury and/or illness.

The big hit to the blueline came when Zach Bogosian went down during an intense practice just over a week ago. Bogosian, who started out the season injured, is expected to be out at least another four weeks with a lower body injury.

It's been rough and rocky travelling for Bogosian, a former first round pick (2008, 3rd-overall) of the Atlanta Flames. His time in Buffalo has been marked by inconsistent play, with some of it being unwatchable, as the Sabres are saddled with a nearly immovable contract that carries a cap-hit of $5.14 million for the next two seasons.

Since acquiring him in February, 2015 the NHL has relied less on his rugged style of play from the back end and more on speed and finesse leaving Bogosian searching for his game. The East is loaded with speed and his bruiser mentality seems to have gotten lost in the quick Lilliputians skating circles around him. Bogosian may be better suited to the Western Conference where there's still a lot of speed, but size and a heavy style of play can still be effective vs. much of the conference.

Word on the street (viaWGR550's Howard Simon) is that the Los Angeles Kings might be interested in Bogosian or fellow Sabres d-man Josh Gorges, among a few others, to help bolster their blueline. The Kings have about $3.8 million in cap-space this season so the Sabres would need to eat a good portion, probably half, for it to work out financially for Los Angeles.

Methinks that if the Kings wanted to work a deal for Bogosian, Sabres GM Jason Botterill would jump at it.


In addition to Bogosian, the Sabres also have had the flu bug hit two defensemen.

Rookie Victor Antipin got it in December and that bout helped extend the number of games since he's played to 10 games. Antipin was a healthy scratch in the two games prior to the Christmas break and missed the last eight as a result of his bout with the flu. He said he lost 10 pounds during his illness and during the bye week he's been trying to add weight and strength for a return to the lineup.

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu missed practice yesterday and won't play tonight as he's listed as day-to-day with an illness.

With Bogosian and Beaulieu out and Antipin a game-time decision, the Sabres were down to five healthy defensemen--Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Justin Falk and Gorges--so they called up Casey Nelson from the Rochester Americans.

Nelson was a 2016 free agent signee who played in seven games for the Sabres registering four assists through a three-game point-streak to start his NHL career. Many thought he could jump right in but he had a terrible go of it in 11 appearances early in the 2016-17 season and was sent to Rochester for seasoning. It took a while for him to get acclimated, but finished his rookie season with 21 points (7+14) in 56 games but had a minus-10 plus/minus rating. This year he's been playing bigger minutes, has 11 points (2+9) in 37 games and leads the team with a plus-11 rating.

The well-earned promotion has Nelson excited and somewhat nervous. After yesterday's practice he told the gathered media that he's "just going to go out there and try to stay loose and hopefully capitalize on this opportunity."

This wouldn't be the first time that Nelson bounced back from a rough start. He had a rough go of it his first season at Minnesota State and spent plenty of time out of the lineup early in his freshman year. But according to his coach, Mike Hastings, instead of pooh, poohing, Nelson "immersed himself" in preparation and by the end of his junior year was one of the most sought after college free agents.

Nelson came to the pros as an offensive, puck-moving defenseman but has spent the last season-and-a-half working on his defensive game. When asked if he felt the improvement in his game, he said, "absolutely, especially on defense.

"I don't have a lot of chances on the powerplay this year, which is fine, because my game has totally changed on the backend," he continued. "I just feel more comfortable out there."


Yesterday we brought up a potential trade destination for Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner--the NY Islanders--were the Sabres interested in trading him. However, with word out that Corey Crawford may be done for the season in Chicago, it would seem as if the Blackhawks may also be a possible landing spot.

Reporter Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "with the trade deadline looming Feb. 26 and the playoff race thick, finding a trading partner could be dicey for the Hawks." Skrbina then offered up a few goalies "who will be free agents after this season, should the Hawks find a willing trade partner, most likely a team that isn’t in playoff contention"--Lehner, Petr Mrazek (DET,) and Annti Raanta (ARI.)

The Hawks are three points out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, but are also right up against the cap-ceiling. However, they could get some relief if they put Crawford on long-term injured reserve.

It might be something to keep an eye on.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Buffalo's bye week is a good time to talk about the future

Published by, 1-17-2018

Sure, the Buffalo Sabres entered their bye week with a 3-1 win over a very good Columbus Blue Jackets team. As a refresher, the Sabres pumped 15 shots on net in the first period against the Jackets and headed into intermission with a 1-0 lead. Columbus gathered their druthers and began to right the ship peppering goalie Linus Ullmark with 34 shots on goal over the final two periods. Ullmark, an AHL All-Star who'd been called up the game before but didn't play, withstood the barrage allowing only one goal and left the ice with the win and the game's first star. Benoit Pouliot, Kyle Okposo and Jack Eichel (empty net) scored for the Sabres for their first win in 2018 (1-4-1.)

That performance coupled with the work he's been doing since coming to North America since 2015, has the 24 yr. old Ullmark looking like a big part of the future for the Sabres. As does rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle.

Guhle made his first Sabres appearance of the season and once again, did not look out of place. The Sabres have him on a development curve that should see him as a full-time fixture on the back-end beginning next season. As he's shown at every level, the 20 yr. old is an exceptional skater with great on-ice vision, a nose for open areas and the ability to finish. He's also pretty good in his own end while using his closing-speed, smarts and stickwork as well as his 6'3" 196 lb. frame (which still has plenty of room for growth.)

In 16:10 of ice-time against the Jackets, Guhle had an assist, his first-ever NHL point, and was a plus-2.

Buffalo is off until Thursday when they head to Madison Square Gardens to face off against the NY Rangers who are coming off of a pretty impressive 5-1 home win vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. During the last five days of their mandated bye week, the Sabres front office has had some time to look back on what's transpired this season as well as look forward to the February 26 trade deadline and beyond to the 2018 NHL Draft. They've had 44 games to evaluate the roster to see who will fit in moving forward and how GM Jason Botterill and company approach the future begins now.

Here are some of the things they've had plenty of time to discuss:

Where should Guhle play coming out of the bye?

Buffalo's defense-corps has been suspect at best but seemed to settle in a bit when Zach Bogosian came off of injury and was back in the lineup. However, Bogosian is once again injured and will be  out another month or so.

Guhle has all the tools to successfully play in the NHL and might be the best defenseman on the team other than Rasmus Ristolainen. There's an easy case for Guhle to be sent back to Rochester, which includes (unfortunately) helping the Sabres secure a low finish and increasing their odds of landing a top-three pick in the draft.

Then again, as part of his development a lengthy exposure to the NHL game, especially with teams upping the intensity in a playoff run, could really set him up for success next season. I don't buy that being exposed to this team will kill his development. He's got too much going for him to be dragged down by any pettiness and anger that might infect the locker room through the remaining 37 games.

Speaking of Bogosian

When former GM Tim Murray traded for Bogosian as part of the Evander Kane deal, there was reason for optimism. The fleet-footed bruiser of a d-man with a cannon for a shot and a willingness to stand up for his teammates added an edge to a team in desperate need of one. Bogosian had a good start to his career in Buffalo, but a multitude of injuries and inconsistent play have left many to believe he should be moved. However, the problem with trading him is his contract which has two years remaining after this season at a $5.14 million cap-hit.

As has been proven in the past, anything can be done and there may be an out from Buckeye country.

Recent reports have Jackets' defenseman Jack Johnson wanting out. The 31 yr. old isn't getting enough playing time heading into free agency this off season. Johnson was reportedly looking to cash-in this summer after most of his earnings up to this point were frittered away by his parents who made a number of highly questionable moves with his finances.

Although Buffalo isn't the ideal place for him and his $4.34 million cap-hit, there's no reason the left-handed defenseman couldn't be placed on the top-pairing for the Sabres for the rest of the season to prove what he's got. With a Columbus having such a young team and the cap-ceiling not much of a worry this season, taking on an extra $1 million in salary and eventually placing Bogosian on the third-pairing could very well work.

Other things might need to be added on one side or the other, but it's a situation where both teams could benefit from those two as the primary pieces in what could basically be a hockey trade.

The NY Islanders and Robin Lehner

Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will be a restricted free agent at season's end and he probably won't be back in Buffalo. Botterill gave him a one-year deal in the summer and Lehner has given him an uneven season up until this point.

That said, when Lehner's on, he's outstanding.

The NY Islanders have a huge problem on their hands when it comes to franchise center John Tavares who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. They've been building around him for years and only recently have they become playoff contenders.

The Isles have been an offensive juggernaut this season (3.39 goals/game) second only to the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.61) who have lit the league on fire. Tavares leads the charge with Josh Bailey and rookie Matthew Barzal lighting things up as well. But the problem with the team has been defense and goaltending as they're dead-last in the league with a 3.36 team goals-against average with the worst goaltending tandem in the league.

Jaroslav Halak is their starter and is only 13-13-2 on the second-highest scoring team in the league with a 3.22 goals against average and .906 save percentage. Back-up Thomas Greiss is even worse with a 3.89 GAA and .886 Sv%.

Lehner, who backstops the lowest scoring team in the league (2.25) has a 2.94 GAA and .910 Sv% that was only brought down recently.

Most people think there's a fit there and with the Islanders holding two first round picks and two second round picks in the upcoming draft, perhaps a second-rounder to Buffalo for Lehner is a small price to pay in helping convince Tavares they want him on the team moving forward.

Are they really going to get that much for Evander Kane.

Evander Kane is a pending UFA and word on the street is that the Sabres are looking for four pieces in a potential deal.

I'd be thrilled with a first-rounder and a mid-upper level prospect. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. Perhaps the added pieces are an added pick or prospect to take on a dead-weight contract.

A decision needs to be made on Victor Oloffson

Kris Baker of opened up his weekly Prospects Report with Victor Oloffson, a seventh-round pick of Buffalo's (181st) in 2014. The 22 yr. old winger leads the Sweden's top professional hockey league with 21 goals and is 10th in the SHL with 32 points.

Baker called him a "mainstay on the Swedish scoresheets" while also pointing out that Oloffson's "lightning quick release" has him scoring his 21 goals on only 103 shots (20.3%.)

The Sabres need to make a decision on him this year or lose his rights. Methinks there should be a place for him in the organization next season.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Possible destinations for Evander Kane and what those teams might have to offer

Published by, 1-15-2018

The NHL traded deadline is February 26, but with their fate pretty much sealed for this season, a bottom-dweller like the Buffalo Sabres, trade talks have been on-going for a while GM Jason Botterill reportedly fielding calls from contenders for weeks (or months.)

Buffalo's big trade chip is winger Evander Kane, a soon to be unrestricted free agent who happens to be having a career year. What's the market for a big, speedy 25-30 goal left winger who plays with an edge? Botterill is said to be looking for a first-rounder, a prospect and a conditional pick should Kane sign with the team he's traded to. Supply and demand will go a long way in dictating the return for Kane, but league-wide parity may help inch up the price.

Kane has been in the Eastern Conference these past three years, but the prototypical powerforward seems built for a more rugged Western Conference. And if you don't think they still cherish old-school hockey out west, look no further than the recent LA Kings/Anaheim Ducks games where the hatred is real as the two teams battle for Southern California dominance.

Although Kane may end up out west, word is that a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins might be interested in him as he does have the speed to play in a much faster Eastern Conference. After being on the outside looking in of a playoff position, the Pens are climbing back up and will be looking to make it three Stanley Cups in a row. Add in the fact that Botterill came from that organization (with three Cup rings) and it makes for a very interesting possibility.

Here are a handful of potential destinations for Kane (in no particular order,) where they are in the standings, their cap-space (from CapFriendly) and what they may have to offer the Sabres via the draft plus their top-three prospects (from who might be available.

Los Angeles Kings (3rd, Pacific Division)

--Projected cap-space:  $3.3 million
--2018 draft:  hold their own 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks.

Top prospects
--C, Gabe Vilardi (2017, 11th-overall)
Has great size (6'3", 201 lbs.) and great hands (29 goals in 49 games for Windsor (OHL) last season
--D, Paul LaDue (2012, 181st)
All-around, puck-moving d-man who saw some time on the Kings 2nd powerplay unit last season
--C, Jonny Brodzinski (2013, 148th)
Like LaDue, an NCAA product.

San Jose' Sharks (4th, Pacific Division)

--Projected cap-space:  $5.4M
--2018 draft:  1st, no second or third

--F, Daniel O'Regan (2012, 138th)
O'Regan was Jack Eichel's wingman at Boston University in 2014-15. "Fearless player" lead all AHL rookies with 58 (25+38) points last season.
--F, Joshua Norris (2017, 19th)
Another NCAA product. Athletic, smart and a great skater
--D, Joakim Ryan (2012, 198th)
Has been making his way up the ranks since his Cornell U days. "Quiet but effective"

Anaheim Ducks (5th Pacific)

--Projected cap-space:  $2.8M
--2018 draft:  1st, 2nd, 3rd, NJD 3rd

Top prospects
--D, Jacob Larsson (2015, 27tth)
Smooth-skating d-man who draws comparisons to fellow countryman and Ducks d-man, Hampus Lindholm
--C, Sam Steel (2016, 30th)
Highly skilled center who posted 131 pts (50-81) last year for Regina Pats (WHL)
--LW, Nic Kerdiles (2012, 36th)
Rugged, two-way player who's had some concussion issues since being drafted

Pittsburgh Penguins (4th, Metropolitan)

--Projected cap-space:  $186K
--2018 draft:  1st, 2nd, no third

Top prospects
--RW, Daniel Sprong (2015, 46th)
Offensive winger with great shot could be next in the long line of young, inexpensive forwards who make big contributions to the club.
--F, Zachary Aston-Reese (2017 free agent)
Northeastern (NCAA) product scored 1.66/game his senior season, added eight points (3+5) in is first 10 pro games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
--G, Tristan Jarry (2013, 44th)
Putting up impressive numbers after getting the call to Pittsburgh with a 9-3-2 record, 2.33 goals-against average and .923 save percentage

Columbus Blue Jackets (2nd, Metropolitan)

--Projected cap-space:  $5.5M
--2018 draft:  1st, 2nd, 3rd

Top Prospects
--D, Gabriel Carlsson (2019, 29th)
Big (6'4" 192 lbs.) stay-at-home defender with a good first pass and a big shot from the point
--F, Vitaly Abramov (2016, 65th)
Big offense (18 goals and 33 assists in 32 QMJHL games this year) from a smallish player (5'9" 172 lbs.) Almost made Jackets out of camp this year.
--C, Sam Vigneault (2017 FA)
Hulking center (6'5" 203 lbs.) scored 10 game-winning goals in his 106-game career at Clarkson University

Monday, January 15, 2018

What to do with Brendan Guhle after the Sabres return from their bye week

Published by, 1-13-2018

Prospect Brendan Guhle has played two games for the Buffalo Sabres this season and, similar to his three-game call-up from junior last season, hasn't looked out of place at all. Granted, the five game sample is too small to designate him a top-four defenseman for the Sabres, but he has the look of a future NHL'er and with the way he skates and attacks with speed leads one to believe that he could/should end up in a top-four role sooner rather than later.

The 6'2" 196 lb. Guhle was plucked in the second round (51st-overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft by Buffalo and was touted as an very athletic skater known more for being defensive-minded. Kris Baker of described Guhle as "a gym rat" in his profile writing that the Sherwood Park, Alberta native is "not flashy, gets the job done and takes care of his own zone first." Baker added, "He has great feet. His feet keep him in plays and he's got really good recovery speed so when he does go deep, he can get back."

His skating and his recovery speed are traitts that hat served him well throughout his journey thus far. The 20 yr. old is in his first pro season and some of those traits mentioned by Baker remain true. "It was great the way he stepped out from behind our own net and just attacked the game," said Sabres head coach Phil Housley on WGR550 Radio the morning following Guhle's first game of the season in Buffalo."I liked the way he jumped in, got down low and had guys covering for him, but even when he got caught down low he could use his speed to get back and recover. That's a great aspect of his game."

With defenseman Zach Bogosian out at least 4-6 weeks and forward Jacob Josefson on IR with a lower body injury, there's room for a roster player. Right now the Sabres have six healthy defensemen--Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, Justin Falk and Josh Gorges. Rookie Victor Antipin may or may not return to the lineup after being felled by a wicked bout with the flu. Antipin last played against the Boston Bruins on December 19, part of it was being a healthy scratch with the last six games sidelining him because of the flu. He was said to have "lost a noticeable amount of weight," according to John Vogl of The Buffalo News, and will be using Buffalo's bye-week to gain weight and strength while trying to get back into game-shape.

As of right now there is room for at least one of Guhle or Antipin, and possibly both, in the lineup dependent upon what Housley, and GM Jason Botterill, want to see moving forward. Botterill was on WGR before the Sabres game on Thursday saying that they will evaluate the situation with Guhle and goalie Linus Ullmark, after their bye.

Most rightfully think that Guhle should go back to a winning Rochester club to avoid the negativity and turmoil surrounding the Sabres dismal season to this point. He can also continue playing top-pairing minutes for the Amerks and be a main cog in the wheel as they make a drive to a high seed in the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs.

But a case can also be made for Guhle to get the call to Buffalo for a stay, possibly an extended stay, for as long as his development warrants. That would include keeping him in Buffalo until the Sabres season ends on April 7 and God knows the team and the fans in Buffalo could use a breath of fresh air.

Guhle has made great strides in Rochester as a rookie. He's tied for sixth on the team in scoring with 20 points (7+13) in 35 games while his 91 shots on goal lead the team as well as all rookie d-men in the AHL. Those 20 points also tie him for second in the AHL amongst rookie defensemen. He has a +4 plus/minus rating and he seems to have a full and complete grasp of the AHL.

As a team, the Amerks have made great strides this season after finishing 26th in the league the prior two seasons (plus a 28th-place finish the year before.) After their win last night, Rochester remains second in the Eastern Conference and third overall in the league with a 23-8-7 record. Botterill was true to his word when he said he wanted a strong AHL affiliate and stacked the Amerks with quality vets to help guide the youngins and even without Guhle, Rochester has a solid group of defensemen, bolstered by the recent return of Nathan Paetsch three games ago. They're also backed by Ullmark, one of the best goalies in the American Hockey League. This is a team that's almost certain to make the playoffs and are poised for a good run.

Should Botterill and company decided to keep Guhle in Buffalo for an extended stay that stretches into April, he'd still have plenty of time to get ready for the playoffs. Rochester has three games the week after Buffalo's season ends on April 7.

After Thursday night's Sabres win, Guhle and Ullmark were both sent down to Rochester yesterday and did not play in the Amerks 5-2 win vs. the Binghamton Devils (NJD.) Both should be in the lineup tonight as Rochester faces a red-hot Syracuse Crunch (TBL) team that has won seven in a row and 18 of their last 21. After that the Amerks play the Utica Comets (VAN) in a home and home Monday and Wednesday.

The Sabres are on their bye week until they return to action on Thursday when they travel to The Big Apple to face off against the NY Rangers. Whether Guhle is with them or not will be determined but for this fan, it would be great to get another look at him in the Blue and Gold. And should he continue to impress, an even longer look at that.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Linus Ullmark leads Sabres into the 'bye week' with a

Published by, 1-12-2018

There were a lot of good things to take away from last night's 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. First and foremost, it stopped a five game winless streak for the Buffalo Sabres (0-4-1,) which was their third such streak of five or more games (one was six) on the season and it sent them into their 'bye week' on a positive note. Which is important.

The altercation at Wednesday's practice between defenseman Justin Falk and winger Evander Kane actually may have helped the team as the frustrations of a long, trying first half of the season boiled over. Maybe it was their Festivus, with the thoughts and emotions of an entire team in the throes of a losing season came through in these words from Falk, “Shut the (expletive) up, you selfish (expletive),” as reported by those on the scene. Although Falk wasn't speaking for the entire team in directing his ire towards Kane, God knows there had to be plenty of things bothering them and that eruption may have relieved a lot of pressure.

It was said to be an "angry practice" by long-time Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton of WGR550 Radio who also said that most of it dealt with head coach Phil Housley finding many teaching moments while expressing his desire for more passion. And that's what he got.

Housley's Sabres, who've had notoriously slow starts in most of their games this season, came out and stuck it to Columbus in the first period last night. Buffalo outshot the Blue Jackets 15-11 through the first 20 minutes while controlling most of the play and left the ice with a 1-0 lead as forward Benoit Pouliot, who'd not scored a goal in nearly a month, pounced on a rebound off of a Kyle Okposo shot. Pouliot became the most recent beneficiary of being placed on Jack Eichel's line while Okposo has been enjoying those benefits with two-points (1+1) last night and five  (1+4) since moving up with Eichel two games ago.

Rookie defenseman Brendan Guhle also got in on the scoring last night as he notched an assist for his first NHL point. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 20 yr. old has been a breath of fresh air for a Sabres team that's been slogging through much of the season. Guhle was terrific while bringing much needed speed and energy to the team from the back end and was rewarded with a secondary assist when Kane's dump-in took a weird bounce and an unchecked Okposo buried and easy goal into a wide open net.

But the star of the show, and the game's first star was goaltender Linus Ullmark who was making is first NHL start of the season. Ullmark turned away 44 of 45 shots faced and was only beaten by a ridiculous backhand by the Jackets' Artemi Panarin with the Sabres shorthanded. Other than that he was solid.

Ullmark credited his team with keeping many shots to the outside, but he was challenging shooters all night and when he needed to come up with a big save, he did. "He's very calm. He doesn't overplay things," said Housley at his post-game presser. "He's pretty tight. He's pretty square to the puck and he makes that first save. He fought through some traffic then he made the second save. He stepped up, he was really on his angle and challenging and you could see the confidence in his game."

Confidence is the key word here. Housley also used it while describing Guhle's game and the reason both of those two have played in Rochester the entire season before this week is so that they can develop further and build more confidence in their game. Ullmark is amongst the leaders in every AHL goaltending category this season and was named to the AHL All-Star team while Guhle is tied for second amongst rookie defensemen in scoring while playing in all situations for the Amerks.

It was a good win last night for Buffalo and both Guhle and Ullmark give Sabres fans plenty to look forward to next season. Lest we start planning the parade, it was just one win and just one game and often times players have been known to fade, such as we've seen in Buffalo a number of times already this season.

But it was a win which they can take into their five-day 'bye-week', which is much better than the alternative.


Eichel's empty net goal last night was impressive and there's not many times when you can say that about an empty-netter.

With the Sabres under pressure and less than 10 seconds to play Ryan O'Reilly intercepted a pass in the slot and fed Eichel to his right. After taking a few strides in his own zone Eichel wristed a rocket that went 125' in a second and hit a bullseye dead-center into the open net about three feet up for his 18th goal of the season.

It's not very often you see a goal from that far away sent with that much authority and that much accuracy. Good for him too.

Eichel has been on a tear lately. It was his second multi-point game in a row and now has 10 goals and seven assists in his last 12 games. His 41 points (18+23) lead the Sabres and places him tied for 23rd in the league while his 17 even-strength goals are tied for sixth. Eichel has only one powerplay goal, but his four empty-netters are second in the league only to Michael Grabner's (NYR) six.


Defenseman Zach Bogosian was a casualty of Wednesday's "angry practice" and will be sidelined long-term (I know, and the sun came up today.) With him out of the lineup, the question of whether the team will recall Guhle (who was sent down to Rochester along with Ullmark today) after Buffalo's bye came up.

Buffalo GM Jason Botterill was on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog and talked about his plans for the young players in the system. "You have to have about 25 different plans," said Botterill in reference to the multitude of possibilities that can happen between now and the February 26 NHL trade deadline. And that includes how the young players are developing. "It's something that we'll obviously follow closely with our players in Rochester and our players in college and junior in the second half (of the season.)

"Are they going to be ready? Because it's that balancing act come next Fall when you ideally want them in the National Hockey League, but you have to be careful of putting them on the roster in a situation where they're failing."

As for the rest of the season, the hosts asked Botterill if Guhle and Ullmark will come back to Buffalo after their bye. "Both will be sent down (and they were this morning) and they'll be in Rochester for the week and we'll re-evaluate the situation once we start up again next week.

"It's a scenario where we brought up [Ullmark] for precautionary reasons," said the GM, "but we tried to find a game for him (which they did last night.) With Guhle, he's done an outstanding job throughout the year and we felt like it was a situation where we could get him in for a couple of games, see what materializes and make a decision further from that."

Botterill was effusive in his praise for both those players, and from what we've seen of their play not only these last one or two games, but the progress they've made from their previous appearances in Buffalo, it wouldn't be too surprising to see both of them in the Sabres lineup again this season. Ullmark has made great progress since playing in 20 games for the Sabres as a rookie in the 2015-16 season and Guhle looked like he belonged as a junior call-up last season and in these last two games he's done nothing to make us believe that he doesn't still belong.


Finally, back to Wednesday's altercation at practice.

Schopp and the Bulldog asked Botterill if he was ever a part of practice altercations during his playing career. "I was in a few fights at practice," he said. "It happens a lot. Actually we're excited (about what happened on Wednesday.)

"What I mean by 'excited about it' was that [Housley] has been demanding more compete, more battle in practice. We think, for us to take another step as an organization, we have to score more in practice. We have to compete more in practice. We have to win more one-on-one battles against each other in practice. From our standpoint, [what happened Wed.] was good to see."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bogosian out, All-Star Eichel, Ullmark gets the nod + a look at the PP in 1-goal games

Published by, 1-11-2018

The Buffalo Sabres will have their bye-week beginning tomorrow. The collectively bargained five-day break means the Sabres will be off until they travel to The Big Apple to face off against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens on January 18. And God knows, this team needs a break.

Buffalo heads into tonight's home matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets on a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) to start off the 2018 portion of the schedule and have been outscored 24-12 in the process. The Sabres began the new year with an overtime loss to the Rangers in the Winter Classic, stunk up the joint vs. the Wild at Minnesota for the first of a three-game road trip then lost to the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo returned home Tuesday and got blown out by the Jets 7-4 on their return to KeyBank Center for the first time since a win against Philadelphia on December 22nd.


The bye-week might be a good thing for Buffalo as their in the midst of a terrible skid that's really starting to take it's toll on the team. With the season shot and the trade deadline nearing, tempers flared at practice yesterday and one player was lost to injury.

According to WGR Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton, Buffalo head coach wanted more intensity at practice after the embarrassment that was the Winnipeg loss.

And intensity is what he got.

Hamilton said the Sabres d-man Zach Bogosian, who missed the first 17 games of the season with a lower body injury, threw a hard body check at Evander Kane but got the worst of the deal. Bogosian had to be helped off the ice and will be out anywhere from 4-8 weeks. Kane was also verbally attacked by defenseman Justin Falk in a spat that almost became physical twice--once on the ice and another time while coming off the ice.

During his appearance on WGR this morning, Hamilton said that it was more of a "teaching practice" but that Housley wanted to see more passion and what he ended up getting from his 10-24-9 team was an "angry practice."

Which begs the question, what the hell took him so long? This team was in a funk from October to early December and it was so bad that they were pretty much out of the playoffs. The team showed very little passion during that stretch and whether it's "you practice like you play" or "you play like you practice," this club seemingly wasn't getting their blood pumping and it showed during games.


Center Jack Eichel certainly has had his blood pumping as of late. The third year pro shook off a slow start and kicked things up a couple of notches beginning in December. Although the stats didn't start showing up on a regular basis until the middle part of the month, Eichel was really motoring over the entire sheet of ice. With his three-point game last night (2+1,) the 21 yr. old moved to the top of the Sabres leaderboard in goals (17) and points (39) and remains the team-leader in assist (22.)

Eichel's 10 goals and 10 assists in his last 17 games moved him past Kane atop the Sabres leaderboard and probably got him the All-Star nod over Kane. Every team will be represented at the All-Star game and Eichel will represent the Sabres. He called it a "huge honor" while speaking to the gathered media and said that the format and the prize money adds extra incentive.

The NHL went to a six-team playoff using the three-on-three format two years ago and it's been one of the best innovations in all the four major sports. Granted, All-Star weekend is more of a getaway and a place for fans to see all the stars of the game gathered for an elongated skills competition, but the $1 million prize is something to shoot for.

“You got something on the line, you got something to play for,” he said yesterday. “I mean, it’s money, right? I think I read somewhere yesterday that Taylor Hall’s won both years in the three-on-three. I think he’s got paid over $150,000 from winning. That’s a pretty good chunk of money."


Goalie Linus Ullmark is an All-Star himself as he'll be headed to the AHL All-Star Game to represent the Rochester Americans. For tonight, however, he'll be on the ice and in goal for the Buffalo Sabres as they take on the Blue Jackets.

Ullmark was called up after Robin Lehner took a shot to the neck area against Philadelphia on Sunday and was listed as day-to-day. He wasn't a part of the blowout loss on Tuesday, but was still with the team and Housley said that the 24 yr. old native of Lugnvik, Sweden will make his season debut.

Housley told the gathered media today that Ullmark, "earned a start up here" saying that "he's had a terrific season down in Rochester, being named an AHL All-Star, and we're looking for a spark."

Ullmark has been in the pipeline since being drafted by the Sabres with the 163rd pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He played two-plus seasons for MODO of the Swedish Elite League after being drafted and almost single-handedly helped his team stave off relegation in 2014-15. After that season he opted for elective double-hip surgery before coming to North America.

He arrived in Rochester with a late 2015 target date for his return from surgery but was thrust into action early as Sabres goalie Robin Lehner went down on the first game of the season. Although he wasn't the first call-up, when he did get the call, he didn't go back to the Amerks until Lehner returned. That year he split his rookie campaign between Buffalo and Rochester.

Last year Ullmark played the entire season in Rochester and was named their team MVP. This year he's been even better as he's learned to put winning ahead of stats and because of that he's sporting a 17-5-3 record, 2.27 GAA and a .928 Sv%.


The Sabres powerplay has been a trainwreck and in a stunning turn of events went from No. 1 in the league last season to 30th this year leaving many to wonder what the hell happened, especially when they essentially have the same personnel.

Hamilton began his segment with Howard Simon and Jeremy White this morning talking about the Buffalo Bills and the fate of their offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison. The Bills running game fell from one of the best in the league last season to one of the worst through the early part of this season with Hamilton saying basically that Dennison tried to cram his system down the players throats with no regards for his personnel and how they might fit. He also drew a parallel between Dennison and former head coach Rex Ryan who took one of the best defenses in the league and turned it into one of the worst a year later.

Housley did the same thing with the Sabres powerplay, according to Hamilton, when he disregarded the players and what worked for them last season to instill his system. And make no mistake, this is Housley's system. "The assistant coaches coach the head coach's powerplay," stressed Hamilton. "Housley wanted to change things."

As Hamilton pointed out, the Sabres have had a number of one-goal losses this year and he rhetorically asked how things might have been different with the powerplay producing at the same clip it did last season.

To answer his question, the Sabres have had 15 one-goal losses this season with another six games within a goal late in the third period before the opposition scored and empty-netter (or two.) During those 21 games, the Sabres failed to score a powerplay goal in 11 of them and scored more than one powerplay goal only twice.

Last year the Sabres had 43 points through 43 games scoring 31 powerplay goals. This year the Sabres have 29 points through 43 games and have scored 17 powerplay goals with five of those coming in two games.

Would 14 more powerplay goals in some of those 15 one-goal losses have made a difference? Would it have been enough to make up the 14 point difference between last year and this?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Quick notes plus, reports of blowups at today's practice

Published by, 1-10-2018

The Sabres announced today that they'll be wearing the Winter Classic-style jerseys three more times this season:

--Thursday, Feb. 8 against the New York Islanders
--Monday, Feb. 19 against the Washington Capitals
--Wednesday, April 4 against the Ottawa Senators (Fan Appreciation Night)

Sabres PR also noted that on they'll be giving away a Winter Classic themed jersey towel at the Feb. 19 game and on Fan Appreciation Night, select fans will receive the Winter Classic-style jerseys worn by the players that night in their annual "Jersey Off My Back" promotion.


Last night's 7-4 blowout loss to the Winnipeg Jets offered up some interesting stats.

Jack Eichel (2g, 1a,)  Ryan O'Reilly (1+2) and Kyle Okposo (3 assists) all had three points and paced the forwards in time on ice at 20:57, 20:04 and 20:05, respectively.

Eichel and O'Reilly lead the team with six shots on goal each while Okposo had three.

All three were on the ice when former Sabre Joel Armia scored an empty net goal in Buffalo's 7-4 loss placing a minus-1 in each plus/minus rating.

Eichel was on the ice for seven of the game's 11 goals:  three of Buffalo's four (with one on the powerplay) and four of Winnipeg's seven (three at even strength and the Armia empty-netter.)

Okposo was on the ice for six total goals:  three Sabres goals-for (two even-strength, one on the powerplay) and was on the ice for two even-strength goals against and the Armia goal.)

O'Reilly was on the ice for four goals total:  two even strength goals by Buffalo and one on the Sabres powerplay plus the empty-netter against.

At the end of the night Eichel was a minus-2, Okposo a minus-1 and O'Reilly was one of three Sabres players in the plus column at plus-1.

The others at plus-1 were Jake McCabe (18:49 TOI,) Jason Pominville (17:51) and Rasmus Ristolainen with a game-high 27:07 minutes played.

Buffalo's worst plus/minus last night belonged to the defense-pairing of Zach Bogosian and Nathan Beaulieu at minus-3 each. Bogosian skated a total of 18:05 was on the ice with Beaulieu for three goals against and was also on the ice for both Winnipeg powerplay goals.


Defenseman Brendan Guhle started off his first Sabres game of the season by taking a penalty on his second shift of the game which lead to goal by Winnipeg which opened the scoring. However, once he got acclimated, he was flying up and down the ice in a way that did not go unnoticed.

Sabres bench boss Phil Housley was on WGR550 Radio this morning talking with the hosts and you could tell in his voice that he was really excited about what the 20 yr. old Guhle brought to the table. "It was great the way he stepped out from behind our own net and just attacked the game, beating the forechecker, carrying the puck up ice with just his speed. When he was getting involved in the offensive zone his reads were real good.

"I liked the way he jumped in, got down low and had guys covering for him, but even when he got caught down low he could use his speed to get back and recover. That's a great aspect of his game.

Guhle skated 17:45 last night and put up zeros across the board (including plus/minus,) with the one penalty and had three shots on goal.


Housley ripped into his entire team after last night's loss and called his team out for lackadaisical play geared towards individual numbers. Here's how he put it to the gathered media last night:

"The thing for me – and it's very evident and I continue to talk about it – is our lack of respect and urgency playing defense. That's not only in the defensive zone. That starts in the offensive zone, sensing possession that's going to be in question, have a total urgency to get back. And we sit and wait at times. We're hoping that somebody's going to make a play.

"We don't get back, and then their D are ahead of us. That's where it starts, and then it gets back into our defensive zone. There's going to be times where you're going to have to sustain some defensive-zone pressure from other teams, but it's just having that urgency to kill a play, to suck it up and play solid defense."

Which is somewhat ironic considering that Housley, an offensive-minded defenseman who made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame because of his individual numbers, was never known for his defense either. In fact, during his first couple of seasons, Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman used him on the wing because his defense was so terrible.


WGR Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton said last night post-game that what Housley described was the same thing we've been seeing often over the course of the last five years or so.

Sorry, Paul. You're wrong.

It goes back farther than that, to Darcy Regier's core post Drury/Briere. It's something that happened quite often at home even with a tough coach like Lindy Ruff in charge. More often than not that group of talented individual players were more interested in fancy plays to put on a show for the home crowd and more often than not, they ended up losing, sometimes in a very ugly fashion like we saw last night.


The goalie during that time was Ryan Miller, a former Vezina Trophy winner who was booed and/or given a Bronx cheer on more than one occasion during the last stages of his Buffalo career. Miller was often left hung out to dry by the skaters in front of him and there were many times in-game where he'd come up big. But there were also times where he'd let in a softie or three.

Robin Lehner is similar in that respect as he's come up with some big saves only to let in some stoppable goals.

Last night was an awful game for him as he allowed three goals--two egregious softies and one that  real good goalie should have had--on 17 shots against. Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for the team,) the KeyBank Center crowd is so accustomed to performances like this (a 5-11-3 Sabres home record) that remained without emotionless while Chad Johnson relieved Lehner.

Housley, who's tried to act like nurturing mother through this dismal season, didn't mince words when it came to Lehner's performance. The first thing out of is mouth at last night's post-game presser was delivered with a furrowed brow and a deep sigh before saying, "Well, first of all, we're gonna need some saves, you know, early on in the game."



The Sabres scored on the powerplay. Yay!

Buffalo went into the game with the league's second worst powerplay at 12.4% then proceeded to go 1-3 on the night with the man advantage moving them to 12.9% on the year. The only team worse is the Columbus Blue Jackets (12.2%) who are presently second in the Metropolitan Division. Buffalo is second-last in the league.


The losses are starting to take their toll.

Word from today's practice via Paul Hamilton had Evander Kane and Justin Falk in an on-ice altercation before the coaches pulled Falk away. Also from the practice this morning, WKBW's Matthew Bove reports that Bogosian slammed hard into the boards and was helped off the ice favoring his left leg. Apparently he got tangled along the wall with Kane.

Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times reported that Falk "yelled at Kane, called him selfish and shoved him."

Housley's reaction thanks to those on the scene, "It's good to see some emotion. It was a battle practice and tempers flared up. It was more the heat of the battle."

And, from the Falk, via Hamilton, "To be quite honest I think it's healthy. We're pushing each other, we're honest with each other, we're up front with each other, there's no B.S. behind anything and that's just the way you have to have it."