Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-8-2018
According to reports from the rink this morning, Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley made some lineup changes after falling to the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 at home in overtime. With that overtime loss the Sabres still have only six wins at KeyBank Center (6-15-4) all season and they're still stuck on 999 home wins for the franchise.
The Anaheim game represented some extreme emotional swings that began with Zemgus Girgensons' shorthanded goal to open the scoring and finished with a long shot from just inside the blueline that beat Sabres goalie Robin Lehner in overtime. In between we saw Lehner tip a clearing pass from Ryan O'Reilly into his own goal and saw O'Reilly score the game-tying goal with just 14.5 seconds left in regulation and Lehner pulled for the extra attacker. In addition to Girgensons' shortie, his second in three games, Buffalo scored on the powerplay in textbook fashion as Sam Reinhart sent a tip-pass across the crease to Jack Eichel who buried the puck into a yawning cage.
The Sabres lost defenseman Jake McCabe in the Anaheim game as he left with an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return. Having McCabe out meant more minutes for the five other defensemen with workhorse Rasmus Ristolainen skating 32:39 in the game. Ristolainen became somewhat of a goat as his pass to a streaking Eichel was way off course giving all important overtime, 3-on-3 puck-possession to Anaheim. The Ducks held the puck for :51 seconds before Adam Henrique buried a long-snap shot over the shoulder of what looked like a surprised Lehner.
After the game Housley talked about his teams woes to the gathered media, “Execution. We did have possession of the puck. We don’t make a pass, it’s not on the tape," while also critiquing Ristolainen's overall game. “Rasmus didn’t have a very good game tonight overall," said Housley, "not just because of that pass. He wasn’t making the usual tape-to-tape passes for him."
John Vogl of The Buffalo News tweeted out this from Ristolainen post-game, "They scored one more, so they won the game."
Reports from the rink today have McCabe out 3-4 weeks with a broken thumb. That makes two Sabres defenseman out long-term as McCabe joins Zach Bogosian on the sidelines. Buffalo is riding with seven defensemen and Victor Antipin looks to be McCabe's replacement for tonight's game. On the heels of the disappointing loss and with injuries hitting the defense corps, according to those at practice today, Housley really juggled his defense pairings:
Marco Scandella-Casey Nelson
Josh Gorges-Victor Antipin
Apparently Housley didn't like what he saw from his d-corps, especially with Ristolainen. Nelson, who has been playing some very good hockey as of late, takes Ristolainen's spot on the top pairing. Beaulieu who'd been on the third pairing with Nelson the last two games will have even more of an opportunity for egregious turnovers while skating second-pairing minutes and Antipin gets back into the lineup with veteran, stay-at-home d-man, Gorges.
With the Sabres in the midst of a four-game losing streak (0-3-1,) at home no less, lineup changes seems to be Housley's preferred method for trying to get his team out of their funk and he mixed things up a little bit in the forward ranks as well.
Girgensons, who was in former head coach Dan Bylsma's doghouse for two seasons, continues being moved up and down the lineup by Housley. He drops down to the third line to make room for forward Evan Rodrigues on the Eichel/Reinhart line. Both Housley and Eichel had talked about execution problems following the Ducks loss and apparently Girgensons was the problem on Eichel's line.
Rodrigues had skated on Eichel's wing at Boston University in 2014-15 and the duo tore up D-1 NCAA Men's Hockey. Eichel was first in scoring with 61 points (20+41) while Rodrigues was second with 54 points (18+36.) Eichel went immediately to the NHL after being selected second-overall in the 2015 NHL Draft while Rodrigues has spent the last 2 1/2 seasons working his way up the ranks after signing a free agent contract on July 27, 2015.
Johan Larsson is back in the lineup after serving his two-game suspension for a high sticking incident that resulted in a match penalty. He'll be back in his third line center role with Girgensons and Jason Pominville on the wings. Scott Wilson looks to be the odd man out tonight.
The projected lines for tonight:
Robin Lehner looks to get the nod for the Sabres. The 26 yr. old has been hot for the Sabres lately allowing only six goals on 155 shots in his last five games which includes back-to-back shutouts on the road prior to the All-Star break. He's 2-2-1 in that stretch.
The Islanders are just outside the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with the same amount of points as the Columbus Blue Jackets but having played one more game. Last season they missed the playoffs after making them in three of the previous four years.
Franchise center John Tavares and his pending free agency is the big news coming out of the Burroughs of New York City. Another piece to that puzzle, however, is news that the Islanders will be playing up to half their home games at their old Nassau Coliseum home for the next three seasons while their new arena in Belmont, NY is being built. It's something that certainly adds some intrigue to the Tavares negotiations.
This is the third and final meeting between the Sabres and Islanders this season with Buffalo coming out on the wrong end twice (0-1-1) so far. The Islanders trounced the Sabres at KeyBank Center in Buffalo's second game of the season 6-3 which included two shorthanded goals by NY in 50 seconds amongst a three-goal in 1:47 barrage. The third Islanders goal was seconds away from another shortie. The two teams met again at the Barclay Center in late December with the Islanders pulling out a 3-2 overtime win as Matthew Barzal connected just 1:08 into the extra session.
This is the final game of Buffalo's five-game homestand and their four-game losing streak is the fifth such streak of four games or more this season. Twice the Sabres have gone on five-game losing streaks, one to begin the season (0-4-1) and another one to start the 2018 calendar year (0-4-1.) The other four-game losing streak straddled October and November (0-4-0.)
Buffalo's longest winning streak in 2017-18 is three games, which they did once, and they've managed only one additional two-game winning streak all season.