Saturday, March 31, 2018

Casey Mittelstadt set to his NHL debut tonight vs. the Detroit Red Wings

It's safe to say that not many draftniks thought that center Casey Mittelstadt would still be available with the eighth pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. But he was, and new GM Jason Botterill jumped right on it. "Isn't that the cliche'?" Botterill deadpanned as he spoke to the media after Round-1 of the draft to the gathered media. "You've got to say, 'Oh, I can't believe that he was there!'"

In this case, there really was an element of surprise. Mittelstadt was ranked the third-best North American skater by Central Scouting while McKeen's Hockey ranked him fifth. But there he was at No. 8 and despite the Sabres in desperate need of depth on the blueline, Botterill was more than happy to select Mittelstadt. .) "As I've talked about before," began the first-time GM, "if there's a fit, then we are going to make that selection for a defenseman or a goaltender, but we're not going to force it.
"I don't like saying this word when talking about hockey players," continued Botterill, "but you're trying to get the best athlete. If there's another good centerman tomorrow in our early picks we're probably going to select him. If it's close then we'll probably lean towards a defenseman" (they ended up taking a centerman with their first pick in the second round as well.)"

It's been less than a year since Mittelstadt was selected by the Sabres. He's played a lot of hockey in that time both as a freshman for the University of Minnesota and as a member of Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. His freshman season was real solid with 30 points (11+19) in 34 games and at the WJC in Buffalo he helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal while collecting Tournament MVP honors.

Earlier this week, Mittelstadt decided to turn pro.

"It was always a dream, as long as I can remember, to play in the NHL," said Mittelstadt to the media on Tuesday. "My steps were, I want to play high school, I want to be a [Minnesota Golden] Gopher and go to the NHL" The Minnesota native finished by saying, "It's pretty much every Minnesota kid's dream."

Yesterday Mittelstadt was welcomed to the team and lead the stretch at center ice. Today he took his morning skate and is ready to hit the ice tonight at KeyBank Center against the Detroit Red Wings.

Reports from the rink have Mittelstadt centering Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart creating a talented line with a little bit of speed and a lot of hockey sense.

The other lines:


On defense the parings look like:


Robin Lehner is the projected start in net for Buffalo.

On Casey Mittelstadt (with some video from college)

Published by, 3-28-2018

Casey Mittelstadt is on the ice for the first time as a Buffalo Sabre today. The 19 yr. old left the University of Minnesota after his freshman season and signed his three-year entry-level deal with the Sabres on Monday. Mittelstadt is a 6'1" 201 lb. center who comes to Buffalo on a one-and-done after finishing his only college season with 30 points (11+19) in 34 games for the Golden Gophers.

The Edina, MN native also made a strong impact at the 2018 World Junior Championships held in Buffalo, NY as he did the Sabres and their fans proud by being named the tournament MVP while leading Team USA to a bronze medal.

Mittelstadt was drafted eighth-overall by the Sabres at the 2017 NHL Draft and was touted as a complete offensive player bringing skill, speed and a strong hockey IQ to the ice. Kris Baker of was on WGR550 radio this Monday and told he hosts he thinks that Mittelstadt "will be an immediate impact player for the Sabres."

"I think for the Sabres," said Baker, "and not to oversell it, when you can put a dynamic offensive talent in the mix immediately--fast hands, great shooter, and more importantly, he's ultra, ultra competitive--he can help drive possession and get a lot of shots to the net. I think those are two elements that the Sabres are sorely missing."

"Competitive nature" is something that really doesn't show up as a stat in analytic world, yet it's something that shouldn't be overlooked, especially when Mittelstadt is joining a team that, overall, doesn't seem to be overflowing with that trait.

As a freshman, Mittelstadt displayed all the skills that he's been touted for as well as having the gumption to take on players at the collegiate level that were bigger and/or older. Thanks to University of Michigan and the Ohio State University, I was able to catch a few of Mittelstadt's games against two teams--the Wolverines and Buckeyes, respectively--who are now in the NCAA Men's Frozen Four. The video below has clips of Mittelstadt in a rugged affair against the Wolverines and showing off some skill in what turned into a very tight contest against the Buckeyes.

Michigan had a body on Mittelstadt all game and he found himself tangling with 6'3" 215 lb. defenseman Griffin Luce (son of former Sabres forward, Don Luce) and a rather feisty 6'1" 200 d-man in Nicolas Boka. Against the Buckeyes, Mittelstadt created space with some great stickwork and eventually fed Rem Pitlick for the game-tying goal late in the third period.

Mittelstadt will wear No. 37 for Buffalo when he takes the ice for his professional game and when asked yesterday if there was any significance to that choosing that number, he told the gathered media, "No, not really."

"Me and my buddies were kind of chatting," he continued, "I've worn [Nos.] 11, 20, 21, 22 and they're all taken, so, might as well switch it up and go for No. 37."

Where Mittelstadt fits in moving forward is somewhat of a question mark. Like many, Baker believes that his best position is center "as he likes the puck on his stick," and he thinks that having Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Mittelstadt down the middle would be pretty strong. But Baker also said that Mittelstadt could play any forward position and even pointed out that the left-shot could play off wing because of his strong stickwork. "The way he changes his shooting angle," said Baker, "it's tough to pick up the puck off of his stick."

Although it may still seem strange to say, considering the past decade of Sabres hockey, Buffalo has a wealth of centers right now and are bereft of talent on the wing, especially left wing. And that's not likely to change significantly any time soon, so he may get some time on the wing in Buffalo's final six games of the season.

However, according to reports from the rink, for today Mittelstadt is centering Evan Rodrigues on the left and Sam Reinhart on the right. The other lines are:

Girgensons, Eichel, Pominville

On defense:


The Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A win against Toronto is always a good win for Buffalo...and Jack Eichel as well

Published by, 3-27-2018

It's always good to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs and it's even better when the 'W' comes in Toronto at the Air Canada Center. And what made last night even more fun for those of us in Sabreland was that the Leafs had no answer for Buffalo's Jack Eichel who scored the Sabres first goal and their last to give his team the 3-2 victory.

The Sabres also stopped Toronto's franchise record 13-game home winning streak and prevented them from breaking their franchise record for wins in a season and home wins in a season. And in overcoming  2-1 deficit with two third period goals, the Sabres dropped Toronto's record when leading after two periods to 29-3-2.

Oh, and the win snapped Buffalo's four-game losing streak that saw them get outscored by a combined 16-2 despite outshooting their opponent in every game and by a cumulative 144-108 margin.

To keep it in perspective, unless the Leafs incur a major disaster over their final six games they'll be in the playoffs for the second consecutive season while Buffalo is looking like they'll be finishing last for the third time in five seasons.

But for one night, Sabres fans savored victory over the arch-rival Leafs.

The talent discrepancy was once again definitive last night as Toronto controlled much of the game pumping 41 shots on goalie Chad Johnson and another 26, according to Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, "where we missed the net."

"We've got to hit the net," Babcock told the gathered media post-game.

Johnson has really been making a name for himself as of late. After an atrocious start to the 2017-18 season the 31 yr. old is 8-4-0 in his last 13 appearances which includes six consecutive wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Maple Leafs, the top teams in the Atlantic Division. As a surprise starter after rookie Linus Ullmark suffered an injury at the morning skate, Johnson thwarted Toronto through much of the game coming up with big saves when needed.

"It's not how I want to prepare or how I want to find out, but you just deal with it," Johnson told the media afterward. "It's always nice beating that team regardless of the situation. Is there another little boost to it ending the streak? Yeah, it's always fun to be that team that ends it, especially Leafs and Sabres here."

For as much as Johnson made a difference in the game, Eichel was a beast. And it began early when he stripped fellow superstar Auston Matthews of the puck in the Toronto corner. Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons won a puck battle and fed a streaking Eichel who deeked the Leafs Freddy Andersen for his 23rd goal of the season.

Eichel had another opportunity as he went in a on a 2-on-1 with Jordan Nolan, but Andersen thwarted Nolan. Sabres fans are still trying to figure out what Nolan was doing out there with Eichel to begin with.

The Leafs had trouble with Eichel's speed and quickness all game and the only one to corral it was 235 lb. veteran defenseman Roman Polack, who got the angle on a streaking Eichel down the left side deep in the Toronto zone.

Eichel was not to be denied as he streaked in once again the same way, beat defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and slid a one-handed backhand past Anderssen for his 24th goal.

For as much trouble as the Sabres have had over the past three seasons, especially this one, and for as much as Eichel has been the forgotten one when it comes to the superstars of the future, namely Edmonton's Connor McDavid and Toronto's Matthews, he and the Sabres have owned head to head matchups.

Eichel lost both of his first meetings against McDavid and Matthews, but since then he and the Sabres are 6-0-0 in those head-to-head meetings. In all the Sabres are 6-1-1 vs. McDavid/Oilers and Matthews/Leafs with the Sabres those two teams by a combined 27-15 margin.

Head to head Eichel has more points in those matchups than McDavid and Matthews combined. In four head-to-head games vs. the Oilers, Eichel has six points (2+4) while McDavid has four (2+2) and in four against Leafs Eichel has eight points (4+4) while Matthews has three (2+1.) Eichel also has a cumulative plus-5 rating in all eight games while McDavid and Matthews are a combined minus-3.

The Sabres are what they are this season, a bottom-feeder destined for a top pick in the draft. There's a lot of work to be done with a roster that needs some serious tweaking. More help is on the way as forward Casey Mittelstadt, who has speed, skill and hockey smarts, just signed his entry-level deal and is expected to make his NHL debut on Thursday.

One never does know what to expect from this team moving forward, but at least we've come to expect good performances against divisional foes like the Lightning, Bruins and Leafs. And beating them, especially the Leafs at Air Canada Center, is a drink of cool water in the depths of a hellish season. 

For your viewing pleasure, via the NHL:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Borgen & Mittelstadt = good news in a bad season + @Leafs tonight

Published by, 3-26-2018

Officers at the Peace Bridge can rest a little easier today because the Buffalo Sabres announced the signings of college players Will Borgen and Casey Mittelstadt. Borgen a junior defenseman out of St. Cloud State was signed yesterday to an amateur tryout contract  for Rochester plus the Sabres signed him to his three-year entry deal that begins next season. Mittelstadt just finished his freshman season at Minnesota and signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Sabres and he's expected to join the club this week, according to a tweet from TSN's Bob McKenzie.

The Sabres as a whole have been drafting and signing college players for a while most notably over the past couple years when which includes the selection of Mittelstadt eighth-overall in the 2017 NHL Draft and the signings of two prominent college free agents-D, Casey Nelson (2016) and F, C.J. Smith (2017.) But fans in Buffalo were still anxious about Borgen and Mittelstadt as they'd seen a couple of college players walk away from the team.

Forward Jimmy Vesey wasn't a Buffalo draft pick, but former GM Tim Murray took a gamble and sent a third round pick to Nashville for the exclusive negotiating rights to Vesey. The Predators got their third round pick back and the Sabres ended up losing out on the deal when Vesey signed with the NY Rangers.

A bigger blow to the collective Sabreland psyche came when goalie Cal Petersen, a 2013 fifth round pick (129th overall,) played out his college career and signed with the LA Kings. Petersen, who looks like he could become a legitimate NHL starter was a prospect whom the Sabres invested a draft pick and development time on and in opting for the Kings, he sent a knife right through a fan-base where many were already dealing with an inferiority complex.

Fear of rejectgion permeated much of twitterland when it came to Mittelstadt and Borgen, but all those fears can be put to rest as the two put pen to paper.

Borgen, who's probably ticketed for a year or so of development in Rochester next season will step into a situation where the Amerks are getting ready for the playoffs. It was a great signing for Rochester and the Amerks in that his entry-level deal won't kick in until next season.

As for Mittelstadt, he has the look of a player that could very well fit right into the NHL right now, and he'll get his shot sometime through the final six games of the season, which will burn a year off his entry-level deal. He will not be eligible to play for the Amerks this season.

Somehow I feel that Sabres GM Jason Botterill won't lose sleep over that. It's been an atrocious season for the Sabres so it's nice to have both Borgen and Mittelstadt in the fold.


Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News was in Toronto yesterday while the Sabres had a day off and he tweeted this from Leafs coach Mike Babcock about the Sabres/Leafs game tonight, "there's not team they'd rather beat than us," said the coach.

Which is true, or at least it should be for every Sabres player. In a lost season there is very little to play for so going up against a rival should get the blood pumping. If it doesn't, there something seriously wrong.

This is the third meeting between Buffalo and Toronto this season. The Sabres won the first meeting on March 5 by a 5-3 score with goalie Chad Johnson in net then dropped the second one 10 days later, 5-2, with Robin Lehner in net. Both of those games were played in Buffalo.

The Leafs are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, at least when it comes to playing at home. Toronto is on a club-record 13-game home winning streak and with 45 wins on the season have tied the franchise record for most wins in a season.

Buffalo is coming off of a 5-1 blowout loss in NY against the Rangers on Saturday night, have lost four in a row and five of their last six.

According to reports from the rink, this looks to be the Sabres lineup tonight against Toronto:



Rookie goaltender Linus Ullmark looks to be getting the start for Buffalo.


Not to be forgotten, 2012 seventh-round pick (204th) Judd Peterson, a teammate of Borgen's at St. Cloud State, signed an ATO with Rochester and will be eligible for the playoffs. The 24 yr. old forward scored  65 points (37+28) in 151 college games.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Recent Sabres performances might not look good to FA college players

Published by, 2-25-2018

Minnesota State's defenseman Daniel Brickley and his No. 6 seeded Mavericks got ousted in the first round of a topsy-turvy NCAA Men's Hockey Tournament. The 6'3" 205 lb. defenseman went undrafted and is skipping his senior season to turn pro and TSN's Bob McKenzie tweeted last night that five teams, without naming them, are said to be in the running for the free agent d-mans services.

The usual suspects like Pittsburgh and Chicago will likely be in the mix for a player that is widely regarded as the best FA college player turning pro this year. Those are two organizations that have won six Stanley Cups (three each) dating back to the 2008-09 season and both are always on the prowl for inexpensive help, especially on the blueline, to help ease the crunch of superstars signed to long-term deals.

Both Pittsburgh and Chicago have proven to be class organizations the past decade plus and can put forth an alluring package to a player looking to begin his pro career.

The Buffalo Sabres may also be in the mix, and as they've shown in the past, upper-level free agents like fellow Maverick Casey Nelson two years ago and last year signed UMASS-Lowell's top scorer, CJ Smith. Both Nelson and Smith played big rolls in helping move the Rochester Americans into a playoff spot after a three-year absence. Nelson spent most of last season with the Amerks while getting 11 games with the big club while Smith has been plying his trade in Rochester and presently leads the team in scoring with 43 points (17+29) in 54 games.

This will be GM Jason Botterill's first foray into college free agency as the big dog and the organization could really use a shot in the arm. Botterill's Sabres have had a very poor season and if Brickley was watching at all last night, he came across a dismal performance by a team that's ready for the off season.

There's very little the last place Sabres have to offer outside of Jack Eichel and a somewhat quick route to regular NHL duty. Granted, Botterill is hell bent on incubating all his prospects (the length of which depends upon their development) so a player like Brickley may not start out on the big club out of camp were he to sign in Buffalo. Yet, with plenty of openings on the Sabres blueline at this juncture, a player like Brickley with NHL size, offensive acumen (10 goals, 25 assists in 39 games this year) along with a booming, it wouldn't be too long for him should he adapt well to the NHL game.

Buffalo has two draft picks in forward Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Will Borgen who's college seasons ended early. Mittelstadt just finished his freshman season and could very well sign his first pro contract this off season. Borgen will be a senior should he stay in school one more year. Both seem ready to make the jump.

One thing that usually goes unnoticed to many in Sabreland is the commitment made by ownership to USA Hockey and pouring resources in to local talent. Botterill himself comes from the college ranks and has always had an affinity for landing and developing college players. He'll have a tough task at hand in trying to lure a player like Brickley to Buffalo, but might want to reiterate to his team that there are a lot of eyes watching their games. Hopefully Brickley was doing something else last night.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Prospect watch is on as Sabres hit NYC to face Rangers

Published by, 3-24-2018

What's bad for two NCAA Men's Hockey teams might turn out great for the Buffalo Sabres organization.

Prior to Round-1 of the NCAA men's hockey tournament, a twist of fate kept the Minnesota Golden Gophers out of the tournament as six teams advanced with wins when they only needed one of that group to lose to be in. Because of that, the Gophers and Sabres forward prospect Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th-overall) never made it into the tournament. Yesterday, No. 1 seed St. Cloud State was upset by Air Force to knock them and two Sabres prospects out of the tourney--defenseman Will Borgen (2015, 92nd) and forward Judd Peterson (2012, 204th.)

Of the two players, Borgen is garnering the most interest from the Sabres. The 6'2" 199 lb. Moorhead, Minnesota native just completed his junior season with the Huskies and has forged himself a pretty good resume'. He finished off this season being named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's Defensive Defenseman of the Year Award. Prior to that he was in PyongChang, South Korea representing team USA in the Olympics as the only college defenseman named to the team.

The ideal for both players, should they and the Sabres think they're ready to turn pro, would be for them to sign an amateur tryout contract with the Rochester Americans and eventually join the team for the playoffs. As a freshman, there's not too much urgency for Mittelstadt to go pro, but Borgen is a junior and if he remains in school for another season, there is the possibility that he could end up being an unrestricted free agent and bolt for another team.

Sabres GM Jason Botterill was said to have been watching as St. Cloud State was eliminated.

Buffalo hits the road tonight after an inauspicious 1-4-1 homestand. Last night they fell 3-0 to the Montreal Canadiens and finished their seasons series with an 0-2-2 record versus the Habs. The Sabres put on a lot of pressure and had numerous opportunities in the game but either missed or had the puck take an inopportune bounce.

Such has been the season.

Good new for Sabres fans is that the team is better on the road going 12-16-7 as opposed to their 11-23-5 home record. Bad news is that Buffalo is 0-1-1 vs. the Rangers this season, 3-5-2 in their last 10 vs. NY and 3-5-2 on the road.


Interesting tweet from WGR550 Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton on Linus Ullmark, who only gave up one goal on 21 shots last night to the Canadiens:

"Linus Ullmark has played in the last three games and the Sabres have not scored a goal for him in his 150 minutes of work."

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Nolé, Nolé, Nolé, Les Habitants. 27th place Montreal visits Buffalo tonight

There was a time not too long ago when fans at the Bell Center in Montreal would taunt visiting teams by chanting Olé, Olé, Olé when their beloved hockey team was decidedly in control of the game. And there were times recently when hordes of Canadiens fans would invade Buffalo and taunt the Sabres during some of their most horrendous years in franchise history.

Times have changed recently for the Montreal Canadiens. Since losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014, Les Habitants have had a roller coaster stretch that has them alternating playoff appearances and this year they're in a very unusual spot--27th place. The Canadiens haven't finished that low since 2011-12 when they finished 28th in the league just ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Montreal comes to Buffalo staggering having lost five in a row, nine of their last 10 (1-7-2) and at 9-24-4 have the worst road record in the league. Goaltending and defense, once a hallmark of the Canadiens with goalie Carey Price locking things down in net, has taken a beating this season. Four goalies have seen the crease for Montreal this season and their 3.08 goals-against average ranks 24th in the league. They also will head to KeyBank Center with the leagues worst road penalty kill at 66.7%.

Goaltending issues have gotten to the point where today's 'Five things to know' game preview from Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette asking "Who's the No. 1 goalie?"

"Antti Niemi is expected to start in goal for Montreal," wrote Hickey today, "with Carey Price getting the start at home Saturday against Washington. There’s a case to be made for Niemi to be considered the No. 1 goaltender in this upside-down season."

"Upside down" in net couldn't be worse for Montreal. Price was signed to an 8yr./$84 million contract extension last July for a $10.5 million cap-hit while Neimi is on a one-year deal worth $700K.

That said, there should be some relief tonight for the Canadiens as they've yet to lose to Buffalo this season (3-0-0.) The Habs beat Buffalo in the season opener 3-2 in the shootout, beat them 2-1 early in November in overtime and shut them out 3-0 later that month.

The Sabres have had trouble with Montreal going 3-4-3 in their last 10 vs. the Canadiens, 3-4-3 in their last 10 at home. Rookie goaltender Linus Ullmark is on recall from the Rochester Americans and is expected to get the start in net tonight. Ullmark has never faced Montreal in his 24 NHL appearances and he comes into the game with a 9-12-2 record for the Sabres with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.  In two games for Buffalo this year Ullmark is 1-1-0 with a 2.40 gaa and .933 sv%.

Something will give tonight as the Canadiens and their worst road record will face off against a Buffalo team that has the worst home record at 11-22-5.


Sabres bench boss Phil Housley, who's known to be rather subdued when behind the bench during games, apparently was unhappy with the way his team came out on the ice for practice yesterday. After getting manhandled by an Arizona Coyotes team 4-1 on Wednesday night. The 'Yotes and Sabres have been at or near the bottom of the league the entire season.

Reports from the rink had the Sabres coming out sluggish for practice. WGR550 Sabres beat reports wrote yesterday that assistant coach Davis Payne "had to tell some players to stop coasting." Shortly afterward Housley stopped practice and yelled "get on your toes and start working," with an expletive thrown in for emphasis. After practice Housley told the gathered media of the incident, “I just thought that we weren’t doing what I told them to do, which was a simple execution play, so I just tried to get their attention and I thought the execution from that point was good.”

With nine games left in a lost season, it's not surprising that practice isn't as sharp or intense as is should be, but there's been problems like this dating back to early in the season.

It's hard to judge Housley this season. He's a rookie coach who replaced a Stanley Cup-winning coach who didn't get through to this core group of players. There was a big turnover of players by a new GM to start the season that did little to address the talent-level. Housley made some egregious errors early in the season like messing with the league's best powerplay last season and insisting that Sam Reinhart play at center, but seems to have gotten his groove on as of late.

However, does he have it in him to turn this group around? Or has the respect he enjoyed during a very short honeymoon phase completely vanished?

Those questions will be answered this off season and more than likely into next season.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Arizona loss keeps Sabres at the bottom of the league. Plus, lottery simulator

Published by, 3-22-2018

With the loss last night to the Arizona Coyotes, the Buffalo Sabres remain at the bottom of the league with 58 points. The 'Yotes, who found themselves at or near the bottom of the league all season, have been a tear in the month of March while going 7-3-1. For their part, the Sabres have been sputtering as of late losing three of their last four and at presently 3-5-1 for the month.

Buffalo's drive to the bottom of the league, whether it was directed covertly (which some think,) or lack of talent (especially on defense,) or a rookie coach who was (is?) way out of his league continues with only one real challenger right now--the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks have packed it in in a big way losing their last seven games and have lost 10 of their last 11 games (1-8-2.) They hit the ice tonight against a reeling Chicago Blackhawks team that's in the very unusual position of being last in the Central Division and 25th in the league.

With only nine games to go for Buffalo, the end of the 2017-18 season can't come soon enough.

As of right now, here are the standings at the bottom of the league:

26th--Detroit (65 points)
27th--Montreal (64)
28th--Ottawa (63)
29th--Arizona (61)
30th--Vancouver (59)
31st--Buffalo (58)

Here are the odds of landing the first-overall pick in the NHL Draft:

31st place--18.5%

Here's my lottery simulator pull for today:

1.  Arizona 
2.  Buffalo
3.  Montreal


4. Vancouver
5. Ottawa

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Arizona at Buffalo. Ahhhh, the memories. Plus, Jack on not wanting to shut it down.

Published by, 3-21-2018

It's deja vu all over again only this time, unlike in 2015, these two teams won't be battling it out for last place to secure a top-two pick. If you don't know it by now, here's a brief recap of what it was like to be a Buffalo Sabres fan during the 2014-15 season.

The focus on tanking began back in 1983-83 when the Pittsburgh Penguins did so to select Mario Lemieux at the top of the '84 NHL Draft (see video below from TSN entitled "Playing to Lose.") The NHL instituted a lottery system for non-playoff teams in 1995 and it went through a couple different adjustments through the years. For the 2014-15 season, any non-playoff team could win the lottery but the last place team could fall no further than the second overall pick in the draft.

The 2015 NHL Draft was called the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes as McDavid represented a prospect not seen since the likes of Lemieux and Sidney Crosby. However, U.S. born prospect Jack Eichel was also in the mix and was widely seen as the "consolation prize" should the team with the worst record not win the lottery and often times when discussing the draft, the term "McEichel" was used as a way of bringing the two prominent names in the draft together.

Both the Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes seemed to be the front-runners for last place that season and in an epic battle of "tank warfare" both teams used the 2015 NHL traded deadline as a way to dump every ounce of remaining NHL/AHL talent from their team to try and secure a last place finish (read my piece on that trade deadline here.)

On March 26, 2015 the Coyotes came to Buffalo in the "Battle for the Basement." The game featured Buffalo fans decked out in their Sabres regalia cheering the visiting 'Yotes with the sparse crowd saving their loudest cheer for Arizona's  Sam Gagner who won the game in overtime. Said Sabres defenseman Mike Weber about his team cheering on the opposition, ""I don't even know what to say. It's extremely frustrating for us. I've never been a part of something like that where the away team comes into a home building and [the fans] are cheering for them."

It took to the second to last game of the season for the Sabres to secure last place (with a local radio station buying the jersey of the Columbus Blue Jackets players who scored the tank-securing goal.)

Buffalo finished in last place. Arizona finished 29th and the Edmonton Oilers finished 28th. After the lottery was completed, Edmonton won the rights to select McDavid first-overall, Buffalo got the "consolation prize" in Eichel and the Coyotes picked...(bet many can't name who they picked without looking it up)...Dylan Strome.

To many the Sabres won when they lost while to others they were always losers for losing. Regardless of which side you were on, it tapped into our core being as Sabres/hockey fans and left a mental scar on all of us moving forward.

The Sabres lot in the hockey world was supposed to change after that draft, yet after a short ride to the upper portions of the bottom third, they fell backwards last season and are now exactly where they were three years ago--in last place. As for the Coyotes, they're in 29th place one point ahead of the Sabres after finishing 28th last season and in 24th, one spot behind the Sabres the prior season.

Buffalo and Arizona meet tonight and although the standings are pretty much the same, much is different when it comes to the 2018 NHL Draft.. In response to the events that happened in 2015, the NHL changed it's lottery rules so that now every non-playoff team will have a shot at the top-three picks in the draft with the last-place team possibly drafting as low as fourth-overall. And this year there is one franchise-altering player at the top of the draft (not two.)

Unlike the 2014-15 Sabres, this Buffalo team is nowhere near as bereft of talent and have actually been playing some real good hockey as of late, even in losses (see Nashville Predators game on Monday.) Instead of borderline NHL'ers and career AHL'ers occupying roster spots, this team is lead by Eichel and some upper-level players with talented youngins being put into the mix. Prior to the overtime loss to Arizona in 2015 the Sabres had one win in their prior 13 games (1-10-2) while this edition is 6-6-1 in their previous 13.

If there is a "Tank-nation" out there in Sabreland, they're subdued. Could there be some cheers from Sabres fans when (if) Arizona scores tonight? Possibly. But it will be no where near where it was nearly three years ago when Sabres fans were blatantly open about the tank job and feeling damn proud of it.

It's not most pleasant of memories, but it happened.


Reports from the rink have these lines and d-pairingsat the morning skate:



Also, it looks as if Chad Johnson will get the nod in net for Buffalo.


Eichel spoke to the media yesterday concerning the opinion of many fans who wanted him shut down for the rest of the season. The 21 yr. old suffered his second consecutive high-ankle sprain (on different ankles) and was back in the lineup on Saturday. His response, via Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times:

“It’s a pretty simple answer, to be honest with you, I’m playing because I’m a hockey player. It’s kind of ridiculous for somebody to think we’re out of the playoffs and we don’t have an opportunity to really do anything with our season that I would just pack my year in. It’s not who I am as a person, it’s not who I’ve ever been, it’s not who I am as a hockey player.

“At the end of the day, I love to play hockey. Whether we’re in first place or last place in the league, it doesn’t matter to me. I like to put my equipment on, go out there and play hockey. That’s why I’m playing. I love to play and I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s what I look most forward to in my day. There’s not really quite a feeling like it, so I enjoy it every day.

“I’m a competitor, I want to be out there competing. I want to play, so that’s why I’m playing. There should be a lot more questions asked if I decided I did want to pack it in, end my season.

“I looked at my rehab process as if I was coming back to compete to try to get to the playoffs. Obviously, that’s not the case, but I try to put myself in the best position to come back and impact this team in a positive way. That’s all part of us building a culture out there. We should all want to be out there every night. I think that that’s important.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It's new papa Linus Ullmark vs. Vezina candidate Pekka Rinne in goal tonight

Published by, 3-19-2018

Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark was recalled from the Rochester Americans on March 13. Two days later he was off to be with his wife, Moa, for the birth of their first child whom they named, Harry. The next day Ullmark was back on the ice at KeyBank Center and told the gathered media  that he and the wife were "on Cloud Nine" and that he was "looking forward if I ever get to start a game." The Sabres played the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and Ullmark was Chad Johnson's backup in Buffalo's 5-3 win.

The chance Ullmark has been looking forward to comes tonight as the Sabres take on the league's best team in the Nashville Predators lead by goalie Pekka Rinne, who may be the leading Vezina candidate at this point in the season. It's a tall order for Ullmark and an equally tall order for a 30th-place Sabres team that's struggled for most of the season.

As of late, however, Buffalo has been playing better going 5-3-1 over there last nine games which includes wins over division-foes Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto plus their matinee win over Chicago on Saturday. It was the first time they'd beaten the Blackhawks since December 11, 2009 (0-9-3.)

So things are looking up for the Sabres as of late. Center Jack Eichel has returned to the lineup to join forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart, both of whom picked up the slack in his absence. Rookie Nicolas Baptiste scored a pair of goals on tips versus the Hawks while he and his linemates, center Evan Rodrigues and winger Justin Bailey, gave Chicago fits as Buffalo's third line.

However, goaltending has been a bone of contention for Buffalo, mainly when Robin Lehner is in the crease. During that nine game stretch Lehner went 1-2-1, allowing four goals in his losses and three goals in his one win. Lehner's goals-against average has ballooned to 2.93 this season and his save percentage has dropped to .911, numbers he hasn't seen since his days in Ottawa.

Ullmark has played in only one game this season and he stopped 44 of 45 shots for the win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 24 yr. old native of Lugnvik, Sweden has been plying his trade in Rochester and is being mentioned as the team MVP once again after winning the honor last season. As it was last season, Ullmark has been facing a lot of rubber in Rochester (1,299 shots agasinst, second most in the league,) but has managed to hold the fort with an AHL seventh-best save percentage of .923. Ullmark's 2.44 goals-against presently ranks 12th in the league.

Across the ice some 200' away, Rinne stands tall, not only physically with his 6'5" 217 lb. frame, but also in stature across the league. The 35 yr. old Finn has anchored this team since the 2008-09 season when he and perennial All-Star defenseman Shea Weber and Ryan Suter formed a Bermuda Triangle that snuffed the opposition. Both d-men are long gone and it was thought that they, and a more defensive-minded style of play under former head coach Barry Trotz were keys to Rinne's success. However, Rinne is proving once again that he's one of the top goalies in the league if not the top one.

Rinne's 2.25 gaa is second only to the Las Vegas Golden Knights' Marc-Andre Fleury (2.20) for goalies who've appeared in 40 or more games and his .929 sv% ties him with Fleury for tops in the league by goalies who've appeared in 40 or more games. And he's doing so in a an attacking system that has the defense flying up ice and joining the rush.

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley helped bring that system to life in his four years as an assistant coach in Nashville. Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman who was drafted by Buffalo out of high school in 1982 transformed his d-corps into the most dangerous group in the playoffs last season and came within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

Housley also made the jump from high school coach to NHL assistant coach when he joined the Predators in 2013 and became Buffalo's head coach last off season.

This will be the first time Housley and his Sabres will face off against his former team.

The Predators were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and haven't lost in regulation in their last 14 games (13-0-1, with backup goalie Juuse Saros getting the shootout loss. They also have points in every road game since a January 2 regulation loss in Las Vegas (11-0-3) and are riding a seven-game road winning streak.

One might say that this Nashville team is hot.

Reports from the rink have this as Buffalo's starting lineup this evening:



--Justin Bailey was recalled from Rochester after being sent down to serve his one-game AHL suspension.
--Kyle Okposo returns to the lineup after missing the last three games with a concussion.
--Johnson will be the backup for Buffalo tonight.
--This is Game-4 of Buffalo's present six-game homestand. They're 1-1-1 so far.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Sabres future got a little brighter yesterday.

Published by, 3-18-2018

Perhaps it might be best to qualify that statement by saying that the near-term future of the Buffalo Sabres might be tied to how well their top two centers mesh beginning now and into next season.

Jack Eichel was back on the ice for the Sabres after missing over a month. The third-year pro was having another good season--22 goals and 31 assists in 55 games--until he was felled by a high-ankle sprain. In Eichel's absence center Ryan O'Reilly upped his game to 15 points (4+11) and was a plus-4 in those 16 games.

Eichel and O'Reilly are two very different hockey players. One is a highly fast, skilled, offensive-minded superstar in the making who was picked second-overall and came from the NCAA D-1 Men's hockey ranks. The other has definitive offensive skills is strong on the puck, great on the faceoff dot and is known for a consistent, two-way game. A simplistic view would have the former in Eichel in a top-line scoring role with the latter, O'Reilly, doing what he does anchoring the second line in a two-way role.

After Eichel's rookie season, things seemed headed in that direction. However, internal discord cast a pall over their particular roles on the team, which included who was the better fit for the vacant captaincy. The season went down hill, there were rumors of sides being taken, and it eventually lead to the firing of head coach Dan Bylsma.

This season has been a disaster under rookie coach Phil Housley, although there are some signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, with the captaincy still open, definitive roles still haven't been fully defined. There's no doubt that when Eichel was drafted the Sabres were considered his team, but as of yet he hasn't shown the maturity of his counterpart in O'Reilly. And for his part, although he may fully believe, and justifiably so, that he does have leadership qualities that Eichel lacks, O'Reilly's overall maturity level should be tied to how he handles playing second fiddle.

The team needs to iron this out this off season and one would hope that both players can move on in their respective roles. The center position is extremely important and Buffalo has a legit one-two punch down the middle, which is something we haven't seen here since Chris Drury and Daniel Briere were co-captains for the Sabres. Having a legit top-two center combo was the reason for Buffalo's tank in 2014-15 and then GM Tim Murray's trade for O'Reilly at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Yesterday afternoon Eichel was on the ice and everything was back to normal as the team faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks. He dazzled with his speed and stickwork, which is something that O'Reilly mentioned after the game. O'Reilly scored a gritty goal on the powerplay by muscling in an Eichel rebound that was sitting in the blue paint and he was also forced a turnover with Buffalo ahead 4-3 and fed Sam Reinhart for the easy empty-netter.

There's an old saying, "check your egos in at the door," which is a simple way of saying that the team comes first. If the team wants one player or the other as their captain, or even if they want to go the co-captain route, something that this blogger doesn't mind at all, then let it be. But it needs to be done this off season.


Forward Evan Rodrigues has been back in the lineup for two games and Housley has used him as a third-line center. Rodrigues is best known for riding shotgun on Eichel's wing at Boston University but the organization had been using him a lot at center throughout most of his time in Rochester and Buffalo. Housley had used him on the wing with thoughts of keeping him there, but it sure looks like Rodrigues could be a No. 3 center behind Eichel and O'Reilly.

In his last four games at center, two games each on either side if his injury, Rodrigues has five points (2+3) playing with the likes of Kyle Okposo, Scott Wilson, Jason Pominville, Benoit Pouliot, Zemgus Girgensons and Nicolas Baptiste.


Speaking of Baptiste, the 22 yr.old rookie showed some nice stickwork yesterday when he connected on two tip-ins for his third an fourth goals of the season.

Baptiste was selected with the 69th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and one of the first things that Murray did after taking over as Buffalo's GM in January 2014 was to sign him to his three-year entry-level deal. That deal will finish at season's end and with him being out of waiver exemptions next season, he'll either be with the Sabres or somewhere else.

At 6'1" 205 lbs., Baptiste has NHL size and he also has plenty of speed to play at today's fast pace. What has gone mostly unnoticed while he's been paying his dues at the AHL level for the last three seasons, is his hands. Baptiste has an array of shots he uses to score from anywhere on the ice and yesterday he showed deft hand-eye coordination on those two tips.

What he hasn't been able to figure out at the NHL level, at least on a consistent basis, is the how and where he'll be able to score with those skills.

Although he shouldn't be christened as the next top-six winger on Buffalo, Baptiste seems to be progressing well while getting consistent minutes. With the Amerks virtually a lock for the playoffs and the Sabres being able to take a good long look at some of their prospects with an eye towards next season, Baptiste is one of those players who can almost secure a spot in the top-nine if he continues with good habits and develops some consistency.


The Minnesota Golden Gophers only needed one of six NCAA D-1 teams to win their title game to make the tournament. Unfortunately for the college, "victories by Boston University (Hockey East), Princeton (ECAC), Air Force (Atlantic Hockey), Michigan Tech (WCHA), Denver (NCHC) and Notre Dame (Big Ten) for automatic spots dropped the Gophers to No. 13," according to Randy Johnson of the Star Tribune.

What's bad for the college may be good for the Buffalo Sabres and/or Rochester Americans.

The Sabres selected center Casey Mittelstadt with the eighth-overall pick in last year's draft and the Minnesota freshman had a very solid campaign for the Gophers with 30 points (11+19) in 34 games. In addition to that success, Mittelstadt was also named MVP of this year's World Junior Championship which was held in Buffalo.

The World Juniors was particularly intriguing as the 19 yr. old scored four goals and added seven assists for the bronze medal winning USA team while on his way to MVP honors, but what might really have stood out was his work in adverse conditions during the outdoor game against rival Team Canada.

With the US down 3-1 in the third period and Mittelstadt already with a primary assist, the Minnesota native used deft work in snow to set up two more goals as Team USA tied the game before winning it in the shootout. Here are the highlights via USA HOCKEY:

There's a lot of discontent in Minnesota as the Gophers were left out of the tournament. According to Johnson's article, "the future of coach Don Lucia will be a hot topic. The Gophers have missed the NCAA tournament in two of the past three years and haven't won an NCAA game since the 2014 national semifinals. Lucia has one year left on his contract, and athletic director Mark Coyle last week wouldn't say whether Lucia would be back."

A turnover in the coaching staff could have an adverse affect on Mittlestadt's future at Minnesota and could be what puts him in the NHL as soon as this season.

It's something to keep an eye on and for Sabres fans, something definitely to look forward to.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

St. Patty's Day matinee as Buffalo welcomes Chicago and...Jack's back

Published by, 3-17-2018

Chicago throws one of the best St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the country and because of it, one might surmise that those playing for the Chicago Blackhawks would much rather be home in the Windy City than playing a last place Buffalo team on the road this afternoon. It's not to say that they'll take the day off, and even if they do it might not matter much against this Sabres team, but the Hawks are in a place we haven't seen them in dating back 10 years.

The 2017-18 Blackhawks are miles away from the team that won the 2015 Stanley cup and look nothing like a modern day hockey dynasty that won three total from 2010-15. This Chicago team has played a lot of hockey in those seasons and also lost a lot of talent because of the salary cap. Even though they still have some pretty good talent in the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, that nucleus isn't getting any younger. Kane is 29 years old and has played in 811 regular season games, Toews is also 29 with 788 games under his belt and Keith, the elder statesman of the group, is 34 and is 16 games shy of reaching 1,000 games played.

For the first time since 2007-08, Chicago could be outside of the playoffs. Their 30-33-8 record ranks them 23rd in the league and their 68 points is only 12 points ahead of the last place Buffalo Sabres who have a 22-36-12 record.

Regardless, those are the facts as Chicago visits Buffalo for a 1pm puckdrop.

The Sabres season trudges on and despite Buffalo having an 0-7-3 record in their last 10 games against Chicago, they can't be completely written off, especially with the return of Jack Eichel to the lineup. Eichel last played on February 10 after suffering a high-ankle sprain at Boston and still leads the team in scoring despite missing 15 games this season.

According to Joe Yerdon of, the Sabres lineup for today:



According to Sabres coach Phil Housley, Chad Johnson gets the start in net.

Happy St. Patty's Day everyone and in the words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus:

"Let's be careful out there"

And, one more thing, the UB Bulls play Kentucky at 5:15 for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Of Nathan Beaulieu, plus league standings and a pull at the lottery simulator

Published by, 3-16-2018

If you've watched Nathan Beaulieu in his 51 games as a Buffalo Sabre defenseman this season, it seems as if every game he has an egregious turnover that leads to a golden opportunity for the opposition with many of them ending up in the Buffalo net. That trend has subsided as of late but the numbers are still pretty ugly at this point in the season as Beaulieu has only seven points (1+6) in those games and is a minus-19, third-worst on the team.

Despite those numbers and the fact that this particular blogger wanted him run out of town earlier in the season, Beaulieu has grown on me lately.

The 25 yr. old has a skill-package that's made for the way the game is played today from the back end and it's probably why Sabres GM Jason Botterill sent a third-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens to acquire him last off season. Beaulieu was selected 17th-overall in 2011 by Les Habitants after helping the St. Johns Sea Dogs (QMJHL) to the 2011 Memorial Cup.

An offensive-minded defenseman with excellent skating and puck-moving abilities, Beaulieu spent five years in the Montreal organization, the last of which had him skating on the top-pair early in the season but slowly seeing his role reduced to the point where he was in the press box for the decisive Game-6 loss by Montreal to the NY Rangers in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. He was traded by the Canadiens just prior to the NHL roster freeze heading into the expansion draft.

All the traits he was traded for on his new Phil Housley coached team remained when he hit the ice in Buffalo, as were the turnovers and missed coverage. As in Montreal, Beaulieu started out logging big minutes but slowly saw his time reduced and had been a healthy scratch for a number of games this season. Yet it's hard not to like him when you see him get on his horse and move that puck up ice as it's exactly what Housley wants his defensemen to do.

In watching Beaulieu all season, the 6'2" 200 lb. d-man also plays with an edge as he's looking to make a hit or try an clear the front of the crease. He's also willing to drop the gloves as he did last night against rugged Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matt Martin. Although Martin and his 6'3" 210 lb. gave him a size advantage, Beaulieu didn't hesitate and also said afterwards that he was grateful that Martin obliged.

"Sometimes it's just something you need to do," Beaulieu told the gathered media after Buffalo's 5-2 loss to the Leafs last night. "[I] have a lot of respect for him over there to give me an opportunity. He's a tough customer. I was just trying to wake the boys up."

It's the fourth time that Beaulieu has dropped the gloves this season and it wasn't against Alex Semin-type buttercups either.

Probably the most endearing aspect of this whole situation is Beaulieu's thoughts on the Leafs, Buffalo's rival to the north. The Strathroy, Ontario native grew up not far from Toronto but never bought into Leaf Nation and has a healthy dislike for the Maple Leafs. "I've had a hatred for them since I was born," he said last night before giving them props for being "one of the best organizations in all of sports."

Beaulieu has one more season left on his contract with Buffalo and a lot can happen. Hell, a lot has happened already as the Sabres are once again the laughingstock of the league, presently sitting in last place. Although were not sure that Beaulieu will clean up his turnovers and d-zone mishaps, it is refreshing to see spunk and grit coming from a player that has skills to contribute in the way the game is played today.

Where it all leads is another story for another day, but for now it was good to see some fire coming from a Sabres player and good for Beaulieu to land a punch that buckled Martin's knees.

(Thx, Extremeya)

One final note on the fight, prior to that Martin downed Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues with a slew-foot. Whether that was part of the throw down isn't known but the league should take a look at it and fine Martin for pulling that stunt.


The Sabres were clearly not ready for the game last night and looked every bit the team that were five games between games. It didn't help that they let in a bad goal to start things off and were playing from behind all night. It's something you can't do against a speedy, talented club like Toronto.

With the loss, the Sabres remain in last place in the standings:

26th--Montreal (64 points)
27th--Detroit (63)
28th--Ottawa (61)
29th--Vancouver (59)
30th--Arizona (57)
31st--Buffalo (56)

With 12 games remaining in the season, Buffalo in last place and if the season were to end now, they'd have a 18.5% chance of winning the lottery to select first-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

31st place--18.5%

There is an NHL lottery simulator web site which has become very popular for Sabres fans the last few years, when you go there you can pick the winners for the first three spots in the draft.

For today this is what I came up with:

1.  Montreal
2.  Arizona 
3.  Buffalo


4.  Vancouver
5.  Ottawa

Friday, March 16, 2018's the Leafs

Published by, 3-15-2018

With 13 games left in a lost season there's really not a lot to play for when it comes to the Buffalo Sabres. Sure you'll hear things like playing for pride, for a spot on the team or another contract next season whether it's with the Sabres or some other NHL team and those are all pretty good motivators. On Saturday the Sabres got a visit from the Las Vegas Golden Knights on a designated 'Kids Day' and foraged some redemption after getting blown out on the previous two Kids Days. They lost to Vegas 2-1 in the shootout.

But tonight is a little different. All the aforementioned motivators may come into effect for the players as individuals, but when you're facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, there isn't much more of a motivating factor for the team as a whole then facing a rival that's about 100 miles away.

Tonight's matchup at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY represents the second of four matchups between the two clubs all of which will have taken place between March 5 and April 2. Buffalo won the first one 5-3 with star Jack Eichel on the sidelines and backup goalie Chad Johnson in net. They came out strong with two goals in the first 3:43 of the game, allowed Toronto to tie it up then scored three unanswered goals to put the game out of reach.

It was the kind of game that those of us in Sabreland like to see, especially against Toronto when half (or more) of the KeyBank Center crowd is decked out in the Blue and White of Leafs Nation.

Proximity, of course, can help fuel a rivalry as does a history with said team and both of those come into play. However, if that isn't enough to get the blood pumping, the condescension flowing down towards Buffalo from the self-proclaimed Center of the Hockey Universe should get the job done.

Those watching that Buffalo/Toronto game live or on NBCSN missed out on the disdain that those perched high upon Mount Maple Leaf really have for the Buffalo Sabres. Prior to the game, TSN4 studio host James Duthie introduced "Sabres/Leafs month" by stating, "There have been a lot of painful nights for the Buffalo Sabres this season but this one will hurt a little bit extra, even if they win because they'll have to look across and look at [Leafs head coach] Mike Babcock, the coach they wanted, the coach they thought they had.

"They have to look at the Leafs, a team that won the lottery when they needed to unlike the Sabres who lost the [Connor] McDavid lottery and they have to look at the team that put the 'build' in in rebuild, unlike the Sabres who have just been stuck in the basement."

Some hard truths no doubt, but Duthie makes sure he twists that knife a little harder and deeper by saying that, "if the Leafs had played better on the road [in the games before Buffalo,] and if they'd maybe won the outdoor game [prior to this game] then maybe you could call this a trap game against lowwwwly Buffalo."

The hockey world thanks you for allowing us in your presence, Mr. Duthie.

Simple fact is, things went awry in Buffalo with their rebuild. Say what you want, but it just didn't go as planned. However, even as bad as it's been, perhaps a semblance of respect should be given to a "lowwwly" Sabres team that is now 8-2-0 vs. the Leafs at home and is 6-4-0 against the Leafs since Babcock took over the reigns beginning with the 2015-16 season.

Toronto has been locked into third in the Atlantic Division for some time and with 14 points separating them and the fourth place Florida Panthers, it looks as if they'll make the playoffs for the second season in a row.

Buffalo is in last place...again...but it doesn't mean that they can't make life difficult for their neighbors to the North.

From the Sabres, today's game-day skate had this lineup:



Reports from the rink have Robin Lehner starting in goal for Buffalo.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sabres fall to bottom of league, time to get a good look at the youngins

Published by hockeybuzz, 3-14-2018

With Arizona's 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings last night, the Coyotes moved from the bottom of the league into 30th place. The team they just jumped?

The Buffalo Sabres.

Right now, with 13 games left in the regular season the Buffalo is in an all too familiar spot with the yes of Sabreland fixated upon the NHL Draft Lottery and the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, TX. However, before they get there the front office and coaching staff seem intent upon getting a good look at their young players before heading into the off season.

With the Rochester Americans all but assured of making the playoffs for the first time in three years, there is time for some of their key players to get a good taste of the NHL before they begin their post season. Yesterday Buffalo called up goalie Linus Ullmark, who's looking like he'll be the team MVP once again, and this morning the Sabres called up forward Justin Bailey. The duo will join forward Nicolas Baptiste who's been up for a dozen games dating back to February 13 and defenseman Brendan Guhle who was called up March 4.

Defenseman Casey Nelson spent the first half of the season in Rochester and was recalled on January 17, playing in 25 games for the Sabres while forwards Kyle Criscuolo and Seth Griffith were recent recalls, with the latter two suffering injuries during their short stints.

That's a lot of youth and a lot of focus on the future of the Buffalo Sabres. As it should be. At yesterday's practice veterans Benotit Pouliot, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Nolan made up the Sabres fourth line while veteran d-men Josh Gorges and Justin Falk were the fourth pair.

Of all the moves, maybe Ullmark's was the most curious since it seems as if both Robin Lehner and backup Chad Johnson seem healthy, but it's also the most logical considering the Amerks are pretty much assured a playoff spot and Rochester backup Adam Wilcox has been more than dependable. Sabres head coach Phil Housley put it this way concerning Ullmark, "We felt it was a good time to call Linus up," he told the gathered media post-practice yesterday. "He's certainly deserved to be up here. We're going to continue to evaluate all our players, especially our goaltenders. … He's going to get an opportunity. When that is, I don't know."

Where, or even if, Bailey fits in to plans for tomorrows game vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs may have a lot to do with how Jack Eichel feels. Eichel has been sidelined since a high-ankle sprain felled him in a game against the Boston Bruins on February 10. Although those at the rink said he looked like never missed a beat during a very tough first practice, how he recovers today and tomorrow will determine whether or not he's a go.

All that said, here's where the Sabres are right now in the standings:

26th--Montreal (64 points)
27th--Detroit (63)
28th--Ottawa (61)
29th--Vancouver (59)
30th--Arizona (57)
31st--Buffalo (56)

With 13 games remaining in the season, the Sabres are in last place and if the season were to end now, they'd have a 18.5% chance of winning the lottery to select first-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

31st place--18.5%

There is an NHL lottery simulator web site which has become very popular for Sabres fans the last few years, when you go there you can pick the winners for the first three spots in the draft.

For today this is what I came up with:

1.  Calgary
2.  NY Rangers 
3.  Buffalo

4.  Arizona
5.  Vancouver

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sabres back at practice. Ullmark up, Eichel on the ice. Plus, the lottery simulator.

Published by, 3-13-2018

It's been a couple of days since the Buffalo Sabres lost 2-1 in the shootout vs. the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday. With Buffalo not playing again until Thursday Sabres coach Phil Housley gave the team both Sunday and Monday off.

The Sabres are back at it today with a couple players of interest at the practice today. Goalie Linus Ullmark was called up from the Rochester Americans this morning and according to reports from the rink is on the ice along with Buffalo's other two goalies--Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson. Back in February Lehner was having upper-body difficulties and the Sabres recalled Ullmark but never dressed him.

Rochester is off until Thursday when they begin playing back-to-back games and a three-game in four night stretch. With Ullmark up the Amerks recalled Jonas Johansson from the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL.) The 6'4" 210 lb. Johansson was selected by the Sabres 61st overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and has a 14-11-0 record, a 3.13 goals-against average and a .909 Sv% for Cincinnati this season.

Also on the ice practicing this morning is center Jack Eichel who's been out of the lineup since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Boston on February 10.  The original time-frame for Eichel's return was around six weeks and presently it's been 4 1/2. The Sabres have said before that they won't rush their star player back into the lineup and they shouldn't. It's been a lost season for a while and there's no reason for them to want him back in action until both he and they feel the ankle is 100%

The Sabres went 6-6-2 since Eichel has been sidelined and that includes a perfect 5-0-0 vs. the top three teams in the Atlantic Division. Buffalo plays the Toronto Maple Leafs at home on Thursday.

There was a mention on twitter that Eichel could be ready for Thursday's game against the Leafs and these lines via WGR550's Paul Hamilton may indicate that he will play:


The Sabres sent forwards Justin Bailey (who scored their only goal vs. Vegas) and Daniel O'Regan to Rochester on Sunday.

One final note on Eichel from Matthew Bove of WKBW via twitter:

"I have only been at practice for 20 minutes but I can say that Eichel is participating in every drill and looks like he never left. Maybe he’ll return to the lineup is sooner rather than later @WKBW"


Here are the standings as of this morning:

26th--Detroit (63 points)
27th--Montreal (62)
28th--Ottawa (59)
29th--Vancouver (59)
30th--Buffalo (56)
31st--Arizona (55)

Arizona has one game in hand on Buffalo and they will make that up tonight as they welcome the LA Kings tonight.

With 13 games remaining in the season, the Sabres are in second to last place and if the season were to end now, they'd have a 12.5% chance of winning the lottery to select first-overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.

31st place--18.5%

There is an NHL lottery simulator web site which has become very popular for Sabres fans the last few years, when you go there you can pick the winners for the first three spots in the draft.

For today this is what I came up with:

1.  NY Islanders
2.  Arizona
3.  Buffalo
4.  Vancouver
5.  Ottawa

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Countdown: 13 games left, standings, plus NHL Lottery Simulator

Published by, 3-11-2018

With their shootout loss yesterday to the Vegas Golden Knight, the Buffalo Sabres now sit at 56 points on the season with a 22-35-12 record and a 30th spot in the league standings:

26th--Detroit (63 points)
27th--Montreal (62)
28th--Vancouver (59)
29th--Ottawa (57)
30th--Buffalo (56)
31st--Arizona (53)

Having four teams (DET, MTL, OTT, BUF) in the bottom-six doesn't bode well for the Atlantic Division in general, but the Sabres have done surprisingly well going 10-7-4 against their divisional foes. And with yesterday's 2-1 overtime loss, they managed to break an ugly two-game pointless streak on their designated Kids Day matinee game. In the two games prior to yesterday, the Sabres lost 7-1 to the Dallas Stars back in January and 4-2 last month versus the LA Kings in a game where it was 4-0 and their putrid play drew GM Jason Botterill's ire in the pressbox.

Highlights yesterday include very little outside of some strong defensive play by Buffalo, a very exciting overtime and a hustle-goal by recalled forward Justin Bailey who used his speed to hit the zone hard and skill to deke Vegas goalie Marc Andre Fleury.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Visit from Las Vegas Golden Knights kicks off 6-game homestand for Sabres

Published by, 3-10-2018

I would have put the word 'expansion' in the headline before the Las Vegas Golden Knights, but even though they are in their first year of existence, they hardly look the part of an expansion team. In fact, one could easily say that the Buffalo Sabres have looked much more like an expansion team this season.

The Golden Knights were on a tear through the first 3/4 of they year and are enjoying the best season ever by an expansion club. As we sit here on the 10th day of March, Vegas is still perched atop the Pacific Division with a 43-19-5 record and their 91 points are tied for second in the Western Conference. Golden Knights GM George McPhee assembled a team of "undesirables" from the expansion draft and with veteran head coach Gerrard Gallant calling the tune, this team has been winning.

The run that Vegas went on until their recent slump is that of a championship-caliber team which includes no losing month, a remarkable 11-1-1 run in December and a 13-game streak where they never lost in regulation (12-0-1.) Much has been made about a team consisting of players left unprotected, and therefore seemingly unwanted, by their former teams and they're being coached by one who was sent packing by his former team, the Florida Panthers, and literally was at the curb with his bag hailing a taxi cab after learning of his firing.

A lot of adrenaline has been flowing through this Vegas team this season and they've also been healthy through much of the campaign save for their goaltenders early in the season. Vegas took a minor step back lately as they went 1-3-1 before pulling out a 4-0 win at Detroit on Thursday and part of the reason for that mini-slump might be traced back to the injuries that have started to mount.

This is the NHL stretch-run and the Golden Knights went into Detroit for the third game of a five-game road trip without forward James Neal and defenseman Nate Schmidt, both of whom are in Las Vegas recovering from injuries. Reilly Smith, the team's second leading scorer suffered an injury in Columbus on Tuesday and the Golden Knights are also without forwards Oscar Lindberg and former Sabre Will Carrier, defenseman Luca Sbisa and backup goalie Malcolm Subban.

However, Vegas will face a Sabres' team today that has it's own issues. On the health side, forward Kyle Okposo was lost to a concussion suffered in Thursday's 4-3 shootout win at Ottawa. Okposo, who had concussion problems last season, joins an injury list that includes Jack Eichel, the team's leading scorer (out since Feb. 11,) and fellow Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues along with defensemen Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian.

However the Sabres woes this season reach far beyond injuries of which there were many (241 man-games lost.) While the expansion Golden Knights were tearing it up through the first half of the season, the Sabres were wallowing near the bottom of the league with a 10-20-8 record through the 2017 portion. Within that record for Buffalo was a 5-4 overtime loss at Las Vegas back in October.

The Sabres have turned it around a bit in the 2018 portion of the program going 12-15-3 since Jan. 1 and are presently 8-6-2 in their last 16 games while playing 14 of them (save for five minutes of the game he was injured) without Eichel.

With their leading scorer out the Sabres have been using scoring by committee mainly lead by Sam "The Forgotten One" Reinhart. The third-year pro got off to an incredibly poor start but has picked it up since the calendar year changed. In his last 30 games, Reinhart has 12 goals and 15 assists and is a plus-1.

Forward Ryan O'Reilly has 13 points (3+10) in his last 13 games while defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has two goals and five assists in his last 10 games and has an even plus/minus rating. Fellow defenseman Marco Scandella has four goals in his last 10 games and is a plus-6. A quick reminder, the Sabres did not have a defenseman score a goal until McCabe did so on December 5, a full 28 games into the 2017-18 season.

All of that aside, in an interesting twist to the Sabres recent play, seven of their last eight wins are against Atlantic Division foes while five of their last six losses have come outside the division. Buffalo has been playing the Atlantic tough which includes a five-game win-streak against the division's top teams--Tampa, Boston and Toronto--but on the downside, they've been blown out in their last three losses by a combined 14-3 score. One of them was against Florida while the other two were against Calgary and Washington.

What might be even more disturbing is the Sabres' record during Kids Day, which happens to be the promotion their having for today's 1 pm matinee vs. Vegas. Buffalo has been downright abysmal in their last two on Kids Day's. The last one featured a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings which wasn't as close as the score might indicate and the one prior was a 7-1 debacle against the Dallas Stars back in January.

All of this bodes well for Vegas entering into today's game, but this Sabres team has been known to pull off some surprises.

Word from the rink is the Robin Lehner gets the start in goal for Buffalo.


The only other time that the Golden Knights and Buffalo met was on October 17 in Las Vegas when backup goalie Chad Johnson was in net. O'Reilly opened the scoring then Vegas scored three unanswered goals before Buffalo answered with three of their own, the last of which came with :09 seconds to play as Evander Kane tied it. David Perron scored 3:52 in overtime to give the Golden Knights the win.

As mentioned earlier, Vegas has a number of injuries and some of those on the injury report for today's game were in on all five goals the last time these two teams met:

Smith--1g, 1a

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A division win in the shootout with Robin Lehner in net

Published by, 3-9-2018

What's this hockey world coming to?

OK. So a divisional win from the Sabres isn't that far-fetched as they've dominated, yes dominated, the Atlantic Division dating back to early February. Since a February 1 loss at home against the Florida Panthers, a team they've struggled with all season, the Sabres are 7-1-1 (with their only regulation loss coming against the Panthers) within the division. That includes going 5-0-0 against the top three teams in the Atlantic--Tampa Bay, Boston and Tornoto--and outscoring those three by a combined 20-10 margin.

Buffalo bench boss Phil Housley talked about his team getting "geared up" for games and obviously when it comes to their divisional foes, his Sabres do that. With a depleted lineup, no less.

This was their starting forward group last night in Ottawa:

Benoit Pouliot-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Scott Wilson-Johan Larsson-Jason Pominville
Zemgus Girgensons-Jacob Josefson-Kyle Okposo
Jordan Nolan-Daniel O'Regan-Nicolas Baptiste

It's basically the same lineup the Sabres have been using for the past month with the only changes being in the bottom six with some AHL players moving in and out because of injury. It's a lineup that has no business beating division leaders, much less doubling their goal-output in the process, as they have only three forwards in O'Reilly, Reinhart and Okposo who should even be considered top-six material.

However, as great as it's been against the Atlantic Division, Buffalo has only one win and one overtime loss against a non-divisional opponents. Their regulation losses during that time ranged from lackluster efforts to unmitigated disasters save for a couple of games in the first half of February. Buffalo's record outside the division after the Feb. 1 loss to Florida is 1-6-1 and they were outscored by a combined 30-17 in those games.

A microcosm of Buffalo's bi-polar nature when it comes to divisional/non-divisional games can be found in their most recent back-to-back which finished last night in Ottawa.

On Wednesday night the Sabres got trounced at home by the Calgary Flames in one of their worst losses of the season with the 5-1 score not even close to being indicative of how poorly the Sabres played. By the end of the second period the Flames lead 5-0 and only a smattering of Buffalo fans were left in the stands to watch the Sabres avoid the shutout on a goal by defenseman Casey Nelson with 17.1 seconds left.

It would mark the 14th time this season the Sabres have gotten blown out by three or more goals and in those games they totaled an astounding minus-55 goal differential (74-19.) The Sabres have a league-worst minus-58 goal differential for the entire season which means in the other 54 games they've played they're a minus-3.

Yet last night those same Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators on the road 4-3 in the shootout. Although it's understood that the Flames and Senators are far apart in the standings and also that the Sabres have a much better record on the road than they do at home, unlike the Calgary game, Buffalo was engaged in Ottawa. How else would this Sabres team score the game-tying goal in the third period and win it in the shootout, with the "skills competition" being a major source of angst and frustration dating back to last season.

The Sabres went 2-5 last season in the shootout and were 0-1 this year until last night. Starting goalie Robin Lehner was in net for five of those losses over the last two seasons and allowed nine goals on 10 shots against during that time with the only non-goal coming of a goal post rung in a shootout loss to Montreal in this season's opener. Snake-bitten doesn't begin to describe Lehner in the shootout and many fans last season were hoping that then head coach Dan Bylsma would make a "call to the bullpen" and bring in the backup to replace Lehner.

But last night was a bit different. Lehner, as usual, allowed a goal on the first shot but stopped the next two. And the Sabres skaters, who haven't exactly been snipers in the skills competition the last two seasons, scored as Reinhart and Josefson got Buffalo the win.

Buffalo has 14 games remaining in a lost season but if the pattern holds true, they should give their divisional foes a hard time while allowing the rest of the league to walk all over them. Up next is a game against the expansion Las Vegas Knights who look nothing like an expansion team. It will be their first visit to Buffalo and they'll be playing a matinee on Sabres' Kids Day. Which is something that doesn't bode well for the Sabres as it's been a horror show the last two Kids Days.

The meeting with Vegas kicks off a six-game homestand for Buffalo but they won't play again until March 15 when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. It will be only the second meeting between the two clubs this season with the first one coming earlier this week.

Because of last night's shootout win, the Sabres climbed out of the league basement with 55 points, two more than the last place Arizona Coyotes, who have two games in hand. With their loser point last night, Ottawa is two points ahead of Buffalo in the standings but they also have two games in hand.

Three more teams occupy the spots above Buffalo and Ottawa at this juncture--Vancouver-59 points;  Montreal-61;  Edmonton 62--and all of them have a game in hand on the Sabres.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Can the Sabres get "geared up" for an out of conference game against the Flames?

Published by, 3-7-2018

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley did his weekly radio thing this morning on WGR550. GR host Howard Simon brought up the point that the Sabres have been playing very well against their Atlantic Division foes as of late, which is true. Since a loss to the Florida Panthers on February 1, Buffalo has gone 6-1-1 which includes two wins each against the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and the second place Boston Bruins as well as a win on Monday against the division's third place team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Housley was asked by the host if he's seen anything differently from his group when it comes to playing the top teams in the division. "I think the preparation by our guys has been really good," said the coach, "and they know that they have to come to play." Which is a curious response in that what the hell were they doing the other 60 or so games? Chllin' like Bob Dylan thinking that they don't "have to come and play?"

"We want to have that same preparation every game," continued the coach, "but it just seems as of late in these last 15 games, we've seen a lot of Boston and Tampa and now Toronto and they're getting geared up. It's a divisional opponents, they have rivalries that in the past have been physical, intense games.

"I just think they're on their mark and ready to play [in those divisional games] and it's a great challenge for us, and if you're not ready to play, you're going to get embarrassed."

Like the 14 times this season they've lost games by three or more goals.

Tonight the Calgary Flames come to town. They're in the Western Conference so is the motivation there for this group to "gear up?"

The Flames are having a pretty good season and right now they're five points out of a wild card spot with three teams to jump. Present Sabres backup goalie Chad Johnson, who will get the start tonight, played for Calgary last season and posted good numbers in his 36 appearances for the Flames. Perhaps the team will come to play for him.

Buffalo defeated the Flames in Calgary back in January 2-1. The overtime win came with Johnson in net and kicked off a very successful three-game western Canada sweep where they defeated the Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks by a combined 11-1 score. Sabres starter Robin Lehner posted back-to-back shutouts in the other two games.

Overall the Sabres are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games against Calgary, according to Sabres PR, and a very sound 9-0-1 at home.

Perhaps they can get "geared up" in an effort to keep that going.

Individually there are some Sabres players who'd like to keep things rolling. Sam Reinhart has 23 points (9+14) in his last 22 games. Linemate Ryan O'Reilly has 12 points (3+9) in his last 11 games and has a four-game point streak going. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen seems to have found his game with six points (1+5) in his last six games and 24 points over his last 29.

As for Johnson, at one point in the season he couldn't stop a beach ball but lately he is 6-2-0 in his last nine appearances with a .933 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average in those contests. (All numbers courtesy Sabres PR.)

Johnson is also on a three-game winning streak with all of those wins coming against the top three teams in the Atlantic (Tampa, Boston, Toronto) and has won five of his last six starts. In those five wins he's allowed 10 goals on 154 shots for a .935 save % while the team in front of him scored 20 goals.

Here's the lineup as seen by those at the morning skate:




Housley was also asked about defenseman Victor Antipin and what he's seen of him so far this season. The coach mentioned that the Russian rookie has been adjusting to the North American game, most notably "players being on top of you right away and not having that extra time with the puck."

You see that with a lot of players, most of whom have been groomed in North America, in that they just can't seem to figure out that there's very little time to make a decision in the NHL. How they handle that and what kind of fast puck decisions they make are a good indication as to what kind of success they'll have at the NHL-level.

Antipin is looking more and more comforatable with every game played. Although there was the #FreeAntipin movement early in the season, his play had a number of holes in it which warranted some time watching from the pressbox. If he continues to progress, Sabres fans will hopefully get to see some of what he did in Russia which was find that soft spot in the offensive zone for a scoring opportunity.


Antipin's partner is Nathan Beaulieu a defenseman who has driven many nuts over the course of his first season in Buffalo.

If one were to go back and review every one of his games this season, in nearly every game a Beaulieu turnover will either lead to a golden opportunity or goal against. Yet, his skating is fluid and top-notch, which is something that will continue hooking people for years to come.

The Sabres aren't good enough to overcome Beaulieu's brain-fart(s)/game right now and no team should ever be subjected to that. But if they could ever become a team that has the goaltending and/or goal-scoring to overcome his mistakes, when he's on his game Beauliue's kinda fun to watch. Got an little edge to his game too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

It's little stanley cup time for the Sabres against the Toronto Maple Leafs

Published by, 3-5-2018

Sure, playing in "little stanley cup" games in a lost season is a bit of a knock on this edition of the Buffalo Sabres, but then again there's not much really to get pumped up about when the team you're following is second-to-last in the league with a 20-34-11 record. And for the Sabres players, or what's left of them, when you've been bearing the burden of a disastrous season for well over two and a half months, it's hard to get up for any of the final 18 games of the season.

But, Toronto is coming to town and if players and fans were to find any life, perhaps a game against the Maple Leafs will be enough to get the blood pumping.

For those who say the Sabres have no rivalry with any team because their record over the past five seasons or so doesn't warrant it, that may be true to an extent. But this is the Maple Leafs and even though the distance between the two franchises is much farther away than the 100 or so miles up the QEW that separates the two cities, there's a rivalry embedded within that cares little for records.

The Leafs, of course, represent the self-described "Center of the Hockey Universe" with the modern version of "Hockey's Holy Trinity" perched high on their thrones atop Mount Maple Leaf. As for the Sabres, their the mutt that generally gets kicked around when something needs kicking.

And so be it.

Leafs team president Brendan Shanahan has done a remarkable job guiding the club out of the wasteland, GM Lou Lamoriello has done some nice work in following Shanahan's plan and coach Mike Babcock is...well...Mike Babcock. And thanks to him the Sabres and their ownership have some bulletin board material to look at.

Sure, Mike, those in Sabreland get it and we also get that you shunned Buffalo for Toronto which was expected. After all you did call the Leafs, "Canada's team" at your presser. Word has it that you were enamored with Toronto when you chose them and also weren't very pleased with the way the Sabres were doing things. Then again, the Sabres had just lost the draft lottery and the rights to Connor McDavid, but I wonder if you'd have dismissed your wife's preference for Toronto over Buffalo had the pingpong balls went in the Sabres' favor that year?

We also get the tweet from Mr. Harrington of The Buffalo News carrying that quote. Harrington has and continues to be adamantly opposed to anything and everything concerning Buffalo's tank job and won't miss an opportunity to let people know what he or other people think about it.

Fact is, the lottery did work out for the Maple Leafs and when you put Auston Matthews atop a good collection of forward talent with a future Hall of Fame coach behind the bench, good things happen. And when things don't work out exactly as planned and your GM miscalculates get the present Buffalo Sabres.

Yet, it's not the players fault in all of this. It's not Sam Reinhart's fault, nor is it Jack Eichel's, Ryan O'Reilly's, Robin Lehner's, Kyle Okposo's or any one else. This is the team that former GM Tim Murray and present GM Jason Botterill put together and the one that's coached by Botterill's pick, Phil Housley.

Next year the Sabres will start again with an influx of new players and another year of trying to get it right.

But that's next year and the team still has 17 games to play with four of them against their QEW rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will, oddly enough, be the first meeting of the season between the two clubs so there should be plenty of energy. The Leafs are locked into a playoff spot and always have a large contingent of fans follow them south to Buffalo making for a very raucous evening at KeyBank Center.

When the two teams meet tonight, ironically, the focal points of Babcock's barb concerning the draft--Eichel and Matthews--will not play as both are out with injuries. That leaves all the other draft picks and moves the teams have made over the past few years left to battle it out.

Buffalo players should take pride in this game even without Babcock's slight against the organization and, ultimately, the players who seemed to be looked upon as grubby little street urchins in the eyes of Leaf Nation. It's a chance to beat back the ostentatious invasion of the Leafs and their fans.

In a lost season with 17 games to go there really isn't much to play for accept these "little stanley cup" battles between the patricians of Mount Maple Leaf and the plebeians of Buffalo, this time with the words of Babcock to an adoring local media of how the Sabres and their organization suck.

Have at it boys.