Published by hockeybuzz.com, 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.