Monday, April 30, 2018

NHL Draft Lottery win caps off fun draft weekend for Buffalo fans

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-29-2018


Finally.

That's the first word that came to mind when watching NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly flip over the 1 card which had the Buffalo Sabres logo on it. It's been decades since the Sabres have had the first overall pick in the NHL Draft and after some pretty ugly seasons leaving Buffalo as the bridesmaid for all the suffering, April 28th, 2018 was finally the date that broke the spell.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

It's NHL Draft Lottery Night, and Sabreland will be watching...again

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-28-2018


Being in the NHL Draft Lottery means your team fell short and were not one of 16 teams battling for the Stanley Cup. Being the team with the best odds to win the lottery means that your team has serious talent issues among other problems.

For the third time in five seasons, the Buffalo Sabres finished last in the league and will have the best odds of winning the draft lottery, which isn't saying too much as they'll have an 18.5% chance of the pingpong balls falling in line. In 2014 and 2015 those pingpong balls were off a bit and Buffalo ended up selecting second-overall both times. Under those rules the last place team could fall no further than second in the draft if they lost the lottery.

Because of 2014-15 season that saw two teams--the Sabres and Arizona Coyotes--blatantly bottom out in the hopes of finishing last place. The NHL changed the rules for the following draft and beyond so that the top three picks are up for grabs in the lottery, meaning the last place team could drop to as low as fourth overall should other teams jump over them. That happened last year as the Colorado Avalanche, far and away the worst team in the league, fell to fourth-overall after the pingpong balls settled.

This year, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, whom many are comparing to Erik Karlsson for the impact he could have on a team, is the jewel at the top of the draft this year. He's followed by a tandem of wingers in Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina who are well regarded as impact players for the teams that miss out on Dahlin. After that there's a group of players including winger Brady Tkachuk along with defensemen Adam Boqvist and Quintin Hughes, who make up the next tier of prospects.

With Buffalo finishing in last place the odds are about 50/50 that they will end up with a top-three pick. The Ottawa Senators, who finished next to last have about a 39% chance of landing a top-three pick. Arizona, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, and the Chicago Blackhawks all have a 20% chance or better to win a lottery slot.

The randomness of the lottery makes it hard for any team to get overly excited about the potential outcome as it's nearly impossible to figure out who will end up with the top three picks. Unless, of course, you're a conspiracy theorist. In honor of said randomness, we're headed over to nhllotterysimulator.com to give the wheels one last spin before tonight:

1st--Montreal
2nd--Ottawa
3rd--Buffalo

All hail the Atlantic Division, the worst in the NHL this year, as they sweep the medals.

The NHL is playing around with revealing their lottery results as picks 15-4 will be revealed at 7:30 p.m. EST. Fans who's teams are still left will need to wait until the second intermission of the San Jose' Sharks-Vegas Golden Knights game to see if they win.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--C, Johan Larsson

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-27-2018


Center--Johan Larsson
DOB:  July 25, 1992 (Age, 25)
Draft:  2010, 2nd round (56th overall) MIN
How acquired:  Trade with MIN, April 3, 2013
Last contract signed:  July 8, 2017, 2yr./$2.95 million
Final year of contract:  2018-19

2017-18 Stats:  80 games played | 4 goals | 13 assists | 17 points | -30 | 14:07 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  257 games | 26 goals | 39 assists | 65 points | -41 | 14:41


What we wrote preseason:  The stout, 5'11" 200 lb. native of Sweden and captain of their 2012 World Junior gold medal squad (their first since 1981) was a third round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2010 and in 2015-26 completed his first full season in Buffalo chalking up a career high 10 goals and 17 points and that seemed to be his floor.

When he's on his game, Larsson has a very abrasive style of play that grates on the opposition to the point where they end up chasing him around instead of following the play. Injuries took away what was promising to be his best season ever (2016-17) and one could surmise that we still haven't seen Larsson's production peak yet. The third-line center position could be up for grabs this year dependent upon how Housley wants it constructed and in the years to come, Larsson will have a couple of players, most notably Rasmus Asplund and Cliff Pu, nipping at his heels for that spot.

That's not a bad thing for the Sabres as ideally Larsson would make for an excellent fourth-line center on a Cup-contending team. And if we see him in that spot, it will mean good things are happening for the forward group.


What we wrote mid-season:  Has the second-worst plus/minus on the team at a minus-15 and averages fourth-line minutes. Larsson only has one goal this year, and it was an empty-netter. Like the rest of the team he's looked better as of late, but those first 25 games or so were brutal. With the Sabres returning to health, ice-time will go to those who produce and/or earn it and Larsson will need to up his play if he wants to be in the lineup. Center Jacob Josefson is nearing return from injury and will probably take over that No. 4 center's role meaning Larsson will either be bumped to the wing or bumped up into the press box.


Impressions on his play this year:  For the most part, awful. Larsson was a minus-30, dead last on the team. Those around him at -34 (Kyle Okposo,) and minus-25 (Rasmus Ristolainen and Jack Eichel) were all on the ice for nearly all of the league-leading 22 empty net goals against and an NHL second worst 10 shorthanded goals against. With the emergence of Evan Rodrigues as a legit third-line center and the introduction of center Casey Mittelstadt into the lineup next season, Larsson will be dropping down the center depth chart. And with this past season being as rough as it was, he may drop down further than that as there could be a huge youth movement in Buffalo next season.


Questions moving forward:  Was his poor season a product of the poor team he played on? With all the changes the team has gone through, does he even like playing in Buffalo anymore? Will Sean Malone be ready to make the jump to the NHL next season as a fourth-line center? Does Larsson have any trade value? Would the team waive him? How would he react to being waived? Is he a buyout candidate?  



Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.



Friday, April 27, 2018

Botterill will again be forging ahead with little of his own homegrown talent

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-26-2018


There are more than a few fans and media types in Sabreland who are very high on d-prospect Brendan Guhle. And we all should be. The 2015 second round pick (51st-ovearll) has shown spurts of athleticism, skating and skill that look to be a great foundation for him moving forward in the NHL. Perhaps there's a little hope mixed in when looking at Guhle, as the Sabres prospect pool on defense is thin, but in his handful of games with the Sabres, there's a lot to like about the 20 yr. old first-year pro.

Although not on Guhle's level, winger Nicolas Baptiste is another prospect to look forward to next season. At 22 yrs. old Baptiste has three pro seasons under his belt and showed modest progress when called up to the Sabres over the course of the last two seasons. Baptiste is fast and has a good set of hands, elements which are coveted in the NHL.

Goalie Linus Ullmark has an opportunity waiting for him in Buffalo next season as Sabres GM Jason Botterill already designated the 24 yr. old Swede as one of his two goalies next season. After a solid season in the AHL Ullmark was named the Rochester Americans team MVP for the second consecutive season and lead the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately for him and the Amerks, they were swept out in three games with the goalie feeling a little shell-shocked.

Those are the homegrown draft picks from the previous regime that are in the system right now that look to be at least contributors to the Buffalo Sabres in the future.

Last night the Amerks were swept out of the Calder Cup playoffs in their first playoff appearance since 2014, when they were also swept out in three straight games. The numbers for the players above look like this:

Guhle--3 games played, 0 points, minus-6
Baptiste--3 games, 1 goal, minus-2
Ullmark--3 games, 0-3-0 record, 5.50 goals-against record, .800 save percentage

Those aren't very good numbers. Rochester allowed 18 goals with Ullmark being in net for all but two empty-netters, and they scored 10 goals with Baptiste and fellow 2013 draft pick Justin Bailey (2 goals) being the only homegrown prospects to light the lamp.

A visibly upset and shaken Ullmark faced the media after being eliminated last night and fielded questions. Right off the bat, Ullmark said flat out "I didn't make enough saves," and when one reporter mentioned a number of general situations where the goals allowed weren't his fault while asking him how frustrating that was he said, "there's nothing I can say that can change it now."

What it may have come down to is how the team, save for the veterans, may not have been prepared on an individual basis for the intensity of the playoffs. "It's a very different game," said Ullmark, "compared to the regular season. It's a lot tougher, a lot more physical, a lot more fights out there. Every battle matters. When you play in the regular season, you can take days off, this isn't like that."

Winger Alexander Nylander was selected eighth overall by the Sabres in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. At the time he was drafted no one doubted his skill level, which was the best on the board when Buffalo was selecting, maybe the best in the entire draft. But the knock on him was that he disappeared in games. Nylander played in all three games for the Amerks, had zero points, a minus-1 rating and according to reports from the game, didn't play very much in the first two periods of a must-win game.

No one from the organization will say it, but those reporting say he was nowhere to be found. Which is why he was on the fourth line...of an AHL team...in a must-win game. At only 20 yrs. of age, it's still too early to give up on him, but his performance over the past two seasons, which includes being injured early in this season, have been pretty rough.

When we're talking about the rough and tumble of the playoffs, it's not too surprising that two big bodies like Baptiste and Bailey could get something done in an environment like that. Bailey has been ramping up his game all season while also spending 12 games in Buffalo scoring three goals and adding one assist. He left the game yesterday with what looked like a shoulder injury.

Botterill has his hands full if he wants to achieve the level of success he was accustomed to in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. The "Baby Penguins" of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton have not missed the playoffs since 2001-02. Granted, they've made it to the Calder Cup Finals only twice in that span, but the parent club has won three Stanley Cups with those coming up through the ranks contributing to those successes.

That's what Botterill wants to build in the Sabres organization. He knew he had a tough road to hoe and a long way to go, but it might be more difficult than he thought as the previous regimes didn't leave him a lot to work with. Ullmark is slated for the big club next season and Guhle will probably be there as well. Bailey and Baptiste are at the end of their waiver-exempt status so their time in Rochester is probably over. And despite what he says about making the Sabres next season, Nylander needs to get dirty and pay his dues before moving up to the big club.

There will be another wave of players coming into the system next year featuring draft picks from previous regimes and that's what Botterill will need to work with. Along with any free agents he picks up and or players he may trade for along the way.  Players from his draft class in 2017 won't be hitting Western New York for at least another year or two so once again he and Amerks GM Randy Sexton will need to forge ahead.

They achieved their stated goal of making the playoffs this season. That should be the minimum goal in Rochester moving forward as the team is still transitioning away from the previous regimes.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Benoit Pouliot

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-25-2018


Forward--Benoit Pouiot
DOB:  September 29, 1986 (Age, 31)
Draft:  2005, 1st round (4th overall) MIN
How acquired:  FA
Last contract signed:  July 1, 2017, 1yr./$1.150 million
Final year of contract:  2017-18

2017-18 Stats:  74 games played | 13 goals | 6 assists | 19 points | -8 | 13:41
Buffalo Career Stats:  74 games | 13 goals | 6 assists | 19 points | -8 | 13:41


What we wrote preseason:  The Buffalo Sabres have a huge hole at left wing in the top-six right now as it's a bit of a mess [and they] didn't do much to fill the hole at left wing this off season.

Since being selected fourth-overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 NHL Draft, Pouliot has had stops in Montreal, Boston, Tampa Bay, in NY with the Rangers and Edmonton where he was bought out after the third year of a 5yr./$20 million contract.

Necessity was a big part of the signing in Buffalo and Pouliot did come in on a reasonable one-year deal with Sabres GM Jason Botterill saying, "If you look at Benoit's history, in situations where he's had a difficult season he's been able to bounce back strong. That's what we're looking for from him coming into Buffalo here."

Going into the 2016-17 season, new coach Phil Housley doesn't have a lot to work with on the left side. Training camp will sort a lot of this out but it wouldn't be too surprising to see Pouliot get a good shot at landing a spot in the top-six.


What we wrote mid-season:  Basically there's been the good Pouliot, which is more reflective of a player picked in the first round (although it's nowhere near No. 4-overall good) and there's the Edmonton, bad version of Pouliot, the one that caused him to get bought out by the Oilers. Pouliot has size, some jump to his step and he can skate very well for a player that's 6'3" 200 lbs. and Housley has moved Pouliot up and down the wing. Lately he's been on Eichel's left side and it hasn't amounted to much but it is good to say that his eight goals in 33 games this season equals the number he posted in 65 games for the Oilers all last season.


Impressions on his play this year:  Extend the above mid-season analysis through the rest of the season with more bad than good. With the start the Sabres had this season, there was little chance Pouliot could hit reasonable numbers and as a complimentary player, there wasn't very much to compliment in October and November. His stints on top-six lines with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly produced little and later in the seasons, if he wasn't in the bottom six he was up in the press box. Some team might get a decent season from him as he's got skills and can skate very well for a big guy, but it won't be in Buffalo.


Questions moving forward:  Where will his next stop be?




Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Marco Scandella

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-24-2018


Defensman--Marco Scandella
DOB:  February 23, 1990 (age (28)
Draft:  2008, 2nd round (25th overall) MIN
How acquired: 
Trade with Minnesota, June 30, 2017
Last contract signed:  November 29, 2014, 5yr./$20 million
Final year of contract:  2019-20



2017-18- Stats:  82 games played |  5 goals | 17 assists | 22 points | -15 | 23:19 ATOI
Buffalo Career Stats:  82 games | 5 goals | 17 assists | 22 points | -15 | 23:19 ATOI


What we wrote preseason: Said GM Jason Botterill of trading for Marco Scandella (via Jourdan LaBarber of Sabres.com.) "It was a priority for us to try to find another guy that can play some heavy minutes. We think [he] did a little bit of that in Minnesota, but he was certainly surrounded by some good defensemen and I think now playing a bigger role here (in Buffalo,) he's ready to take the next step in his career."

Head coach Phil Housley, who had seen plenty of Scandella while an assistant with the Nashville Predators, called him a  "terrific player" and a "fierce competitor" and that the 27 yr. old was "a key element" the team added. "It'll be interesting to see how much his offensive numbers really increase," he continued. "Whether he gets the assists or not, he's going to start our transition game out of our own end and in the neutral zone and then with his size and his compete down low, his reach, we really think he's going to be able to log a lot of minutes on our PK and be able to play against other teams' top two lines."

Although he had a rough regular season, Scandella turned it on in the playoffs averaging nearly 23 minutes of ice-time in the five-game series vs. the St. Louis Blues. That number was second only to top defenseman Ryan Suter.


What we wrote mid-season:  Botterill acquired Scandella in a trade with the Minnesota Wild this past off season saying that he believed the big, 6'3" 208 lb. defenseman could transition from second-pairing in Minnesota to top-pairing in Buffalo. He's in that role now and although he's had his good moments, that top-pairing designation looks to be a stretch. Speed is a problem for him, not so much his own, which is pretty good for a man his size, but the speed of the game playing against top players. In an ideal world he'd be on the second pair in Buffalo, but as we've seen, it's been anything but ideal with the club this year. The 28 yr. old Scandella is under contract until 2019-20 with a reasonable $4 million cap-hit.


Impressions on his play this year:  To say it was a struggle for the team and Scandella would be an understatement. We all know the numbers and the general feel in Buffalo while watching this club might have been worse. Scandella, however, seemed to pick things up later in the season and at one point in February found himself paired with an up-and-coming Casey Nelson as a d-partner. The six-game stint yielding 3-2-1 stretch for the Sabres. We know what the eight-year veteran has to offer, and we're pretty sure right now that ideally he's a top-notch second-pairing d-man who can log big minutes in all situations.


Questions moving forward:  What pick do the Sabres end up with in the upcoming draft? If they miss out on defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, are the Sabres forging ahead with a Rasmus Ristolainen-Scandella top-pairing? Will the Sabres re-sign Nelson? Will the 28 yr. old Scandella become more of a vocal leader than he was both on and off the ice?




Contract info via CapFriendly, stats via sabres.com and hockey reference.com.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Evan Rodrigues

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-23-2018


Forward--Evan Rodrigues
DOB:  July 28, 1993 (Age, 24)
Draft:  Undrafted
How acquired: 
Signed by Buffalo April 22, 2015
Last contract signed:  July 27, 2017, 2yr./$1.3 million
Final year of contract:  2018-19



2017-18- Stats:  48 games played | 7 goals | 18 assists | 25 points | -10 | 13:56 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  80 games | 12 goals | 21 assists | 33 points | -15 | 13:30 ATOI

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thoughts on owner Terry Pegula's letter to Sabres' season ticket holders

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-21-2018


On February 22, 2011, billionaire Terry Pegula sat in front of the media as owner of the Buffalo Sabres and boldly declared, "Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup." For those in attendance at his inaugural press conference and Sabres fans everywhere, having those words came from a billionaire who was in it to win it was music to their cost-constrained ears.

Fast forward seven years and Pegula's Buffalo Sabres are no nearer to their "reason for  existence" then they were back in 2011. In fact, it's gotten progressively worse after the Sabres finished in a playoff spot that season with one of the big reasons being a two-year tank-job from 2013-15. Since their last playoff appearance Buffalo has finished no higher that 23rd in the league and have finished dead last in three of those seasons.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Amerks in playoff action tonight with some insight from Don Stevens.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-20-2018


Usually when I'm talking with Rochester Americans broadcaster Don Stevens at this time of the year, we're doing a recap on the season. Rochester hasn't made the playoffs since the 2013-14 when they dropped a five-game series to the Chicago Wolves (STL) with names like Phil Varone, Luke Adam, Chad Ruhwedel, Brayden McNabb, Joel Armia and Mike Zigomanis on the roster.

It's been all downhill for Rochester since that playoff loss as the parent-club Buffalo Sabres went through a scorched-earth rebuild that burned them as well. Since then they've finished in 28th place followed by consecutive 26th place finishes before they headed into this season with a new front office beginning this season.

"It's been a long dry spell," Stevens told me yesterday prior to joining the team on the bus ride to Syracuse where Rochester begins their five-game series with the Crunch (TBL) tonight. Stevens, "The Voice of the Rochester Americans" for over 30 yrs. called this season a "great turnaround" and a "fun year" as the new regime lead by Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and his assistant Randy Sexton iced a competitive team that "made the games exciting."

Friday, April 20, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Jason Pominville

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-19-2018


RW--Jason Pominville
DOB:  November 30, 1982 (Age, 35)
Draft:  2001, 2nd Round (25th-overall,) Buffalo
How acquired:  Trade with Minnesota, June 30, 2017
Last contract signed:  October 3, 2013, 5yr./$28 million
Final year of contract:  2018-19



2017-18- Stats:  82 games played | 16 goals |18 assists | 34 points | -17 | 14:54 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  660 games | 201 goals | 289 assists | 490 points | +24 | 18:09 ATOI

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--G, Robin Lehner

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-18-2018


Goalie--Robin Lehner
DOB:  July 24, 1991 (Age, 27)
Draft:  2009, 2nd round (46th-overall) Ottawa
How acquired: 
June 26, 2015 Draft-day trade with Ottawa
Last contract signed:  1yr./$4 million
Final year of contract:  2017-18 (RFA)



2017-18- Stats:  53 games played | 14 wins | 26 losses |  9 OT | 3.01 GAA | .908 SV% | 3 shutouts

Buffalo Career Stats:  133 games | 42 wins | 61 losses | 22 OT | 2.77 GAA | .916 SV% | 6 shutouts

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--D, Rasmus Ristolainen

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-17-2018


Defenseman--Rasmus Ristolainen
DOB:  October 27, 1994 (Age, 23)
Draft:  2013, 1st round (8th-overall)
How acquired:  Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed:  October 11, 2016, 6yr./$32.4 million
Final year of contract:  2021-22


2017-18- Stats:  73 games played | 6 goals | 35 assists | 41 points | -25 | 26:30 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  346 games | 31 goals | 120 assists | 151 points | -102 | 24:09 ATOI

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--RW, Kyle Okposo

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-16-2018


Right Wing--Kyle Okposo
DOB:  April 16, 1988 (Age, 30)
Draft:  2006, 1st round (7th-overall,) NYI
How acquired:  2016 FA
Last contract signed:  July 1, 2016--7yr./$42M
Final year of contract:  2022-23


2017-18- Stats:  76 games played | 15 goals | 29 assists | 44 points | -34 | 17:01 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  141 games | 34 goals | 55 assists | 89 points | -41 | 17:55 ATOI

Monday, April 16, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--F, Sam Reinhart

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-15-2018


Forward--Sam Reinhart
DOB: November 6,1995 (age, 22)
Draft: 2014, 2nd overall
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: 2015--3yr. ELC; $925k/yr. + $2.65M yearly performance bonus
Final year of contract: 2017-18



2017-18- Stats:  82 games played | 25 goals | 25 assists | 50 points | -24 |  17:06 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  249 games | 65 goals | 75 assists | 140 points | -44 16:49 ATOI

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--C, Ryan O'Reilly

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-14-2018


Center--Ryan O'Reilly
DOB: February 7, 1991 (age, 27)
Draft: 2009, 2nd round (33rd-overall,) COL
How acquired: Trade with Colorado at the NHL Entry Draft, June 26, 2015
Last contract signed: 2015--7yr./$52.5M
Final year of contract: 2022-23   


2017-18- Stats:  81 games played | 24 goals | 37 assists | 61 points | -23 | 20:49 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  224 games | 65 goals | 111 assists | 176 points | -40 | 21:19 ATOI

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Impressions of, and questions concerning--C, Jack Eichel

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-13-2018


Center--Jack Eichel
DOB: October 28, 1996
Draft: 2015, 2nd overall
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo

Last contract signed:  October 3,2017;  10y,/$80 million begins in 2018-19
Final year of contract:  2025-26


2017-18- Stats:  67 games played | 25 goals | 39 assists | 64 points | -25 | 20:28 ATOI

Buffalo Career Stats:  209 games | 73 g | 104 a, | 177 pts. | -54 | 19:41 ATOI

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sabres GM Jason Botterill has himself a helluva task at hand

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-12-2018


Those who were at Jason Botterill's end of season press conference say that's the angriest they've seen a Buffalo Sabres general manager at season's end. Botterill helped build one of the best organizations in hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins, over the past decade and was in the front office for all three of their recent Stanley Cups. He's also credited with drafting and signing young, cheap talent that flowed up and into the Penguins roster allowing them to win back-to-back Stanley Cups with five players taking up over half of their salary cap space those two seasons.

From what we've seen of him in his first go-round as a GM, Botterill has a very measured approach to his job and comes off as being pretty calm in public. Yet that calm demeanor seems to belie an internal intensity and competitiveness that can erupt at times. Just ask the nacho bar he apparently took out during one of his teams many disasters. He sees how much change this team needs and if he wants to transition them from the losing mentality of a last place team into a winning culture, he has the plan, but he's also going to need every ounce of that intensity and competitiveness to make it happen.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Plenty of questions for Jason Botterill when he hits the podium tomorrow.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-10-2018


Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill should have a ton of tough questions to answer about his team at his year-end press conference. A dismal season like the Sabres just went through took it's toll on a number of players and a lot of emotions came out yesterday as the players talked to the gathered media during locker cleanout day. Not only did they clean out their lockers, but some also cleaned out some pretty deep thoughts that lay deep in the recesses of their minds.

The big bombshell came from Ryan O'Reilly when he said there were times he lost his love for the game. That quote and others from him created a firestorm. On the one hand, his brutal honesty was refreshing but on the other, he was roundly chastised him for feeling that way.

O'Reilly accused the team of "being OK with losing."

"It's crept into all of our games. Yeah, it's disappointing. It's sad," he said. "I feel throughout the year I've lost the love of the game multiple times and just need to get back to it because it's eating myself up and eats the other guys up too."

WGR550 radio host Howard Simon offered up a rebuttal and rebuke of the Sabres second-leading scorer and assistant captain, with an opinion piece entitled "O'Reilly needs to suck it up, add him to the list of Sabres problems."

"You are supposed to be one of the leaders of this team," wrote Simon of O'Reilly. "I can’t have one of my team leaders moping around and feeling sorry about the sad state of affairs that is the Sabres franchise.

"No one wants to be on a losing team. I’d imagine coming to the rink these last two seasons hasn’t been much fun for anyone associated with the team, but that’s when you dig a little deeper and find a way to persevere. More so for a player of O’Reilly’s stature since many in the locker room could end up following his lead.

"But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough get going."

To his credit, Simon did not bring up O'Reilly's salary and he did include the positives that the 27 yr. old brings to the table. However, the cliché's were flowing in his piece.

There were a ton of things wrong with the on-ice product starting at the top with an inexperienced head coach and stretching all the way to goaltending, but the overriding theme seems to be the lack of a professional mindset, of bringing it every day, not just on game day, or should we say, occasionally on game day.

Scott Wilson was with the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017. Botterill was an AGM with the Pens that year and he traded for Wilson early this season. Both have seen what it takes for a team to take it to that level and the theme of Wilson's interview yesterday centered around the proper mindset.

"We made some strides in the right direction in certain games and playing good teams," he said, "but the (proper) mindset is bringing that every time you're in the hockey rink, not just on the ice either."

Forward Evan Rodrigues played 48 games for the Sabres in the back portion of the season. The second year pro was injured in the preseason and spent eight games with Rochester before being recalled for good and he also mentioned mindset. "When we were committed to doing the right things and playing on the right side of the puck and doing the little things right," he said, "we were successful. And when we played those good teams, we kind of knew we had to do that.

"When we had the right mindset to do those things, I think that's when we won a lot of our games. We just have to find a way to make sure we're bringing that day-in, day-out."

"I think just overall our mindset's got to change," said Jason Pominville, who's on his second tour with in Buffalo. The former Sabres captain struggled to find the best way to put it when he continued by saying, "It's become kind of noticeable, when you lose and you lose so much over the course of three/four years, guys that have been here a while have been accustomed to that.

"I know everyone wants to wing, no one wants to lose, but you kind of have those habits where it becomes acceptable (to lose) almost without realizing it."

The losing aspect of the equation has been brought up numerous times over the course of the season and it's probably best to remember that ownership and management set their team on this course with consecutive tank seasons. Granted, after a season and a half of mostly positives with the team looking like it was headed in the right direction, the losing element pulled this club back into the abyss.

"Nobody's gonna be happy with a losing record or losing night in, night out," said Wilson citing that sometimes negativity rolls through the team. The way to break that cycle, he believes, may center around "just being positive, and coming together (as a team)."

Defenseman Zach Bogosian has played 10 years in the league and never made the post season. The 27 yr. old has never played a healthy season in Buffalo and underwent surgery after only 18 games this year. Bogosian said that he wasn't around the locker room that much this past season but still brought it back to pulling out as a team.

"When your in a losing environment where we were losing quite a bit, it's tough to pull yourself out. As a group we have to do it together."

Wilson echoed those thought when he was asked if they need to learn how to win. "I think it's a big confidence thing," he said. "A lot of guys struggled with confidence issues in this locker room, but we showed signs of good things.

"I think the winning aspect comes when you're rolling as a team and not playing as individuals."

There really are no saviors in a team sport like hockey. You have your great ones, legends who's skill and drive can carry much of the weight, but it's still up to the supporting cast to do their part. For evidence of that, look no further than this year's Edmonton Oilers lead by Connor McDavid, a player who is considered one of the best in the game at only 21 yrs. old. After an playoff adrenaline rush last season, the Oilers fell back to 23rd in the league despite McDavid leading the league with 108 points.

If it's not true in Edmonton, it isn't true in Buffalo either. Eichel was selected second overall behind McDavid in the 2015 NHL Draft. Although he's not quite at McDavid's level, his speed and skill package is up there with some of the best in the league. Eichel has been with the Sabres for three seasons and he hasn't tasted much success on a team basis despite leading Buffalo in scoring the last two seasons and finishing second his rookie season.

After his locker cleanout interview, many consider him to be the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres as he stood there answering all questions in a most mature, thoughtful and respectful way. He knows there are problems with mindset and consistency that have negatively affected the team. It's time to change that and he said it will begin with him.

"What we've been doing as a team hasn't been working," he said. "All you can really do is focus on yourself and changing yourself and I think that's what helps change the culture, change the team. It starts every day at practice, your work ethic, coming to work ready to compete, ready to get better.

"When you look at the good teams, they bring it every night."

Perhaps that drive was there early on a team basis, but with every loss in October, any fire and positivity this group had to begin the season ended up in a downward spiral as their poor start got worse and their playoff hopes ended early. "When you put yourself out of it a lot sooner than you'd like," said Eichel, "it's tough.

"We need to find a way to have a good start, come out in October and not be behind the 8-ball."

That's where Botterill comes into play. He's heard where his players heads have been this season and he knows he needs to add talent. Last off season he focused on the Rochester Americans in order to incubate his prospects in a positive environment. It's working as the team is in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Of course, it's a lot more difficult doing that in the NHL. Establishing a leadership pecking order may help that and if that's the case, Eichel will probably be atop. Adding talent will help immensely while adding character and mental toughness may also be of supreme importance. They'll also need to bring in a goaltender to work the crease either as a backup to Linus Ullmark or as a starter until he can get himself anchored in NHL play.

Botterill will also need to take a good look at his coaching staff. Although Phil Housley's job as head coach looks safe for now, he may need more of a veteran presence from his assistants.

Tomorrow may be the most important end of season presser in Buffalo and Botterill will have plenty of hard questions to answer about his team. What he says will carry a lot of weight but it will be what he does in the off season that will really set the tone.

It was a long season for everyone, Botterill included, but it's over and time to move on.


































































































Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Team Stats--Final

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-9-2018


It's early April and for the seventh consecutive season the Monday after the regular season ends means locker cleanout day for the Buffalo Sabres. Their 62 points on a 25-45-12 record once again placed them last in the league.

Below are five years of team stats for this team as the organization decided that tanking for a top pick was the route they were going to take. For two seasons the Sabres were set up to be at the bottom of the league and sure enough, they ended up there in a big way. Although the NHL Lottery dropped them to second overall in both drafts they got their top picks in Sam Reinhart (2014) and Jack Eichel (2015.)

What the Sabres have been unable to do in the three seasons since the "Jack Eichel-era" began was ditch those losing ways. Buffalo showed massive year-over-year progress in Eichel's first season, but the wheels began to fall off in 2016-17. General Manger Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma were both dismissed and the team brought in a new GM in Jason Botterill and a new coach in Phil Housley.

Despite being rookies in their new found positions there was a lot of optimism with the hiring of Botterill and Housley, but that soon obliterated by an 0-4-1 start which included two embarrassing blowout losses and a 3-7-2 month of October. The slow start turned into a train wreck and Sabres were out of it by Thanksgiving. They wouldn't have a decent month until February when they went 6-6-2.

In looking over the team stats from the past five seasons, not a lot has changed. They still can't seem to score as they've never placed higher than 24th in the league in goals-for. Five-on-five goals are even worse as the Sabres have never finished higher than 28th.

If you can't score goals as a team it's best you stop them and Buffalo spent three seasons near the bottom of the league in that category finishing in last place every time. They had two good seasons under Bylsma where they finished 15th and 19th overall in goals-against. Those two seasons also showed their best goal differential of -21 in 2015-16 and -36 in 2016-17.

Housley has been preaching a "shot-mentality" all season and the team did well in averaging 31.2 shots/game which ranked 20th in the league. Shooting the puck hasn't been a problem since the tank years as the Sabres finished in the middle of the league under Bylsma's two seasons.

Bylsma also had Buffalo's powerplay cranking. After spending the two tank seasons at or near the bottom of the league they went to 12th in 2015-16 and all the way up to first in 2016-17. However, that lone bright spot in an otherwise dreadful stat page was destroyed early in the season as the Sabres fell to 30th through the first half of the season before they rebounded to finish 20th overall.

There's a heaviness to the numbers below and a reciprocal value that has the players struggling under the weight of losing for so many years while the lack of overall talent has kept those numbers down leading to even more losing.

The Buffalo Sabres will have another high pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, but as we've seen from a number of teams recently, most notably the Edmonton Oilers but not to dismiss the Florida Panthers (2011-14) or the Colorado Avalanche (2009-13 plus No. 4 overall in 2017,) high picks don't necessarily mean immediate success.

Edmonton busted their cycle of losing two years after drafting the heir to Sidney Crosby as the best player in the game in Connor McDavid. Yet, after making it to the second round last season, they fell back to a more familiar spot in the lower third of the league. The Avalanche finished dead last by a wide margin last year but made the playoffs this season with a couple of their top-two picks leading the way. And while the Panthers missed the playoffs for the second year running, they didn't miss by much as their team continues to mature with three, top-three draft picks leading the way.

Botterill has a lot of work to do heading into this off season. His and Housley's first season was an unmitigated disaster which more than likely was unintended. The second year GM has been trying to change the culture of the organization and he's got the Rochester Americans headed in the right direction which is a much easier task than changing it at the NHL level.

For most, if not all, off Buffalo's unrestricted free agents today represents the last day they'll be in the Sabres locker room. And for anyone outside of, maybe three players--Eichel, Brendan Guhle and Casey Mittelstadt--the possibility is there that they could also be clearing out their lockers in Buffalo for the last time.

That's what losing does. It demands change.

Today the players and Housley will speak and on Wednesday Botterill will have his end of season presser. Despite one of the worst seasons in Sabres history, many believe that he has a plan and we'll here more of that as he's grilled by the local media.

Until next season, here's the final 2017-18 team stats for Buffalo.



Buffalo Sabres Team Stats (League Rankings)...(Leader):


Wins

--October: 3 (T-29th)...(STL, TBL, 10)
--November: 6 (T-29th)...(TBL, STL, TOR, 17)
--December: 10 (29th)...(TBL, 28)
--January: 14 (29th)...(TBL, 34)
--February: 20 (30th)...(TBL, 43)
--March: 25 (31st)...(TBL, 52)
--2017-18:  25 (31st)...(TBL, 54)
--2016-17:  33 (25th)...(WSH, 55)
--2015-16:  35 (23rd)...(WSH, 56)
--2014-15:  23 (30th)...(ANA, 49)
--2013-14:  21 (30th)...(BOS, 54)


 Atlantic Division Standing

--October: 8th...(TBL)
--November: 8th...(TBL)
--December: 8th...(TBL)
--January: 8th...(TBL)
--February: 8th...(TBL)
--March: 8th...(BOS)
--2017-18:  8th...(TBL)
--2016-17:  8th...(MTL)
--2015-16:  7th...(FLA)
--2014-15:  8th...(MTL)
--2013-14:  8th...(BOS)


 Eastern Conference Standing

--October: 16th...(TBL)
--November: 16th...(TBL)
--December: 16th...(TBL)
--January: 16th...(TBL)
--February: 16th (TBL)
--March : 16th (BOS)
--2017-18:  16th...(TBL)
--2016-17:  15th...(WSH)
--2015-16:  14th...(WSH)
--2014-15:  16th...(NYR)
--2013-14:  16th...(BOS)


League standing/Points

--October: 29th/8...(TBL/21)
--November: T-30th/16...(TBL/36)
--December: 30th/28...(TBL/58)
--January: 30th/37...(TBL/71)
--February: 30th/51...(TBL/90)
--March: 31st/62...(NSH/111)
--2017-18:  31st/62...(NSH/117)
--2016-17:  26th/78...(WSH/118)
--2015-16:  23rd/81...(WSH/120)
--2014-15:  30th/54...(NYR/113)
--2013-15:  30th/52...(BOS/117)


Points Percentage

--October: .333 (30th)...(STL, TBL/.808)
--November: .320 (30th)...(TBL/.720)
--December: .368 (30th)...(TBL/ .763)
--January: .370 (30th)...(VGK/ .714)
--February: .398 (30th)...(TBL/.703)
--March: .397 (31tst)...(NSH / 712)
--2017-18:  .378 (31st)...(NSH, .713)
--2016-17:  .476 (26th)...(WSH, .720)
--2015-16:  .494 (23rd)...(WSH, .732)
--2014-15:  .329 (30th)...(NYR, .689)
--2013-14:  .317 (30th)...(BOS, .713)


Goal Differential

--October: -15 (30th)...(TBL, +17)
--November: -30 (30th)...(TBL, +25)
--December: -42 (30th)...(TBL, +51)
--January: -51 (30th)...(TBL, +48)
--February: -54 (30th)...(TBL, +56)
--March: -73 (31st)...(BOS, +61)
--2017-18:  -81 (31st)...(TBL, +60)
--2016-17:  -36 (24th)...(WSH, +81)
--2015-16:  -21 (20th)...(WSH, +59)
--2014-15   -113 (30th)...(NYR, +60)
--2013-14:  -91 (30th)...(BOS, +84)


Goals/Game

--October: 2.42 (29th)...(TBL, 4.08)
--November: 2.20 (31st)...(NYI, 3.67)
--December: 2.21 (31st)...(TBL, 3.74)
--January: 2.30 (31st)...(TBL, 3.48)
--February: 2.39 (31st)...(TBL, 3.50)
--March: 2.38 (31st)...(TBL, 3.54)
--2017-18:  2.41 (31st)...(TBL, 3.54)
--2016-17:  2.43 (24th)...(PIT, 3.39)
--2015-16:  2.43 (25th)...(DAL, 3.23)
--2014-15:  1.87 (30th)...(TBL, 3.16)
--2013-14:  1.83 (30th)...(ANA, 3.21)


Shots/Game

--October: 31.5 (17th)...(MTL, 38)
--November: 30.9 (20th)...(CAR, 35.7)
--December: 30.9 (19th)...(PIT, 34.9)
--January: 30.9 (21st)...(FLA, 34.6)
--February: 30.7 (23rd)...(CHI, 34.7)
--March: 31.0 (23rd)...(FLA, 34.6)
--2017-18:  31.2 (20th)...(FLA, 34.4)
--2016-17:  30.4 (15th)...(PIT, 33.5)
--2015-16:  29.5 (17th)...(PIT, 33.2)
--2014-15:  24.2 (30th)...(CHI, 33.9)
--2013-14:  26.3 (30th)...(SJS, 34.8)


5v5 Goals

--October: 18 (19th)...(CLB, 28)
--November: 37 (29th)...(TOR, 66)
--December: 55 (29th)...(TOR, 92)
--January: 71 (31st)...(NYI, 118)
--February: 90 (31st)...(TOR, 153)
--March: 112 (31st)...(TBL, 183)
--2017-18:  119 (31st)...(TBL, 196)
--2016-17:  126 (28th)...(MIN, 187)
--2015-16:  121 (28th)...(DAL, 167)
--2014-15:  110 (29th)...(TBL, 181)
--2013-14:  96 (30th)...(ANA, 190)


Powerplay

--October: 14.3% (23rd)...(DAL, 30.8)
--November: 12.8 (30th)...(TBL, 27.4)
--December: 12.4 (30th)...(TBL, 25.7)
--January: 16.2 (26th)...(PIT, 26.7)
--February: 17.4 (25th)...(PIT, 27)
--March: 18.3 (22nd)...(PIT, 26.4)
--2017-18:  19.1 (20th)...(PIT, 26.2)
--2016-17:  24.5 (1st)
--2015-16:  18.9 (12th)...(ANA, 23.1)
--2014-15:  13.4 (30th)...(WSH, 25.3)
--2013-14:  14.1 (29th)...(PIT, 23.4)


Goals-against/Game

--October: 3.58 (27th)...(LAK, 2.00)
--November: 3.36 (28th)...(SJS, 2.17)
--December: 3.29 (28th)...(LAK, 2.33)
--January: 3.30 (28th)...(LAK, 2.42)
--February: 3.22 (26th)...(LAK, 2.47)
--March: 3.31 (29th)...(LAK, 2.44)
--2017-18:  3.39 (29th)...(LAK, 2.46)
--2016-17:  2.82 (19th)...(WSH, 2.16)
--2015-16:  2.62 (15th)...(ANA, 2.29)
--2014-15:  3.28 (29th)...(MTL, 2.24)
--2013-14:  2.96 (25th)...(LAK, 2.05)


Shots against/Game

--October: 32.5 (19th)...(SJS, 28.7)
--November: 31.2 (T-11th)...(SJS, 28.7)
--December: 32.4 (23rd)...(CAR, 29.6)
--January: 32.6 (24th)...(CAR, 29.2)
--February: 32.4 (22nd)...(CAR, 28.9)
--March: 32.7 (23rd)...(CAR, 28.7)
--2017-18:  32.7 (23rd)...(CAR, 28.9)
--2016-17:  34.3 (30th)...(LAK, 25.9)
--2015-16:  30.6 (22nd)...(NSH, 27.3)
--2014-15:  35.6 (30th)...(LAK, 27.0)
--2013-14:  34.3 (28th)...(NJD, 25.5)


Penalty Kill

--October: 82.5% (11th)...(LAK, 93.0)
--November: 81.1 (13th)...(LAK, 89.5)
--December: 81.9 (12th)...(LAK, 87.1)
--January: 78.6 (23rd)...(LAK, 86.2)
--February: 79.4 (20th)...(SJS, 84.4)
--March: 78.2 (23rd)...(LAK, 85.1)
--2017-18:  77.9 (22nd)...(LAK, 85.0)
--2016-17:  77.6 (25th)...(BOS, 85.7
--2015-16:  82.6 (9th)...(ANA, 87.2)
--2014-15:  75.1 (30th)...(MIN, 86.3)
--2013-14:  81.4 (20th)...(NJD, 86.4)


Faceoff Percentage

--October: 50.4% (18th)...(OTT, 53.9)
--November: 51.4 (11th)...(PHI, 53.0)
--December: 51.2 (9th)...(WPG, 52.8)
--January: 51.1 (11th)...(PHI, 52.9)
--February: 51.2 (9th)...(CAR, 53.6)
--March: 51.7 (6th)...(CAR, 54.0)
--2017-18:  51.5 (7th)...(CAR, 54.1)
--2016-17:  49.6 (17th)...(ANA, 54.7)
--2015-16:  49.4 (21st)...(ARI, 54.7)
--2014-15:  44.9 (30th)...(BOS, 53.6)
--2013-14:  46.8 (29th)...(NSH, 53.1)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats Leaders--Final

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-8-2018


The 2017-18 NHL season is over for the Buffalo Sabres and they went out with a whimper going 0-4-0 during April for a final record of 25-45-12. All that's left is locker cleanout on Monday, along with Phil Housley speaking to the media that day, and general manager Jason Botterill addressing the media on Wednesday, before what looks like a busy off season.

As a team, this group of players put on an abysmal performance falling far below even modest expectations. Within that context some individuals, mostly the usual suspects,  had their names in the group of monthly leaders on a regular basis.

It begins with Jack Eichel. The 21 yr. old continues to knock on the door of that point/game season as he finished this year with 64 points in 67 games. Eichel put up career numbers across the board and lead the Sabres outright in points and assists (39) and was tied with Sam Reinhart for the team lead in goals with 25. Twenty-three of Eichel's assists were of the primary variety, second only to Ryan O'Reilly on the team.

O'Reilly lead the team with 26 primary assists and powerplay goals with 15. He was second in points (61,) goals (24) and assists (37.) It was a the third year in a row he scored 20+ goals as a Sabre and the third time in his career he hit the 60+ point mark, something he's done twice in his three years with the club.

The aforementioned Reinhart had 25 goals for the first time in his career and hit the 50-point mark for the first time which was good for third on the team behind Eichel and O'Reilly.

According to Sabres PR, this is the first time since the 2011-12 season (Pominville, Vanek, Stafford) that the Sabres had three 50-point players and the Sabres finished with two 25-goal scorers (Eichel and Reinhart) under 23 years of age for the first time since the 1991-92 season (Alexander Mogilny and Donald Audette).

In addition to his usual workload (26:29 ATOI, fourth in the league,) defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen lead the team with 22 powerplay assists and was third on the team with 35 total assists.

For a team with a minus-81 goal differential, it's not surprising to see that the best plus/minus of any player appearing in 40 or more Sabres games was Marco Scandella's minus-8. Rookie Victor Antipin was a minus-9 and Evan Rodrigues clocked in at a minus-10.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the bottom of the plus/minus scale has some frightening numbers. Kyle Okposo's minus-34 was worst on the team and is second worst in the league (Nick Leddy, NYI, minus-40.) Johan Larsson had a minus-30 (eighth-worst in the league) while Eichel and Ristolainen came in at a minus-25 each.

Of note, however, is that Okposo, Eichel and Ristolainen, among others, had their numbers all affected by empty net goals against. The Sabres gave up a league record 22 empty-net goals against (with only six 6v5 goals for) this season eclipsing Colorado's 19 in 2015-16. Here's a breakdown of players on the ice for empty net goals against:

O'Reilly-18
Eichel-17
Ristolainen-17
Kane-13
Pominville-13
Okposo-11
Reinhart-11
Scandella-9
Rodrigues-5
McCabe-3
Girgensons-3
Guhle-3
Wilson-2
Beaulieu-2
Nelson-1
Larsson-1
Mittelstadt-1
Pouliot-1

In addition to those numbers which negatively affect plus/minus, the Sabres gave up 10 short handed goals against (while scoring eight shorthanded goals-for,) which tied them for third most in the league. Eichel, Okposo and Reinhart were on the ice for a team-high eight shorthanded goals-against, O'Reilly seven, Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu five.

When adding both empty net and shorthanded goals against, Eichel and O'Reilly totaled 25, Ristolainen 22, Okposo and Reinhart 19 each and Kane 16. The next closest was seven. Although it's not designed to let those players off the hook completely for their atrocious plus/minus ratings, taking those numbers into account does add a little more perspective as to how they ended up there. As for Larsson?

Finally, goalie Robin Lehner did not play in April as he was nursing an injury and he could be done as a Buffalo Sabre. If so Lehner will be ending his career on a low-note with his highest GAA (3.01) and lowest Sv% (.908) in his three-year Sabres career. Backup Chad Johnson went 0-4-0 in April, saw his save percentage drop and his goals-against balloon. If he was looking to stick around next year as Linus Ullmark's backup, should the team go in that direction, he didn't play like he wanted that spot.

Good for Adam Wilcox who finally made it to the NHL. Wilcox came out in relief of Johnson in the season finale last night against the Florida Panthers for his first NHL game. The former sixth-round pick (2011, TBL) did not allow a goal on 14 shots against in 38:39 of action.

Next year promises plenty of new faces as Buffalo has a lot of unrestricted free agents coupled with a number of players who look like they're ready for the big club. Until then, the individual stats portion of the program for the 2017-18 season is complete.



Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats leaders:


Points

--October: Pominville, Kane, Eichel, 12; O'Reilly, 8
--November: Kane, 11; Okposo, 9; O'Reilly, 8
--December: Eichel, 16; Kane, 11; O'Reilly, 8
--January: Eichel, 14; Okposo, 12; Ristolainen, 11
--February: O'Reilly, 12; Reinhart, 10; Ristolainen, Rodrigues , 9
--March: Reinhart, 14; O'Reilly, 11; Eichel, 9

--2017-18:  Eichel, 64;  O'Reilly, 61;  Reinhart, 50
--2016-17:  Eichel, 57;  O'Reilly, 55;  Reinhart, 47

 Goals

--October: Pominville, Kane, 6; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--November: Kane, 6; Pouliot, 4; Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, 3
--December: Eichel, 8; Kane, Okposo, 3; six with 2
--January: Eichel, Reinhart, 5; O'Reilly, 4; Okposo, 3
--February: O'Reilly, 5; Kane, Reinhart, Rodrigues, Wilson, 4; (three with 3)
--March: Reinhart, 9; O'Reilly, 4; Eichel, Pominville, 3

--2017-18:  Eichel, Reinhart, 25;  O'Reilly 24;  Kane, 20
--2016-17:  Kane, 28;  Eichel, 24;  O'Reilly, 20


 Powerplay Goals

--October: O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Kane, Reinhart, 1
--November: O'Reilly, Pouliot, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--December: Eichel, Kane, Pominville, Rodrigues, 1
--January: O'Reilly, Reinhart, 3; Okposo, 2
--February: O'Reilly, 4; Eichel, Kane, Pominville, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--March: Reinhart, 5; O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Okposo, 1

--2017-18:  O'Reilly, 15;  Reinhart, 12;  Okposo, 6
--2016-17:  Moulson, 11;  Eichel, 10;  Reinhart, 9


 Assists

--October: Eichel, 8 Pominville, Kane, 6
--November: Okposo, 6; Kane, O'Reilly, 5
--December: Eichel, Kane, 8; O'Reilly, 6; Scandella, 5
--January: Eichel, Okposo, Ristolainen, 9; O'Reilly, 6
--February: O'Reilly, 7; Reinhart, Okposo, Ristolainen, 6
--March: Ristolainen, 8; O'Reilly, 7; Eichel, 6

--2017-18:  Eichel, 39;  O'Reilly, 37;  Ristolainen, 35
--2016-17:  Ristolainen, 39;  O'Reilly, 35;  Eichel, 33



 Powerplay Assists

--October: Kane, Ristolainen, 2; six players with 1
--November: Kane, 3; Okposo, 2; three players with 1
--December: Eichel, Ristolainen, 2; Kane, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--January: Eichel, 7; Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 4
--February: Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 5; O'Reilly, 3
--March: Eichel, Ristolainen, 5; O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, Rodrigues 2;

--2017-18:  Ristolainen, 22;  Eichel, 17;  Okposo, 15
--2016-17:  Ristolainen, 24;  Okposo, O'Reilly, 16;  Eichel, 14


 Primary Assists

--October: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Beaulieu, 2
--November: Eichel, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, 3; four players with 2
--December: Eichel, Kane, O'Reilly, 5; Scandella, 3; McCabe, 2
--January: Okposo, 7; Eichel, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, Scandella, 3
--February: O'Reilly, 6; Reinhart, 5; Okposo, Larsson, Nelson, 3
--March: Ristolainen, 6; O'Reilly, 5; Pominville, 4

--2017-18:  O'Reilly, 26;  Eichel, 23;  Ristolainen, 18
--2016-17:  O'Reilly, 23;  Reinhart, 22;  Eichel, Ristolainen, 19


 Plus/Minus

--October: Pominville, +3; Girgensons, Gorges, +1; Pouliot, even
--November: Reinhart, Nolan, Scandella, Antipin, even; Kane, Griffith, Gorges, -1
--December: O'Reilly, +2; Girgensons, Wilson, +1; Larsson, McCabe, even
--January: O'Reilly, +2, Ristolainen, Scandella, McCabe, even
--February: Scandella, +4; Pouliot, Reinhart, Nelson, +3; O'Reilly, +2
--March: Pouliot, +1; Pominville, Rodrigues, -2; Ristolainen, Beaulieu, -3

--2017-18 (min 40 gms.):  Pouliot, -8;  Antipin, -9;  Rodrigues, -10
--2016-17 (min 40 gms.):  Carrier, Foligno, O'Reilly -1;  Grant, Gorges, Falk, -3


 Plus/Minus (Bottom)

--October: O'Reilly, -9; Reinhart, -8; Okposo, -7
--November: O'Reilly, Larsson, -8; McCabe, -7; Beaulieu, -6
--December: Kane, Pominville, -7; Ristolainen, -6; Rodrigues, -5
--January: Girgensons, -7; Eichel, Beaulieu, Falk, -6
--February: Okposo, -10; Ristolainen, -6; Larsson, Wilson, Beaulieu, Antipin, -3
--March: Wilson, -9; Eichel, Reinhart, Nelson, -8; O'Reilly, Larsson, Scandella, Falk -6

--2017-18:  Okposo, -34;  Larsson, -30;  Eichel, Ristolainen, -25
--2016-17:  Kulikov, -26;  Kane, Bogosian, -17;  Eichel, -13


 Goalies (composite)

Robin Lehner
--October: 4-2-1; 2.78 GAA; .911 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November: 5-11-2; 2.92; . 906, 1
--December: 9-14-5; 2.74; .915; 1
--January: 11-19-6; 2.85; .912; 3
--February: 13-23-8; 2.95; .910; 3
--March: 14-26-9; 3.01; .908; 3

--2017-18:  14-26-9;  3.01;  .908;  3



 Chad Johnson
--October: 1-3-1; 4.06 GAA; .879 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 1-4-2; 3.59; .885; 0
--December: 1-6-3; 3.78; .881; 0
--January: 2-8-3; 3.64; .884; 0
--February: 6-10-3; 3.18; .896; 0
--March: 10-13-3; 3.35; .896; 0

--2017-18:  10-17-3;  3.55;  .891; 0

 Linus Ullmark
--January: 1-0-0; 1.00 GAA; .978 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--March: 1-2-0; 2.00; .935; 0

--2017-18:  1-2-0;  2.00;  .935;  0


Adam Wilcox

--2017-18:  0-0-0;  0.00 GAA;  1.000 Sv%;  0 shutouts

Sunday, April 8, 2018

There are a lot of positives for this team moving forward

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-7-2018


The Buffalo Sabres left Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida with a 7-5 loss. It was their 44th regulation loss in 81 games, 56th if you count overtime/shootout losses. Such has been the season for the 31st place team as they head for a high draft pick for the third time in five seasons.

There were typical hallmarks of this team in the 2017-18 season. The Sabres started the game looking like they were chilling on a Florida beach and found themselves behind early in the game. Egregious turnovers, lax defense and poor goaltending put the Sabres in a hole early, but they were able to bounce back and eventually take a 5-4 lead. However, they were unable to hold on, which isn't surprising considering the speed and firepower that the Tampa Bay Lightning have at their beck and call.

Buffalo came oh so close to tying the score with the goalie pulled, but in a tale of two goalposts, the Sabres' Evan Rodrigues hit the outside of the post with a wide open net and Tampa's Victor Hedman sent a 200' shot that caught the inside of the post and went in.

The Sabres knew this year was over months ago and looked like they'd packed it in. Except when playing against top teams in the division. From February through last night, the Sabres went 6-3-0 against Atlantic Division leaders Tampa, Boston and Toronto. Buffalo was also a very respectable 6-5-1 on the road during that time which included a 7-4 win over the NHL's top team, the Nashville Predators, to close out the month of March.

For those of us in Sabreland who've been watching nearly every game, it's things like that make this season a head-scratcher as to how could this team have looked so bad so often this season.

"A lot of things worked against Buffalo but [head coach] Phil [Housley] kept them together," said Lightning coach John Cooper via Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News. "Instead of folding down the stretch, they dug their heels in and played teams tough, including us. As an organization, they've found out a lot about themselves, they've done it the right way and they're set up to do some good things next year."

There are some good things on the horizon for the Sabres, and one of them was on display last night. Forward Casey Mittelstadt (2017, 8th-overall) scored his first NHL goal on a play that displayed poise, patience and skill.


(via NHL.com)

It was Mittelstadt's fourth point (1+3) in his first five NHL games and outside of those stats, the former Minnesota Golden Gopher who signed after his freshman season looks like he could be a big part of Buffalo's future.

Also netting his first NHL goal was fellow first round pick Alexander Nylander (2016, 8th.) Nylander made the jump from junior right into the AHL following his draft year and has struggled mightily with the Rochester Americans. However, he's been slowly turning it around in Rochester and got the call to Buffalo on Wednesday. After an uneventful season debut vs. the Ottawa Senators, Nylander made a nice play tipping a shot from the point for his first NHL goal:


(via NHL.com)

Nylander's goal was set up by another future bright spot for Buffalo, defenseman Brendan Guhle who was a 2015 second round selection (51st.) The athletic Guhle is an excellent skater with great vision who's been making waves while working his way up through the system. The Edmonton, Alberta native has been up with Buffalo since March 5 and has helped move the defense forward.

Buffalo has played Tampa three times in the past seven weeks and have beaten the Lighting twice. There other meeting came on November 28, a 2-0 shutout win for Tampa. In that time the Sabres have made some serious progress according to Cooper. "They've improved dramatically through the year and that's a good sign for them," he told Harrington. "They've got some good players. I had an up-close look at Ryan O'Reilly at the World Championships (for Team Canada) and he's a big-time player. Jack Eichel goes down for how many games? That doesn't help."

Tampa Bay is always one of those teams who are looked to as an ideal for a rebuild and they've been building this Stanley Cup contender for quite a while beginning in 2008 when they drafted Steven Stamkos first-overall after finishing tied for last with the Los Angeles Kings that season. The Lightning finished second-last the following season and drafted Victor Hedman second-overall in the 2009 NHL Draft and in two drafts they had their franchise center and a bona fide No. 1 defenseman.

Those two picks were added to a team lead by two Stanley Cup Champions, and probable future Hall of Famers in Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. The Lightning hired Steve Yzerman as their general manager in May, 2010 and after struggling with Rick Tocchet and Guy Boucher behind the bench, Tampa hired Cooper who took over the team late in the 2012-13 season.

The Lightning have drafted well with 11 homegrown players on their present roster ranging from the eldest, Alex Kilorn, drafted in 2007 (77th) to the youngest, Anthony Cirelli in 2015 (72nd.) In all their homegrown picks consist of four first round picks on the roster, two 2nd's, three 3rd's, one 4th and one 6th. And from 2007 to 2013, the Lightning have drafted 15 players who have played in 100 or more NHL games.

Smart drafting (to go along with Stamkos and Hedman) and good trades have lead to playoff appearances in what will end up being four of the last five full seasons under Cooper with a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2015 and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2016.

Although Cooper's words on the Sabres might be construed as some obligatory nod to an overall poor team with some definitive talent who happened to give his team a hard time, there's a lot to look forward to in Sabreland. The Lightning missed the playoffs twice after drafting Stamkos and after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, missed the playoff two more times while they transferred away from their old core with Lecavalier and St. Louis and build around their new one featuring Stamkos and Hedman.

The Sabres have Eichel, and O'Reilly down the middle and be will joined at center in the top-nine next year by either Mittelstadt or Rodrigues who's really starting to find his NHL groove. Sam Reinhart, despite having an awful game last night, is climbing up towards his second-overall draft status while Guhle should help transform the back end. Rasmus Ristolainen should continue being a workhorse status pumping in 40 points from the back end and there are a host of others like Nicolas Baptiste, Justin Bailey, C.J. Smith and Nylander who will have ample opportunity to make the club out of camp.

There's one more game in this terrible season but it looks as if things may be coming together, at least talent-wise. Although there's still a long way to go, there are some positives to take with us into next season.






Saturday, April 7, 2018

Housley gives lines a big shake for Game-81 @ Tampa Bay

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-6-2018


As a team, the Buffalo Sabres have nothing to play for in their final two games of the season. The Sabres secured last place with a 4-2 loss against the Ottawa Senators in their home finale on Wednesday and now finish off the season in Florida with games against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight and the Florida Panthers tomorrow night.

Of note, both Tampa and Florida have something to play for against the Sabres. The Lightning are presently tied with the Boston Bruins atop the Eastern Conference with 110 points and own the tiebreaker. Both teams have two games remaining and winning the conference means the eastern road to the Stanley Cup will go through the city and team who comes out on top. The Panthers are in a struggle to make the playoffs as they presently sit four points out of the final wild card spot in the east. They need to win both games, including one in regulation or overtime, and have the Philadelphia Flyers lose tomorrow afternoon at home against the NY Rangers.

As the Sabres season comes to a close a wave of young players will be on the ice tying to make an impression upon Buffalo's brass. Recently signed Casey Mittelstadt and Wednesday call-up Alexander Nylander joined the likes of Brendan Guhle, Nicolas Baptiste and goalie Linus Ullmark in Buffalo's lineup to close out the season. All save for Mittelstadt will be heading to Rochester  to prepare for the Calder Cup playoffs when they return from Florida.

On Wednesday vs. the Senators, head coach Phil Housley moved some players around in the first period and stuck with the remade lines through the next 30 minutes or so. He moved Mittelstadt from center to left wing on Jack Eichel's line and moved Evan Rodrigues back to center with Nylander on his left wing.

Rodrigues is a fast skater, quick to the puck and always has his feet moving with purpose. Nylander seemed like what Rodrigues was doing and the duo looked pretty comfortable with each other. On the right side of that line was veteran Kyle Okposo.

The move of Mittelstadt to Eichel's wing was interesting as the kid got off to a slow start and looked like he was having a bit of trouble with the move to wing. Having said that, Mittelstadt has the skill, skating, awareness and competitive spirit to play anywhere up-front and one would think that with a little time, the 19 yr. old would be able to adapt to playing wing on Eichel's line. Aged veteran Jason Pominville was on that line and once again proved that he looks every bit the 35 yr. old he is.

The other line in the top nine consisted of a trio that have played together since the beginning of an early-March homestand. Ryan O'Reilly has been centering Sam Reinhart on the right and Scott Wilson on the left and they've been used consistently by Housley over the last four weeks or so.

According to reports from the rink today, Housley mixed things up at the morning skate. Here were the lines:

Wilson-Eichel-Okposo
Nylander-O'Reilly-Reinhart
Rodrigues-Mittelstadt-Pominville
Nolan-Larsson-Baptiste

On defense, Housley continues to mix things up in his top four. Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella were paired recently but he split them up again. Here's the projected d-parings for tonight:

Guhle-Ristolainen
Scandella-Nelson
Beaulieu-Falk

BTW, I love Rick Jeanneret, but according to the media guide Brendan Guhle's last name is pronounced  GOO-lee, not GOO-lay as Jeanneret likes to pronounce it. Somebody please inform him that it's not Brendan Goulet skating out there for Buffalo.

All three goalies--Chad Johnson, Linus Ullmark and Alex Wilcox--were out there for the morning skate and word is that Johnson will get the start.

Game time is slated for 7:30 pm at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The off season is just a weekend away.

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-5-2018


It's a sure sing of spring lately. The Augusta, GA bloom fills the Masters with the joys of spring while the Buffalo Sabres are shining up their golf clubs for yet another early off season. It will be the seventh year in a row that the Sabres have missed the playoffs and it will be the third time in the last five years that Buffalo will finish dead last. Further ignominy lies in the fact, as someone pointed out, that the Sabres will be the first team ever to finish in 31st place as the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league this year.

Having said that, most here felt a sense of "Mission Accomplished" as Buffalo secured last place with a loss vs. the 30th place Ottawa Senators last night. With that loss the Sabres will have an 18.5% chance of winning the lottery and about a 50/50 chance of landing a pick in the top three. Buffalo, like every other team in the league, would have heart palpitations at the thought of landing the first overall pick and being able to draft a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin. Yet even if they drop to second or third, they'll still be able to land an impact player at a position of need as wingers Filip Zadina and Andrei Svechnikov.

At worst the Sabres will be drafting fourth overall meaning one of forward Brady Tkachuk or defenseman Adam Boqvist or Quntin Hughes will be there for the taking. So all is not lost.

However, what's been lost in this season, is a sense of winning and it has to be affecting the players. This is Jack Eichel's third season and the Sabres have regressed to where they were when they drafted him. Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly have been here three seasons, Zemgus Girgensons the last five. In his 31 Thoughts piece for Sportsnet.ca, writer Elliotte Friedman had plenty to say about Buffalo and wrote that he talked to some players with one of them saying, “Look at Rasmus Ristolainen. He’s a really good player. But he’s been here the longest. [Losing is] all he knows.”

Friedman also said he had a long chat with Sabres GM Jason Botterill concerning teams taking advantage of Eichel's on-ice frustrations, to which Botterill replied, “You just want see him have some success. We need to win games. It’s not just Jack’s team. We need to help him. Teammates need to help him. When he is challenged, he responds in a good way. You talk about changing culture. How do you do that? You can’t always just trade for it.

"That’s why it’s so important that Rochester made the playoffs. Those young players are going to understand what it is like to play meaningful games, what it takes to win them.”

The Rochester Americans were a major emphasis for Botterill and his AGM/Amerks GM, Randy Sexton. They basically rebuilt that team from scratch with only a handful of players from the previous season and got them to the playoffs. It's the first time in three seasons Rochester has made the AHL post season.

In building that team, Botterill brought in some veteran with proven track records in scoring and/or leadership. Keving Porter, Zach Redmond (whom Botterill traded for,) Seth Griffith, Sahir Gill and Kyle Criscuolo all have had individual and/or team success at the AHL-level and were brought in to carry much of the weight as the Sabres youngins get a feel for the way Botterill wants to see them play.

Porter is the Amerks' captain and was with Botterill when they were in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.  "He's a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill back on July 1 after signing Porter and a host of other players. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

Two years ago Sullivan took over as coach of the Penguins in mid-season and guided them to the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.

The Sabres just called Porter up from Rochester on Tuesday but he did not dress for Buffalo's home finale', but the media caught up with him today at Key Bank Center. Porter was asked what it means to have a winning team AHL team coupled with a last place NHL team. "There's going to be four, five, six, seven guys from that team coming up here," Porter said in response. "If they're used to losing, it's going to continue up here. But if we can get down there and go on a long playoff run and hopefully win a Calder Cup, that experience for them is going to translate up here."

There will be changes for the Sabres this off season as Botterill fashions his team his way. He took over a Sabres club that seemed more geared towards a Western Conference style of player featuring big bodies and heavies. That didn't work out too well in Buffalo and we've seen first hand that there will need to be a lot of turnover for him to fashion a team based upon speed, quickness, and skill. "We’ll make some changes,” Botterill told Friedman, “because you can’t come back with the same group. We have talent, but we don’t have consistency."


*****

With the off season just around the corner, it looks as if goalie Robin Lehner may have played his last game in Buffalo as he stayed back while his Sabres teammates boarded a plane for Florida where they'll play the last two games of the season. Although it's not official, the pending restricted free agent has not had a great season by any stretch of the imagination and it seems as if Botterill and Co. might be ready to hand the team over to Linus Ullmark.

Lehner played some solid hockey for the Sabres, albeit, rather inconsistent, especially this season. The thing about the 26 yr. old, who was traded for by former GM Tim Murray, is that the team traded the 21st pick in the 2015 NHL Draft for him and there would always be that cloud hanging over him because of it. In many, if not most, fan's minds, trading a first round pick for a goalie is taboo. For the record, the player taken in that spot by the Senators was forward Colin White who has spent most of the past two seasons with the Senators AHL affiliate and has played in 21 games for the big club.

The bottom line with Lehner it just didn't work out in Buffalo. His first year with the Sabres he was injured right off the bat, was resectable upon his return, but finished the season injured. He was the designated No. 1 goalie last season playing in a career most 59 games while putting up solid numbers despite a losing record. Last off season he was an RFA and signed a one-year deal stating that he proved everything he needed to prove in 2016-17.

But this season was a mess for him as he watched his goal-against average go to 3.01 and his save percentage fall to .908. Granted, Lehner didn't get much help, but he just looked awkward on way too many occasions and gave up way too many softies. It might be safe to say that he didn't trust his teammates on defense nor did his teammates really trust him in net.

It would be surprising if Lehner re-signed with Buffalo.


*****

The Sabres have some really good prospects that are moving up the ranks. Center Casey Mittelstadt actually jumped the ranks going from college freshman to the NHL. Where the eighth-overall pick in 2017 lands next year is up in the air, but Botterill told Friedman that he likes Eichel, O'Reilly and Mittelstadt down the middle. I believe there are many in Sabreland, myself included, who like that trio of center.

Botterill also mentioned free agent signee C.J. Smith who leads the Amerks with 17 goals and West Seneca, NY native Sean Malone whom he thinks will “carve out a role here (in Buffalo,) the way he is going.” And, of note, was a quick mention of Victor Olofsson, a 2014 seventh round draft pick (181st) who led the Swedish Hockey League in goals with 27 this past year. Nothing has been heard concerning the signing of the 22 yr. old but Botterill told Friedman, “We’d like to give him a look, see if he can score here with our guys.”

Of those who've gained valuable NHL experience this season, Brendan Guhle and Casey Nelson looked to have carved out a spot on the roster next season as did winger Nicolas Baptiste and forward Evan Rodrigues.

That's seven new, full-time faces for Buffalo next season, not including Ullmark, and possibly another should they land in the top-three of this year's draft and select any of three NHL-ready players.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Battle for the basement as either BUF or OTT will finish last this seaosn

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-4-2018


The title to Bruce Garrioch penned article for the Ottawa Sun pretty much sums it up, "Draft lottery odds on the line as Senators face Sabres." Both teams are assured of finishing no higher than 30th this season with the odds of winning the lottery only slightly different between the two finishes. The odds of the last place team picking first overall has been set at 18.5% by the NHL while the 30th place team has a 13.5% chance.

If five percentage points doesn't seem like a lot, it really isn't. Picks two and three are also up for grabs in the NHL and that's where the odds start getting a little bit better overall for the last place team. According to Tanknation.com, the last place team has a combined 35% chance of picking first or second overall as opposed to 26.5% for the 30th place team. And as we stretch it out, the 31st place team has about a 50/50 chance of landing a top-three pick while the 30th place team has a 38.6% chance of landing it the top-three, a 33.3% chance of picking fourth and a 27.9% chance of landing the fifth overall pick which means they only have a one in three shot of picking top-three.

Since we're on odds and the NHL Draft Lottery, let's give a spin of the wheel at nhllotterysimulator.com  to see what we get this time:

1.  Arizona (presently 28th in the league)
2.  Vancouver (27th)
3.  Florida (18th)

The Buffalo Sabres, who are presently in last place, would be bumped to fourth and the Ottawa Senators, who are second-last, would draft fifth-overall.

It's a unanimous conclusion this year that Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is not only the best player in the draft, but that he's also looked at as a franchise cornerstone. Behind him in the second tier of prospect rankings are two wingers, Filip Zadina and Andrei Svechnikov. There may be a bit of a debate as to whether or not winger Brady Tkachuk is in that second tier with those two but if not, most place him at the top of the third tier very close to them.

What we're not too sure of is the gap between Tkachuk and those behind him in the rankings. Jeff Marek of sportsnet.com sees defenseman Adam Boqvist as the fifth best player writing that Boqvist is "fantastic skater and playmaker who isn’t afraid to shoot. If you don’t end up with Dahlin, getting Boqvist is more than just a consolation prize."

When you're talking about "more than just a consolation prize" in comparison to a player who many have compared to Niklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson, said consolation prize could be a top-pairing defenseman with a high offensive ceiling. It would be very interesting to see what the Sabres would do if they landed fourth and had a decision to make between Tkachuk or Boqvist, the latter of which would fit perfectly into what Sabres head coach Phil Housley likes in a d-man while also filling a position of need in the prospect pool.

The focus tonight, however, is Buffalo's final home game of the season and it happens to be against the 30th place Ottawa Senators. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch to say that neither team will win again this season after tonight. Then again, Buffalo loses in regulation, they'll have secured last place and may actually win one (or maybe even two) of their final games which will be on the road against Tampa on Friday and Florida on Saturday.

Buffalo comes into tonight's game three points behind Ottawa for 30th place icing a team filled with rookies and young players looking to make an impact. The Sabres called up Alexander Nylander from Rochester yesterday and he'll be joining recently signed 19 yr. old Casey Mittelstadt in the lineup. Both were selected eighth overall in their respective drafts--Nylander in 2016 and Mittelstadt last year.

According to the Sabres, Mittelstadt was centering the third line with Nylander on his left and veteran Kyle Okposo on his right. The other lines were:

Rodrigues-Eichel-Pominville
Wilson-O'Reilly-Reinhart
Nolan-Larsson-Baptiste

Interesting to note that Housley moved Evan Rodrigues on to Jack Eichel's line this game. The two played at Boston University together in 2015 and lead the Terriers to the NCAA Championship game that year. Eichel lead D-1 Men's Hockey in scoring that season with 71 points while Rodrigues was second with 61. Housley also kept intact the Ryan O'Reilly line with Scott Wilson on his left and Sam Reinhart on his right.

Perhaps that's what the top-nine will look like next season (sans Jason Pominville) and the Sabres are just giving their fans a little preview.

Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella have been back toghether as the Sabres top-pair on defense and that's where they'll be again. Rookies Brendan Guhle and Casey Nelson look to be on the second pairing while Nathan Beaulieu and Justin Falk round out the defense-corps.

It looks like Chad Johnson will be in net for Buffalo.


*****

Tonight is Fan Appreciation Night in Buffalo as the Sabres play their final home game of the 2017-18 season and they're in a bit of a dilemma. As mentioned earlier, a regulation loss would guarantee a last place finish but it is Fan Appreciation Night, in which one might think that the Sabres would want to close out the home portion of the schedule with a win.

Housley was on WGR550 radio this morning for his weekly appearance and brought up putting forth a good effort for the home fans. "This game tonight is really meaningful in a lot of ways," Housley told hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White. "One, we haven't really been very good at home, and number two, we've got to leave the Buffalo people with a good feeling after this game and three, it's Fan Appreciation Night.

"So we're going to look at this game as very meaningful and important game," continued Housley, "and we want to send the right message as our last game (of the season) comes to an end here in Buffalo."

It probably doesn't matter too much to many (most?) Sabres fans whether they win or lose at this point in the season, even with an assured fourth-place league finish on the line. Those in Sabreland have been yearning for good hockey all season and have gotten very little of that from a team that has a league-worst 11-24-5 home record.

The time for playing meaningful games for the fans was early in the season and this edition of the Sabres was awful through the 2017 portion of the season (5-10-2) while being outscored by a combined 51-34 margin. It's been even worse in 2018 but most fans had already packed it in and showed their emotion by generally displaying apathy at the morgue known as KeyBank Center.

However, as dismal as this year has been, there will be some good talent on display tonight wearing the Blue and Gold and it's a glimpse into what next year might have to offer.

Hopefully fans can at least appreciate that.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats Leaders--March

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-2-2018


March was the month Sam Reinhart for the Buffalo Sabres. The 2014 second overall pick pretty much owned the month with 14 points (9+5) in 14 games punctuating that performance with a hat trick on the road vs. the league-leading Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Reinhart, who had been forgotten about since the drafting of Jack Eichel and was nearing "bust" status for some early in the season, has put it all together and matched his career high in goals and points with that performance against the Preds.

Other than that, Ryan O'Reilly continued his consistent numbers by posting a four-goal month to reach 20 goals for the third straight season in Buffalo and is now at 57 points on the season which is the fifth year in a row that he'll have reached 55 points or more.

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen lead the team with eight assists on the month and with one more point in the last four games will hit the 40 point mark for the third straight season while Eichel's five assist night at Nashville propelled him to career highs in assists and points.

It was an inconsistent month for the Sabres as they finished with a 5-8-1 record for the month with a 3-2-0 road record with both of those losses being blowouts. They were awful at home going 2-6-1 and lost by three or more goals all six times including being shut out twice. In all the Sabres were outscored by a 52-33 which reeked havoc on individual plus/minus stats.

Benoit Pouliot lead the team in plus/minus with a plus one and was the only player on the team who appeared in seven or more games to be even or above. Behind him was Jason Pominville and Evan Rodrigues at minus-2 each. At the bottom of the team plus/minus stats was forward Scott Wilson who clocked in at a minus-9 followed by Eichel, Reinhart and defenseman Casey Nelson all of whom were a minus-8.

The goaltending was very poor for the most part although Chad Johnson managed a 4-3-0 mark for the month. However, the Sabres backup saw his goals-against average climb to 3.35 while his save percentage stayed the same at a very sub-par .896. Starter Robin Lehner had only one win on the month and saw his goals-against rise above three goals/game for the first time in his three seasons playing for the Sabres. And for him, that's how it might end as the 26 yr. old may have played his last game in Buffalo.

In March we also saw Pominville rise from the dead. The 35 yr. old veteran winger who is on his second tour in Buffalo got off to a hot start for the Sabres with 12 points (6+6) in his first 12 games. But, from November through February Pominville scored only 12 points (4+8) in his next 52 games while watching his plus/minus plummet from a plus-3 to a minus-15. Last month he managed three goals and four assists with all of those assists being of the primary variety and was one of the 'better' players as he only incurred a minus-2 rating for the month.

There are four more games left in the 2017-18 season. Tonight the Sabres play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center and Tuesday they finish the home portion of their program with a game against the 30th place Ottawa Senators. After that they close out the season in Florida with back-to-back against the Florida Panthers on Friday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.




Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats leaders:


Points

--October: Pominville, Kane, Eichel, 12; O'Reilly, 8
--November: Kane, 11; Okposo, 9; O'Reilly, 8
--December: Eichel, 16; Kane, 11; O'Reilly, 8
--January: Eichel, 14; Okposo, 12; Ristolainen, 11
--February: O'Reilly, 12; Reinhart, 10; Ristolainen, Rodrigues , 9
--March:  Reinhart, 14;  O'Reilly, 11;  Eichel, 9


 Goals

--October: Pominville, Kane, 6; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--November: Kane, 6; Pouliot, 4; Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, 3
--December: Eichel, 8; Kane, Okposo, 3; six with 2
--January: Eichel, Reinhart, 5; O'Reilly, 4; Okposo, 3
--February: O'Reilly, 5; Kane, Reinhart, Rodrigues, Wilson, 4; (three with 3)
--March:  Reinhart, 9;  O'Reilly, 4;  Eichel, Pominville, 3


 Powerplay Goals

--October: O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Kane, Reinhart, 1
--November: O'Reilly, Pouliot, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--December: Eichel, Kane, Pominville, Rodrigues, 1
--January: O'Reilly, Reinhart, 3; Okposo, 2
--February: O'Reilly, 4; Eichel, Kane, Pominville, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--March:  Reinhart, 5;  O'Reilly, 3;  Pominville, Okposo, 1


Assists

--October: Eichel, 8 Pominville, Kane, 6
--November: Okposo, 6; Kane, O'Reilly, 5
--December: Eichel, Kane, 8; O'Reilly, 6; Scandella, 5
--January: Eichel, Okposo, Ristolainen, 9; O'Reilly, 6
--February: O'Reilly, 7; Reinhart, Okposo, Ristolainen, 6
--March: Ristolainen, 8;  O'Reilly, 7;  Eichel, 6


 Powerplay Assists

--October: Kane, Ristolainen, 2; six players with 1
--November: Kane, 3; Okposo, 2; three players with 1
--December: Eichel, Ristolainen, 2; Kane, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--January: Eichel, 7; Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 4
--February: Ristolainen, 6; Okposo, 5; O'Reilly, 3
--March:  Eichel, Ristolainen, 5;  O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, Rodrigues 2;     


 Primary Assists

--October: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Beaulieu, 2
--November: Eichel, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, 3; four players with 2
--December: Eichel, Kane, O'Reilly, 5; Scandella, 3; McCabe, 2
--January: Okposo, 7; Eichel, O'Reilly, Ristolainen, Scandella, 3
--February: O'Reilly, 6; Reinhart, 5; Okposo, Larsson, Nelson, 3
--March:  Ristolainen, 6;  O'Reilly, 5;  Pominville, 4


 Plus/Minus

--October: Pominville, +3; Girgensons, Gorges, +1; Pouliot, even
--November: Reinhart, Nolan, Scandella, Antipin, even; Kane, Griffith, Gorges, -1
--December: O'Reilly, +2; Girgensons, Wilson, +1; Larsson, McCabe, even
--January: O'Reilly, +2, Ristolainen, Scandella, McCabe, even
--February: Scandella, +4; Pouliot, Reinhart, Nelson, +3; O'Reilly, +2
--March:  Pouliot, +1;  Pominville, Rodrigues, -2;  Ristolainen, Beaulieu, -3


 Plus/Minus (Bottom)

--October: O'Reilly, -9; Reinhart, -8; Okposo, -7
--November: O'Reilly, Larsson, -8; McCabe, -7; Beaulieu, -6
--December: Kane, Pominville, -7; Ristolainen, -6; Rodrigues, -5
--January: Girgensons, -7; Eichel, Beaulieu, Falk, -6
--February: Okposo, -10; Ristolainen, -6; Larsson, Wilson, Beaulieu, Antipin, -3
--March:  Wilson, -9;  Eichel, Reinhart, Nelson, -8;  O'Reilly, Larsson, Scandella, Falk -6


 Goalies (composite)

Robin Lehner
--October: 4-2-1; 2.78 GAA; .911 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November: 5-11-2; 2.92; . 906, 1
--December: 9-14-5; 2.74; .915; 1
--January: 11-19-6; 2.85; .912; 3
--February: 13-23-8; 2.95; .910; 3
--March:  14-26-9;  3.01;  .908;  3

 Chad Johnson
--October: 1-3-1; 4.06 GAA; .879 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 1-4-2; 3.59; .885; 0
--December: 1-6-3; 3.78; .881; 0
--January: 2-8-3; 3.64; .884; 0
--February: 6-10-3; 3.18; .896; 0
--March:  10-13-3;  3.35; .896; 0

Linus Ullmark
--January: 1-0-0; 1.00 GAA; .978 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--March:  1-2-2;  2.00;  .935;  0