Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A look back at the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres season--October

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 8-6-2018

There was a strong sense of optimism pulsating through Sabreland as new general manager and new head coach took the reigns of the Buffalo Sabres. After three-plus years under GM Tim Murray and only two years under his head coach, Dan Bylsma, the Sabres were moving in the wrong direction and the new regime seemed to have the proper plan to right things.

Botterill had spent nearly 10 years in a Pittsburgh Penguins organization that went on to win three Stanley Cups during his time there. Housley came from the Nashville Predators organization which saw him coach the most dangerous defense in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. Those two met in the Cup Finals that season with the Pens coming out on top.

You want optimism in Sabreland? You can't ask for much more than that as owners Terry and Kim Pegula plucked two of the brightest up-and-comers the National Hockey League had to offer.

In saying that, however, it's best to keep in mind that Botterill and Housley would be entering the 2017-18 season as a first-time GM and coach, respectively, and the trouble that the Sabres were going through deep and varied.

Was it too much for those two rookies to handle? A devastating start to the season and a last place finish might indicate the answer was, yes.


The season started out fairly well despite an opening night shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Was it any surprise that the Sabres lost in the shootout? Not really, as starting goalie Robin Lehner extended his losing streak in the shootout to seven games since coming to Buffalo in a trade. The good news is that he took a step forward as Montreal's Paul Byron missed his shootout attempt. Prior to that the opposition had scored on eight consecutive shootout attempts covering all four of Lehner's shootout losses the prior season.

Regardless of the shootout doom and gloom, the Sabres played a nice game against the Canadiens pouring 45 shots on net and getting two goal from 34 yr. old Jason Pominville who returned to Buffalo after Botterill traded for him and defenseman Marcon Scandella on June 30, 2017.

Buffalo travelled to Brooklyn with plenty of optimism heading into a road tilt with the NY Islanders. But that game fell to pieces as the Isles extended a 1-0 lead with a three-goal barrage in a 1:47 span that sent Lehner to the showers. The first two came :50 seconds apart with Buffalo on the powerplay with the third Islanders goal coming seconds after their powerplay ended. It was the second game in a row the Sabres gave up a shorthanded goal.

Evander Kane single-handedly kept the game within reach as he scored two short-handed goals of his own later in the second period, but the damage was done.

If you thought that was a bad game, the Sabres returned home to take on the new and improved New Jersey Devils for a Kids Day matinee game at KeyBank Center. It was a debacle that should have had many of the parents shielding their children's eyes as it turned into a massacre. That 6-2 bludgeoning completely changed the way the Sabres would approach the rest of the season.

Housley did not have the personnel to play the style he wanted nor did his adjustments to the league's best powerplay help in any of those three games. The team was a train wreck skating around as if they forgot how to play the game while the powerplay went 2/11 and allowed four short-handed goals.

Probably the best thing for the Sabres would be for them to get away from it all and they did so with four-game western swing. To give you an idea as to how bad it was, defenseman Josh Gorges was inserted into the lineup to help stabilize things. Gorges' talent-level wasn't the reason he was inserted into the lineup for the first time, but his play as a veteran defensive-defenseman added one element of stability on a team that was scatterbrained.

The Sabres played much better in back-to-back losses to San Jose (3-2) and the LA Kings (4-2) and got Housley's first win as a professional head coach in Anaheim as rookie Justin Bailey, Sam Reinhart and Johan Larsson all scored their first goals of the year and backup goalie Chad Johnson lead the Sabres to a 3-1 win over the Ducks.

(Reinhart's game-winner vs. Anaheim via Sabres.com)

Buffalo would follow their first win of the season with another strong performance in their first-ever visit to Las Vegas but lost 5-4 in overtime against the Golden Knights. They would finish the month of October with back-to-back wins at Boston (5-4, OT) and at home against Detroit (1-0) surrounded by three losses to give them a 3-7-2 record for the month. October proved to be a harbinger of just how difficult the season would be.

Kane and the rejuvenated Pominville would lead the Sabres in goals (6 each) while the duo and Jack Eichel lead the team with 12 points each. On the opposite end of the spectrum the Sabres individual woes were found in the bottom-three plus minus players:  Ryan O'Reilly (-9)  Sam Reinhart (-8) and Kyle Okposo (-7). The trio scored a combined for eight points at even strength (2+6) and were on the ice for a combined six shorthanded goals (minus-12 total) and three empty-net goals against (minus-6 total.)

As a team they were in the bottom half of the league, or near the bottom, of every statistical category save for the penalty kill which was 11th in the league at 82.5%. The powerplay juggernaut that lead the league last season sunk to 23rd with a 14.3% conversion rate.

After reveling in the excitement of a new season with a new GM and coach and a new direction, the Sabres put up a number of clunkers in October leaving fans to ask for the license plate of the car that just hit 'em. And it wouldn't get much better the following month.

For Buffalo's 2017-18 team stats for October click here and for their individual October stats click here.

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