Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Calgary in town after win in T.O. Some line movement and, the Rasmi tonight?

Published by, 10-30-2018

The Calgary Flames are coming off of a stunning 3-1 victory in Toronto over the Maple Leafs. Calgary went into the game having won only once in their previous five games and were winless in their last three which includes an embarrassing 9-1 loss at home vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins where they got booed off of the ice. Two nights later they were able to right the ship somewhat in a 4-3 SO loss to the Washington Capitals before heading east to take on Toronto last night.

Calgary held the high-powered Leafs scoreless through two periods and they entered the third in a 0-0 tie before scoring two goals :35 seconds apart. Toronto closed the gap late in the third period before the Flames iced their 3-1 win with an empty-netter.

Tonight's matchup with the Sabres, on a back-to-back for Calgary, represents the end of a very interesting schedule as of late. The Flames finished a three-game road trip to Nashville, St. Louis and Colorado with two home games before heading east to visit the NY Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens. They then headed back to Calgary for two more games (PIT and WSH,) before heading back east to face Toronto last night and Buffalo tonight. As the Flames bounced between the Mountain and Eastern time zones the NHL afforded them only one night off between those seven games and they have them finishing this stretch on a back-to-back.

In all the Flames will have played eight games in 14 days making three flights covering the time zones. "It’s a bit of a weird schedule.” defenseman Mark Giordano told Luke Fox of Sportsnet. "We’re on this one for four or six games usually."

There's no easy win in the NHL and any team thinking that way will almost assuredly come out on the losing end. But when you look at the travel that had the Flames crisscrossing much of the continent over the last 12 days the Sabres, who are coming off of two days between games, should have a winnable game in front of them if they continue to play the way they have as of late, sans the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.


Western Conference teams are accustomed to travel, although that Calgary schedule seems unusually difficult, with Fox pointing out that the Flames are slated to travel a league-high 84,882 kilometers (52,743 miles) while the Sabres of the Eastern Conference will have one of the lightest travel schedules at 51,915 (32,258.)

Fox also points out that the figure above does not include the Flames preseason travel to China, where they played split-squad games against the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.


Sabres bench-boss Phil Housley made some tweaks to his linuep. Housley did not touch a red-hot top line of Jack Eichel centering Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville nor did he mess with a very consistent checking line of Johan Larsson centering Zemgus Girgensons and Patrik Berglund. Since he put those lines together Buffalo is 3-0-1. Eichel, Skinner and Pominville have combined for 23 points (9+14) and are a cumulative +15. Larsson, Girgensons and Berglund have four points during that stretch, (1+3,) are a combined +5 and have given the opposition fits with their fierce forecheck.

With both of those lines doing their jobs well, Housley went about switching his centers moving Casey Mittelstadt between Conor Sheary and Sam Reinhart while Vladimir Sobotka centers Tage Thompson and Kyle Okposo.

Housley told the gathered media yesterday after practice that he didn't think Mittelstadt and Thompson were clicking during their last game against Columbus so he flipped the centers. It looks as if that will carry over into tonight's game as Housley is "just trying to find the right balance."

Thompson was back in the lineup against the Blue Jackets while forward Evan Rodrigues was out for the birth of his new son, Grayson.


Housley also said that defenseman Jake McCabe will be a game-time decision tonight and is considered day-to-day right now with an upper-body injury. The 25 yr. old McCabe has been hot as of late with seven points (1+6) and a plus-4 while logging solid top-four minutes, most recently on the top-pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

With him most likely out for tonight's game, Housley juggled his d-pairings. Nathan Beaulieu, who would replace McCabe in the lineup, is back in a familiar spot as he's on the third pairing with Casey Nelson, whom he started the season with. Marco Scandella and Zach Bogosian will continue to anchor the second-pairing while rookie Rasmus Dahlin gets the move up to the top pairing.

The Sabres have been easing Dahlin into the NHL game by putting him mostly in the bottom-four but it looks as if he and Ristolainen will form a much anticipated "pairing of the Rasmi." It's a left/right d-combo featuring two European players who can move the puck and get up into the play, especially Dahlin who's skating is unmatched amongst Sabres (and most NHL) defensemen.

Game time is 7 pm tonight.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sabres looking to match red-hot Amerks in Oct wins. Plus, notes

Published by, 10-29-2018

The Buffalo Sabres are off to a very good 6-4-1 start so far and compared to last year's 3-6-2 record at this point it's a great start.

Buffalo went into Columbus on Saturday night looking to extend a three-game winning streak but left Nationwide Arena with a loser point, which was no small feat considering the Sabres went into the third period down by two goals. After playing a solid first period and leading 2-1, things opened up and unfortunately for Buffalo the Blue Jackets had the transition and the firepower to pot three goal and leave the period with a 4-2 lead.

Credit to the Sabres, however as they came back with goals by Jason Pominville off a nice backhand feed from Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt who scored his first of the season on the powerplay. Buffalo went into the overtime session with Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Ristolainen on the ice, lost the faceoff and found themselves in their own zone. Ristolainen temporarily stripped the puck away along the wall but the Jackets got it back and Artemi Panarin found himself alone in the right circle and he smoked it past Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark. Panarin finished the night with 2 goals and an assist.

On the game-winner head coach Phil Housley told the gathered media afterward that his players "did all the right things there" in being aggressive to get the puck, but that "we didn't make that next play." Housley was pleased that his team was able to come back from a two-goal deficit but he did point to that second period where things got out of hand. "We were way too loose," said the coach. "We're not going to win a lot of hockey games playing like that. We know that and it's one thing we can take forward here. We'll learn from the mistakes we made, obviously, but we've got to take credit where credit's due and I think we did a terrific job battling back on the road to get a point."

The Sabres have been playing come-from-behind hockey in the last three games and they've managed five of a possible six points. Which is great that they've been able to find that will to not give up. The good point, according to Housley, is that when his team has faced adversity, "they've looked it right in the eye." But he did say that they can't keep finding themselves in those situations or "it will bite us in the you-know-what."

Buffalo has six wins this season, which is worlds ahead of last season when they didn't get their sixth win until their 23rd game on November 24. They would finish the opening two months of the 2017-18 season with a 6-15-4 record which pretty much set the tone for their last place finish.

With one more win the Sabres will match the Rochester Americans who have seven wins for the first time since 2014-15 when they went 7-1-0 in October. Rochester has been on a red-hot lately garnering 15 of a possible 16 points while on an eight-game point-streak and their 7-2-1 record has them atop the AHL's North Division.

That '14/15 team was lead by names like Phil Varone, Tim Schaller and Johan Larsson up front while Andrei Makarov, Jeff Hackett and Nathan Lieuwen were in net.


Even though the Sabres winning streak was broken on Saturday night, they're still on a four-game point-streak and will be looking to extend it to five games against the Calgary Flames tomorrow night.

Buffalo hasn't had a five-game win-streak since the 2011-12 season when they posted a 7-0-2 mark from March 10-27.

Most of those seasons betwixt and between were littered with one or two ('16/17) four-game streaks and there was the 2013-14 season when they had none, but their best season in that regard was 2015-16, Eichel's first year, when they had five streaks like that.


Although Eichel hasn't been scoring goals lately, he has been a force on the ice and has been setting up his team mates with six assists in his last four games, with three of them of the primary variety and one beautiful no-look backhand that sprung Pominville and Skinner for a 2-on-1 break in Anaheim where Skinner finished.

Speaking of Skinner, he's been on a tear with five goals and four assists ever since Housley put him and Pominville on the top line with Eichel four games ago. Pominville hasn't exactly been chopped liver either as he's scored four goals and added four assists and the entire line has a combined plus-15 rating in those games.


The Amerks have three of the top four scorers in the AHL right now. Victor Olofsson leads the league with 15 points (5+10) while defenseman Zach Redmond is tied for second (Varone) with 14 points (6+8.) Defenseman Lawrence Pilut is fourth with 13 points (2+11.)


And, finally. Ullmark spent two full seasons in Rochester paying his dues and was the Amerks team MVP those two before moving up to Buffalo. Those who follow the Amerks have mentioned that he has a unique way of approaching his post-game interviews.

In the video below via, the 25 yr. old Swede, like he's done in the past, will ask for clarification when needed and also points out that the question as asked is actually the answer. He seems as locked in post-game as he is in game and his shy demeanor has a way of hiding just how sharp he is.

He's thoughtful, concise and well-spoken and it's refreshing.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Three in a row is officially a winning streak. Four in a row is...

Published by, 10-27-2018

… something the Buffalo Sabres haven't done since December 15, 2014.

WGR550's Brayton J. Wilson unearthed that to make it easy on all of us and he also pointed out that the Sabres went on to lose 17 of the next 19 games (1-17-1), including a franchise record 14 in a row which started in late December and covered the entire month of January.

The 2014-15 season of the McEichel sweepstakes and at the time of the Sabres four-game win-streak they had a 13-16-2 record, which was rather respectable for the team they were icing on a nightly basis, and sat tied for 22nd in the league with 28 points (yes, you read that right.) By the end of January and their dubious losing streak the Sabres were dead last in the league with 31 points, six points behind the second-last place Edmonton Oilers.

Ironically enough it was the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team Buffalo faces tonight, who put a nail in the coffin of that ignominious season when they defeated the Sabres in the second-last game of the season. The loss secured last place for the Sabres and a shot at drafting either Connor McDavid or Jacek Eichel in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

The Reader's Digest version of what transpired in the nearly four-year interim includes two coaching changes and many trades by a general manager who built at team not suited for either the conference or the modern NHL. Their regression in year-two of the emergence from the tank caused GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma to get fired. It took a full season for new GM Jason Botterill separate his vision from that of his predecessor which included another last place finish. Fortunately for him it allowed for Lady Luck to finally shine down upon the Sabres as the lottery balls fell their way and they won the rights to draft franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

After three seasons wandering in the wilderness, the Sabres seem to have found some traction as they're two games above .500 with a 6-4-0 record and look the part of a team on the rise.

Tonight the Sabres face a Blue Jackets team that has had the upper hand against them. Buffalo is 4-6-0 vs. Columbus in it's last 10 games, 4-6-0 on the road, but the Sabres have only managed a 2-4-0 record the last two seasons.

Odds are that Sabres head coach Phil Housley won't fix what isn't broken so we can expect the same lineup to hit the ice tonight barring any unforeseen injury news on Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Conor Sheary. The trio did not skate at yesterday's practice with Housley saying it was a "maintenance day" for them. Buffalo's probable lineup for tonight:

Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Jason Pominville
Conor Sheary - Vladimir Sobotka - Sam Reinhart
Evan Rodrigues - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo
Patrik Berglund - Johan Larsson - Zemgus Girgensons

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen
Marco Scandella - Zach Bogosian
Rasmus Dahlin - Casey Nelson

Word from the rink is that goalie Linus Ullmark will get the start in net. Ullmark was one of three Buffalo goalies to face the Jackets last season (Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson) and was the only one to come away with a win as he stopped 44 of 45 shots in their 3-1 win at Columbus.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Building confidence

Published by hockeybuzz, 10-26-2018

First the Sabres soundly defeated an Los Angeles Kings team on the road and followed it up with a come-from-behind win at Anaheim against the Ducks to finish their five-game road trip 3-2-0. Then  Buffalo came home to face a Montreal Canadiens team that was 4-0-1 in their last five games, 5-1-2 on the season, with the dreaded "game after a long road trip" looming large.

The Sabres welcome home with huge patches of red Canadiens sweaters in the lower bowl cheering for the opposition and they also falling behind a mere 77 seconds into the game which certainly put a damper on things to start. However, they kept battling back. Buffalo was down by a goal on three separate occasions but managed to tie it before Kyle Okposo rang one in off the post late in the third for the 4-3 victory.

Despite having to play come-from-behind hockey with the bleu, blanc, et rouge singing Ole', Ole', the famous taunt of Canadiens fans in Montreal, this Sabres team showed some intestinal fortitude and didn't let it bother them. “Last year, we probably would’ve got in our shell and wouldn’t have had a pushback, a fightback,” said 35 yr. old Jason Pominville to the gathered media. Pominville has three goals and three assists since head coach Phil Housley put him on the top line and it seems as if he's rediscovered his 20's since joining Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.

The "shell" Pominville mentioned actually goes back a lot farther than last year. In fact there were signs of that dubious distinction 10 or so years ago dating back to his first tour in Buffalo. Rarely when facing difficult circumstances could various editions of the Sabres find it within themselves to overcome adversity. And when they did, it usually didn't last.

It's still way too early in the season to say that this group of players will be any different, but there are some indications that they're heading that way. Eichel is an intense captain who can dominate all three zones and he's got a fight within him that's beginning to really surface in a leadership role. Although he hasn't scored a goal in seven games, he's still drawing the attention of the opposition allowing his linemates to capitalize on their opportunities and the last three games both Skinner (4 goals, 3 assists) and Pominville have been the beneficiaries.

Perhaps a good indication as to the different mindset of this Sabres team lately is the three game-tying goals they scored. Both of Pominville's goals, and the one by Sam Reinhart, his first of the season, were scored with a strong net-front presence. Reinhart's in particular stood out as he really paid the price for it. The 22 yr. old took a hit well before his goal and took another shot just after he finished the play.

The video from begins with Reinhart getting up from one knee just outside the crease then repositioning himself for the tip before getting leveled. What it didn't show was the shot he took from Habs goalie Annti Niemi to the groin area that sent him to his knees. It was Reinhart's first goal of the season and the all-out effort he put in showed as he winced in celebration before skating to the bench gassed.

The Sabres are playing very well right now as shown in their passing, skating and stickhandling, all of which have been great as of late. Add that to some strong support all over the ice and you see a team that has managed to get the ice tilted in their favor for long stretches. And that includes last night when they dominated the third period while outshooting Montreal 15-4. The Sabres hit the teens every period vs. Montreal nearly doubling the Canadiens shots on goal 42-22.

This is a Sabres team is beginning to feel it right now and they're playing with some confidence. “Even if we fall down in a game like tonight, 3-2 late, you don’t see a change in us," said defenseman Jake McCabe post game. "That’s something that’s been a big difference from past years that I’ve been here."

“We just played the same way," added Okposo, who scored the game-winner on the powerplay. "That’s all we did. Sometimes you’re going to lose, but if you just keep playing the same way and not trying to take things into your own hands, you are going to have more success. We stuck to the game plan.”

It's a reciprocal confidence between players and coaches with the players buying into the system and the coaches finding a way to put their players in a position to succeed within their roles. Okposo had been taken off the top powerplay unit when Housley made his sweeping changes three games ago but was back on the ice last night with the Sabres on the powerplay down by one with just over a minute to go. He sent a shot from the slot off the post and in for the game-winner. Of note, Pominville provided the net-front presence.

It's a confidence that's stretching down to the fourth line as well. The trio of two prior healthy scratches, Johan Larsson and Patrik Berglund, along with the much maligned Zemgus Girgensons have been playing lights out in their checking role. Housley has had them on the ice late in the game to protect a one-goal lead the past two games. Last night that trio was on the ice protecting the lead along with defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and McCabe. All but Berglund have been with the Sabres dating back to the tank seasons with Girgensons being the longest continuously tenured Sabres player on the team. All four have been through the worst of what Buffalo hockey had to offer but they wre out there protecting the lead and they got the job done for the second game in a row.

Perhaps the best part of last night was Okposo's goal and the on-ice celebration afterwards. When the shot rang in the players on the ice felt the rush of finally breaking through and taking the lead. Their arms went up and you got the feeling that Okposo's goal would stand as the game-winner (here's the vid from

Confidence. What a weird feeling.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Can the Sabres get on a little roll?

Published by, 10-25-2018

A couple of the many "if's" included in our 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres preview centered around avoiding prolonged slumps and going on runs. Nine games into the season Buffalo has managed to stay away from a prolonged losing streak and banged out a couple of wins in a row twice. It's led to a 5-4-0 record in October, their best showing to start the month since going 5-1-0 at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

The last two seasons the Sabres have not been able to avoid a rut in the opening month. Last year they lost four in a row after a shootout loss in the season opener and two seasons ago Buffalo split the first two games before going on a four-game winless streak (0-2-2.) Those early holes proved difficult to emerge from especially when their longest winning streak during that time was three games (once in 2017-18, three times in 2016-17) and their longest point streak was four games (once in '17-'18, thrice in '16-'17.) Add it all up and situations like that either won't get you to a playoff spot or, like last year, contains all the earmarks of a last place finish.

The prospect of Buffalo sliding into a three-game losing streak was a distinct possibility in California as they had lost two consecutive games (VGK and SJS) and were headed to Los Angeles for the fourth game of a five-game road trip. The Sabres avoided that with a convincing 5-1 win over the Kings then followed that up with a gritty come-from-behind win over the Anaheim Ducks the following night. They finished the trip with a 3-2-0 record and face division rival Montreal tonight as they host the Canadiens at KeyBank Center.

Teams coming off of a long road trip don't typically do very well upon returning home. Over the last three seasons when Buffalo was on a road trip of three games or more involving most or all teams west of the Mississippi, the Sabres are 2-6-1 in their first game back home. And not only do the Sabres have that to contend with that, but they've also had a lot of trouble with Montreal as of late. Buffalo is 2-5-3 over their last 10 vs. Les Habitants, according to Sabres PR, and only 3-4-3 at home.

The Sabres should be coming back with a lot of confidence as they managed to play two very strong games to finish their Pacific Division swing. Head coach Phil Housley juggled his lineup prior to the Kings game and he'll probably stick with that winning formula. His top line of Jack Eichel centering Jeff Skinner on the left and Sam Reinhart on the right has been dominant. Skinner had four goals in those two games, including a hat trick against LA and the entire line was good for 13 points (5+8) and a plus-14 rating.

Housley and assistant coach Steve Smith also have their defense-corps clicking. Six Sabres defenseman have netted a goal but Housley also was quick to point out yesterday to the gathered media, "I think a lot of this has to do with the forwards going to the net front and taking the goalie's eyes away."

Carter Hutton looks to get the nod in goal for Buffalo and has had four starts against the Canadiens. Sabres PR has him posting a 1-0-2 record with a .949 save percentage and a 1.37 goals-against average.

The Sabres head to Columbus after tonight's game for a Saturday night tilt against the Blue Jackets.

Housley likes the way his skaters played in SoCal plus Bogosian and other notes

Published by, 10-24-2018

Phil Housley is one of many in a long line of Buffalo Sabres head coaches dating back to Lindy Ruff that has been talking about (sometimes pleading for,) his skaters to play as a five-man unit in all three zones. Unfortunately for the team, it hasn't happened very often.

After losing to the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo headed to Southern California for the final two games of a season-long five-game road trip. The Sharks game was a disaster in that the Sabres just couldn't stay out of the penalty box and it cost them dearly in a 5-1 loss. But something clicked for the Sabres after Housley blew apart his entire lineup and powerplay units. The result was a convincing 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings and a 4-2 come from behind win over the Anaheim Ducks.

"Our execution was very high in both of those games," said Housley on WGR550 radio yesterday, "but it's five guys coming back together to help each other. It's the forwards getting in the way of the opposition when they're trying to forecheck and buying time for the [defense] and those little plays of five to 10-foot passes coming out of our zone."

The Sabres looked like a completely different team in those to games as Housley's skaters provided support all over the ice, but especially in their own end. "It just seems like when we're a block of five back there and we get the easy exit, we have this push up ice," he continued. "When we're not connected and our forwards are up too high, there's no support coming back into our zone.

"We're trying to transition quickly, and when you have good puck movement and everything's on the tape and crisp, it seems like we're a faster team and we execute that way."

Now that they've seen the positive results from playing the game the right way, their next task will be to do it consistently. The Sabres aren't an uber-young team thanks to a number of vets in the lineup, but their core, their future driving force, is very young. Includes 21 yr. old captain Jack Eichel, 18 yr. old defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 19 yr. old center Casey Mittelstadt and 22 yr. old forward Sam Reinhart and like nearly every player, they'll have bouts of inconsistent play.

The Sabres play a very fast, albeit small, team in the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night and they'll need to stick to their guns, even if it means having difficulty scoring against Carey Price, one of the best goalies in the league.


Buffalo got a bit of a schedule break when the league gave them three days off between the end of their road trip and their next game tomorrow night. Teams always have issues their first game back after a long trip and hopefully the Sabres won't have that problem.

After a day away from the rinks on Monday, Buffalo hit the ice at HarborCenter with some drill work led by former Sabres forward Matt Ellis who runs the Academy of Hockey. Said Housley to the gathered media yesterday, “It was good to have Matt Ellis and his crew out there today, sort of unlocking the bodies, doing a little skills session. Coming back from that road trip, it was a good time in our schedule that they could work on some skills.”

Today it's back to regular practice and according to reports from the rink, Housley hasn't made any changes to a lineup that's 2-0 and has played some excellent hockey. However, according to The Buffalo News' Rachel Lenzi, Housley wasn't very happy with how they were practicing and she tweeted, "Sounds like Sabres coach Phil Housley isn’t pleased with the pace in drills so far this morning. Had some, ah, choice words."

Good for Housley trying to nip this in the bud.


Defenseman Zach Bogosian has been getting a lot of love after joining the team for the final four games of the Sabres recent road trip. Bogosian had hip surgery in January and recovered but had a setback at camp and the team kept him out of the lineup for precautionary reasons.

The 28 yr. old veteran d-man has had a ton of injury problems but when he's on the ice he adds a strong presence and some gritty play. "I think he brings a physical element," said Housley yesterday about Bogosian. "I'm not talking about just dropping your gloves, I'm talking about being hard to play against in front of our net and in the corners. But I like his offensive side of the game. He can jump in the play, he reads the play well defensively, his passing's really good.

"Also, his experience in the room. Guys, when he speaks, they listen. He's done a terrific job since he's been back in the lineup."

Bogosian's stat line through three games:  1 goal, 1 assist and a plus-3 rating in an average of 16:0 per game. He's also been in three fights which matches a career high, according to However, the 6'3" 226 lb. d-man is adamant that he's not looking to do that. "I'm not looking to do it all the time," he said to the media. "It's just kind of spur-of-the-moment. Sticking up for yourself, your teammates is kind of what I've always done my entire career, how I look at it. … I'm not looking to fight every night. I want to play some hockey. I can help out while I'm on the ice."

His presence on the ice is not lost on fellow d-man Nathan Beaulieu either.

You love it," Beaulieu said. "The way he boxes guys out and gets in shots lanes - I remember I used to hate playing against him because as a D-man, you're always trying to get it past that winger to get it on net and trying not to worry about the second layer, but he's always there.

"I mean, this guy will throw his face in front of a puck if he needs to. It's great to see him being back and having fun and playing hockey. It's been a long road for him, so it's great to see him have a smile on his face."

Let's hope Bogosian doesn't throw his face in front of a puck as it would be nice to see him play some 60+ games or so this season for the first time in three years. Then again, with a team-leading 15 blocked shots...

We'll just leave it at that.


Speaking of Beaulieu, an injury caused him to miss the last two games and because of the way the team has been playing, he may have a little more time to recover.

With Beaulieu out and Housley juggling everything with his lineup defenseman Casey Nelson was put in and he's been paired with Dahlin. The duo, like the rest of the team, has played pretty well so it might be a bit before Beaulieu gets back into the lineup.


Eight players got off the schneid and scored their first goals of the season on the five-game/10-day road trip:

Dahlin, Jeff Skinner (ARI)
Vladimir Sobotka (VGK)
Jake McCabe (SJS)
Bogosian (LAK)
Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Patrik Berglund (ANA)

Eight players are without a goal right now and three are without a point--Nelson and forward Tage Thompson, who've played in seven games so far and forward Remi Elie who's played in three.

Six of Buffalo's seven defensemen have scored a goal this season, with Nelson the odd man out. Last season no Sabres defenseman scored until McCabe did so on December 5.

Skinner followed up his first goal as a Sabres by scoring the hat trick against Los Angeles and added another in Anaheim. His five goals leads the team.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Sabres save collective Buffalo sports psyche with SoCal sweep

Published by, 10-22-2018

Some three hours prior to the Sabres hitting the ice in Anaheim, the Buffalo sports scene was in yet another dire place as the airwaves and social media were wrought with anguish over their football team. The Bills, a centerpiece of "One Buffalo," got crushed in a way that usually scars the collective Western New York sports psyche for days and with the Sabres playing that night the prospect of them being a saving grace in the nightcap ended up as fool's gold way more often than not.

For the three or so hours between games one got the impression there was sense heightened security at the Peace Bridge with fans just ready to call it quits on their football team and also at One Bills Drive with the staff on the lookout for torches and pitchforks. A 37-5 thrashing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts will do that to a fan base, especially with their beloved 2-5 Bills having to face the hated New England Patriots at home on national television next week.

As the angst of the evening subsided and fans settled into watch the game between the Sabres and the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center, that sinking feeling came on again as Buffalo fell into a 2-0 hole just over half-way through the game. There were some familiar themes running through the first 33 minutes as the Sabres found themselves in a hole despite playing some real good hockey. However, once again it didn't seem as if they couldn't get a puck past a hot goalie.

The goalie in net for the Ducks was also familiar. Ryan Miller had spent his first 10 1/2 seasons playing for the team that drafted him before settling into a journeyman's role that now finds him in southern California. As we've seen in the past, when Miller is on his game he's very difficult to beat and after the Ducks went up 2-0 it prompted one media member to tweet that we'd seen this movie many times before--Miller will pitch a shutout until the closing minutes or seconds before allowing one goal in a win. When you add in that the Sabres were playing their final game of a five-game Pacific Division road trip against the 5-2-1 Ducks and that they've had trouble beating a hot goalie for years, perhaps stretching to over a decade, that sinking feeling was starting to set in despite the Sabres playing some real strong hockey.

However, instead of wilting like they'd done so many times before, the Sabres kept their feet moving and eventually broke through on the powerplay just two-and-a-half minutes after the Ducks took a 2-0 lead. They then proceeded to tied the score just a minute-and-a-half later. Buffalo popped in another powerplay goal early in the third and finished Anaheim off with an empty-netter for the 4-2 win. Both powerplay goals came from the second unit as two players, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen, both scored their first of the season with Ristolainen becoming the sixth Buffalo defenseman to score a goal this season. Jeff Skinner scored the game-tying goal with his fourth in two games and Patrick Berglund, who'd been a healthy scratch two games prior score is first of the year into an empty net.

There was a lot going on in last night's victory and that includes the goaltending. Anaheim's second goal came after the Sabres had spent a good chunk of time in the Ducks zone. A couple of Buffalo players got caught up ice and Anaheim turned it back the other way. Casey Mittelstadt did all he could to force the play to the outside but a fluttering wrister from the face off dot got by Sabres goalie Carter Hutton. Other than that, Hutton was stellar as were his skaters, especially in the final seconds as they thwarted a strong Anaheim push with Miller pulled. Just prior to Berglund's goal, forward Johan Larsson, who'd been a healthy scratch prior to this weekend, swept away a puck that was on it's way into the net.

Captain Jack Eichel, who's continual on-ice f-bombs have punctuated his frustrations, really seems to be finding his legs as both a leader and a producer. Although he only had a secondary assist last night, it was a beauty as he slung a sharp, no-look backhand pass that sent linemates Jason Pominville and Skinner up-ice on a 2-on-1.

It was Eichel's fourth point in two games. Skinner has been on a tear this road trip scoring his first goal as a Sabre in Arizona and coming away from this five-game road trip with five goals and a plus-8 rating. Pominville had been on the fourth line but with some line-juggling ended up with Eichel and Skinner. The 35 yr. old finished the weekend with a goal and three assists.

A tip of the cap to head coach Phil Housley who gave his lines and powerplay units a huge shake up prior to the weekend. That Eichel/Skinner/Pominville line totaled 13 points (5+8) and a whopping +14 plus-minus rating in the two games they've been together while single-handedly leading the Sabres to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. Pominville opened the scoring in LA, Skinner got the hat trick and Eichel had three assists. All at even strength.

Although Housley's top powerplay unit failed to score over the weekend, they looked real good and did everything but during their two games together so far. The second unit also looked great and potted two last night. The first one was a double tic-tac-toe that started at the point and shifted down low with Sam Reinhart feeding a wide open Okposo on the weak side. Perfect execution.

The second one was a bomb from the point by Ristolainen with Reinhart screening Miller.

Buffalo won in two different ways over the weekend as they bombed LA 5-1 forcing the reeling Kings into a closed door meeting afterwards. Yes, you read that right, the Sabres forced a closed door meeting for the opposition. Although this Kings team is no where near their former Stanley Cup selves of a few years back, they're still big and will lay a body on you. The Sabres faced a fast Anaheim team that is hard on the forecheck and challenge you to beat their goalies. Although their forecheck was overwhelming at times, Buffalo had support all over the ice and if there were breakdowns, Hutton came through when he could (save for that one goal.) Buffalo swept through southern California with two wins for the first time since 2003.

There were many things to be thrilled with over the weekend when it came to the Sabres--the PK unit came up big last night and the back-to-back wins have the Sabres above .500 again. Individuals like defensemen Zach Bogosian and McCabe handled the physical aspect of things, a fourth line of Larsson, Berglund and Zemgus Girgensons were impressive on the forecheck and backup goalie Linus Ullmark's strong play were all strong contributors to a very good weekend for the Buffalo Sabres.

But perhaps the biggest thing wasn't even felt on the ice. The Sabres win last night (and their southern California sweep) eased the pain of the Bills debacle against Indianapolis bringing some desperately needed sanity to the Buffalo sports scene. As one local radio personality tweeted last night after the win, "Thank you sabres. I'm in a better mood as I go to sleep...Was afraid to close my eyes for fear of seeing Bills Colts plays in my dreams."

Monday, October 22, 2018

Housley desperate for some offense, gives Sabres lineup a big shake

Published by, 10-20-2018

The Buffalo Sabres have scored one goal in each of the last two games and, not surprisingly, they lost both of them. Buffalo has also been skunked on the powerplay in those losses going a combined 0/11. In fact the Sabres have not scored a powerplay goal in any of their 20 powerplays in their four losses on the season.

Something wasn't right and head coach Phil Housley went about trying to fix it before their 3:30 ET game today against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. "We talked about making decisions on a day-to-day, game-by-game basis," the coach said to the gathered media after yesterday afternoon's practice. "Obviously we didn't get the results so we've got to make some decisions and try and put some new lines together today to see the chemistry. I thought we had a real good practice today."

Housley moved left wing Jeff Skinner back to the Jack Eichel line, which is where he started the season, and move veteran Jason Pominville all the way up to the first line from the fourth line. He kept veteran Kyle Okposo on rookie Casey Mittelstadt's right wing and moved forward Evan Rodrigues up from his fourth-line center position to play on Mittelstadt's left. The top-six looked like this:

Skinner - Eichel - Pominville
Rodrigues - Mittelstadt - Okposo

Left wing Conor Sheary started out on the second line this season before getting three games on the top line next to Eichel. He was moved to the third line which is being centered by Vladimir Sobotka who's been moved all over the lineup and had played both center and wing. Sam Reinhart had been on Eichel's right side but was dropped down to third-line right wing.

Veteran Patrick Berglund was a healthy scratch last game and looks to be back in the lineup as Buffalo's fourth-line right wing. Johan Larsson, who's been a healthy scratch for the past three games after playing in one game since returning from injury, is centering the Sabres fourth line while Zemgus Girgensons continues in his fourth-line left wing role.

Buffalo's bottom six from yesterday:

Sheary - Sobotka - Reinhart
Girgensons - Larsson - Berglund

Forward Tage Thompson looks to be a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Although he's shown spurts of playing well, Thompson's been unable to hit the scoresheet despite ample time in the top-nine while also getting time on the second powerplay unit.

Speaking of the power(less)play, Housley shook that up as well as he moved everyone off of the top unit except for Eichel. For today the top powerplay unit looks to be:

Eichel, Skinner, Mittelstadt, Pominville and Dahlin.

The second unit is Sheary, Reinhart, Okposo, Rodrigues and Ristolainen.

After losing the last two games by a combined 9-2 score, Housley wasn't fooling around when shaking things up. Eichel and Sheary lead the club with three goals each with seven other players behind them at a goal each and there are only three forwards in that group--Skinner, Pominville and Sobotka.

The bright spot of the group of seven above is that four defensemen have already scored their first goals of the season--Marco Scandella, Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe and Nathan Beaulieu--which is great considering no Sabres defenseman lit the lamp last season until McCabe did son on December 5.

Speaking of the defense, Housley mixed up that group as well. He put the left-handed McCabe up on the top-pairing with the right-handed Rasmus Ristolainen and moved Scandella down to the second pair where he was joined by Casey Nelson. Dahlin was working on the third pair yesterday with forward Remi Elie while d-men Beaulieu and Zach Bogosian sat on the sidelines with injuries.

Word from the rink in Los Angeles is that Linus Ullmark will get the start in net for the Sabres.


The Sabres will be facing a Kings team that might be in a particularly ornery mood. After starting out 2-1-1 to start the season, Los Angeles has dropped it's last three games in a row and have been outscored 16-4 in those games. The Kings finished off a four-game road trip (1-3) and proceeded to get smoked 7-2 by the Carolina Hurricanes at home.

However, they should take heart in knowing that they've dominated the Sabres at home as of late. Buffalo is a mere 2-7-1 in their last 10 against the Kings and haven't won in Southern California since October 23, 2003, according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News.

Last season the Kings won both games by an identical 4-2 score. The first meeting was in Los Angeles with the loss dropping the Sabres to 0-4-1 to start the season. The second meeting was in Buffalo in February and it was so bad for the Sabres that GM Jason Botterill toppled a nacho bar in disgust.

The last time Buffalo defeated Los Angeles was December 13, 2016 when the Sabres stormed back from a 2-0 deficit with four unanswered goals in a 6-3 win. Eichel scored a pair of goals in that game while a trio of Sabres who are no longer with the team--Ryan O'Reilly, Brian Gionta and Evander Kane--also scored.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Not a lot of time to fix all of the ills

Published by, 10-19-2018

The Sabres have a practice scheduled for 4:30 pm ET today and it will be the last one before they play back-to-back games in Southern California this weekend. Buffalo plays the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 ET and will finish their five-game road trip on Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. After a shutout against the Arizona Coyotes to start their season-long trip, the Sabres have dropped the last two games by a combined 9-2 score.

There were very few bright spots in those two losses against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday and the San Jose Sharks last night. One of them was goalie Carter Hutton who was just short of brilliant in net despite giving up seven goals on 66 shots against. Sure the .894 save percentage doesn't look like much, but when you look at the tape, things could have been a lot worse.

One of the big problems haunting the Sabres right now, obviously, is scoring. The Sabres have dropped to a familiar spot in the rankings as their 1.86 goals/game ranks second-last in the league (ARI.) In three of the past five years, including last season, Buffalo has finished at the bottom of the league in scoring and once again they find themselves near the bottom of the league.Whether you're looking at the analytics or having this futility burned into your skull using the eye-test, the results are the same. Buffalo can't score 5v5, nor can they score on the powerplay.

Even strength scoring has been a problem for years and it looked as if Sabres GM Jason Botterill added enough skill to at least move the scoring needle for his team. It has moved at times but their four losses have been brutal as Buffalo has scored three goals in those games with the powerplay literally non-existent in those losses.

In 2016-17 the Sabres boasted the best powerplay in the league (24.5%) but last season it faltered, especially at the beginning of the season when the PP took a dive to 30th in the league in November and December. Buffalo managed to finish 22nd in the league at an 18/3% conversion rate but most of that headway came in the second half when the season was pretty much over.

This season began with a 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins. Buffalo went 0/2 on the powerplay. In their next three losses the Sabres scored one goal in each game going 0/7 in a 6-1 loss vs. Colorado, 0/6 in a 4-1 loss at Vegas and 0/5 in a 5-1 loss last night at San Jose. Add it all up and the Sabres have scored zero powerplay goals on 20 opportunities in their four losses.

There was dreadful special teams play on the penalty kill last night as well. The Sabres came into the game having killed 15/20 penalties and their 75% kill-rate ranked them tied for 19th in the league. Not great, but not abysmal either and they were facing a Sharks team that had converted only two of 21 powerplay opportunities (9.5%.) Last night San Jose scored on their first two opportunities courtesy of a double-minor and finished the night 3/7. Buffalo's generosity in giving the Sharks powerplay opportunities was only exceeded by their PK units which for some reason allowed San Jose players to leisurely camp in front of Hutton.

Buffalo seemed to correct one of their problems from Vegas as they came out against San Jose with a sense of urgency. That was quickly dashed as they were put on the defensive when veteran Kyle Okposo went the penalty box 1:45 into the game. It was the beginning of a long night for Okposo who may have had his worst game as a Sabre. The stat-line of six penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating in 8:28 of even-strength ice time was bad enough, but he looked lost and/or indecisive much of the night on the Sabres first powerplay unit as well.

Okposo wasn't the only one as there were many individual culprits, but one of the big set backs to taking penalties, in addition to giving the team a powerplay, is that defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is kept pinned to the bench because he's not on the kill. At only 18 yrs. old Dahlin is already showing why he's considered a franchise defenseman. And he does it with all the little things he does using the tremendous skills he has and playing the game with the poise of a veteran.

With the way the powerplay has struggled, Housley may be forced to make changes to it and one of those would likely be to get Dahlin on that top unit. Captain Jack Eichel can create a lot of space and handle the puck extremely well but in last night's contest he was double-teamed constantly and didn't receive much help from the rest of his unit. Ristolainen and Okposo man the points but they don't seem to put fear into the opposition to relieve the pressure. Dahlin's vision, skating and passing ability, especially opposite Eichel on the right point, might be just enough to open up the ice and get this powerplay going.

Other than that, those in Sabreland shouldn't expect too many changes this weekend unless an overabundance of injuries are involved. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu took a shot to the arm in the third period last night, struggled for a bit while finishing his shift and didn't return. Sabres d-man Zach Bogosian blocked eight shots last night including one that really stung, but he was well enough to rumble at the final buzzer. And, for those expecting Buffalo to fly Rochester Americans forward Victor Olofsson or fellow winger Alexander Nylander to the west coast to help the Sabres scoring woes, it's best not to get your hopes up. Any movements like that will probably take place when Buffalo returns home next week, if it happens at all.

Can the Sabres rectify all the issues they have in one Friday afternoon practice? If they can at least work on their special teams, maybe by working in Dahlin on the powerplay, that would help. As a team that's struggling mightily any positive would help their confidence. The Sabres have some skilled players, more than they had last season, but it takes more than just adding skill to turn around a last place team. The ills that begot the Sabres last season are creeping into their game this season and Buffalo's No. 1 priority should be to do everything in their power to keep this thing from getting out of hand.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Which Sabres team will show up tonight @ San Jose? Plus, pipeline notes

Published by, 10-18-2018

The Buffalo Sabres are 3-3-0 in 2018-19 and it's good, especially for a team that finished dead last in the NHL last season. Within that record is a trio of wins that were solid and losses that were lopsided. Buffalo's wins were against the NY Rangers (3-1,) Vegas Golden Knights (4-2) and Arizona Coyotes (3-0.) The combined record of those three teams is 6-12-1 and their goal differential is a minus-18. The Sabres three losses were against the Boston Bruins (0-4,) Colorado Avalanche (1-6) and Golden Knights (1-4.) Their combined record is 10-7-2 and their goal differential is a plus-7.

It's not hard to figure out that in this shortened season the Sabres have been able to defeat lesser teams, or in Vegas' case a team not playing well on the road, but have had a lot of trouble with the better teams including the Golden Knights at home.

The faults we've seen in this year's edition of the Sabres is disparaging in that we've generally been seeing the same things happen for a few years now. Some of that includes getting off to slow starts and falling behind, poor passing and the inability to beat good goaltending or finish their chances. They been had difficulties with a strong forecheck and are unable and/or unwilling to go to the greasy areas of the ice when facing a collapsing defense.

"We've got to make sure our execution has to be ready when the puck drops," coach Phil Housley told the media yesterday. "Not 10 minutes into the game or at the end of the first period. The way we attack the game. Especially entering the offensive zone, getting more pucks to the net and more people there, stopping and paying a price to score some goals.

Sometimes it seems as if it's a systemic issue whereas the coaching staff is seemingly unable to make any adjustments. Other times it seems as if some (many?) individual players would rather cheat up-ice or play on the perimeter and let someone else do the dirty work. Most times it seems as if it's a combination and when they play a team like Boston or Vegas that are both strong on the forecheck, quick to the puck and collapse in the defensive zone while waiting to counterpunch on the break, it turns into an easy win for the opposition.

There's a predictability to the Sabres and we've been seeing that on the powerplay as well. It's a tale of two powerplays as Buffalo is a combined 4/9 with the man advantage in their three wins and 0/15 in their three losses which includes and 0/7 effort against the Avalanche and 0/6 last game against Vegas. Buffalo's powerplay centers around Jack Eichel where he's in the right circle ready for a one-timer or working a triangle with a man below the line and one in the slot. When neither is working, it doesn't seem as if they can generate much in the way of opportunity.

The Sabres are in the midst of a season-long, five-game road trip that continues in San Jose, CA tonight with a visit to the Shark Tank, which is one of the toughest arenas to play in. The Sharks made some moves dating back to last season's trade deadline that have many seeing them as a Stanley Cup contender. San Jose traded for Sabres winger Evander Kane at the 2018 NHL trade deadline and he helped them reach the second round of the playoffs before the upstart Golden Knights won defeated them in six games.

In the off season the Sharks added to an already solid blueline featuring former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns by trading for Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, a Norris winner himself.

San Jose is off to a slow start and head into tonight's contest with a 2-3-1 record and will be returning home after a five-game road trip. The Sharks went 2-2-1 on the trip outscoring their opponents 15-14, although eight of those goals came in one game (Philadelphia.)

The Sabres are a surprising 6-3-1 in their last 10 games vs. the Sharks and what's even more interesting is that they won all four contests while in the throes of their tank years from 2013-15. The "Eichel-era" Sabres so far have gone 2-3-1 against San Jose with their last win coming at home in overtime on February 7, 2017. Buffalo lost both contests last season by the identical 3-2 score.

It's anybody's guess which Sabres team will show up tonight.


Some notes:

--Buffalo enters tonight's game with 12 goals-for which ties them with the Florida Panthers for 26th in the league while their 2.00 goals/game ranks them 28th. They're also tied for 28th in 5v5 goals with six.

--One person not having much of a problem scoring goals is Victor Olofsson. Unfortunately for the Sabres he's in Rochester playing for the Amerks right now. The former seventh round pick (2014, 181st-overall) is second in the league with five goals while his 12 points leads the AHL. Olofsson was named the AHL player of the week for last week.

--After a rough start where they dropped back-to-back home games to begin the season, the Amerks are on a roll. Rochester is on a four-game winning streak scoring 18 goals in those games. Olofsson scored all five of his goals during that streak, defenseman Zach Redmond has lit the lamp four times with winger Alexander Nylander (2016, eighth) scoring twice. Olofsson leads the league with 12 points, Redmond is fifth with 10 and Nylander comes in tied for 10th with seven points.

--Amerks defenseman Lawrence Pilut, a Buffalo 2018 free agent signing, is tied for second in the AHL with 10 points (2+8) and has a plus-7 rating.

--In addition to Olofsson, Nylander and Pilut, all younger players looking to take the next step and have an impact at the NHL level, the Sabres pipeline is getting stronger. Goalie Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen was named OHL player of the week to start the season. Luukkonen won all five of his starts, had a 1.78 GAA and a .944 sv% during that stretch. Although he's cooled off a bit for the Sudbury Wolves, the 2017 second round pick (54th) is looking pretty strong after opting for the Canadian Hockey League over playing in his native Finland.

--Another player who made the move to the CHL was center Matej Pekar. The 18 yr. old Czech native had been in the USHL last season and it looked as if he'd be there again before entering college, but he made the move to the Barrie Colts, also of the OHL and has been playing great. Pekar has 11 points (6+5) in 11 games and was just signed to his entry-level deal by the Sabres.

--Barrie's head coach, Dale Hawerchuk, is a NHL Hockey Hall of Famer that played for the Sabres and he, loves the way the kid plays the game. "He's a gamer all the time," Hawerchuk told the press. "He lives and breathes the game."  It's not unlike what we heard from Pekar's coaches at Muskegon. His former coach John LaFontaine called him "an ultimate team player" with "a passion and work ethic that's off the charts. Lumberjacks assistant coach Mike Hamilton called him a "phenomenal young man."

There's more to Pekar than that and for a profile piece on him click here for part one and here for part two.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Viva Las Vegas! Zach Bogosian set to return

Published by, 10-16-2018

Game-2 of Buffalo's season-long five-game road trip is tonight in Las Vegas as the Sabres take on the Golden Knights for the second time in just over a week. Buffalo defeated the Golden Knights last Monday and can sweep the season series with a win tonight. Last year in their inaugural season Vegas won both games against the Sabres in overtime.

According to the Sabres twitter page this looks to be Buffalo's lineup for tonight's 10:30 pm ET matchup:

Conor Sheary-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner-Casey Mittelstadt-Kyle Okposo
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Tage Thompson
Zemgus Girgensons-Evan Rodrigues-Jason Pominville

Head coach Phil Housley didn't mess with a winning formula from the previous game as he kept all of his lines intact which includes Mittelstadt centering Skinner and Okposo.

The top four of Rasmus Ristolainen-Marco Scandella and Rasmus Dahlin-Jake McCabe remain intact but the Sabres made room for a returning Zach Bogosian by sitting Casey Nelson.

Bogosian has been out since January and returns to the lineup after recovering from elective hip surgery. The 28 yr. old Bogosian has had an injury-plagued career ever since playing an 81-game season in 2009-10 for the Atlanta Thrashers, the team that drafted him third-overall in 2008. In the five next five seasons playing for the Thrashers and the Winnipeg Jets after Atlanta moved there as well as his first partial season in Buffalo after getting traded, Bogosian played in 286 of a possible 376 game or 76%. The last three seasons things have gotten progressively worse as Bogosian played in 64, 56 and 18 games, respectively, beginning in 2015-16 for a total of 138 games or only 56% of a possible 246 games.

Despite his injury woes, Housley still has respect for the defenseman and showed that by naming him an associate captain, and the coach said that respect is strong in the locker room. The guys really like him and really respect him,” Housley told the gathered media the other day. “That goes a long way. I like the job that he’s done with our younger guys, making them feel comfortable and part of our team. He’s a really good mentor.”

The right-handed Bogosian joins the left handed Nathan Beaulieu on Buffalo's third pairing. Buffalo heads into tonight's contest with a 3-2-0 record and is tied for ninth in the league with a 2.60 goals-against average which is worlds above their third-worst 3.39 GAA last season.

Goalie Carter Hutton had been an anchor in net before getting a day off against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night. Linus Ullmark got the start and with the help of his skaters, proceeded to pitch his first-ever NHL shutout with a 3-0 win. In a not to a defined starter/backup hierarchy right now, Housley is said to be going back to Hutton in net tonight. The 32 yr. old is 2-2-0 this season with a 3.06 GAA and .912 Sv%.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Some firsts for a few Sabres and some Amerks making a push

Published by, 10-15-2018

The Buffalo Sabres are on the road for the next week playing four more games in six nights beginning tomorrow with a visit to Las Vegas. The Sabres kicked off their five game trip out west with a pretty strong 3-0 shutout win over an Arizona Coyotes team that's really struggling so far. Through their first four games (including the Buffalo loss) the 'Yotes are 1-3-0 and were shutout in all three losses.

Buffalo did a lot of good things in their win against Arizona Saturday night. They pressured the Coyotes early and got a goal just 2:26 into the game as Rasmus Dahlin scored his first career NHL goal by sneaking between three Arizona players in the slot and depositing the rebound off of a Jeff Skinner drive to the net. Skinner was exceptional on that play as he streaked in and drew all the attention while Dahlin followed the play and lifted the stick of an unsuspecting Brad Richardson before burying the rebound.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Carter Hutton and some words of wisdom, plus the "SHOOT!!!" people

Published by, 10-12-18

GM Jason Botterill and the Buffalo Sabres may have found themselves a real gem in goaltender Carter Hutton. Although he may not be the second coming of Martin Brodeur or go on a late-bloomer run to the Stanley Cup like Tim Thomas did, what Hutton is bringing to the Sabres both on and off the ice is worth mentioning...again.

Hutton came to the Sabres after a pretty strong performance in a backup role for the St. Louis Blues and was ready for his shot as a starter. But he also knew that there were other responsibilities as well, like being helping his new team transition from cellar-dweller and taking the heat off of rookie Linus Ullmark.

"I think my role is to come in here, step in, play well and help the team win hockey games," said the 32 yr. old to the gathered media after his signing. What's been expressed to me is I think they kind of want me to protect [Ullmark] in the sense that this is going to be a big year for him. Playing full-time in the NHL is a lot different than playing full-time in the AHL. I just think they don't want to make any mistakes rushing him. They know he's their guy in the future and they have a lot of faith in him."

Botterill said at the time of the signing that his scouts focused on Hutton in free agency and they really liked what they saw. "What we've learned about Carter," said Botterill, "is he has the confidence in the No. 1 role and also has a history of working with young goalies.

"We think it's a great fit."

What we in Sabreland have learned about Hutton after four games is that he's a real calming presence both on and off the ice.

Hutton is a great puckhandler for a goalie and that aspect eases some of the burden on the defensemen heading back for the puck. With a league built on speed and pressure, the opposition forecheck can be a nightmare for defenseman. However, with Hutton back there handling the puck, it's almost as if there was another skater there already and instead of a defenseman starting the play on or beneath the goal line, Hutton is already there looking for an outlet pass or dump-off. He's already told his defensemen to let him handle things when the situation calls for it and they've obliged. The results are consistent breakouts from the back-end the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.

Off the ice Hutton is a calming voice of reason regardless of the outcome. After the Sabres got spanked by the Boston Bruins by a 4-0 score at home and were booed of off the ice. When asked by the media if it was difficult not to over react to a game like that, Hutton said matter-of-factly, "For me it's pretty easy. It is what it is. Whether we lost 10-0 or 1-0 it's just one game. We've got to move on and take what we can from it."

The Sabres proceeded to win the next two games before dropping their second of the season last night 6-1 to the Colorado Avalanche and the general vibe was that they may have taken things a little for granted, according to head coach Phil Housley. He told the gathered media last night that his team should have "a good, valuable lesson to learn (from) last night" and that he still has a team that's "learning to win."

Good points.

The Sabres have been in the dumps so long, most recently a last place finish In 2017-18, that winning and maintaining that winning attitude is still somewhat foreign. Forward Kyle Okposo said last night that they "just weren't ready to go" while Hutton said that it might be "just one of those things where maybe we get a little too comfortable at home."

Hutton, who was with a 46-win St. Louis Blues team that advanced to the second round of the 2018 NHL playoffs, also mentioned "the grind of winning" saying that "it's not anything that's easy to do" and that they must learn to embrace it."

Buffalo is on the road for a season-long five-game road trip beginning in Arizona tomorrow night followed by trips to Las Vegas (the 16th,) San Jose (18th,) Los Angeles (20th) and Anaheim (25th.) Facing off against the one-win Coyotes would be a good way to hopefully start learning to win again.


It took a while for the Sabres to get their feet underneath them last night but when they did they started playing much better and got back into the game.

Midway through the second period the second line of Patrik Berglund, Jeff Skinner and Okposo got a nice cycle going in the Avalanche zone that lasted over 1:30. After the puck left the Colorado zone Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Conor Sheary, along with defensemen Jake McCabe and Rasmus Dahlin got it going again for over a minute.

That quintet were using every inch of the offensive zone trying to create space against a real solid defensive-five for the 'Lanche. The cycle was beautiful to watch as the Sabres did everything they could to get a good shot off and looked every bit in control. I could have watched it a lot longer as it's something we haven't really seen often.

Unfortunately at KeyBank Center a vociferous portion of the 15,000-plus were getting anxious and they displayed their impatience and displeasure with what was transpiring by yelling "SHOOOOOOOTTTTT!!!!"

McCabe eventually got a shot off from the slot that was just wide of the net.

If people pay money to go to a game, they can pretty much act as they choose as long as it's not offensive or causing physical harm.

People yelling "SHOOOOOOOTTTT!!!!" at that point with the beauty that was the Sabres cycle seemed rather offensive to me. Nobody in the Sabres organization will say it, nor will anyone in the Buffalo media mention it, but it should be said. Having money to go to a game, or spending that money to go to the game doesn't make one an expert on what should be done in any given situation.

At-me all you want, but that just wasn't warranted.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Can the Sabres make it three in a row?

Published by, 10-11-2018

Phase-1:  Win one game.

The Buffalo Sabres accomplished that in their second game of the season after dropping their season opener 4-0 at home.

Phase-2:  Get above .500

The Sabres hadn't been over the .500 mark since January 2013 when Lindy Ruff was the head coach and Darcy Regier their GM. After 2083 days, 458 games, three GM's five coaches, two tank seasons and a partridge caught under an overturned nacho table, Buffalo was finally able to accomplish that feat with a matinee win over the visiting Vegas Golden Knights. They're now 2-1.

Phase-3:  Go for three in a row.

Last season the Sabres never won more than three games in a row and they did so only once. Buffalo was on a western Canada road trip from January 22-25 and proceeded to defeat the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, the latter two teams by a combined 9-0 score with Robin Lehner pitching back-to-back shutouts.

Buffalo heads into tonight's matchup with a very talented Colorado Avalanche team looking for the three-game winning streak but also looking to continued success at home. Three wins at home is over 25% more than the 11 home wins they had last season adding up to an incredibly inept 11-25-5 record and enough boos to last well into the next decade.

This edition of the Sabres looks like a different team with an up-tempo style, good defense and very, very good goaltending. Head coach Phil Housley has four lines he can roll and defensemen who can get the puck to the forwards. And, finally after years of hearing about five-men-as-a-unit defensive responsibilities, they've actually looked like they're taking it to heart.

With two wins in a row, Housley is changing very little. The top-six and the fourth line are the same with the "big" change coming at left wing on the second line. Forward Johan Larsson, who'd been out with an injury, will make his season debut as Casey Mittelstadt's left wing on the third line. Here's the probable line combos for tonight:

43 Conor Sheary - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 10 Patrik Berglund - 21 Kyle Okposo
22 Johan Larsson - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville

Housley's blueline looks to be the same as well:

Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Rasmus Dahlin
Nathan Beaulieu-Casey Nelson

And, the coach will be going with the hot hand in net as Carter Hutton and his 2.06 goals-against average and .943 save percentage will be manning the crease again.

Mittelstadt's left wing has been a bit of a revolving door as he's had Vladimir Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons and, now Larsson over there. All three players can carry a heavy defensive load for that line as well as take defensive draws. Although Mittelstadt has yet to score a goal this season, Housley told the gathered media he likes what he sees from the rookie in the defensive zone.

"He's been terrific," said Housley of Mittelstadt's defensive play. "He's coming back, watching his shifts with the coaches. He's really worked on that part of his game. He's made some steps in that area, coming back and supporting down low in the defensive zone. His reads are really good."

 Colorado also has a 2-1 record.

From Housley and team captain Jack Eichel on down, a quick start to the season was said to be an essential component to success. Tonight represents a good opportunity for the Sabres to get on a roll before they head out for a season-long five-game road trip out west.

Win this one and we can go on to Phase-4.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What a strange feeling after a winning weekend.

Published by, 10-9-2018

My notepad for yesterday's matinee between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Buffalo Sabres didn't have a lot written in it. Which is a good thing.

First off, the Sabres played a game that didn't warrant a lot of notes and the ones that did make it in are all of the positive variety. And when you look at their overall game, the passing and playmaking was so good that the highlights and the final score give a pretty good indication as to just how well Buffalo played yesterday.

The Sabres 4-2 win over Vegas featured leads of 2-0 and 4-1 for Buffalo before the Golden Knights made things a bit interesting with a goal midway through the third period. It also featured a solid transition game and team defense which made watching the game fun for a change. Add that onto a 35-save performance from goalie Carter Hutton and you have a lot of smiles emanating from the Sabres locker room afterwards.

For Sabres fans it was a fun game to watch. The crowd at KeyBank Center has been dying to roar for years and over the past two games the Sabres have given them something to roar about. From Conor Sheary's two goals on Saturday to captain Jack Eichel's two goals yesterday, the roar of excitement displaced years of booing at KeyBank Center.

Yesterday's win also put an end to a six-game winless streak of Kid's Day games under GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley dating back to last year. Whereas last season parents had to cover their children's eyes while wondering why they'd ever submit them to the nightmare unfolding on the ice, this season's schedule of six Kid's Day games began with a good, solid win yesterday.

The win over Vegas came on One Buffalo Day, as designated by Mayor Byron Brown three years ago to celebrate the Pegula's purchase of the Buffalo Bills on October 8, 2015. Terry and Kim Pegula had owned the Sabres and their purchase of the Bills made for a nice One Buffalo package. On Sunday their Bills came back home after a tough, two-game road trip where they went 1-1 and proceeded to defeat the Tennessee Titans on a field goal as time expired.

That One Buffalo win came on the heels of a 3-1 win by the Sabres over the Rangers on Saturday and just for good measure, another Buffalo team, the Beauts of the NWHL, pitched an afternoon shutout on the road in their season-opening win.

Four games, four wins.

It's a strange feeling to come off of a holiday weekend and not go over what went wrong in losses although there's been plenty of back and forth arguing about how the Bills won. Sure, it wasn't a pretty football win as they won with a little old fashioned Ground Chuck offense backed by some strong and opportunistic play on defense. Yet from the end of the game until now, there've been yammerings as to a poor offensive showing and how that style isn't sustainable in today's NFL. The Bills are in the midst of a brutal opening to the season where they play five of their first seven games on the road and just came off of games at Minnesota and at Green Bay. I'm of the opinion that a win's a win, especially for both the Sabres and Bills at this stage of their team developments

As for the Sabres, they played a strong game yesterday in many facets and despite allowing 37 shots on goal they looked like they were in control for large chunks of the game. Their breakouts were particularly strong, they played with speed and got to the puck fast. There was puck support all over the ice and they buried their opportunities, most notably in the second period when they scored three goals on their first three shots and ended up with on only five shots the entire period. They also looked very calm with the puck yesterday, waiting for the play to unfold instead of forcing the issue.

After a horrid season-opening shutout loss at home against the Boston Bruins, the Sabres came back and won two in a row to put them over the .500 mark for the first time since January, 2013. The NHL was coming out of the lockout that year and into a shortenened 48-game season. Lindy Ruff was behind the bench in what would be his final days coaching the Sabres. Ruff and his charges got off to a 2-0 start then lost a home-and-home January 24-25 to the Carolina Hurricanes that would drop them to .500 hockey and they wouldn't surpass that mark until 2,083 days had passed with 458 games played.

This was the opening night lineup for Buffalo that season:

Thomas Vanek-Cody Hodgson-Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno-Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford
Jochen Hecht-Mikhail Grigorenko-Steve Ott
Patrick Kaleta-Matt Ellis-John Scott

Robyn Regehr-Tyler Myers
Jordan Leopold-Andrej Sekera
Christian Ehrhoff-Alexander Sulzer

Ryan Miller

The Sabres are now on their fifth coach since then and are on their third general manager. Since dropping to .500 that January, the Sabres have a 156-230-53 record finishing last in the league three of those five seasons.

So if things fell a little strange for you this fine Tuesday, know that you're not alone. The sense of optimism permeating Sabreland right now, isn't the norm at this time of year and when you have a winning weekend like Buffalonians just had, it's good to feel that way.

Just roll with it.


Some notes on yesterday's game

--It was good to see Buffalo's fourth line come through with a goal. The trio of Evan Rodrigues flanked by Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville have been the Sabres most consistent line in these first three games. All the zone-time and cycling they'd done finally paid off as Pominville took a feed from Rodrigues and buried it (see below.) Housley loves this line as he can put them out in any situation, anywhere on the ice.

--Sometimes Eichel makes it look so easy. Eichel found himself all alone in front of Vegas goalie Mark Andre Fleury and roofed a backhand from in tight as shown here:

--Adding Sheary to the line of Eichel and Sam Reinhart looks pretty good so far. Sheary is a whirling dervish on the cycle in the offensive zone and so far Eichel and Reinhart have been able to play into that. They just missed scoring another goal yesterday when Reinhart hit the post on a feed from Eichel.

--Marco Scandella chalked one up for the defense last night in Buffalo's third game as he sent a change-up from the point that deflected before going in. Last season it was Jake McCabe scoring the first goal from a Buffalo defenseman. But he didn't do so until December 5, Buffalo's 29th game of the season.

--Speaking of McCabe, he's been solid for Buffalo on the back end as more of a stay-at-home d-man to Rasmus Dahlin's offensive-minded play. In looking at this duo, it's not a pure Bill Hajt/Phil Housley-type pairing as McCabe loves to find that that soft spot in the offensive zone and won't hesitate to jump in while Dahlin's anything but a cupcake on defense.

--Forwards Johan Larsson and Vladimir Sobotka look to be ready to return to the ice and should both be activated, someone will have to go. If Larsson fits into Buffalo's plans, the easiest thing for the Sabres to do would be to sent winger Tage Thompson to the Amerks. Thompson has had a decent three-game stint with the Sabres but really hasn't done nothing to stand out save for some nifty stickwork against Vegas. He's also waivers-exempt which makes it a no-brainer. That is if they want to keep Larsson with the big club.

--And, finally goalie Carter Hutton's stat-line through three games:  2-1-0 record, 2.06 goals-against average, .943 save percentage. That includes the 4-0 drubbing in the season opener when he allowed three goals on 25 shots.

Oh, and just for good measure, here's Eichel's, Alex Ovechkin-type one-timer from the circle to open the scoring:

All videos via

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sabres trying to avoid nightmarish matinees seen last year on Kid's Days

Published by, 10-8-2018

We've all heard about the "large thud" last February coming from the area of KeyBank Center where Buffalo GM Jason Botterill sits for home games . It turns out that was the sound of a taco bar taking the heat for yet another matinee clunker by his Sabres team. The Los Angeles Kings were in town during a Kid's Day promotion on February 17 and it seemed is if the hometown team was still asleep when they hit the ice. After 40 minutes of sleepwalking, Buffalo found themselves down 4-0 at the end of two periods and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

That was just one in a long line of Kid's Day clunkers by the 2017-18 edition of the Sabres. It started in October as they got crushed by the New Jersey Devils 6-2, although they came back later that month with a good performance, they lost to the San Jose Sharks 3-2. The Kid's Day game prior to LA Kings/taco bar incident saw the Sabres get thrashed 7-1 by the Dallas Stars.

In all the Sabres played six games during the Kid's Day promotion and went 0-5-1 losing by a combined score of 25-10. That is not the way you cultivate future fans of the Blue and Gold.

Buffalo headed into this season looking to bury the past (and keep the taco bar open.) Botterill got a lot accomplished this off season and it seems as if they're heading in the right direction. The acquisitions of left winger Conor Sheary (PIT) and Jeff Skinner (CAR) added speed and scoring to the lineup and with Lady Luck smiling on Buffalo (for a change,) the draft lottery was kind and Buffalo won the rights to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who's taking blueline skill and mobility to another level for the Sabres.

The good thing for Buffalo is that they've got their first win of the season under their belt and did so by playing a strong game after being embarrassed in the home opener. After getting booed off of he ice in a 4-0 shutout loss vs. the Boston Bruins in the opener, the Sabres came back and beat Henrik Lundqvist and the NY Rangers 3-1 on Saturday. The win was punctuated by some play that hopefully is a harbinger of things to come.

Sheary scored Buffalo's first two goals of the season by burying two golden opportunities and did so against a top-notch goalie in Lundqvist. Its something that we haven't been able to say very often lately. The powerplay goals were great but equally important were the individual efforts leading up to them as centers Casey Mittelstadt and Jack Eichel set up the set-up.

On Sheary's first goal, Mittelstadt worked the wall at center ice and sent a deft backhand through traffic to a streaking Rasmus Ristolainen who was jumping in on the play. Ristolainen and Sheary went in on a clear 2-on-1 and Sheary beat Lundqvist for Buffalo's first goal of the season.


Early in the second period with the Sabres again on the powerplay, Eichel corralled the puck after his shot was blocked and proceeded to maneuver his way through a double-team on the half-wall before dishing to Sam Reinhart parked along the goal line. Reinhart fired a goal-mouth pass to Sheary who buried it past a sprawling Lundqvist.


Housley's looks to be sticking with a winning combination as there are no changes from Saturday night's lineup.

43 Conor Sheary - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 10 Patrik Berglund - 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
81 Remi Elie - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 26 Rasmus Dahlin
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 8 Casey Nelson

40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sabres and Amerks looking for fresh Game-2 of the season

Published by, 10-6-2018

Perhaps Keith Wozniak of Let's Go Amerks said it best when he tweeted earlier today, "Happy Saturday morning!! A good day to relax, maybe get some errands done, eat a good dinner at home and pretend it's a new hockey season starting tonight in Rochester and Buffalo."

Opening night for both the Buffalo Sabres (Thursday) and their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans (Friday,) wasn't too kind for Western New York hockey fans as the Sabres were shut out by the Boston Bruins 4-0 and the Amerks lost to the Charlotte Checkers (CAR) 6-2. Good news for the Amerks is that despite there being much higher expectations on them heading into this season, they apparently weren't booed off of the ice like the Sabres were.

One similar theme that has to be troubling for both teams is that after training camp, preseason and practices leading up to their openers, they weren't prepared for opening night. Buffalo's Conor Sheary was quoted by WGR550's Paul Hamilton as saying that they weren't ready for what the Bruins were going to bring. This despite the fact that the Bruins weren't in a very good mood after getting drubbed 7-0 the previous night on national TV. Rochester captain Kevin Porter told the local media after their loss that, "We were not ready to play."

And for all the talk of having great practices with speed and intensity? It didn't translate for either team when it was for real.

Not sure what was up with that but both the Sabres and the Amerks will have an opportunity for redemption tonight as they continue with their season-opening homestands. Over in Rochester the Amerks will once again host the Charlotte Checkers while some 70 miles west as the crow flies on I-90, the Sabres are hosting the NY Rangers.

As for Buffalo, they'll be facing a Rangers team that opened the season with a 3-2 loss at home to the Nashville Predators and although it's not like facing a decidedly better Bruins team coming off of an embarrassing loss, the Rangers still have goalie Henrik Lundqvist and a good cast of characters. Buffalo is 3-5-2 in their last 10 vs. the Rangers, 0-2-2 in their last four and haven't beaten NY since January 3, 2017 (4-1 win at Madison Square Garden.)

Perhaps the big question for the Sabres tonight is, "who's gonna step up?"

The 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Bruins left little to like although some players played well. Sam Reinhart had a strong game pushing it to the net while the Sabres fourth line of Evan Rodrigues, Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pomiville was the best and most consistent line for the club. Both Rodrigues and Pominville had golden opportunities but were denied by the quick left pad of Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Both 18 yr. old Rasmus Dahlin and 19 yr. old Casey Mittelstadt had good games. Dahlin, the first pick in last year's draft had his skills on display but also had some rookie mistakes, which is to be expected. Mittelstadt came off of a middling preseason and started on the third line but looked good enough to get bumped to the second line when head coach Phil Housley did some line juggling in the third period.

Some of that juggling took hold as this might be what the top-six looks like tonight:

Conor Sheary-Jack Eichel-Reinhart
Jeff Skinner-Patrik Berglund-Tage Thompson

Mittelstadt once again is in a third-line role centering Girgensons on the left and veteran Kyle Okposo on the right. Girgensons played a solid north/south game and worked the walls well. He got bumped up after Vladimir Sobotka landed on the injured list with an upper body injury. He's listed as day to day.

Here's what Housley told the gathered media today about putting "Z", as he called him, up with Mittelstadt. "I thought in that (preseason) game against Toronto, a big environment with [John] Tavares playing, we had to make some tweaks and when I put "Z" up there with him I think [Mittelstadt] settled down."

Replacing Sobotka in the lineup is former Dallas Stars winger Remi Elie whom the Sabres claimed on waivers. He'll be on the left on the fourth line with Rodrigues and Pominville.

Word from the rink also has Housley sticking to his d-pairings of Marco Scandella/Rasmus Ristolainen;   Jake McCabe/Dahlin;  Nathan Beaulieu/Casey Nelson.

And, it looks as if starter Carter Hutton will once again be in net. Hutton looked  very good in his first start for Buffalo but was the victim of defensive breakdowns, one of which lead to a wide open Zdeno Chara waltzing in and firing a superb shot that beat him on the short side.

The good thing for Buffalo is that they're playing a Rangers team that doesn't have the impenetrable lockdown capability of the Boston Bruins. However, they're a very fast team that has a good amount of skill. And they have Lundqvist. The Sabres have had difficulties beating any goalies--from starters to backups, from hot to average--over the past seven seasons and they're going to need to find a way to get on the board early to open up some ice.

Housley said his message yesterday to the team was that they did a lot of good things right, especially early on and that they need to keep building on that.

The Sabres were off today save for some meetings. Perhaps the best way to approach tonight's game was to let Thursday go and get a fresh start tonight as they don't want to start the season in an 0-2 hole.


One quick note:

Amerks defenseman Lawrence Pilut had a goal and an assist in his North American debut and was named the game's third star. According to Wozniak, Pilut "improved as the game went on."

That's a good sign for the organization.