Monday, December 31, 2018

Sabres need a shot in the arm, but it probably won't happen

Published by, 12-30-2018

Sabres-talk lately has centered around lack of secondary scoring, as it should and even though they got some of that last night, neither of their two goals came from the middle six forward group. Defenseman Marco Scandella opened the scoring with a nice follow-up on a Jeff Skinner rush and Johan Larsson scored shorthanded to put Buffalo up 2-1 in the second period, but it wasn't enough. Buffalo's top line was the driving force on Scandella's goal, but other than that they were shut down and the group of players composing Buffalo's second and third lines went AWOL once again as couldn't find the scoresheet.

The formula for beating Buffalo right now is fairly simple, contain the top line and apply pressure on the rest of the team until mistakes are made then capitalize on them. Boston is the master of that and they did so again last night. They kept it tight and then in the third period they dominated. The Bruins outshot the Sabres 18-5 in the period and scored the game-tying goal with less than four minutes to go on a powerplay where the puck never left the Buffalo zone. For the entire 1:14 duration of that powerplay Boston won both faceoffs, one missed shot, had two blocked shots and a couple of missed passes plus four shots on goal. That series of events led to the Bruins taking advantage of a tired Sabres PK with an uncontested, tipped shot that beat Sabres goalie Carter Hutton to tie the game.

Buffalo had a powerplay opportunity of their own in overtime, but the Bruins shut them down. The Sabres OT powerplay consisted of one lost faceoff and one missed shot on goal by the first PP unit and one missed shot by the second PP unit. A minute later, the Bruins scored.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sabres and Amerks return to action post-Christmas with (far) different results

Published by, 12-28-2018

Both the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres had to travel after spending the Christmas break away from the ice. Rochester took a four-hour bus ride to Cleveland the day after Christmas where the Monsters (CLB) awaited them while the Sabres jumped on a plane for a two-hour flight to St. Louis to take on the Blues last night. Both left in the morning and played that night.

The Amerks faced off against the Monsters for the third time in less than two weeks in what's being promoted as the Great Lakes Rivalry Series. A restructuring of AHL divisions this off-season moved the two teams on the shore of Lake Erie. who are only 200 miles apart, into the North Division meaning the teams will play each other eight times a year. Rochester and Cleveland hadn't played each other since 2014-15 when the Amerks and the Cleveland team known as the Lake Erie Monsters battled it out in the Western Conference.

Rochester was 3-0 this season vs. Cleveland heading into Wednesday's matchup at Quicken Loans Arena as the Amerks won in November and won a home-and-home in mid-December. Earlier in the season the two teams were battling near the top of the standings but the Monsters faultered until just prior to the break when they won three games in a row. Rochester, on the other hand, had lost three in a row so something had to give and it was Cleveland. The Amerks scored goals on three of six powerplay opportunities en route to a 4-0 win.

Despite the long bus ride and the weight of a three-game losing streak weighing on them the entire break, the Amerks found their legs, skated a full 60 minute and took it to a sluggish Monsters club. Amerks coach Chris Taylor had three lines working and though they only scored one 5v5 goal, their work drew penalties leading to the three powerplay goals. Props to the penalty kill as well as one of the league's worst PK units snuffed out all four Cleveland powerplay opportunities.

In St. Louis, things were a bit different.

Friday, December 28, 2018

December quick hits on the Sabres forwards, Part 2

Published by, 12-26-2018

The Christmas break is winding down for the NHL with 16 games set for tomorrow night to get the season rolling again. For hockey fans  in the U.S., the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships in Vancouver, B.C. begin this evening with Team USA and Sabres d-prospect Mattias Samuelsson (2018, 32nd-overall) taking on Team Slovakia at 6:30 ET. Three other Buffalo prospects will be in action this year beginning today:  the Czech Republic and forward Matej Pekar (2018, 94th) open up the tourney vs. Team Switzerland at 4:00 ET while defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (2017, 54th) and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 89th) of Team Finland hit the ice at 10:30 ET to take on Team Sweden, last year's silver medal winner.

Down in Cleveland, Ohio the Rochester Americans will be trying to shake a three-game losing streak against the Monsters. The Amerks haven't won since defeating Cleveland in a home-and-home Dec. 14-15.

The Sabres return to action tomorrow night in St. Louis against Ryan O'Reilly and the Blues. The two teams pulled off a blockbuster deal in the off season with Buffalo sending O'Reilly to St. Louis for forwards Patrick Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson along with a conditional first round pick and a 2021 second rounder. And with that in mind, we'll continue our quick hits on the Sabres forwards with one of those players involved in the deal.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December quick hits on the Sabres forwards, Part 1

Published by, 12-25-2018

Merry Christmas!

For those of us in Sabreland, Christmas came a little early this year although we didn't quite know just how great a present Buffalo general manger Jason Botterill gave us when he traded for Jeff Skinner over the summer. In doing so Botterill added a player that constituted 1/3 of Sabres top line that would be amongst the potent in the NHL.

Head coach Phil Housley still has work to do with his middle-six forwards, but for now he's got a top line that's carrying the load and it begins with the captain.

Jack Eichel--Not only did Botterill and the Sabres receive over the summer, he also gave in the form of Ryan O'Reilly, whom he traded to the St. Louis Blues. Although the return for O'Reilly was three players and two draft picks, the most important aspect of the deal right now centers around Eichel, who was drafted as a franchise center but for various reasons was never able to call the Sabres his team. After dealing with drama and injuries his first three NHL seasons, Captain Jack is coming into his own  and has been every bit the player who was drafted second overall in 2015 reaching an overall maturity-level that has catapulted him towards his full potential. He started out this season being a deft distributor of the puck while leading the team with a full 200' game and recently rediscovered his shot (after changing to a stick with a little less flex, according to reports.) He heads into the Christmas break tied for seventh in the league in scoring with 48 points and is on pace to become the first Sabres player to record 100 points in a season since Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny both did it in 1992-93. Eichel's 34 assists rank him tied for fifth in the NHL and his main benefactor has been...

Jeff Skinner--When Botterill mentioned Skinner's scoring at even strength, he wasn't kidding. The three-time 30-goal scorer is presently second in the league with 26 goals with 21 of them coming at even strength, which is also second in the league. Skinner already beat his 24 goals from last season and he's on pace to shatter his career high of 37 set in 2016-17. The guy most definitely has a deft touch around the net but the most fascinating part of his game might be his skating. Skinner learned figure skating as a young lad and as we've been lucky enough to see through 37 games in the Blue and Gold, he uses those skills to advantageously square himself to the play. In the offensive zone it's proven to be deadly. The chemistry between him and Eichel is unmistakable and the big question moving forward is, how long will be a Buffalo Sabre? Skinner is a pending unrestricted free agent but there's said to be a mutual interest in him re-signing with the club. After watching him game-in, game-out most in Sabreland want him re-signed yesterday and unless something weird happens, he should end up in the Blue and Gold long-term.

Sam Reinhart--He's been called the "Forgotten One" in these blogs on more than one occasion and even though he's on pace to put up career numbers, again, Reinhart still doesn't seem to get full recognition for the skills he brings to the ice. Housley had moved him around a bit in the lineup but in a November 13 game against Tampa, Housley stuck with him on the Eichel/Skinner line and the trio has combined for 30 goals and 72 points over those 20 game with Reinhart wielding a stat-line of six goals and 18 assists over that span. Although his skating is well behind that of his linemates, Reinhart is a very heady player who gets the puck where it needs to go and he's been a top-notch compliment to Buffalo's dynamic duo. Botterill re-signed Reinhart to a two year bridge deal this off season for a team friendly cap-hit of $3.65 million and it might be safe to say that we won't be seeing numbers remotely close to that with any new deal he signs.

Casey Mittelstadt--The mid-six in Buffalo's lineup has been in a constant state of flux this entire season as Housley can't seem to find the right mix, at least on a consistent, long-term basis. Having said that, the most skilled of those players is Mittelstadt. The 20 yr. old rookie has been thrown into the fire somewhat with the trade of O'Reilly, Buffalo's No. 2 center, and the failure of various players, including vets, to fill that spot. Mittelstadt isn't lighting up the scoreboard as he only has 10 points (5+5) in 37 games, but Housley has raved about him at times while calling attention to his focus upon playing a 200' game. As of late Mittelstadt has really been showing off some of the skills that made him a 2017 eighth-overall pick and we've seen him skating and stickhandling with much more confidence after getting acclimated to the speed of the NHL. He's done pretty much everything but consistently hit the scoresheet all while playing with a surprising amount of grit and dogged determination that belies his baby face. Some of his scoring woes can be traced back to little or no chemistry on a line that's facing tough competition on a nightly basis while some of it also has to do with the lack of time and space he's yet to adjust to. Mittelstadt has been finding himself in good spots on a consistent basis, especially as of late, but his trigger needs to be a touch faster and once he gets that, we should see his numbers spike upward.

Kyle Okposo--We all  know about Okposo's contract, his health issues and his struggles scoring. The Sabres could be getting the same production of 15 points (5+19) and a minus-4 rating through 37 games from a player with a cap-hit much less than Okposo's $6 million but they're stuck with that for four and a half more seasons.  It's the type of contract that could haunt Buffalo in the near future as Skinner, Reinhart and defensemen Rasmus Dahlin will all need new, and lucrative, contracts within the next two years. Buffalo desperately needs a No. 2 right wing that can score on a consistent basis and Okposo was supposed to be that guy. Outside of some solid, but somewhat modest, numbers in his first season with the Sabres that type of top-six production hasn't materialized and Housley's been forced to play him up and down the bottom-nine. Okposo is a player that's easy to pull for as he's overcome adversity and exudes professionalism on a daily basis, but there comes a point in time where said player needs to step up his game and help this team move forward. That time has come. 

Conor Sheary--Botterill needed to bolster the left wing position and his first move was to acquire Sheary from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheary was a known quantity as Botterill had 10 years in the Penguins front office prior to becoming Buffalo's GM. He knew Sheary brought speed and was tenacious on the puck and he also was familiar with a player who could play along side a superstar like Sidney Crosby and light the lamp for 40 goals over two full seasons. Sheary was on the outs in Pittsburgh as his stat-line dipped and Botterill was happy to bring him aboard. Although Sheary is always in overdrive, he runs hot and cold in the scoring department. He was solid out of the gate with six goals in 16 games but has only one in his last 17 games. The Sabres need some consistent production at left wing outside of Skinner and it was hoped Sheary could be that guy. He still could be, but we're really not sure.

Jason Pominville--The 35 yr. old is in his 15th NHL season and is far removed from the days where he was scoring at least 20 goals and 60 points on a consistent basis. At this stage of the game Pominville is looked to for leadership on the ice and wisdom off it as he's is really beginning to show his age. The adrenaline of a new season has worn off and the long grind of the NHL season has set in. Like last season, Pominville started out strong scoring eight goals and adding seven assists in his first 16 games but has only one goal and two assists in his last 17 games. He went into the Christmas break on an 11-game pointless streak before being sidelined with a what looks to be a concussion for the last two games. The last time the Sabres made the playoffs was in the 2010-11 season, Pominville's last full season in Buffalo before getting traded, and this year they're in the driver's seat for a playoff appearance which would bring Pominville full circle. And probably make for a nice sendoff whenever their season ends.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sabres win, Sabreland feeling a loss early in the third period

Published by, 12-23-2018

A little over two minutes into the third period of Buffalo's 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks last night, there was silence emanating from the Ted Darling Memorial Press Box at KeyBank Center. It wasn't a full broadcast malfunction as audio from the ice was still coming over the airwaves and analyst Rob Ray would still interject with his insight.

There was no Rick Jeanneret.

The legendary Sabres play-by-play has been putting his listeners smack-dab in the middle of the on-ice action dating back to Buffalo's second season in 1971-72 and it was strange when things went silent. Come to find out that the 76 yr. old was wheeled off from the press box on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.

Prior to being felled Jeanneret everything was quite normal save for the Santa outfit he had on while doling out treats to the fans directly below the box prior to the game. But in those few minutes when there was dead-air from his mike, we Sabres fans realized just how much he's woven into the Buffalo hockey experience. Kudos to studio host Brian Duff for coming in cold and calling the last 15 minutes or so as he did a standup job, but for a brief moment life without Jeanneret left us with an empty feeling.

However, there is good news, according to The Athletic's John Vogl, Jeanneret tweeted, "still kicking" this morning.

Long may you run, Rick.

December quick hits on the Sabres goalies and d-men

Published by, 12-24-2018

Going into the NHL's Christmas break with a win is much better than going with a loss, and being third in the division is much better than...well, we Sabres fans know where this team has been at this time of year the last seven or so years. And it hasn't been good.

What's been good for the Sabres, however, is that they've have been getting the job done in tight games even though there are definitive holes throughout the lineup and it's taken them to an overall record of 21-11-5 which is good for 47 points. For as young a team as they are at their core, Buffalo's 11-3-5 record in one goal games is near the top of the league.

Some of the big reasons for those numbers above have been a top line that's been hot, a defense that's solid and relatively deep when healthy, and goaltending that may not have the overall numbers, but has had a tendency to come up big when needed at various points in the game.

Today we'll take a quick look at Buffalo's goaltending and defense and 37 games into the 2018-19 season.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

On a downward trend with one game before Christmas break

Published by, 12-22-2018

The Sabres will head into the Christmas break with a very solid record no matter what happens tonight vs. the Anaheim Ducks. A 10-game winning streak assured that but as of late they've tailed off considerably. Buffalo followed that streak with a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and are now 3-2-1 in their last six games after losing to the Washington Capital 2-1 last night. At a post-streak pace of nine points from their 3-5-3 record, the Sabres would end up with around 93 points, or in a heated battle for a playoff spot.

That's how costly it can be when you only win three of your last 11 games.

Through it all Buffalo has played some good hockey over the last few weeks, most notably against the Stanley Cup champion Capitals, whom they played twice on the road in a span of seven days. In their first meeting on December 15 the Sabres, in a game they could have definitely won, lost 4-3 in the shootout and last night the also lost by a goal, 2-1. It was another game against the champs they could have definitely won, or at least tied as they really ramped up the pressure in the third. However, they ran into a wall in Caps goalie Brayden Holtby.

The game was reminiscent of a game back in early November at Madison Square Garden where the Rangers "King" Henrik Lundqvist stopped 39 of Buffalo's 40 shots on goal for the 3-1 win. Last night Holtby and company snuffed out every chance Buffalo had save for a puck that pinballed to Johan Larsson just outside the crease before he chipped it home. There were opportunities galore for the Sabres but they could not get another past Holtby even with a 2-minute powerplay near the end of the game. In all he stopped 36 of 37 Buffalo shots on goal.

Sabres can put to rest a major screw up with Skinner extension. Plus...

It was the summer of 2007 and Buffalo was coming off of a President's Trophy-winning season that ended a little too soon for their liking. The Sabres lost their second consecutive Eastern Conference championship game and were headed into the off season with some big questions looming.

The NHL was finishing up their second season with the new salary cap structure and the first year was a big success with three smaller market teams in their respective conference championships. When the league came out of the '04-'05 lockout the salary-cap ceiling was $39 million and for the Sabres it was a very manageable figure. The following season it went to $44.9 million (a 15% jump)which would still afford a team like Buffalo the opportunity to compete with the larger market teams while still "breaking even," which was the organizational mantra under owner B. Thomas Golisano.

However, one could sense that individual star salaries were due for a sharp increase as evidenced by the arbitration award to Sabres center Daniel Briere of $5 million. Briere had an exceptional season with 25 goals and 33 assists in 48 games during an injury shortened season. Regardless of that, the award was still a stunner and would set team up for an imminent fail the following season.

Briere's one-year extension meant that he and co-captain Chris Drury would be unrestricted free agents at the end of the '06-'07 season. In addition, budding superstar Thomas Vanek would be a restricted free agent as well. Throughout the season there was that sinking feeling in Sabreland as the mantra would not allow for both Briere and Drury, along with Vanek, to be re-signed. As we would come to find out, team president Larry Quinn had decided upon re-signing Drury and letting Briere walk. Unfortunately for them, Drury signed a lucrative long-term deal with his boyhood idol NY Rangers while Briere, after being shunned by Buffalo, signed a lucrative, long-term deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. And to make matters worse, Vanek signed a seven-year offer-sheet with an average annual value of over $7 million.

It was a decision that would haunt them for over a decade.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Housley struggling to figure out his middle-six forward group

Published by, 12-19-2018

Buffalo's top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart have been carrying the offensive load for the Sabres dating back to the end of their 10-game winning streak with the trio combining for a red-hot 20 goals and 25 assists in the last 10 games. Eichel is second in the NHL over that span with 18 points (9+9,) Reinhart is tied for third with 17 points (5+12) and Skinner comes in at 10 points (6+4.)

The next closest Buffalo forward during that span is fourth-liner Zemgus Girgensons with three points (1+2) and he missed a game while sitting in the press box. Between the top line and Girgensons are two defensemen--Rasmus Ristolainen (1+7) and Rasmus Dahlin (1+4.) After that it gets pretty ugly on the scoresheet. Ranked by average time on ice, here's what the middle six forwards have done on the score sheet for the Sabres along their plus/minus rating:

Vladimir Sobotka--0+0, -7
Kyle Okposo--0+0, -5
Conor Sheary--0+1, -3
Tage Thompson--1+1, -4
Casey Mittelstadt--1+1, -3
Jason Pominville--0+0, -2

Is it any wonder the Sabres are 3-4-3 over that span?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Jack Eichel making a statement

Published by, 12-17-2018

When Jack Eichel was a rookie back in 2015 his first game against his hometown Boston Bruins was quite memorable. It was the day after Christmas and it was the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Boston went into the third period with a 2-1 lead and made it a two goal lead about seven minutes in.

Buffalo would counter with three goals in a 4:23 span to take the lead with Eichel scoring the middle goal to tie the game. He would add an empty-netter from 150' away with less than two minutes to go and fed Ryan O'Reilly for another empty net goal to add emphasis. Two goals, two assists and the game's first star while leaving an indelible mark on the TD Garden crowd.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Getting a good feel for the Sabres after last night

Published by hockeybuzz, 12-16-2018

That this is Jack Eichel's team is not to be debated and as captain of the Sabres he's proving it. Eichel always had the skill and skating and shot...and drive to win and that beet-red, post-game face after leaving it all on the ice. We seen glimpses of that but lately those of us in Sabreland, as well as the rest of the NHL and national media outlets like ESPN, are just starting to realize what we have in No. 9.

Last night was a litmus test for the Sabres both individually and as a team and we could see how they matched up against an Eastern conference power. Despite playing a Washington team that was travelling back home for the second game of a back-to-back, the Capitals are still the defending Stanley Cup champions, still have the greatest goal-scorer of his generation in Alex Ovechkin and are still loaded for bear. Plus they seem to be extremely motivated as of late.

Eichel was up to the task last night scoring two goals on three shots while doing everything he could to try and lead his team to a win which included this beauty of a goal showing off his extreme skating ability, his deft stickwork and wicked shot:


"Coming soon to a theater near you," indeed, Mr. Jeanerette, or for now, to the ESPN top-10 highlights this morning.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Buffalo @ Washington notes and such, plus, Patrik Berglund suspended

Published by, 12-15-2018

The good news for the Buffalo Sabres is that they'll be playing against a team that went to the sixth round of the shootout on the road last night and will be flying back home for the second game of a back-to-back against them. The bad news is that Buffalo be playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals who've won four in a row and are led by captain Alexander Ovechkin who extended his 13-game point streak (16 goals, 6 assists) last night by posting his second consecutive hat trick.

There's been no Stanley Cup hangover for "The Great Eight" this season as he's been ready, according to his head coach Todd Reirden. "[Ovechkin] came back after winning the Stanley Cup and was ready to go from Day One," said Reirden to the gathered media after Washington's come-from-behind win, "and he hasn't stopped since. He's doing it game after game, obviously. It's very impressive. He's been outstanding."

Ovechkin leads the league with 28 goals, is now tied for seventh with 42 points and he's got his team on a roll. Washington has won 11 of those 13 games during his streak and the Caps have gone from fourth in the Metropolitan division, four points out of the top spot, to leading the division by five points. They extended their present streak in dramatic fashion last night by overcoming a three-goal, third period deficit, killing a penalty in overtime then winning it in the shootout.

Here's Carolina Hurricanes forward, and three-time Stanley Cup champion, Justin Williams put it to the local media last night. "Once they got down, they started playing a different game and scored some goals because of it. There's a reason they are who they are. They had guys flying the zone, and they figured they were either going to lose it 7-1 or tie it up."

The Sabres haven't exactly been chopped liver this season but going into Washington has always been a challenge. Buffalo is only 2-6-2 in it's last 10 games at Capital One Arena with their last win coming November 22, 2014. Buffalo is 0-4-1 since that win. Oddly enough the Sabres had their most success vs. Washington during the tank years going 3-1-2 vs. the Caps overall and 2-1-0 on the road.

Buffalo said goodbye to a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) with back-to-back wins and head into this weekend with a tough assignment as they play the Capitals tonight then head to Boston to take on the Bruins tomorrow. Perhaps the Sabres caught a break with Washington in an emotionally and physically draining overtime game last night, but then again the Caps don't play again until Wednesday and Ovechkin seems to be on a mission once again which could make for a very difficult game.


A lot of attention has been given to the Sabres fourth line and their lack of scoring this season. Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson have anchored Buffalo's checking line for most of the season and they've combined for 11 points (5+6) in 55 combined games and the Capitals offer an interesting comparison.

The Capitals this season have a fourth line anchored by Dmitrij Jaskin and Nic Dowd with the duo combining for 19 points (5+14) in 52 games. They've been particularly hot as of late scoring a goal and adding five assists in their last three games, which is pretty potent for two players whose average even-strength time on ice is 9:45 and 8:35, respectively.

Girgensons and Larsson have also been contributing for Buffalo lately with a goal each in their last two games and have logged even-strength average time on ice of 11:09 and 11:38, respectively, on the season.

Many times Sabres head coach Phil Housley has said that their fourth line has been one of the best lines on the ice for them despite the duo of Girgensons (11.86%) and Larsson (11.44%) having the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts, by far, on the team. By contrast, Dowd comes in at 32.98% while Jaskin is at 48.68%. The huge discrepancy is due in large part to Buffalo's duo being on the top penalty kill unit with Girgensons and Larsson both at 2:36 SH ATOI while in Washington, Dowd is part of a multi-layered PK with four Caps forwards logging more PK ice time than his average of 1:53/game. Jaskin is an afterthought on the PK (:08.)

Despite the heavy defensive responsibilities, Buffalo's fourth line has been able to flip the ice, get on the forecheck and create opportunities. Although a Roberto Duran "Hands of Stone" analogy is fitting on most occasions, they're doing what is asked of them with their duo contributing as many goals as Washington's.


Buffalo's top line of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart have also been doing their part as they've carried the load for the team.

Over the last 17 games which includes a 10-game winning-streak followed by a five-game losing streak and these last two wins in a row, the Sabres scored 36 even strength goals in regulation. The top trio has accounted for 20 of those which is a pretty solid ratio of about 56%. Girgensons and Larsson have scored a combined four goals with Evan Rodrigues, who's spent much of his time on their line, adding another. With the Sabres first and fourth lines accounting for 25 of Buffalo's 36 EV goals in that span, that leaves the middle-six with a combined 11 EV goals.

The breakdown of the middle six:

Tage Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt--3
Vladimir Sobotka--2
Jason Pominville, Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary--1

Luckily Buffalo has gone 12-3-2 during that span which puts them solidly in the Atlantic Division's top three, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second place but still only four points ahead of the Boston Bruins. However, it would behoove that middle-six, and the coaching staff, to figure things out before the Sabres find themselves in a nutty wild card race.


Speaking of the Eastern Conference, there could be a huge cluster in the middle of the conference at season's end. As of right now the Tampa Bay Lightning is the class of the conference with the Capitals surging towards them and there's no reason to believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs will finish anywhere else but second in the division behind the Lightning.

Over in the Metropolitan the Caps are in the driver's seat of a seemingly weak Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins on the move ready to over take the second place Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Sabres lead every team in the Metropolitan division and are four points ahead of the Bruins, who hold the first wild-card spot with 38 points. The Montreal Canadiens have 37 points and there are four teams in the conference with 32 points.

Over the years the Sabres have bemoaned lost points in October and November leaving them to scramble for every possible point later in the year. With 26 of a possible 34 points in the bag over the last 17 games, they've been able to create a cushion between themselves and that group of teams presently in the wild-card hunt.

It's something that shouldn't be taken for granted, but it's something they may look back upon with pride.


While writing this blog it was announced that forward Patrik Berglund "has been suspended indefinitely by the organization due to failure to report to the team," according to the Sabres. 

Berglund came over from the St. Louis Blues in the Ryan O'Reilly and has been in a bottom-six/reserve role for much of the season. He wasn't in the lineup the last two games due to illness, according to Housley via reports. In 23 games for Buffalo Berglund has scored only four points (2+2) and he's played in only nine of the Sabres last 17 games with zero points and a minus-8 rating.

The team had no further comment.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sabres have some momentum heading into a tough weekend roadie

Published by, 12-14-2018

With a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes last night, the Buffalo Sabres completed a four-game  homestand with a 2-1-1 mark after starting out the stretch with two straight losses. The back-to-back wins, even if they were against lesser teams, should give them some positive momentum heading into a tough weekend coming up.

Buffalo was struggling with a number of issues including a barrage of injuries on the blueline as starters Marco Scandella and Jake McCabe were lost to injury and reserve d-man Casey Nelson also went down. For the first time all season the Sabres were forced to use a callup in a game as 2018 free agent signee Lawrence Pilut made his NHL debut on defense November 30. After Nelson was injured against the Toronto Maple Leafs, journeyman Matt Tennyson got the call for his first NHL game of the season. From the time Scandella went down against on November 27 to their game last Saturday when Tennyson mad his season debut, the Sabres found themselves in the midst of a five-game losing streak (0-3-2.)

In addition to the blueline blues, Buffalo was also having trouble scoring outside of their top line. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart scored 10 of the Sabres 12 goals during that losing stretch and did all the scoring in the last four games of that season-worst streak.

And if that wasn't enough, starting goalie Carter Hutton tweaked something at practice prior to last Saturday's game and missed his next two starts.

Granted, it's not like the Sabres lost a superstar like Eichel or key players like Skinner, Rasmus Ristolainen or Rasmus Dahlin, but for a team that had 14 of their last 16 games decided by one goal, injuries like that disrupted their balance and put their depth to the test.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Notes and thoughts after the Sabres 4-3 OT win over Los Angeles

This is how we do it

The Sabres five-game losing streak is over. Or if you may, their winless streak is over as Buffalo managed a loser-point in two of those losses. Getting back in the win column was huge for the team especially while playing the type of up-tempo, Corsi-heavy game head coach Phil Housley prefers. Housley's charges got up and down the ice and pumped a total of 47 shots on goal against Los Angeles to the Kings' 27 shots. Overall the Sabres pumped 74 shots at Kings rookie goaltender Calvin Petersen while Los Angeles managed a total of 48 against Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark.

A rather cold Sabres powerplay also came through for them as they went 2 for 8 in the game on a total of 11:33 seconds of powerplay time. Having the Rasmi--Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin--at the point really helped as Ristolainen was at the top of a 1-3-1 set-up with Jack Eichel on the left half-wall and Dahlin on the right. Eichel and Dahlin peppered the Kings with shots, which was a good sign even if it was against the league's 29th-ranked penalty kill, with Eichel finally breaking through. Buffalo's other powerplay goal came in overtime as Jeff Skinner poked home a puck in the crease for his 21st goal of the season.

Ristolainen picked up the primary assist on both of those goals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Housley shuffles bottom-six and PP units with team in a tailspin

Published by, 12-10-2018

There's much to be made in the fact that Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner, a trio that comprises Buffalo's top line and three-fifths of their first powerplay unit, are the only players to score goals in the last four games. The Sabres are 0-2-2 in those games with that trio accounting for all eight Buffalo goals.

As we delve a little deeper into those numbers, that trio accounted for 15 (8+7) of the 21 total points on those goals and of the seven primary assists involved (one, by Reinhart, was unassisted,) that trio had four of them. Here's a list of what the rest of the team has done on the scoresheet in those four games:

3-2 OT loss at Florida
--goalie Linus Ullmark, secondary assist on second goal

2-1 loss at Nashville

4-3 OT loss vs. Toronto
--defenseman Nathan Beaulieu primary and Rasmus Ristolainen secondary assists on first goal
--Ristolainen primary assist on second goal

6-2 loss vs. Philadelphia
--Lawrence Pilut primary assist and Ristolainen secondary assist on second goal

Although it's good to see the defensemen continue to push the play and contribute to the offense, the fact that Ullmark's one assist outscored every Buffalo forward outside of the top trio is rather alarming.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sabres need to move on from yesterday's stinker.

Published by, 12-9-2018

Linus Ullmark suffered his first regulation loss of the season yesterday afternoon in Buffalo's 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even thought six goals ended up behind him, no blame should be thrown Ullmark's way as the skaters in front of him suffered an extreme case of hubris that caused a meltdown with six unanswered Flyers goals.

Sabres head coach Phil Housley called it a "stinker" yesterday, the stench of which could be smelled to the top row of the 300's and beyond. It was a "Core-like" performance from his club where they got out to an early lead, found themselves in a dog fight and wilted as Philadelphia willed their way to a lopsided win.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sabres hobbled as they head into a matinee versus Philadelphia today

It was a great run for Buffalo through much of November as their 10-game winning streak propelled them to the top of the NHL standings for a brief stint. In all they had 11 wins during the month, something they haven't done in over a decade. The key components of that run was timely scoring up front and key saves from their goaltending tandem and those two components have held steady even in their recent post-streak 0-2-2 slide. There's a thin line between winning and losing a one-goal game and the Sabres have had 13 such games in their last 14 outings, but what's been missing during their present four-game losing streak (all one-goal games) has been the overall health of the team with injuries taking their toll on the blueline.

Defenseman Marco Scandella was the first to go down. He was placed on injured reserve November 27 prior to the game at Tampa Bay. Fellow top-six blueliner Jake McCabe suffered an injury against the Lightning that night and he was placed on IR as well. The Sabres loss in Tampa snapped their winning streak and began their present losing streak.

Casey Nelson has played in 22 games for Buffalo as a reserve defenseman and had seen his ice-time fluctuate throughout the season but with injuries to Scandella and McCabe, was settling into a bottom-pairing. He ended up getting injured in the first period of Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been placed on IR as well. 

The Sabres are down to four regular defenseman as they head into this afternoon's game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers at KeyBank Center. They recalled 22 yr. old rookie Lawrence Pilut from the Rochester Americans on November 27 and tapped into the Amerks once again with the recall yesterday of d-man Matt Tennyson, whom coach Phil Housley said would be in the lineup today.

And it didn't stop there. Starting goalie Carter Hutton is out of the lineup for today's game with an upper-body injury apparently sustained, according to Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, after he "got stiff on the bench while serving as a backup during Tuesday's overtime loss to Toronto." The Sabres recalled Rochester goalie Scott Wedgewood as a backup to Linus Ullmark. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Bandwagon filling up, injuries and, this Pilut ready for takeoff?

Published by, 12-7-2018

All Aboard!!!

It's been a long time since Sabres fans had that feeling of being fully invested in their beloved hockey team. Since 2006-07 when Buffalo won the President's Trophy and made their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance there have been flashes of enthusiasm, most notably the Sabres division crown in 2009-10 and the run to the playoffs the following season under new owner Terry Pegula, but in and around those? Mirages in a desert.

"The Core" years of Darcy Regier did include those two playoff teams and a load of individual talent that could never mesh into a playoff threat, but unlike those two ECF teams, they generally wilted when the heat was turned up. After he was fired in 2013, his core was dispersed and the team fell in a deep rut with a number last place finishes and a high of only 81 points the past seven seasons. Despite the haul the Sabres got from Regier's core and two second-overall picks from back-to-back tank seasons, the Sabres were still a train wreck. Under yet another new GM and coach, the Sabres fell to the bottom again last season after an atrocious start and a downward spiral that had Sabreland talking draft as early as December.

Such was the plight of Buffalo's beleaguered hockey fans over the past decade-plus.

Friday, December 7, 2018

No head-hanging here. Sabres/Leafs was a blast despite Buffalo on the wrong end

There was a time last season when Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley came off as an over-protective mother in a post-game presser after his team got shellacked 5-1 by the Dallas Stars. On November 4, 2017 the Stars scored three goals in the first 10 minutes en route to crushing the hapless Sabres. Afterward, Housley tried to gloss over his team’s performance saying that he thought his team "played well" in the loss. "The score tells you differently and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me."

Yup, pretty much everybody disagreed with Housley on that with one beat-reporter writing, "That was one of the most egregious quotes I've heard from a Buffalo coach in a long time. An affront to a battered fanbase. 

"There's a difference in being positive and being a Pollyanna Phil."

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sabres stumbling home with Leaf Nation invading downtown Buffalo tonight

The winning streak was never going to last forever, but a win in one of the two games after would have been nice. After winning 10 in a row the Buffalo Sabres now find themselves on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) having lost 2-1 last night at Nashville to the Predators. The home team bottled the Sabres up through much of the game then choked them off in the third period while holding a one-goal lead. Of the eight third period shots on goal for the Sabres, five of them came with the goalie pulled late in the frame and none of them got by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

Nashville won despite missing a lot of firepower in leading goal-scorer Filip Forsberg, forwards Viktor Arvidsson  and Kyle Turris plus defenseman P.K. Subban. Head coach Peter Laviolette wanted his players to stick to their up-tempo identity but also needed them to keep things tight against a team like Buffalo. "With a lot of key pieced out of our lineup, I just think it's important to stick to our identity," he told the local media post-game. "But, we also understand there's less room for error and we have to make sure we're sharp.

"They've (the Sabres) have a lot of people that can hurt you. They're a dangerous team, they're playing fast and they're on the attack. I thought our guys did a real good job of just trying to stay above them, stay tight and check tight in the defensive zone."

Welcome to playoff-style hockey.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Looking to get back into the win column after two straight losses

Published by, 12-3-2018

The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's contest in Nashville having lost two games in row for the first time since October 16-18. Most probably wouldn't be surprised that Buffalo went 0-1-1 in Florida as 1.) they've had trouble on that Sunshine State road trip for years and 2.) a demanding schedule and the pressure of tying a franchise-high winning-streak may have finally gotten to them both physically and mentally. The Tampa Bay Lightning ended the Sabres winning streak with a come-from-behind win in a see-saw battle that saw five lead changes in the game. The following night Buffalo was in Sunrise, Florida to face off against the Panthers where they proceeded to lose 3-2 in overtime.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Team Stats--November

Published by, 12-1-2018

When the final horn sounded at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida on Thursday night the Buffalo Sabres were on the wrong end of a 3-2 score and their franchise-tying 10-game winning streak had come to an end. Buffalo had not lost a game in nearly three weeks and it seemed as if they were running on pure adrenaline by the end of that game against the Lightning. Perhaps that's what 10 games in 20 days, with a three-game road trip and a couple of back-to-backs will do to a team that's still very young at it's core.

Where this Sabres team ends up moving forward remains to be seen but a run like that puts them in a fine position to end a playoff-drought that's lasted seven years.

The Sabres finished the month of October with two overtime losses and a five-game point streak (3-0-2) which turned into a three-game losing streak after a 4-2 loss at Ottawa to kick off November. The loss put them below the real .500-mark at 6-5-2 but two days later they smoked the Senators 9-2 in the second-game of a home-and-home. That big win vs. Ottawa sent them on the road with some confidence heading to the Big Apple to face off against goalie Henrik Lundqvist and the NY Rangers and though they peppered Lundqvist with 40 shots on goal that night, they lost 3-1. What followed would be an historic 10-game run that took Sabres from 18th in the league all the way to No. 1. No team in NHL history had led the league 25 games into the season after finishing the prior season in last place until the 2018-19 Sabres.

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Individual Stats Leaders--November

Published by, 12-2-2018

The Buffalo Sabres as a team enjoyed a lot of national media attention last month and they should have as their franchise-tying 10-game winning streak catapulted them to the top of the National Hockey League. There was a lot of love thrown Buffalo's way, especially towards the fans who endured years of dreadful hockey that at times looked as if there was no end in sight, and a lot of  video dedicated to individual efforts that led the way for the Sabres. Just yesterday the NHL named 18 yr. old Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as their rookie of the month for November.

Dahlin was heralded as one of the best d-prospects to come into the league in a long time and by the looks of it, he may very well be. The Sabres have been easing him into the lineup and last month he was moved him up a notch. In November Dahlin averaged just under 20 minutes of ice time and scored 10 points (1+9) in 15 games while also tying for the team lead in plus/minus with a plus-9 for the month. He was one of a trio of Sabres up front that led the team to an 11-win month, which was the most wins in a month for Buffalo since December, 2005.

Jeff Skinner was another member of that trio as he led the Sabres with 14 goals. The 26 yr. old left winger was acquired by Buffalo in August to provide goal-scoring, especially 5v5, and he's done just that. His 20 goals on the season is second in the league and he has a team-best plus-15 rating (sixth-best in the league) on the season for a Buffalo team that is ninth in the league in 5v5 goals.

When Sabres captain Jack Eichel wasn't leading a rush into the offensive zone or high-tailing it back on the back check, he was busy setting up his teammates for goals. Eichel led the team with 19 assists during the month of November, 14 of them being primary. Of the 15 games the Sabres played, Eichel had primary assists in 10 of them and four times he registered multi-primary assist-games.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Although the streak is lost, the Sabres may have gained a rival

Published by, 11-30-2018

Had you been at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida last night without any indication the time of year it was, the atmosphere and the game played between the Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres might have told you it was April or May and that the two teams on the ice were battling in the playoffs. The streaking Sabres began a three-game Southern road-trip sitting atop the entire NHL with a 10-game winning streak in tow and the opportunity to set the franchise mark with a win in Tampa. The Lightning, who've been one of the best teams the Eastern conference for three of the last four seasons had turf to defend against the upstart Sabres and were looking to reclaim their spot at the top.

What ensued was a great battle in a playoff-like atmosphere between two teams vying for supremacy not only in the conference, but in the entire league.

The Sabres came into the game as the top team in the NHL and the first team ever to have finished in last place the prior season and be atop of the league after 25 games. The 10-game win streak they were on served notice that they were saying goodbye to doormat-status and they were out to prove further that they belonged in the same class as the heavyweights of the league. Buffalo went toe-to-toe with Tampa but came out on the losing end of a 5-4 score and dropped to third in the Atlantic division, one point behind the Lightning.