Thursday, February 28, 2019

The pangs of growing pains. Plus, the Skinner situation

Published by, 2-26-2019

Sabres fans never have a problem getting pumped up for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, regardless of where either team sits in the standings. At this point in time Buffalo is well behind in the Leafs talent-wise and their second year head coach, Phil Housley, isn't close to Toronto's Mike Babcock, whom the Sabres courted coming out of their tank years.

Last night Buffalo was in Toronto for the second game of their four-game season series and the Sabres had a little wind in their sails. They'd played a good game against the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lighting but fell short in the shootout in Tampa then came home for a matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and won 5-2. In addition to that, Buffalo GM Jason Botterill was able to pull off a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for 24 yr. old defenseman Brandon Montour who should help a beleaguered blueline this year and into the future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hello T.O. Sabres in Toronto with a little wind in their sails

Published by, 2-25-2019

Sabres GM Jason Botterill made the big move last night in trading for Anaheim Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour. Buffalo gave up one of it's three 2019 first round picks (but not their own) and 21 yr. old d-prospect Brendan Guhle for Montour although the 24 yr. old Brampton, Ontario native won't be in the lineup tonight against his the Toronto Maple Leafs. Botterill told the gathered media that the team wasn't interested in rushing Montour to Toronto on a red-eye to play tonight but that he'll be in the lineup tomorrow night in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

In the only other move by Botterill and the Sabres, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2019, sixth round draft pick. Beaulieu was acquired by Botterill on June 17, 2017 from the Montreal Canadiens for a third round pick (Scott Walford) and played in 89 games for the Sabres scoring four goals and adding 12 assists with a minus-18 rating while averaging 15:32 of ice time. Beaulieu's time dwindled with Buffalo this season and he was often a healthy scratch causing him to ask for more ice-time while indirectly saying he wanted to be traded if Buffalo couldn't accommodate. His wishes came true today as the Jets added him for defensive depth.

Monday, February 25, 2019

In all, Sabres still in a playoff race heading towards the NHL Trade Deadline

Published by, 2-24-2019

At the conclusion of yesterday's matinee with the Washington Capitals, Sabres fans couldn't help but wonder where this type of team had been the past two-plus months. Granted, the Caps were at the end of a six-game road trip and a 1pm start probably didn't help matters, but Washington did awaken from their sleepwalk as the game went on and the defending Stanley Cup champions twice left those at KeyBank Center with a feeling of angst.

Quite often this season, as well as during their recent four-game losing streak (0-3-1,) the Buffalo Sabres would look strong early only to be overtaken in the mid-to-latter portions of the game and it looked as if this one was headed in that direction. Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and saw Washington cut the lead by one early in the second period but a very late Sabres powerplay goal restored their two-goal cushion heading into the second intermission. The Capitals cut the lead again just 4:16 into the final frame but Sam Reinhart's beautiful tip just 83 seconds later to made it a 4-2 game before the Sabres locked it down the rest of the way. Reinhart, who had scored Buffalo's second goal, would add a 185-foot empty-netter for the third hat trick of his career.

The second period was crucial for the Sabres yesterday and it could have ended up a disaster. Buffalo ended the prior stanza with a 1:58 powerplay but nothing came of it and they couldn't extend their 2-0 lead. Washington came to life with Alexander Ovechkin scoring his 44th of the season just 2:28 into the frame and it set off a flurry of action directed at Buffalo netminder Carter Hutton. But other than the Ovechkin's laser of a goal-scorer's goal, Hutton came up big. The 33 yr. old netminder came up with two more big saves over the next seven minutes to keep the game 2-1. It was the type of goaltending performance that bolstered the team during their 10-game winning streak but was mostly missing since.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

If they play that way the rest of the way, most would be OK with that

The Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning went at it last night in a tight, physical battle that ended in the shootout. Tampa came away with the 2-1 win and in the process extended their winning streak to eight games while the loss was Buffalo's fourth in a row (0-3-1.) Despite the loss, credit to the Sabres for making the Lightning work for it. 

From Jack Eichel to defenseman Rasmus "Beastolainen" to goalie Carter Hutton to winger Jeff Skinner, who got in a heated tussle with Tampa's Brayden Point, and everyone in between, the Sabres as a team came to play and did everything they could to win against the high-powered Lightning. However, Tampa rolled out the skill in the shootout and came out on top.

The game last night had a playoff feel to it much like a late November matchup where Tampa ended Buffalo's franchise-tying 10-game winning streak. It was about as exciting as it gets that early in the season as Lightning won on two third period goals to complete the back-and-forth, come-from-behind 5-4 win. The talk afterward centered around the intensity of the game and electricity in the building and that there seemed to be a rivalry brewing between the two clubs.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Botterill makes it pretty clear, the Sabres are on their own

The Buffalo Sabres are in Tampa, Florida tonight to take on the League-leading Lightning at Amalie Arena. The game kicks off an extremely rough patch where the Sabres play three Eastern Conference heavyweights in the span of five days with two of those on the road. After tonight Buffalo heads home to face off against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals then travel up to Toronto to take on the archrival Maple Leafs just a few hours after the NHL Trade Deadline. The combined record of those three teams is 115-50-15.

Buffalo heads into these matchups while on a three-game losing streak. The teams they lost to--NY Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers--have a combined record of 75-78-24 and are three of the bottom-five teams in the conference. It was a trio of games that could have bolstered the Sabres playoff chances but in losing all three, whatever playoff optimism Sabreland had to took a big hit even though they're still in the mix.

It's not over, by any means as the Sabres are six points out of a playoff spot with one team to jump, a game in hand on a couple of teams they trail and 23 games to go, but it would take one hell of a turnaround to come out of these next three games with enough points to keep their playoff hopes alive. And by the looks of it, whatever turnaround occurs will come almost exclusively from the players in the room.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Pegulas witness a disaster and perhaps they need a different approach

Terry and Kim Pegula should feel very lucky they own the Buffalo Sabres and not the Florida Panthers because no matter how bad their team might be, they'll never see such a sparse crowd like was on hand last night in Sunrise, Florida. The Pegulas reside just a stone's throw away in Boca Raton and they were on hand last night as their Sabres took on the Panthers with empty seats all over the place at BB&T Center. Luckily for them, despite how bad Buffalo has been playing lately, and have played since they took over the team in 2011, the attendance is way beyond anything Florida has had.

Buffalo dropped a 4-2 decision to a Panthers team that has been in the bottom half of the conference for most of the season. It was the third loss in a row for the Sabres and third one against a team that was decidedly out of the playoff race. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Okposo has concussion. Florida trip has been brutal for Sabres

Published by, 2-19-2019

The Buffalo Sabres announced today that forward Kyle Okposo has a concussion after getting one-punched to the ice in a tilt with the NY Rangers on Sunday. Reasons for why he decided to drop the gloves in the first place are now irrelevant as this concussion is something that could be very serious.

Okposo suffered a concussion late on March 21, 2017 that went undiagnosed and he eventually ended up missing the final six games of the regular season. What happened after was a ride that landed him in the neurological intensive care unit where he was left "incoherent, confused and paranoid," according to a piece by Tim Graham of The Athletic. "He strained to recognize loved ones. He thought staffers around his bedside were there to hurt him."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Slip-slidin' away

Published by, 2-18-2019

The pattern of alternating between wins and losses broke the wrong way last night as the Buffalo Sabres lost 4-1 in New Jersey. Buffalo had been in win one, lose one mode dating back to a win at Calgary on January 16 which produced a 5-5-1 record and kept them in the general area of the Eastern Conference wild card race.

Prior to the Calgary game, Buffalo was five points behind the Montreal Canadiens but had two games in hand and they were four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not too much has change for Buffalo the last four weeks as they're still looking up at the Habs and Pens, both of whom have 69 points and have each played one more game than the 63-point Sabres.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Win one for Kyle plus, Mitts returns and lines get a good shakeup.

Published by, 2-17-2019

Plain and simple, Sabres forward Kyle Okposo got smoked at the hands of NY Rangers d-man Tony DeAngelo in a one-punch fight on Friday night. Props to Okposo for defending himself for a "hit" that wasn't even close to being as malicious as the Rangers took it to be, but then again, Okposo really shouldn't be dropping his gloves in the first place.

First off, fighting is just not in his makeup. At 30 years old and with over 700 NHL games played Okposo has been in a total of five fights over his 12 yr. career with his last one being over four years ago, according to In addition, considering what he went through with his March, 2017 concussion, the follow-up treatment that landed him in the Intensive Care Unit and the long, slow process of once again playing the game without reservations, all potential hits to the head should be avoided at all costs. Yet, there he was going toe-to-toe with a young buck who's had 10 fights in just over three years.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Alternating wins/losses, good/bad play making it difficult for BUF GM

Published by, 2-16-2019

Imagine you're Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and the possibility of ending a seven-year playoff drought is within reach. But the balance between talent and flaws has you stuck in no-man's land and with just over a week to go before the NHL trade deadline your team is treading water alternating between wins and losses the past 11 games. They've not been able to win two in a row since December yet they've only had one real bad stretch (3-8-1,) one that effectively balanced out their 10-game winning streak in November. The teams in and around your team in the playoff bubble have been hot with some cooling down and all of them have issues, but they've made enough headway to create a little breathing room with still a long way to go.

Complicating matters is the fact that the team with the longest current playoff drought, one year more than your team, is ahead of you in the standings and looks like they may reach the playoffs before you do. Should that happen while you miss out again, you would be the GM of a team with the longest current NHL playoff drought even after having possibly the longest winning streak in the League that season.

Such is the conundrum of Botterill and his Buffalo Sabres.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pressing towards the trade deadline with a game-packed stretch coming up

Published by, 2-15-2019 The Buffalo Sabres took Monday and Wednesday off this week and will finish a seven-game homestand with a bout against the NY Rangers tonight at KeyBank Center. Buffalo started out this stand getting trampled upon by the Chicago Blackhawks and proceeded to alternate between wins and losses the next five games. A win tonight would be big on a number of levels as it would offer up a bit of redemption for the club after a rough start to the homestand, it will give them their first back-to-back wins since December, and it will pull them a bit closer to a playoff spot. Buffalo's 3-2-1 record during the stand is decent so far but it hasn't been enough to significantly move the needle in their playoff push and losing to the Carolina Hurricanes last week certainly didn't help matters even if they did get a loser-point. The 'Canes jumped ahead of Buffalo in the standings with that 6-5 overtime win although the Sabres still have a game in hand. Tonight Carolina hosts the struggling Edmonton Oilers who are presently in a death-spiral (2-6-2 in their last 10 games.) Yesterday's scoreboard was kind to the Sabres as two teams they're chasing both lost. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who are presently in a dog-fight to stay top-three in the Metropolitan Division were shutout 3-0 and the Montreal Canadiens who sit third in the Atlantic Division lost 3-1 last night. Buffalo is four points behind the Jackets while playing the same number of games and they're six points behind the Habs with a game in hand meaning a win tonight will pull the Sabres that much closer to teams they're chasing.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Sabres finding a formula for (moderate) success. Sorry it's boring to some.

The Buffalo Sabres have had an identity crises through much of their decade-long slog through the wasteland of mediocrity and worse. About the only time were we were sure what kind of team we had came during the tank years of 2013-15 and the defensive-minded 2009-10 team that featured a Vezina-winning goaltender in Ryan Miller, Calder-winning defenseman Tyler Myers and a defensive-minded team that posted the NHL's fourth-best goals-against average. The years in and around those were littered with inconsistencies from an organization that couldn't figure out who they were or what they wanted to be and players who wanted to be something they weren't. 

It would seem as if this edition of the Sabres is in a similar conundrum as the team they'd really like to be doesn't match up with the talent on hand. No doubt Buffalo has acquired some skill via the draft and trades while also upping their overall team speed, but they're still far removed from the elite teams in the league and in the process of trying to be like them, or act like them, they forgot certain tried and true aspects of the game, like defense.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sabres treading water, but actually gain a point in playoff race

Often twitter-embattled Sabres beat writer Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News had a rather positive response to a tweet yesterday that read, "Kiss the playoff push bye-bye" after the Sabres dropped a 3-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets at home that afternoon. A typically cynical Harrington stuck to the hard numbers and offered up this in retort, "Look at the standings, people. TWO points out."

Worms meet can opener.

Harrington's been defending that quote for the last 19 hours as a very restless Buffalo Sabres fanbase struggles with the fact that their team, which was once at the top of the league, is treading water and presently outside of a playoff spot. As the curtain closed on the loss to the Jets yesterday evening, Harrington was left to throw life preservers to an anguished fan base on the verge of drowning in their distress, which is quite ironic as the longtime sports writer has unabashedly focused his ire upon the team beginning at the top with ownership and hitting every rung on the way down.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Can you see the real me? Can ya? Can ya?

Published by, 2-8-2019

Jack Eichel has been a model of leadership this season putting on a display of maturity both on and off the ice. As captain of the Buffalo Sabres, win or lose he's the go-to guy post-game to answer questions and on most occasions he's usually a good interview whether showing guarded enthusiasm after a win or contemplative assessment after a loss. With the Sabres doing a lot of losing as of late so perhaps it finally got to him.

Last season we saw a lot of losing as well, and a lot of Ryan O'Reilly post-game saying things like, "We have to be better," and "I have to be better," and "It's on me." It got to the point where you could almost grab any of his interviews from any prior loss and re-air it after the most recent loss. However, O'Reilly is gone, traded to the St. Louis Blues last summer, and as the unquestioned leader and captain of the team, Eichel is now in O'Reilly's shoes. And for maybe the first time this season, Eichel offered up O'Reilly-like answers after last night's 6-5 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I didn't play well tonight. It's starts with me so I've got to be better," was Eichel's curt response to the media's first question about a frustrating home-stand. We knew it would be a tough interview from the get-go when Eichel started out by saying to the gathered media, "You guys gonna look at me or you gonna ask questions? Anybody asking questions or [can] we get out of here?"

That's the frustrated Jack Eichel we saw on occasion last season when the franchise center and his team were on their way to a 64-point, last place finish. Every once in a while we'd see a post-game interview where he really didn't want to be there, much less want to talk, and his snippy responses seemed to come off as that of a petulant child berating those who dare ask him a question.

News flash, Jack, Being a captain is not all rainbows, unicorns and jujus and belittling the media because you're frustrated with yourself and the failures of your team does no one any good.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Task at hand: overcoming losing streak vs. 'Canes

The Sabres did well in defeating the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. Granted it took a while as they blew a one-goal lead late in the third period and had to go to the shootout for the 5-4 win, but a win's a win and at this point in the season, they'll take all the points they can get. Buffalo had lost their previous five home games against the Wild with their last win on March 24, 2012.

Those issues are popping up again for the Sabres, this time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Including a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes back in January, Buffalo has lost seven in a row to the Carolina (0-5-2.) The last time they won was almost three years agon in Jack Eichel's rookie season. The March 22, 2016 win concluded a season sweep of the 'Canes and extended Buffalo's winning streak against them to four games.

Such is the topsy-turvy life of two struggling teams. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Housley does some more line juggling after win vs. Minnesota

Published by, 2-6-2019

The blender worked well on a couple of levels last night. Buffalo bench boss Phil Housley blew up his forward lines while also making other some personnel adjustments, most notably on the powerplay and it worked as the Sabres beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in the shootout going 2/2 on the powerplay. Sam Reinhart was a game-changer last night with a goal and a primary assist and he also scored the deciding goal in the shootout. Reinhart was deservedly named the game's first star and he did what many thought he couldn't do--be a difference-maker and do so away from Jack Eichel. Almost. Eichel was the driving force behind Reinhart's tally but missed out on an assist because of a Minnesota turnover, but the narrative stands, Reinhart came through.

Despite secondary scoring last night, Housley doesn't look as if he was pleased with the lineup overall and word from the rink today had him switching up lines again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Welcome to the Pressure Dome

Published by, 2-5-2019

The Buffalo Sabres brought this upon themselves and only they can fix it. Whether you blame the defense, secondary scoring, the powerplay, goaltending, the coach and/or the general manager, the Sabres are in a free fall and it doesn't seem as if they have any idea how to get out of it.


After Friday's 7-3 debacle at home against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sabres fell to 3-7-0 in their last 10 games and their 25-20-6 record puts them below the real .500 mark for the first time since November 4 when they fell to 7-6-2 after a loss to the NY Rangers. They followed that game with a 10-game winning streak, which had a lot to do with them being above .500 for so long, but their subsequent fall from grace dropped them to where they are now. In looking back as to how the 2018-19 season has unfolded, it's really been a tale of three seasons--pre-streak, streak and post-streak--for Buffalo and after 51 games we're still not sure just who the hell they are.

The word emanating from KeyBank Center is that the Sabres are trying to get back to who they were before and head coach Phil Housley yesterday pointed to how they played after a shakeup in the lines and d-pairings sparked a strong run. "Everybody had a role, an identity," Housley told the gathered media yesterday. "But in saying that, I think we were playing the game the right way back then, making good puck decisions, managing our game, our checking detail was really solid and we've got to get back to that."

"You can mix the lines up all you want, but if you don't manage a game, you don't have a respect for your own net, you're going to get the same result."

All very true, Buffalo may have played their best game to that point of the season when they lost to the NY Rangers 3-1 back in November yet they also never put together that full-game effort the next 10 games yet won all of them. At that point in time they were playing extremely well for parts of games, yet were still winning, and perhaps they thought that their 10-game harmonic conversion of good luck combined with starry-eyed confidence is who they really were. Yet this downward spiral should have brought them back down to earth and if they don't figure it out real soon (like tonight,) they're in for a rough finish to the season.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sabres need more than a Elie-waive/Smith recall to get into the wild card spot

Published by, 2-4-2019

Okay. Let's get this out of the way. Winger C.J. Smith will not be Buffalo's savior. Smith, who was called up from Rochester today, will not single-handedly turn around a team that has lost 18 of their last 26 games (8-14-4) nor will he help the goaltending, which has been a sieve as of late (35 goals in their last eight games) nor will he help the d-corps get their collective head out of their butt.

However, what he can do is help the mid-six forward group.

Since head coach Phil Housley put all his scoring eggs of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart into one basket, the team has struggled mightily with secondary scoring. While the top line was doing their thing and the bottom line theirs in a defensive vein, the middle six has contributed very little to the cause. It's a giant hole that emerged during the season and it's really not the fault of players or coaches.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Pick a headline:

Published by, 2-2-2019

Epic fail
Not ready for prime time
What was that all about?
Is that any way to start a seven-game home stand?
You do realize that this was the second to last team in the league?
Precious points slip away...again
A rare occurrence--Pominville and Okposo both scoring in the same game--is wasted
What happened to starter Carter Hutton?
They finally scored a goal on the powerplay. Yay. But lose. Boooo.
Obviously, nowhere close to good enough.

Or maybe:

Sabres struggling with pressure

You can't really complain with how the Sabres came out in the first period, save for their typical penchant for trying to do too much in front of the hometown fans. Perhaps this is a curse of some kind dating back to the first post-Drury/Briere season of 2007-08, where those Sabres teams seemed intent upon collecting style points instead of goals on the scoreboard. Unfortunately this approach has gone on for years in Buffalo, spanning numerous coaches as well as a complete roster turnover save for 35 yr. old Jason Pominville who was on those teams, was traded away and came back in a trade.

Another trait that seems to have followed the Sabres is wilting under pressure which is a direct result of failing move the scoreboard. For those of us who distinctly remember those teams in the latter ought's, adversity was a cruel beast that rendered those Sabres teams helpless. If they weren't scoring, they got frustrated and began to twinkle their toes even more leading to cracks and gaps in their game that the opposition eventually took advantage of. When that levee finally broke, the goals-against came quickly and there was no place to hide.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Team Stats--January

Published by, 2-1-2019

Before we get to the team stats through January, a quick look ahead at a very important stretch of games. The Sabres will be at KeyBank center for a seven-game homestand beginning tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks. Here's the rest of the schedule:

2-5---Minnesota Wild
2-7---Carolina Hurricanes
2-9---Detroit Red Wings
2-10--Winnipeg Jets
2-12--NY Islanders
2-15--NY Rangers

After that they'll play four more games before the February 25 NHL Trade Deadline and what happens between now and the 25th will have a direct impact on how Buffalo GM Jason Botterill will approach the deadline.

It all begins tonight against a Blackhawks team that has had their way with the Sabres. In their last 10 games Buffalo is only 1-6-3 against the Hawks, 2-6-2 at home. The Sabres pulled out a 5-3 win vs. Chicago at home last season and should they win tonight it will be the first time Buffalo has managed consecutive wins against the Blackhawks since winning three in a row between December 3, 2003 and December 15, 2007, according to Sabres PR.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Buffalo Sabres 2018-19 Individual Stats Leaders--January

Published by, 1-31-2019

Well Sabreland (myself included,) you wanted secondary scoring and that's what you got in January. Unfortunately the bid dogs weren't their usual selves this past month and it lead to a sub-par 4-6-0 overall record for Buffalo, which really doesn't help their playoff aspirations.

Wecan also throw the goalies into that sub-par category as well. Granted, both Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark were the victims of some weird bounces, especially Hutton with three deflections off of his defensemen in a 4-3 loss at Carolina, they needed to be better and they weren't. Generally speaking both goaltenders couldn't consistently come up with the big save when the Sabres needed it and their overall numbers continued on a downward slant with Hutton posting a .860 save percentage for the month and Ullmark sporting one at .902.

However, as troubling as those numbers might be, what we see in the powerplay goals category is unacceptable. As we look at that stat there's but one name there, Jeff Skinner. He had Buffalo's lone powerplay goal through 10 games in the month of January leading to an abysmal one goal in 25 opportunities with the man advantage (0.96%) for the Sabres. Of note:  In three one-goal losses the powerplay went 0/4, although they did manage their lone PP goal in the Carolina loss, and in a two-goal loss to Tampa they went 0/4.

No powerplay production generally means that those on the top powerplay unit will see their overall production fall allowing others sneak their way onto the leaderboard for the month. Skinner continues to score goals but Reinhart was only able to hold on to a singular top-three spot (assists.) Jack Eichel is no where to be seen this month and though he missed three games due to injury, his one goal and three assists was un-Jack like.