Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Sabres and Bills both need to make a move

Published by, 10-29-2019

Prior to Sunday the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills had a combined 14-3-1 record and both were in great spots moving forward--the Sabres were atop the NHL and the Bills were second in their division, squarely in a wild card spot. After this last night both were still in solid spots but a little shine taken off of their armor. The Sabres went 1-1-1 over a three-game stint from Thursday to Monday while the Bills ran into a road grader in the form of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday who beat them 31-13 in Buffalo.

The Bills couldn't handle an Eagles team that was embarrassed the week before in Dallas. Philadelphia came to Buffalo with their backs against the wall in a fight for their playoff life and used an NFC East-style running game led by a big and mean offensive line to plow their way to 218 rushing yards and three touchdowns. After the game, Eagles running back Jordan Howard was quoted by the as saying, "We were able to wear their defense down. You could tell at the end of the game that they really didn't want to tackle us."

Having said that, you couldn't place the blame fully on the Bills defense as the offense sputtered. Once Buffalo fell behind they were throwing the ball more, getting nowhere in the process, and eventually the Eagles just ground them down as evidenced by a very lopsided 35:57 to 24:03 time of possession in favor of Philadelphia.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sabres looking for a 10-win October

Published by, 10-28-2019

The longest winning streak in Buffalo Sabres franchise history came in the month October as that 2006-07 team won their first 10 games of the season. That record was matched last season as the team won 10 in a row in November. What followed those two streaks couldn't be more extreme. The '06/'07 Sabres went on to win the President's Trophy for most points in the NHL that year while the '18/19 Sabres missed the playoffs and finished 27th in the league.

With a win tonight Buffalo will become the first team to 10 wins this season and they would also tie that '06/'07 Sabres team for most points in October, albeit having played two more games. They're also off to a 5-0-0 start at home which is the first time a Buffalo team has done that since 1984-85 and a with win tonight they will tie a franchise record set in 1975-76 for best start at home.

Monday, October 28, 2019

That winning feeling

Back in 2006/07 when the Buffalo Sabres were the surprise of the National Hockey League with a team that embodied "the new NHL," Buffalo captain Chris Drury said their goal was to not lose two games in a row. The team came out on fire winning their first 10 games of the season before dropping one in the shootout and would go 11-0-1 before their first regulation loss. That Sabres team wouldn't lose two games in a row until mid-December and went on to win the President's Trophy with a 53-22-7 record. They finished the season with consecutive losses a total of five times (thrice in January.)

Although it's still a very young 2019-20 season, this edition of the Buffalo Sabres has yet to suffer back-to-back losses. Of the 12 games they've played thus far, three of them have not gone well but they managed to follow those up with some solid performances. The Sabres lost in overtime at Columbus but followed it up with a 5-4 overtime win at home against the Montreal Canadiens, they got manhandled for the final 40 minutes in 5-2 a loss at Anaheim then shut out the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 the following night, and last night they shut out the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 after losing 5-2 the previous night at New York against the Rangers.

A quick qualifier:  Montreal, Los Angeles and Detroit are a combined 11-18-2 thus far on the season.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Down goes Buffalo. Detroit up next tonight.

Published by, 10-25-2019

For as good as the Buffalo Sabres have been this season, their Achilles heel has been their performances on the road. They're most definitely getting it right at home as a the Sabres are sporting a rather robust 5-0-0 record (which includes two wins in overtime and one in the shootout) while outscoring their opponents 22-11, their play on the road has been suspect.

After getting shellacked by the NY Rangers last night 6-2 their road record is a pedestrian 3-2-1 and they've played their three worst games this season away from KeyBank Center. They were outplayed in Columbus but pulled out a point against the Blue Jackets, were manhandled by the Anaheim Ducks, and outplayed by an opportunistic Rangers team last night. They were outscored by a combined 15-7 in those three losses.

The most noticeable shortcoming in those three games is from Buffalo's top line as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson have combined for one goal and zero assists at even strength with a minus-12 total rating. Teams are taking advantage of having the last change at home and are able to match up their best checking lines against the Sabres top line and so far Buffalo has had no answer.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Buffalo beats San Jose 4-3 in OT plus your five-game Sabres recap

Published by, 10-23-2019

We're not sure if you can ask for a much better start to the Sabres season. After their 4-3 overtime win last night, the Buffalo is now 8-1-1 and though it's not the 10-game winning streak from last year, early indications are that this is not the same team as last year's either. This edition of the Sabres looks like they have many of the pieces in place to make this more sustainable, not 120-point sustainable, but at least playoff contender-worthy right now.

With last night's win over the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo is still undefeated at home, although three of the five wins came in the extra session and in two of them they blew two-goal leads. Against San Jose they actually came back from a 2-0 deficit and played their game to a 3-2 lead before surrendering the game-tying goal past the half-way point of the third period. They never wavered in this one and finished the Sharks off in overtime.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

On Krueger's goalie rotation and line stability plus tonight vs. SJS

Normally when a goalie pitches a shutout he gets the next start and chances are the head coach will ride him until he cools off. Exceptions to that rule may include playing back-to-back nights or having the No. 1 goalie back in net no matter what the back up does but "riding the hot hand" is usually what a head coach does especially if a team is in a 1A/1B situation with their netminders.

The Buffalo Sabres do have a No. 1 goalie in Carter Hutton but he and Linus Ullmark seem to be more of a 1A/1B than a 65/17 starter/backup tandem. Neither had a great 2018-19 season, especially in the second half when the team collapsed, and coming into camp new head coach Ralph Krueger stressed competition. Hutton got the start in the season opener, which isn't all that unremarkable considering the respect he garners on and off the ice, and after a 29-save, 3-1 win in Pittsburgh he got the start in the home-opener as well. The Sabres won that game 7-2 before a home rollicking crowd celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the franchise.

Krueger gave Ullmark the next start in Columbus and the 26 yr. old managed to salvage a point for Buffalo with a 40-save performance in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets and the duo have been rotating ever since. Which is rather curious considering Hutton blanked the Dallas Stars before the team embarked on their just completed three-game California road trip.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Sabres have answers in San Jose, are now 7-1-1

Published by, 10-20-2019

Who would have thought?

Coming into the 2019-20 season most pundits looked at the Buffalo Sabres lineup and it didn't look as if they'd made enough significant changes to even get close to their goal of ending an NHL-long, eight-year playoff drought. Some of the more rabid Sabres fans even called for the head of general manager Jason Botterill for not doing enough while hanging on to a list of what they considered hockey deplorables. Vladimir Sobotka was the king of the list with names like Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons, Kyle Okposo and Marco Scandella deemed terrible. Many couldn't wait until defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen finally got traded for top-six help up-front even though in some fans eyes he rivaled Sobotka for the dubious distinction as most deplorable Sabre.

Although it's still way too early in the season to uncork the champagne in celebration of finally making it to the post-season, there are plenty of signs that this team will at least be able to make a run if they continue to play they way they have and their 7-1-1 start to the season most certainly helps. New head coach Ralph Krueger has each player believing in themselves and in their intrinsic value to the team. He's found four trios up front that he can roll and his pairings on the back-end have in the very least been solid but maybe more importantly, he's got this team playing as a five-man unit with support in every zone.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A long distance home-and-home begins tonight with the Sabres in San Jose

Published by, 10-19-2019

Amongst the interesting notes heading into tonight's Buffalo Sabres/San Jose matchup at the Shark tank in Norther California is that the Sharks will travel to Buffalo, NY for a game on Tuesday that will constitute a very long, 2,700 mile home-and-home series wit
h the Sabres. As Buffalo ends their three-game California road-trip tonight and travels back home, the Sharks begin a five-game, East Coast trip in the Queen City and though it's not a life-altering schedule notation, it is fairly interesting in that it doesn't seem as if it's typical NHL scheduling.

That said, all Sabre-eyes are on the Sharks tonight as Buffalo hits the Sharktank trying to make it two in a row after suffering their first regulation loss of the season at Anaheim. Buffalo followed up that 5-2 loss to the Ducks with a solid 3-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings the following night. The Ducks and Kings, as well as the Sharks, epitomize Western Conference style hockey in that they play a heavy game that makes it hard on the opposition. Anaheim threw the Sabres off of their game with physical play after being in down 2-0 late in the first period and they pushed that strategy to five unanswered goals in the victory.

The following night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Buffalo faced a similar situation as they went up 2-0 in the first period, but managed to get their third goal early in the second before the Kings got on their forecheck and laid the body on the Sabres. However, Buffalo withstood a furious second period where they were outshot 17-10 with Los Angeles missing on 12 shot attempts and a lopsided third where Los Angeles outshot Buffalo 19-7. The end result is all that matters as goalie Carter Hutton posted his second consecutive shutout after stopping 47 shots.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Proper response by the Sabres in 3-0 shutout of Kings

For the first 20 minutes of yesterday's 3-0 shutout win at Los Angeles, the Buffalo Sabres looked as if they'd shrugged off their loss the prior night. While in Anaheim on Wednesday, the Sabres got off to a great start but got thrown off of their game as a big and fast Ducks team got uber-physical and laid 200' pressure on Buffalo from late in the second period onward. The result was a 5-2 Sabres loss as their once potent powerplay went a meager 1/7 with the man advantage and their frustrations had them playing Anaheim's game instead of their own.

The Sabres goal heading into Staples Center against the Kings for the second game of a back-to-back, was to stick to their game regardless of what Los Angeles threw at them and for the first period, they did were able to play Sabres hockey. Buffalo scored two goals in the first 5:20 of the game and kept their foot on the gas as much as they could the rest of the period. In the second period they took advantage of an early powerplay by upping their lead to 3-0 before Los Angeles turned the tide.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rehashing an "off night" in Anaheim with a look ahead to the Los Angeles Kings game

You know the old adage, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts and the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres are no different. 

Everyone knew the flaws this team had coming into the season but they'd been able to overcome those through the first six games of the season. The Sabres left Western New York on Monday riding a 5-0-1 record into California for a three game road-trip in The Golden State. They got to that point by playing a fast, 200' game with support in every zone buoyed by a deadly powerplay that kept teams at bay in style and/or on the scoreboard.

After downing the Pittsburgh Penguins and steamrolling the New Jersey Devils to start the season, the new look, positive-thinking Sabres hit Columbus and found themselves in a heavyweight bout with a desperate team. Buffalo overcame two deficits in that game against the Blue Jackets and rode the powerplay (2/4) to get it to overtime before losing 4-3. They followed that up with three consecutive wins--one in overtime, one in the shootout and a 4-0 blowout of the Dallas Stars before heading west. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Sabres begin a three-game California road trip tonight in Anaheim

Published by, 10-16-2019

Buoyed by 5-0-1 start and a new lease on hockey life thanks to positive vibrations emanating from bench boss Ralph Krueger, the Buffalo Sabres are in California for a three-game swing through The Golden State beginning tonight. The first game on the docket has the surprising Sabres in Anaheim to take one the equally surprising Ducks at the Honda Center.

Anaheim is off to a strong start with a Pacific Division-leading 4-2-0 record born of a strong defense backed by firm goaltending. The Ducks have a league best 1.67 goals-against average (T-BOS) with the goaltending duo of John Gibson and former Sabre Ryan Miller sporting a rather staunch .944 save percentage (10 goals on 179 shots against.)

That strong goals-against average, however, is unfortunately countered by a fourth-worst 2.17 goals/game (tied with two other teams) which includes a powerplay that is anything but. Anaheim heads into tonight's game as one of three teams (NJD, OTT) without a powerplay goal. Going six games without makes it an issue with Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins telling the local media yesterday, "We'll try anything right now."

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Looking legit

Published by, 10-15-2019

Are the Buffalo Sabres surprising? Maybe the most surprising team in the league this year?

You betcha.

Are they legit?

Um...It's looking that way.

At 5-0-1 the Sabres are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season. They defeated four of five Eastern Conference opponents, lost another one in overtime and after last night's win now find themselves atop the National Hockey League standings with 11 points. They've scored 25 goals (24+1 for the shootout) and have allowed 13 for a league-leading +12 goal differential. Sure, we can revert back to last season when they went on a franchise-tying 10-game winning streak in November only to fold and finish 27th in the league as a comparison, but...

more on that later.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dallas visits Buffalo for a matinee today, plus a five-game Sabres recap

The Buffalo Sabers have a 3 p.m. matinee game against the Dallas Stars at KeyBank Center today. It will be the final game of a three-game homestand before they head out west for three games in four nights against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Sabres just finished a stretch where they played five games in nine nights and are coming off of a full day away from the rink with head coach Ralph Krueger saying that his charges should look refreshed for the game against the Stars. 

Krueger spoke to the gathered media after practice yesterday and said, "Today (at practice) you're trying to get the intensity and focus you need to play our hockey and they gave it to us in practice. But that freshness and the energy we'll have we expect to show up against Dallas."

Buffalo is off to a 4-0-1 start under their new head coach who's working a lineup that's very similar to what was iced last season. Three new faces were added up-front--Victor Olofsson, Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey while the back-end has welcomed Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju who were acquired in separate trades. The goaltending duo of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are once again patrolling the crease. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ralph Krueger's handling of Rasmus Dahlin plus line notes

Published by, 10-13-19

Sabres bench boss Ralph Krueger sat sophomore defenseman Rasmus Dahlin the final eight-plus minutes of their 3-2 overtime win against the Florida Panthers on Friday night and his reasoning had a lot of truth packed into it. "We've gone 11 days in a row without a day off to start the season," Krueger told the media postgame. "There's been a lot of effort invested in getting the results we've had and we could see a few guys tapering off. We just thought we were protecting him in that little stretch. We knew Florida was going to push hard and we went with a little more experience there.

"Rasmus has played outstanding and is learning and growing every day," the coach continued, "and there's going to be moments like that were we're going to reduce the lineup to go with the guys we think we have the best chance of closing and he will definitely be in that mix eventually."

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Big challenge tonight for the fourth...err, Larsson...umm, checking line?

A line by any other name, in this case the Johan Larsson line otherwise known as the fourth line to some, still smells like a checking line. And it's a good one.

Although Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger says he refuses to count the lines, stating that every line has equal importance in his scheme, we all really know better. Jack Eichel leads the forwards in even-strength time on ice and his linemates Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson are second and third, respectively. The next three in order are Jeff Skinner, Marcus Johansson and Vladimir Sobotka, who represent a line.

Perhaps it gets a little hazy after that as the Larsson/Zemgus Girgensons/Kyle Okposo line rank seventh, eight and ninth on the team in EV ATOI which might earn them the title of Buffalo's third line. Yet Okposo had this quote when discussing the effectiveness of his line, "We're a pretty formidable line right now, he said. "You look across (as an opponent,) you see a fourth line (his line) and you say, 'What the hell am I doing in my D-zone?'"

Friday, October 11, 2019

Sabres putting the "power" back in their powerplay

Published by, 10-19-2019

Never underestimate special teams, specifically the powerplay.

Sure, there's a vocal faction the truly believes that special teams really don't matter much because most of the play is at 5v5. There's a point to be made there and we can look specifically at the Buffalo Sabres who, in the 2016-17 season had the NHL's No. 1 powerplay (24.5%) but finished 26th in the league due in large part to the seventh-worst goal production in the league and a seventh-worst goal differential (-36.)

Analytics has it's place in the world but there are things that can't be charted, such as momentum. And, of course, there's a strong vocal minority that refuse to believe momentum exists in sports, but anyone who's played organized sports outside of intramurals would have a differing opinion. Heck, even in pickup games one can sense riding a  hot hand and/or the tide turning at any given moment. That said, things like momentum can't be empirically charted therefore in this Aristotelian age of statistical importance, the unquantifiable doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Can the Sabres make KeyBank Center a nightmare for other teams?

The goal is and always been to make KeyBank Center a tough place for the visitors to play. We've heard it year-in/year-out for, what seems like, ever and the results have been unimpressive lately. Beginning with the two years Dan Bylsma was head coach, Jack Eichel's first two as Buffalo's franchise center, the Sabres won only 16 home games the first year and posted a 36-34-12 record for 84 points out of a possible 164 total points. After Bylsma was fired, Phil Housley took over and the team won only 11 home games in the 2017-18 season while on their way to the No. 1 overall pick. In Housley's two-year tenure the Sabres record got worse at home overall at 32-40-10, but showed stronger tendencies last season with a 21-15-5 record, best in the prior four seasons.

This year under new head coach Ralph Krueger the Sabres began the home portion of their 50th anniversary season with an electrifying 7-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. Fans leaving KeyBank Center that night, and fans across Sabreland, had the feeling that this could be a real special season, at least at home. The Sabres came back to reality a bit on Monday night as the Columbus Blue Jackets put the clamp-down on Buffalo and defeated them 4-3 in overtime.

Krueger insists the Sabres are in a "learning phase" right now so we should expect a lot of growing pains. "It's important sometimes to have tough nights," he told the media yesterday. "Those setbacks are really, really good, especially when you take a point out of them.

"That's the way we're managing it today."
The Sabres will have the opportunity to keep it rolling at home as they face the Montreal Canadiens tonight to kick off a three-game home stand. Montreal offers up a different set of problems to overcome for the Sabres and are backstopped by one of the best  goalies in the game, Patrick Roy. Buffalo is 5-3-2 in their last 10 home games against Le Habitants.


A lot has been made about forward Evan Rodrigues being in the lineup for the first time this season. Rodrigues was relegated to the pressbox by Krueger to start the season, a move which left him "shocked."

"That was obviously not a situation I thought I'd be in," he said

For as surprising as it was to him, and pretty much everyone else including this writer, Rodrigues handled it like a pro.

"Evan's been outstanding," said Krueger of Rodrigues' professionalism. "I mean he's the one that said to me, 'Somebody's going to be in this spot all season long.' 

"He's been nothing but supportive to his teammates and to the process," said the coach.

Rodrigues is in the lineup because forward Conor Sheary is week to week with an upper body injury and it looks as Krueger opting to simply replace Sheary with Rodrigues and not mess with the other lines. Without a morning skate one would expect that Krueger will stick with his lines and pairings he used for the first three games:

Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart
Skinner - Johansson - Sobotka
Vesey - Mittelstadt - Rodrigues
Girgensons - Larsson - Okposo

McCabe - Ristolainen
Dahlin - Miller 
Scandella - Jokiharju

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Lessons to learn.

Published by, 10-8-2019

The Columbus Blue Jackets did to Buffalo what the Sabres had done to the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils in their opening two games. Columbus harassed and pressured Buffalo from start to overtime finish in their 4-3 win and generally made life miserable for the visiting Sabres as they cut of passing lanes and used deft stickwork to throttle a previously high-flying Buffalo team.

Sabres captain Jack Eichel and his linemates Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson were held scoreless until Olofsson slapped home the game-tying goal with just 1:14 left on the clock with the goalie pulled and Buffalo on the powerplay. The 6-on-4 advantage came courtesy of a late faceoff violation on the Jackets' Boone Jenner as he used his hand to move the  puck on the draw. Olofsson set up in his spot on the left circle and slapped home a one-timer off a feed from Rasmus Dahlin for his third goal in as many games.

That was about it for Buffalo's top line as they could only muster a total of six shots on goal--one from Eichel, two from Reinhart and three from Olofsson--which wasn't bad considering the Sabres totaled only 18 shots the entire game. Columbus on the other hand peppered goalie Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark with 44 shots on goal, which was only two less than the Sabres allowed to the Penguins and Devils combined.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sabres off to a raucous start this season

The Buffalo Sabres couldn't have asked for a better start to their Golden Season as they're off to a 2-0 start with wins at Pittsburgh and at home against the New Jersey Devils by a combined 10-3 score no. Buffalo showed their new approach by throttling the Penguins 3-1 on Thursday through a high-pressure game-plan while outshooting Pittsburgh 41-29. They followed that up with an even more impressive performance in a 7-2 win before a raucous KeyBank Center crowd. In both instances it was full-throttle forward for the Sabres as they took it to both clubs.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sabres kick off home portion of Golden Season tonight vs. NJD

Published by, 10-5-2019

When all was said and done Thrusday night after the Buffalo Sabres disposed of the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1, the general feeling from head coach Ralph Krueger on down was that the win was great, but there's a long hard road to hoe. "We haven't achieved anything yet with this win," the coach said to the gathered media post-game. We're just at the beginning of a long, long, difficult challenge to go where we want to go."

Where the want to go is the post-season, a place the Sabres haven't been since 2011 with their eight-season playoff drought being the longest current drought in the NHL. Since then there's been a full turnover of executives, management, the coaching staff and the roster. Terry Pegula had bought the team in February, 2011 and had been their owner only three months before his Sabres made a late-season run to get to the playoffs before they lost in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Since then. Nothing. Nada. Nyet, Zilch, when it came to playoff appearance. Heck, since then their highest point total and highest finish was 2012-13 when they had 89 points and finished third in the division. They eclipsed 80 points only one other time ('15/16,) had a couple of seasons with mid-70's point totals, hit 62 points once and tanked for 52 and 54 points in 2013-14 and 2015-16, respectively (or disrespectfully, if you choose to describe those two seasons.)

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 season preview

Published by, 10-2-2019

The Mood

How many "next year's" are there in the annals of Buffalo sports history? For fans of both the Sabres and Bills there have been way too many, especially this century, but for Jason Botterill, this will be his third season as Buffalo's general manager and as their 2019-20 roster might indicate, he seems to have more of a focus on next year than the upcoming season. Botterill has four forwards, four defensemen and one goalie on the books for 2020-21 and an additional of seven players under their control leaving seven openings to be filled with around $34 million in cap space.  

Which is great....for next year. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Should he stay or should he go?

Preseason ended for the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday with a 3-2 shootout win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Yesterday the team had a very early practice so they could be at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY to watch the Buffalo Bills take on the New England Patriots (which turned out to be a defensive struggle with the Pats coming out on top 16-10.)

Today the powers that be are huddled in Sabres offices trying to figure out who should stay and who should go. Yes, we know Sabreland, if it was up to the most vociferous of the fan base Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen would have been traded by now, Vladimir Sobotka bought out, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson all waived with Marco Scandella given a one-way ticket to anywhere in the world and every one of those fans willing to drive him to the airport. 

Ain't gonna happen.