All posts by kephartc

Dahlin, Now What? Projected Lines and Free Agent Targets

The Buffalo Sabres were the lucky team that got to draft franchise-changing defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the first-overall pick. He automatically improves the team before stepping on the ice for his first NHL game.

But, the Sabres – a team that was dead-last in the league in three out of the last five seasons – need more than just Dahlin to turn the ship around . They need to keep improving through trades like the one GM Jason Botterill made with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick.

Sheary, the major point of the trade, has had some solid years playing alongside one of the league’s best players in Sidney Crosby. In the 2016-17 season that saw him spend extended time on Pittsburgh’s top line, Sheary posted 23-30-53 totals, but those numbers dipped to 18 goals, 12 assists and 30 points last year while he floated between the top-three units.

The belief in Buffalo is that Sheary has the pace to skate with Jack Eichel, so he could be first-line LW this coming season.

Free agency is another way for Botterill to strengthen this team. The Sabres have roughly $18 million in cap space.

Now time to have some fun and share my projected lines for the upcoming season.

LW2

The left wing is a major void on the Sabres’ roster. Botterill tried to fill that void by acquiring Sheary, but there is still a decent hole in the left wing that they need to figure out.

In the System

If the hole can be filled from within the organization, they will do it. There are two names that stand a chance for me in this position: C.J. Smith and Victor Olofsson.

Smith had a great rookie season down in the AHL, registering 17-27-44 marks with the Rochester Americans. In fact, his campaign was so good, he would’ve been a favorite for the American League’s Rookie of the Year if he hadn’t gotten hurt and missed a couple months.

Meanwhile, Olofsson led the SHL in goals this past season as a 22-year-old. He has one of the best shots in the system, and the Sabres hope it can translate into the NHL.

Honorable mention: If Alexander Nylander has a good camp and preseason, he stands a chance for the spot. His style seems to fit the NHL more than AHL as proven in his couple games last season in the blue and gold.

Free Agents

Now to show my cards before I get into free agents: I hate overpaying guys on July 1 and weigh risk and reward more than anything.

Anthony Duclair is one of my ideal targets. He has to prove himself with his next contract/organization or he will be AHL-bound. Last season, he put up 11 goals and 12 assists between Chicago and Arizona.

Tobias Rieder is a fast-paced winger who could add speed to a very slow Buffalo Sabres team. He didn’t have very good numbers last year, with 12 goals and 13 assists again between two organizations (Arizona and LA).

Matthew Peca, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, never got a chance to be a regular with the Bolts as they are a loaded organization at wing. He posted 2 goals and 3 assist in 10 games played.

All of these guys won’t require big contracts, but if they work out, Botterill would look like a genius for finding a gem.

C2

The second-line center only becomes available if Ryan O’Reilly gets traded. There is a lot of speculation around him being moved, but the Sabres could move him and bump Casey Mittelstadt to the second-line if they feel he is ready. Other than him, Buffalo doesn’t have anyone ready for their second-line center position.

Free Agents

The three names I like for this position are Tyler Bozak, Paul Stastny and Derek Ryan.

I have said many times that if the Sabres trade O’Reilly, Bozak could be a good replacement. Bozak and Ryan are players you use as the second-line center for half the season until Mittlestadt is ready to take over that role.

Stastny is a little different: if the Sabres overpay Stastny, which they would to land him, then he becomes theirr second-line center for a couple years.

Stat line comparison:

Stastny  16 G 37 A 53 P

Ryan 15 G 23 A 38 P

Bozak 11 G 31 A 42 P

RW3

Within the organization, this position is the total opposite of second-line center. The Sabres have this player in the system and don’t need to waste money on a free agent.

This position is either Justin Bailey‘s or Nicholas Baptiste‘s. Both guys have been trying to become NHL regulars and this is the season to do it. I favor Bailey over Baptiste, but I think either player complements Evan Rodrigues and Mittelstadt well and the pace of this line will be fun to watch night in and out.

G1

It was no surprise to see Robin Lehner not get qualified after another poor year in the crease. Botterill says Ullmark will start off the season as the number two goalie. So, who’s the number one?

Free Agents

I feel goaltending this offseason is horrible as a whole; every team needed to land one of three goalies: Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier or Petr Mrazek. All three have had a lot of interest and I feel Hutton and Bernier will get overpaid. I also find it hard to believe two players from good teams last year would want to sign with the last-place team in the league.

So that leaves me with Mrazek, and I feel it’s not a bad thing. Mrazek posted a 14-13-6 record between Detroit and Philadelphia with a 0.902 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average. Ullmark will take the number one spot from him halfway through the year and, if all goes well, he won’t lose it from there.

Next Year

Ideally, this is how I hope the Sabres’ lineup opening night against the Bruins. 

Lighning Strike Fast at Home due to 4th Line

Unknown-3The Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 on home ice by a score of 3-2. It was the first win by a home team in the series. A big part of the game was the matchups used by Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, and having a fast start to the game.

The Lightning started the game the best way possible scoring a goal just 19 seconds into the game. Cooper was playing the matchup and started his 4th line. They were able to force Dmitry Orlov into a turnover and Ryan Callahan made a great play to get the puck to Cedric Paquette who fired the puck past Braden Holtby. For his first of the playoffs.

Tampa continued the dominance in the first period by creating the majority of the chances. They doubled their lead just before the halfway mark of the period. Another turnover by Orlov, led to Ondrej Palat with a stick wrister past Holtby for a 2-0 lead. It was Palat’s 6th goal of the playoffs.

Tampa out played the Capitals in the first period, with the 4th line of Callahan, Paquette and Chris Kunitz leading the way. Tampa outshot the Capitals 13 to 4.

The second period started as well as the first for the Lightning. 33 seconds into the period Stralman made a great move to take the puck to the net while Callahan crashed in and the puck went off his upper body and into the net for a 3-0 lead. It was Callahan’s second point of the night and his 2nd goal of the playoffs

It seemed Washington wasn’t going to have an answer to break down Tampa. They did find a goal five Washington Capitals Logominutes into the second period with Matt Niskanen letting a shot go from the point that was deflected by Evgeny Kuznetsov to make it a 3-1 game. It was Kuznetsov’s 22nd point of the playoffs.

This seemed to spark the offense of Washington as they began to pepper Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stood tall. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 13 to 5 in the second period.

The third period was a back and forth period with both teams getting chances. Vasilevskiy and Holtby were both strong making saves they should make and some they had no right making. Washington took over late in the closing minutes of regulation. Tampa received some luck as Alex Ovechkin and his other Caps teammates hit the post a number of times.

Ovechkin did find his goal with less than two minutes left in the game and the extra attacker on the ice. He was a little above his signature spot, but his one timer blew by Vasilevskiy to make it a 3-2 game.

It was too little too late though, as Vasilevskiy robbed John Carlson as time ran down. Tampa held on to win on home ice and lead the series 3-2. Game 6 will be Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.

Hall and Devils Rally in Game 3

With a 5-2 Game 3 win at Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils have pulled back within a 2-1 deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their First Round series.

Taylor Hall was a thorn in the side of the Lightning all night long with a three-point performance. When the Devils needed a spark, he was there creating and making plays. Cory Schneider also had a strong performance, saving 34-of-36 shots faced (.944 save percentage) to earn his first win since December 27.

The first period saw the Devils feeding off the home crowd’s energy and moving their feet enough to keep up with the fast Tampa team, helping them to limit the Bolts’ chances by not giving their forwards any space or time.

Offensively, Jersey had a couple strong first period chances like the two-on-one that Blake Coleman couldn’t get it by Andrei Vasilevskiy. Hall also had a great chance as he blew by the Tampa defenseman, but he could only find the crossbar when he fell while firing his shot.

The second period started with carryover penalty on Andy Greene for slashing. It proved to be costly as Tampa found the opening goal of the game when Alex Killorn got his stick on a puck from Nikita Kucherov and deflected it by Schneider. It was Killorn’s fourth of the playoffs, with Steven Stamkos picking up the other assist. Tampa had all the momentum at this point, creating a lot of chances. Fortunately for the Devils, Schneider stood tall to keep their deficit at one.

New Jersey got a few chances around the halfway point, with Hall and Marcus Johansson missing some clear chances. Even when Tampa got another power play opportunity after J.T. Miller drew a hi-sticking penalty from John Moore on a two-on-one, the Devils maintained the positive energy as Coleman alone had not one but two shorthanded chances. Additionally, the best chance came with Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier on a two-on-one, but Vasilevskiy had the answer.

After killing off the penalty, New Jersey’s full offense woke up at this point and was all over Tampa defense. The Devils finally tied the game with Hall getting the goal he deserved with a wrister under Vasilevskiy from the slot. It was Hall’s second of the playoffs – an unassisted marker. Tampa got physical from there with some extras after the whistle, but Jersey ended the period with all the momentum.

The third period started similar to the second with a carryover holding penalty against Coleman. Again Tampa took advantage of its extra man, scoring just 38 seconds into the period when Stamkos burried a wrister even though Schneider got a piece of it. Kucherov and Killorn picked up the assists on Stammer’s first of the playoffs, giving Tampa a 2-1 lead.

With the lead once again in hand, the Lightning became suddenly undisciplined, taking two quick penalties to leave New Jersey with a five-on-three advantage for over a minute. The Devils would not miss out on that opportunity, as Will Butcher got his shot from the point through all the skaters and past Vasilevskiy for his first career playoff goal. Hall picked up his second point of the night with the lone assist for a 2-2 game

Halfway through the period, Ryan McDonaugh found himself a breakaway opportunity, but couldn’t tuck it behind Schneider. Schneider was shaken up on the play and struggled to get up with what appeared to be left leg issue, but he stayed in game.

Now fighting even harder for its goaltender, New Jersey started to create its own good luck as Hall continued to dominate the game. He cut through Tampa, got into the zone and made a cross-ice pass to Stefan Noeson for a one-timer past Vasilevskiy, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead. A waiver wire claim from last year, Noesen scored his first career playoff goal.

Tampa did get a chance to tie the game as Hall got called for tripping with just over two minutes left in the game. They even pulled Vasilevskiy for a six-on-four, which resulted in a Coleman empty net goal from the other end of the ice.

Still trying its hardest to win Game 3, Tampa pulled Vasilevskiy once again to give the Lightning another six-on-four advantage, and the Devils were all to eager to take advantage of the gaping cage once again. This time, it was Ben Lovejoy who scored the empty netter, giving New Jersey a 5-2 victory.

Crosby, Malkin & Co. Shine in Game 3

The Penguins stars were out in full effect during Game 3 in Philadelphia. Sidney Crosby had a four-point night with one goal and three assists. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t too far behind Crosby with a goal and assist as well. Matt Murray also had a great game, stopping 26-of-27 on the night. It was all Pittsburgh in Philadelphia.

The first period saw the Flyers feeding off the home crowd, as they were moving their feet well and getting into dangerous positions. They had a majority of the chances early on with the Penguins’ netminder Murray standing tall. Nolan Patrick had a great chance when he blew by the Penguins defensemen, but couldn’t find the net.

The Penguins were struggling to get chances or even establish pressure on the Flyers. About halfway through the first, the Penguins forced a turnover off the forecheck and Sidney Crosby capitalized with his fourth goal of the playoffs on a wraparound goal. Patric Hornqvist, a new linemate to Crobsy, picked up the lone assist on the goal.

The goal didn’t seem to faze Philly’s momentum however, as they continued to battle and look to beat the stellar Murray. They ended the period without the goal but clearly dominating them with an 11-4 shot lead.

The second period started with the Flyers hoping to continue the strong play and finally beat Murray. But they came out undisciplined and took a penalty just over a minute into the period. The penalty proved to be costly as Derick Brassard took a nice pass from Phil Kessel and beat Brian Elliott bar down. It was Brassard’s first goal of the playoffs, giving Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

The Penguins took over from there and after a coincidental penalty to both teams, Jakub Voracek took a high sticking penalty for some good ole fashion four-on-three power play for the Penguins. The Penguins had the big guns out as Crosby got in the zone and dropped it to Kris Letang. Letang slid the puck over to Evgeni Malkin for a one timer slapper past Elliott. It was Malkin’s second goal of the playoffs seven minutes into the second period.

It got worse from there. In the opening face-off after the goal, Crosby won in forward, got into the zone and hit a drop pass to Brian Dumolin, who scored the biggest five-hole since goalies started using butterfly style. The Penguins scored both goals five seconds apart, giving them a 4-0 lead.

The Flyers did finally beat Murray, as Travis Sanheim let a wrister go from the point, and the puck had eyes finding the back of the net. It was Sanheim’s first career playoff goal and Nolan Patrick and Voracek picked up the assists on the goal with just six minutes left in the second period.

The third period saw similar outcomes as Philly continued to take bad penalties and again Pittsburgh took advantage. Justin Schultz hammered a one-time by Elliott on the power play. Malkin and Crosby picked up the assist on the third power play goal of the game. Pittsburgh turned on cruise control and proceeded to get the puck in deep and be defensively sound to see out the end of the game.

Game four will be Wednesday, April 18th in Philadelphia on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS at 7:00 pm EDT.

Winnipeg Dominates Game 2

The Winnipeg Jets take Game 2 over the Minnesota Wild by the score of 4-1 Friday night. The Jets currently hold a 2-0 lead in the series.

The first period was a well-balanced period with both teams getting equal chances. Winnipeg got an early two-on-one with Blake Wheeler on the puck. Instead of shooting he tried to force the pass. This seemed a little costly as Winnipeg didn’t get their first shot on goal until seven minutes into the game.

The tempo was set in the first period as well, as both teams were throwing hits. Marcus Foligno, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers had some big hits throughout the game, but the first period ended goalless.

When the second period began, Winnipeg started taking over. The best chance for Minnesota came shorthanded as Mikko Koivu had an individual effort denied by Connor Hellebuyck, but that was about it for Minnesota as the Jets started the take-over, doubling the Wild in shots.

The Jets opened the floodgates around the halfway mark of the second. Tyler Myers, with a nice individual play, deked Jason Zucker and found the twine off the far post. The second frame finished 1-0 in favor of the Jets.

The Jets found their second of the game seven minutes into the third with Paul Stastny taking advantage of the forward on him in front of Devan Dubnyk. Byfuglien tossed the puck right to Stastny who found the back of the net.

It got better from there for the Jets. Andrew Copp found himself a deflection goal at the midway point of the third when Bryan Little threw the puck to the net, where Copp deflected over Dubnyk’s pad.

At this point the game started to get chippy and we started to see more dirty play. That didn’t stop Patrik Laine from hammering home a one-timer to give the Jets a 4-0 lead.

While all this was happening, Minnesota was still looking for its first shot on goal of the period. They got their first shot with roughly five minutes left in the game, ending a run of over 20 minutes that the Wild went without a shot on goal.

The Wild did get a late power play that they used to get on the board. Zach Parise scored a nice deflection off Koivu’s shot with less than a minute left in the game, ending Hellebuyck’s shutout bid. The game also apparently hit its boiling point as two fights broke out before the final horn.

Game 3 is Sunday in Minnesota at 7 p.m. Eastern on USA Network in the States, while Canadians can tune their televisions to SN or TVAS.

Colby’s Corner: The effect of Vegas’ early success

One of the biggest surprises this season is how good the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be in the beginning of their franchise. During the offseason, pundits had them penciled in as the favorite for the first overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (paging Rasmus Dahlin: don’t rent your flat on the strip just yet). Well, boy were they wrong; this team has been the total opposite of bad. They have been winning games from opening night and don’t seem like they are going to slow down.

They have found ways to win with just about anybody between the pipes. The mastermind that is General Manager George McPhee has built this team to near perfection. He used the expansion draft to acquire a lot of very good defenseman and draft picks, but where he shined most is getting the right group of forwards. He took young players like William Karlsson and Alex Tuch who were just looking for a shot and he gave them that opportunity, and they haven’t let him down yet.

All the success is great and all right now, but the impact this may have for the franchise going past this year is yet to be seen.

First of all, if the Golden Knights make the playoffs as seems likely right now, they are going to be looking at the later picks in each round of the draft. This franchise just started out and even though it had a lot of picks in last year’s draft, it doesn’t have a very big or strong prospect pool. They can still find good talent in the later rounds – just ask the Chicago Blackhawks, who seems to always hit with their draft picks in the later rounds – but it is much more difficult for a new franchise with new scouts that is still establishing its identity.

Obviously the success is great for growing the game in Vegas. Fans like watching good hockey, especially Stanley Cup Playoff hockey. Their fan base is growing daily and it will continue to expand with success. But what will happen if the team isn’t successful next season? Is this early success creating unreal expectations for the franchise in years to come? Having a winning culture is great but it may be hard to maintain for a brand new franchise.

On the flip side of that though, with the success and location, free agency may be a fun time for the Vegas Golden Knights. Big name free agents might like Vegas for the gambling and entertainment it provides, and now they have the bonus of playing for a potentially successful team.

They could land just about anyone with no cap issues, as the Knights have over $40 million in cap space next season and no one under contract beyond the 2021-’22 campaign. I have seen pictures of away players playing poker in the casinos and taking in the sights. They are enjoying their time in Las Vegas and if the Knights are a playoff team, life couldn’t be better for hockey players in Vegas. Few cities can boast the amenities Sin City has to offer (entertainment, weather and no income tax, just to name a few), which could make it a very attractive place to call home.

All of these things will be wait-and-see situations for the time being. Right now, the Vegas Golden Knights are a very good team in the league and are looking towards the playoffs. Can they maintain the success? Will they win a Stanley Cup before the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals? We’ll have to see how the future will look for them going forward.

Colby’s Corner Lightning Strike back behind Dynamic duo

It was brought to my attention that one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team in the league, wasn’t receiving a lot of media attention. The Tampa Bay Lightning are atop the Eastern Conference and a big part of that is because of the play of their star forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

To say these two players are on fire might be understatement. Stamkos and Kucherov are one and two in the league in points with Stamkos leading the way with 30 points and Kucherov only one behind. Kucherov does have a league lead in one category though, as he leads the NHL in goals with 16. Someone has to set up all of those goals and – no surprise – it’s been Stamkos. Stammer leads the league in assists with 22 assists.

Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

These two have tremendous numbers, as both players are around 1.7 points-per-game this season. To put this in perspective, last season when Connor McDavid put up 100 points, his points-per-game was roughly 1.2. When Patrick Kane put up 106 points a few years ago, his points-per-game was roughly 1.3. I understand it’s early, but both of these players on pace for well over 100 points this season.

This is great for Tampa and their fans because they have Stamkos back from injury and he is making players around him better – just like he always has. They have also had strong play from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy leads the league with 12 wins and he is top-10 in save percentage with .928. Vasilevskiy may be one of the bigger surprises for this team as he has filled Ben Bishop‘s shoes perfectly, if not better, in his young career.

As for media coverage, I understand it’s about market-size and money, but it does get on my nerves. These players aren’t being talked about as much as if it was McDavid, Sidney Crosby or Auston Matthews. If it was any of the other three players, we would already be reading articles all the time about them and hockey analysts would be all but handing them the MVP trophy already.

So I’m sorry Bolts fans: you do deserve better. But, if you remember when Stammer won the scoring title, you didn’t get that much coverage then either. If that’s the formula for a Hart or Art Ross Trophy, then it looks like the Lightning’s stars are well on their way.

So Bolts fans keep you head down hope for the players to continue to dominate and – more importantly – hope they stay healthy, because the Lightning could be an early favorite for the Presidents’ Trophy. This team should be playoff bound if they can keep it together.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.