Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.
24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL
Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.
General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.
With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.
In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.
Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.
Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.
Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.
The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.
Offseason Grade: B
Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.
Including today, only nine days of regular season hockey are left this year! Are you excited for the playoffs yet?
Play starts at 1 p.m. today with Florida at Boston (SN), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Detroit (SN1/TVAS). Columbus at Vancouver (SN360) completes the afternoon’s matinees, as the next four tilts (Winnipeg at Toronto [CBC/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey, Montréal at Pittsburgh [CITY/NHLN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Carolina) wait until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. mark the puck drop of a pair of tilts (Buffalo at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas), while St. Louis at Arizona waits an hour before getting underway. Finally, Edmonton at Calgary (CBC/SN/SN360) gets green-lit at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vegas. All times Eastern.
A few of the games that stuck out to me – at least at the beginning of the season – include:
- Florida at Boston: Welcome back to Beantown, F Frank Vatrano! Let’s see if you can get an important two points for your new team against the one that traded you.
- Columbus at Vancouver: Speaking of trades, the deadline swap that sent W Thomas Vanek to Ohio might be among the most impactful this season.
- Buffalo at Nashville: Another return will occur in this game, but this one features Phil Housley at Bridgestone Arena, the place he’d been an assistant coach for the past four seasons.
- Edmonton at Calgary: Even though both of these sides are ineligible for the postseason, don’t expect the nastiness to see any sort of decline.
Of those, the Panthers-Bruins game is obviously the most impactful on this postseason. However, there’s also the Jets-Maple Leafs and Sharks-Golden Knights games taking place today, both of which are certainly worthy of our attention.
Though I would recommend watching all three, we may only feature one in this column. As such, let’s make the trip to the Silver State to get a preview of a potential second round matchup.
It’s been a wild ride for the 49-22-7 Golden Knights this regular season, and much to the delight of them and their fans, there’s still at least one more chapter to be written in the playoffs.
However, it doesn’t seem like Vegas is looking too far ahead into the playoffs, as they’re still playing some exemplary hockey down the stretch even though they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. Since March 18, Vegas has posted a wildly impressive 4-1-2 record to hold on to its spot atop the Pacific Division.
Is it any surprise that a three-time Stanley Cup champion is the one leading the Knights down the stretch? 28-12-4 G Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenomenal in his last five starts, even despite a defense that has allowed an average of 33 shots against per game since March 18, the 11th-most in the league in that time.
Even facing that almost constant pressure, Fleury has managed an imposing .964 save percentage and 1.14 GAA over that stretch that’s even better than the .931 save percentage and 2.15 GAA he’s posted for the entire regular season, both of which are second-best in the NHL among qualified goaltenders.
With 12-3-2 G Malcolm Subban playing in Vegas’ 4-3 overtime victory last night against the Blues, Fleury will be totally rested and prepared for whatever San Jose throws at him tonight.
Speaking of, if we want to talk about teams closing the regular season on a hot run, the 44-24-10 Sharks have to enter into that conversation. San Jose has managed an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, due in large part to its unstoppable offense.
None have been able to keep the Sharks under control lately, as they come to Vegas averaging 4.2 goals per game since March 12, the best attack in the Western Conference and second-best in the NHL.
What might be the most impressive thing about San Jose’s attack is that, short of D Brent Burns‘ 1-9-10 marks in his last 10 games, no other skater is averaging at least a point per game during this run. That means that instead of one Shark dominating the game, it’s instead the entire offense contributing.
That’s no more apparent than when we look at who has been on the receiving end of Burns’ last nine assists. With the exception of F Logan Couture and F Joe Pavelski both scoring two goals following passes from Burns, no player has scored more than one goal with an assist from the defenseman in San Jose’s last 10 games. In total, seven different players have benefited from a Burns helper, representing all four lines of forwards.
Much to the disappointment of hockey fans, tonight marks the finale of the regular season series between these two squads. Having earned five points against the Sharks to their three, Vegas has had the upper hand so far this year when taking on San Jose, but the visitors could level the series tonight with a regulation win.
San Jose and Vegas first squared off on November 24 at T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights held on to win a wild 5-4 game in overtime (F Jon Marchessault scored the game-winner). Game 2 wasn’t until February 8 at SAP Center, but home ice didn’t help the Sharks avoid a 5-3 loss (Fleury earned First Star honors with his 35-save effort).
Most recently, the Knights returned to San Jose on March 22 – only nine days ago – to finally suffer their first defeat at the
hands fins of the Sharks, who won 2-1 in overtime (that game-winner belonged to Couture).
Should San Jose be able to earn a regulation win tonight, it would level the season series against Vegas at five points apiece.
Of course, that’s not the main reason the Sharks want to win this game. Currently trailing the Golden Knights by seven points, there’s still technically an outside shot they could dismantle Vegas from atop the Pacific Division. After tonight’s game, both clubs will have three games remaining on the schedule, meaning the Sharks would need to effectively win out while Vegas also loses all three tilts in regulation.
What a matchup we are about to witness! No one has been able to slow down the Sharks’ attack lately, yet no offense has been able to beat Fleury. Even though they’re on the road, I like the Sharks to win this game since they’ve been able to find offensive contributions from their entire team lately. That constant pressure should be enough to wear Fleury down.
In a defensive affair that surprisingly featured only one penalty, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Honda Center.
Anaheim didn’t respond until 3:05 remained in the second period. Third Star of the Game LW Nick Ritchie (D Francois Beauchemin and W Ondrej Kase) banged home a backhanded shot to level the game at 1-1.
The defenses really amped up their games in the third period, as only a combined nine shots made it on goal in the final 20 minutes. In particular, the Kings’ D-corps played especially well, limiting the Ducks to only two scoring opportunities to keep the game tied at the end of regulation.
That defensive theme continued through most of the overtime period, as it took 4:41 of three-on-three play before First Star F Rickard Rakell (D Brandon Montour and Kase) scored his third game-winner of the season.
Montour and Kase earned assists, but this goal was all about Rakell. He carried the puck from blue line to blue line, even with F Trevor Lewis doing his best to maintain a defensive presence. Once Rakell finally reached the right face-off dot, he used D Alec Martinez as a screen to rip an elevated snap shot to the far post, beating helpless G Jonathan Quick before he could even react.
G John Gibson earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).
Another DtFR Game of the Day, another home victory. The Ducks are the seventh-consecutive host to win their game in the featured series, and they also extend the 97-53-21 home teams’ point streak to nine games. Hosts in the series now have a 44-point lead on the roadies.
After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games and due to the success of last week’s episode, Nick and Connor decided to create rosters with NHL players anyway for Team Canada. Also discussed, Alexandre Burrows, Max Domi and the New York Rangers plan for the future.
The Original Trio discuss the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship and more in separately recorded sessions of the podcast. Also, we’re available for hire. In memoriam: Part of Joe Thornton’s beard that Nazem Kadri ripped off (2015-2018).
First and foremost, allow me to speak for all of us at Down the Frozen River and wish each and every one of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! May you and your favorite club find great success in 2018!
Of course, it’s become tradition for the NHL to play its biggest outdoor game of the season, the Winter Classic, on this date, and today is no exception. In addition, the importance of today’s 1 p.m. Eastern festivities at Citi Field – home of the New York Mets – between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres (NBC/SN/TVAS) is only increased by it being the lone NHL game on the schedule, making it our de facto DtFR Game of the Day.
You’ll notice the Rangers are listed as the road team in today’s Winter Classic even though it is the Sabres that traveled almost 400 miles to get to Queens. It’s a load of crock, but apparently a clause in the Blueshirts’ contract with Madison Square Garden stipulates that they aren’t allowed to host any games outside The World’s Most Famous Arena. Hence our situation today.
For those wondering, this is the only time the Rangers will “travel” to take on Buffalo this campaign, as the Sabres still have yet to make two visits to Manhattan in the three-game season series. If any of this strikes you as unfair or league favoritism for a particular team or general market, welcome to the National Hockey League.
Anyways, now that I’m mostly off my soapbox, the 20-13-5 Rangers certainly enter this afternoon’s contest the hotter of the two teams. They’ve earned points in six of their last seven games, including victories over current playoff-bound clubs like Anaheim, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington.
Just as it’s been all season, it’s been 17-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist that has been the backbone of this team of late. Over its past seven games, New York’s defense has allowed a whopping 260 shots on goal (fourth-most since December 15), but Lundqvist has yielded only 13 goals for an incredible .943 save percentage that is fourth-best among goaltenders with at least four starts since the middle of the month.
Of course, it’s no surprise the netminder that has the (t)ninth-most victories and shutouts (two) on the season is performing well. This recent burst of success has only improved his season numbers to a .922 save percentage and 2.58 GAA that are the (t)seventh and (t)12th-best efforts, respectively, among the 31 netminders with at least 16 starts.
Meanwhile, life was supposed to be a lot better for the 10-20-8 Sabres this season, but they are the worst team in the Eastern Conference and only five points better than the miserable Coyotes, the worst team in the NHL. What’s worse is that what was easily the club’s best strength only a year ago – Buffalo’s offense – has been absolutely dreadful this season, averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals per game.
Considering the entire team’s inability to score, it’s hard to hold too much against C Jack Eichel (15-20-35 totals) and LW Evander Kane (15-19-34). They’re the only Sabres to be managing more than 24 points, as well as the only goalscorers with more than nine tallies to their credits.
Unfortunately, two players can’t save an entire team. D Rasmus Ristolainen (1-10-11 totals) in particular has not transitioned well into new head coach Phil Housley‘s – himself a Hall of Fame defenseman – system that requires active participation in the offensive zone by all five skaters. A year after posting solid 6-39-45 totals (a career-high in assists), he’s on pace for only a 2-25-27 effort that would be his worst since his 8-12-20 sophomore campaign in 2014-’15.
Of course, it is the Sabres that enter today’s game having won their most recent game in overtime 4-3 against a very strong Devils team. Perhaps that confidence could carry into this afternoon’s contest, but I personally doubt it. I’ll take the Rangers as a three-goal favorite in the 10th Winter Classic.
The Dallas Stars showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the San Jose Sharks 6-0 at the American Airlines Center.
Dallas scored two goals in each period to absolutely dominate this game. First Star of the Game D John Klingberg (F Mattias Janmark and RW Alexander Radulov) scored the first at the 6:19 mark with a snap shot, followed 8:48 later by Third Star F Tyler Pitlick‘s (Second Star C Radek Faksa) wrist shot to set the score at 2-0.
The final pair of goalscorers included F Devin Shore (Benn and D Dan Hamhuis) with 8:55 remaining in the third period and Pitlick (Faksa and LW Antoine Roussel) 50 seconds later to close the book on the evening.
G Ben Bishop earned his fourth shutout of the season by saving all 26 shots he faced, leaving G Martin Jones with the loss after he saved only 18-of-22 (.818 save percentage). Jones was lifted in favor of G Aaron Dell for the third period, and the backup saved eight-of-10 (.8) for no decision.
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are firing on all cylinders of late, as the Stars’ victory was the hosts’ third straight and a fourth-straight game earning points. The home clubs now have a 49-27-10 record in the series that is 24 points superior to the roadies’.
Nick checks in with Colby Kephart and Frank Fanelli (of Student Union Sports) on Radko Gudas’s suspension, the Buffalo Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Chance The Rapper’s SNL skit for the ages. Also discussed, the overabundance of outdoor games featuring teams that are obviously stuck in a revolving door of outdoor games.
And be sure to check out our newest extension of the product, DTFR Overtime, this week where Nick retroactively wrote about a topic from last week’s episode.
In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.
To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.
It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…
- Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
- Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
- Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
- St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.
Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?
Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.
The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.
Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.
Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.
Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.
Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.
If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.
Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.
There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.
Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.
Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.
Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.
Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.
That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.
Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.
It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.
This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.
Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.
The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.
For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.
Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.
Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.
Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.
The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).
Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.
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.