Mike Babcock and Dan Bylsma were introduced to the border rivalry at a divided First Niagara Center on Wednesday night. Buffalo squeezed by Toronto in a shootout victory that had a final score of 2-1. Visiting Maple Leaf fans were sent back across the northern border in a silent and swift fashion. The last 18 matchups at FNC between the two teams sits at an extraordinary record of 16-1-1 in favor of the hometown Sabres.
The Sabres stepped up late in the game peppering Jonathan Bernier with a heavy amount of shots. Evander Kane was finally able to net his first [non-called-back] goal of the season. Kane jumped on a loose puck at the top of the far side faceoff circle and sent a well-aimed wrister over Bernier’s shoulder. Critics pointing at his slow five game production were forced to eat their words when he demonstrated his ability to fire through traffic at an odd angle.
The narrative needs to change for this NHL forward as we press on in this 15-16 season. His statistics have shown that he is a .6 point-per-game player when positioned as the sole producer of a line. If Bylsma continues to keep Jack Eichel and Kane on the same line we should see an intense chemistry develop. Dan Bylsma has not solidified the final player on the first line, things seem to continue to stay in a jumble as games progress. Paul Hamilton, the beat reporter for WGR-550 confirmed through an interview that Bylsma has arranged his players and lines using pairings of two. The most prominent pair being the two players that have an affinity towards the number nine.
Fans should remain skeptical about the roles of Tyler Ennis and Evander Kane, both players are in the midst of big career situations. Ennis needs to show that he can mesh with different line combos and Kane needs to act as a play finisher. It’s very good to see that Ennis is getting himself out of the mindset of me against the world, he was forced to adopt this during the 14-15 season. This roster is filled with athletes that have a heavy amount of investment trailing behind them. Hence, we cannot forget about Ryan O’Reilly who is slated to receive 52.5 million over the next 7-years. He is doing exactly what he was brought onto this team for, hustling back and forth and getting involved in the defensive zone. It’s particularly thrilling to see him trail behind opposing forwards, continually nipping at their knees. He is a multi-use winger with a 6’1” 210 lb. frame which is used to force errors.
The defense is the only portion of this team that causes fans to bury a frustrated
face into their hands. There are many seasoned veterans that are back boning the Buffalo blue line. Colaiacovo, Weber, and Gorges have storied careers in the league but seem to lose their opening first period fire as the game progresses. Either age is catching up with these players or a shuffling of pairings needs to be made to keep guys on their toes. Ristolainen has been the standout young gun of the roster. The 20-year-old has seen the most ice time out of all players on the roster over the last couple games. The team needs an accelerated healing progress from Zach Bogosian. He is a unique piece that battles hard for the puck. Most importantly his coming back will remove a lineup spot causing guys to elevate their play out of fear of sitting in the press box. Going forward the defense is an area that will be a primary focus both in trading block needs and a deadline that gradually approaches.
The Sabres next matchup is with the eastern conference dominating Montreal Canadiens who have definite plans to return to the conference final. Carey Price and new captain Max Pacioretty will pose a headache to the Buffalo defense. Puck drop will take place at the First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 23.