– Scott GoodwinBoy does it feel good to write about this hockey team again. It was a heartbreaker over the weekend for only half of Buffalo’s professional sport spectrum. The Bills loss to the Kansas City Chiefs all but seals the fate of a team that currently holds the title of “longest playoff drought in professional sports”. Yes, as a big Buffalo guy it is very hard to hear that astounding fact.
On a more positive note the Buffalo Sabres finished up the month of November with a 4-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Preds shrugged off the Sabres only three nights before in a game that forced Buffalo fans to channel-swap between primetime hockey and Thursday Night Football.
The Men Behind the Recent Production
The big story of Saturday night’s clash with Nashville was the production out of Buffalo’s 2014 2nd overall pick, Sam Reinhart. As we all know he spent a good portion of the 14/15 season incubating in juniors before ending the season in Rochester. Reinhart netted two different goals in the game and had multiple opportunities to complete the hat-trick. He came into the 15/16 season overshadowed by the ever so impressive Jack Eichel. Jack-er is currently third in points behind Ryan O’Reilly (19) and Rasmus Ristolainen (14). This brings up another big point of mine. It’s become a nightly tradition to keep an eye on the amount of minutes that Bylsma decides to shell out to the members of this roster. He has kept the Sabres statistic race interesting. One night it might be the young Ristolainen getting the surplus of minutes and on another occasion the big minutes go to the grisly-faced O’Reilly. The 21-year-old defenseman leads the Sabres roster in average ice time of 24:05 per game. He is everything that the Sabre’s brass hoped for when they selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He’s exactly what he was talked up and projected to become. He can slap a laser from the point, is a defensive anchor, has an accurate poke-check and is tough to shake off of the puck when it’s under his control.
There’s been a lot of talk and negativity surrounding the Sabres captain, Brian Gionta. He has put in his dues to this hockey league and has adjusted from system to system over the past decade. He deserves a major amount of respect for being the voice in the locker room and having an impact on the speed of the game. He is conditioned for long first-line minutes and makes great decisions with the puck. He is not the player that carries the puck with a great deal of tenacity but one that directs it to the proper angles and hones in on out-possessing the opponent.
Struggling Power PlayThe Sabres have slumped on the power play, and despite scoring 2 power play goals in their last game, they currently stand at a disgraceful 2 for 17 in their last six games. It’s always tough to come up with an immediate fix for this problem as it can be a matter of guess and check. Bylsma needs to find the working combination as soon as possible because this stat tends to ripple throughout the league. Teams will not hesitate to play an aggressive game, throw nasty hits and find an increased amount of comfort in the opponent’s corners. Zemgus Girgensons is in a bit of a slump, his minutes continue to dwindle from night to night. He hasn’t earned a role on the power play but it may be in the Sabres best interest to arrange some kindling beneath his feet. It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to place him in front of the goaltender and force him to make use of his body to shovel home the occasional rebound.
Who’s the Goaltender?
The battle for the starting goaltending spot during Robin Lehner’s injury absence continues to wage on between Ullmark and Johnson. Bylsma has continued to show that he turns to the net-minder that is stringing together a hot streak. Ullmark did not look on top of his game in Buffalo’s 3-2 loss to the Predators on Thursday night. He allowed three goals over a span of eight shots which gave ample reason to give Johnson a chance to step back in between the pipes. Lehner is scheduled to come off of the long-term injured reserve in a couple weeks from now. It will be very interesting to continue the evaluation of the Sabres’ (clear-cut) starting goaltender. What will make for a good story as the year unravel is whether or not the Sabres chose to role with three net-minders through the March 2nd trade deadline. We will cross that bridge once it arrives. I do not envy the person or scouting team faced tasked with that type of decision. Both Johnson and Ullmark remain neck and neck at this stage of the season, best as a tandem. Johnson has appeared to play a very solid game but only when he is fresh. Ullmark is seven years younger and has shown a great amount of consistency for a guy that is a valuable asset to a developing hockey club.
Mandatory Eichel Paragraph
Lastly, I will leave you with an exceptional highlight, his very best of the season… so far. This came in Friday night’s 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The way that Jack trusts himself when moving through the neutral zone is something that continues to blow me away. He has an exceptional amount of speed for a 19 year-old kid and doesn’t hesitate to throw the puck on the net. Some young prospects in today’s game tend to hesitate in these types of situations and use their speed just to get past the blue line. They lack necessary confidence in these situations and direct themselves into a corner and allow teammates to catch up. The thing about Jack is the way that he finishes self-made plays that are triggered by heavy defensive pressure and transition into a breakaway or favorable mismatch.
UpcomingI look forward to seeing the way that Bylsma decides to pair up against the always talented Detroit Red Wings in Hockey-Town. Jack Eichel will be playing against a good friend in fellow rookie, Dylan Larkin. He has been putting up steady numbers this season and adds additional proof to Detroit having one of the best scouting departments in the league. The Wings have dominated Buffalo over the past twelve games and stand at a record of 11-0-1. Both teams have similar records in the last ten games; Sabres are 4-4-2 and the Wings are 5-2-3. The Sabres will enter the December portion of their schedule tonight with a 7:30 puck drop in Joe Louis Arena.
– Scott Goodwin (@ScottEGoodwin)