The run of losses to close out 2015 has not been pretty in the standings, with the Sabres dropping 4 out of the last 5 to fall into second to last place in the league. This looks ugly on paper. However, when watching the games, I really do not feel like we look like a last place team. I have noticed a lot of good things that this team is doing, particularly in the offensive zone. Our forecheck is very strong and we generate lots of offensive chances. The problems are many; we have not been finishing those chances that we are creating. Our power play has been non-existent save for last game against Detroit when we had 2 power play goals. Our goaltending leaves much to be desired. Chad Johnson has to make that save against Tatar in the dwindling minutes of the third period to at least get us a point in sending the game to Overtime, particularly with how hard we fought to comeback and tie the game twice.
The Capitals are the best team that we have faced this season and are my pick right now to win the Eastern Conference. OV is playing the best two-way hockey of his career and they have offensive weapons and a strong defense. They were missing their best Defenseman against us and were still too good. Then throw in this year’s Vezina trophy winner Braden Holtby and you are looking at a Cup contender in DC.
Jack Eichel is going to win rookie of the year. He tied Dylan Larkin for the scoring lead on Saturday and he is going to keep going. What I absolutely love about Magic Hands is his vision and his ability on the puck. The past few games he has been going for wrap arounds and he has the best wrap around technique that I have seen since Gretzky. He honestly to me looks like Gretzky when he skates. He is so distinctive in the way he looks on the ice; you immediately know it’s him when he gets the puck, you don’t need to see the number on his back. The way he skates around the net and his long reach allow him to get a different angle on his wrap around than anybody else in the league. Yes, he was stopped in the last few games, but he had the goalies beat and just couldn’t stuff the pucks in. His wrap around is a thing of beauty and just another aspect of his phenomenal game.
The Sabres need to figure out what to do with Matt Moulson and in the larger picture, their scoring. I really like the guy, but he has been absolutely invisible for the past month. He has 4 goals on the season and his non-production is hurting our offense. I want to keep him and have him heat up and be good again, but I do not know the answer. Bylsma needs to figure out how to get him going. Evander Kane is another guy who is just getting bad bounces – he is ringing shots off the posts and they’re just not going in for him right now.
In the post game after the Detroit game, you could sense the frustration of the players as they gave their interviews. At the same time, you didn’t sense resignation that this season was lost or that they felt like they were out of contention or that they didn’t have fight. My sense is that they know that they are putting in the effort and they realize that they have gotten unlucky at times with not getting bounces and there seems to be a sense that the bounces will start going their way soon.
Although the last four losses have been tough to swallow, I’m looking for a rebound against Florida tomorrow night. I think we definitely have more talent than a (second to) last place team should have and that it will start to shine through soon. We do need to address goaltending if we want to contend however and I think that that should be Tim Murray’s most pressing goal as we get closer to the trading deadline. We have veteran pieces that could definitely be moved to acquire a top rate goaltender. I know we still have Robin Lehner waiting in the wings to return from injury, so maybe we need to just give him a chance and see what he’s got, but we cannot keep relying on Johnson the whole year. Ullmark, while very talented, is still young and needs more time in the minors to season.
It’s a new year everyone, let’s start it off on the right foot with a win against the Panthers tomorrow.
Philip Wilkins is a Baltimore Orioles fan, Buffalo transplant. Grew up in Connecticut but born in Maryland. Graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder – Go Buffs! Lived in San Francisco after college. Moved to Buffalo in 2009 after spending a half-year abroad in Australia and New Zealand. Life-long Baseball, Hockey, and Football fan. Sabres fan since NHL ’94 for Sega Genesis came out with the Sabres’ top line of Alexander Mogilny, Pat LaFontaine and Dale Howerchuck with Alexei Zhitnik and Richard Smehlik on D and Domink Hasek in net – best lineup in the game!
“I believe that the Sabres were robbed in ’99 when Hull’s skate was in the crease. Now Buffalo is home and I am looking for a Cup and a Super Bowl in short order. We have the talent and the coaching and the ownership – what is stopping us?”
Go Bills, Go Sabres, Go Bisons!