Color me impressed. The Sabres are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have won 3 in a row. Now sitting at 10-6-2 overall with 22 points in 18 games played, we are at about the quarter mark of the season, and if you’d told anyone in Buffalo that we’d be in 5th place in the Eastern Conference with 22 points before Thanksgiving, I guarantee everyone would have taken it. We’ve already won 6 games at home this season, which didn’t happen last season until January. A number of comeback wins and a gritty win against 1st place Tampa Bay shows that these guys…gasp...might I, should I, can I even say it, be good? I think that yes, they are good, and here are a few reasons why.
First and foremost is Jeff “Seymour” Skinner. This guy was unloaded for Pu-nuts (see what I did there?) by the Carolina Hurricanes and Jason Botterill and the Sabres gladly made the move to bring him to Buffalo. This guy should have gotten a maximum allowed contract extension last week, but I think the Sabres are waiting until July to re-sign him to an 8 year max deal similar to what Steven Stamkos signed with Tampa Bay last off-season. Stamkos signed for $8.5 Million per year while Skinner is making $6 Million per year in the final year of his deal with Carolina. I say PAY THE MAN. He is the scoring threat that we haven’t had since, oh I don’t know, Alexander Mogilny? Has anyone since the Great #89 been as proficient at putting the puck in the net for the Sabres as Skinner? He’s second in the league in goals with 13, trailing David Pastrnak of the Bruins, who has 16. Skinner has points in his last 10 games played and seems to score every night. Playing with Captain Magic Jack Eichel, who has looked great with a competent winger, Skinner is unquestionably the Sabres best player. He should be re-signed immediately, no question.
Another huge reason for the Sabres turn around has been competent goaltending from Carter Hutton, who stood on his head last night (and got a little help from his posts) in beating Tampa Bay. This guy has been a rock for the Sabres, even coming in in the third period of last week’s game at Montreal when Linus Ulmark had given up 5, to stabilize the team. Then they went out and won it in overtime. Hutton has been a revelation in net and is such a welcome addition to a team that has had THE WORST goaltending in the league since Ryan Miller was unceremoniously shipped out. I have even gotten over looking at his #40 and cringing. At first I saw #40 and had Swedish Trump supporting nightmares, but Hutton has quashed those fears with his strong play, and the team has responded in front of him knowing that their hard work and effort will not be undermined by lazy, fundamentally, and technically unsound goaltending.
The third reason for the competitive turnaround has been the depth signings that Botterill brought in to replace the lazy dogs we had on the roster last year. Patrick Berglund, Vladimir Subotka and Connor Sheary have been delightful. Their hunger and veteran presence has calmed the nerves of guys like Eichel, Rodrigues and Reinhart and allowed the young guys to play their game and not worry about having to do too much. Jason Pomminville also deserves a lot of credit, and seeing the Sabes put up 9 against Ottawa in his 1,00th game celebration was friggin’ awesome. Even Johan Larsson and Nathan Beaulieu, two holdovers from last year, look a lot better, with Beaulieu throwing the body around and looking like the First round pick he was drafted to be. We have solid play from our bottom two lines and just need more scoring throughout the lineup to complement one of the top scoring lines in the league. If we get more depth scoring, we really will be dangerous.
Rookie sensation Rasmus Dahlin seems to be getting more and more comfortable in the NHL every game and it is only a matter of time until he emerges as an annual Norris trophy finalist. He is 18 years old and is already passing like a seasoned veteran. The goals will come in time. Casey Mittelstud is also playing strong hockey and with leadership from the top, he will nicely progress and grow into a top second line center.
So the question, Are the Sabres Good?, can be answered – Yes, they are good, but no, they are not great, and I would not go out and say that we are a playoff team, yet. We have a couple of tough road games coming up against Winnepeg and Minnesota who are extremely hot and will provide a nice road test for our kids. After these two games, it will be the 20 game mark and we could be looking at a record of 10-8-2, which honestly, is still fine for me. We are playing hard every night, the goaltending is keeping us in games we maybe shouldn’t be in, and we are getting timely goals from a great scorer. This is more than anyone could have expected, but it is what we as Buffalo fans deserve. Seymour Skinner must be a long term piece to this team for this to continue. I hope Botterill is already on top of this and has a Max contract ready for Skinner to sign in July.