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Flipping a switch and facing the maelstrom
After a frustrating eight-game losing streak, the Sabres are looking for balance but got an idea of what it takes to hang with the best
The Sabres eight-game losing streak is in the dust, at last, and as frustrating as it was at times and maddening at others, the dire aspect of it was just that the losses stacked up consecutively. The coaches and executives know there’s going to be spells without wins, but they’d rather they not happen in giant chunks like that.
No one wants to ride the roller coaster. The highest highs feel great, but when the lowest lows dip deep down like that, it creates emotional swings that are too volatile for a group learning to grow together.
The Sabres got off the ride with a pair of offensive blow-up games, a 7-2 win in Montréal and a 6-2 win at home against St. Louis. Those teams are more on the Sabres level. The Canadiens have played, perhaps, a bit above their heads this season given preseason projections. The Blues have been the definition of a roller coaster ride winning and losing in extended streaks only. No one-off or two-off wins or losses.
Those were games that were quite winnable for Buffalo and they more than took care of business. Fancy stats showed the clearly dominated Montreal and were slightly outdone by St. Louis at 5-on-5. Of course, the Sabres power play stepped up big against the Blues and made the shot attempt numbers at 5-on-5 seem like your eyes were lying.
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The win against Montréal also featured the Sabres debut of Tyson Jost. The No. 10 pick in 2016 was picked off waivers from the Minnesota Wild and immediately made the Sabres fourth line more formidable. He was put on the PK right away and had success (it was needed).
He’s also tremendously upbeat, particularly for a player who was traded from Colorado to Minnesota and missed out on winning the Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him. Being asked about that was hard for him to hide his disappointment about it, but if it’s any comfort at all (it isn’t) he’s not the first player it’s happened to and won’t be the last. He’s more than young enough to get into another position with a team to make a run at it in the future. Who knows, maybe it’s Buffalo down the road?
Those were outstanding wins to shake off the ill-effects of the previous eight games. But the game against New Jersey was a different kind of beast entirely. The Devils are very good right now and showed why they’ve been rolling wins off like mad this season. They pressure the puck all over the ice and play with speed and skill up front with an outstanding defensive corps and they’ve great goaltending from Vitek Vanacek and Akira Schmid. It was Schmid who shut the door against Buffalo in a 3-1 Devils win.
Even with the benefit of score effects in the third period, the Devils ripped up the Sabres in shot attempts and expected goals. They were everywhere on the ice and the stress it put on the Sabres was never-ending. How the Devils play is how Buffalo wants to play eventually. Give it another season or two and they might just get there. They’ve built up the prospect capital and those players all have speed and skill as their main qualities and how Don Granato wants the team to play is similar to that of the Devils.
What stood out after the game was how Granato and Rasmus Dahlin spoke about how they handled the game. They each gave proper credit to how well New Jersey played and admitted that seeing them for the first time this season was eye-opening and stunned them a bit early on. Dahlin in particular said something to the effect of, “We’ll be ready for it next time,” and it wasn’t said with the usual Hockey Player with nil emphasis. He said it as if it was a promise that next time they play, things will be different because now they’ve had a taste of it. It’s encouraging to have that be the reaction as opposed to something like, “Wow, damn, they’re good! No idea how we even kept it that close!”
It also speaks to Dahlin’s tersely competitive spirit, something that’s being passed through to his teammates. It’s a strong leadership trait — the kind that gets a “C” put on your jersey down the road.
It can’t be understated how much Mattias Samuelsson’s return means to the defense as well. It was evident from the opening seconds against Montréal when Dahling, knowing he has Samuelsson backing him up, charged into the offensive zone for a goal in the opening minute. Notice served.
Still…the Devils game was a reminder of where they’ve got to be to be a top competitor and if that wasn’t enough, last season’s Stanley Cup finalists are in Buffalo this week. Tampa Bay meets them on Monday night and Colorado on Thursday.
Tampa’s won five of their last six, with the loss coming to the Bruins. That’ll happen, particularly this season. After a bit of a stumbly start, the Lightning are finding their form again, just on time for when they usually start to do that in the regular season, too.
Colorado comes in all kinds of banged up. No Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, Bowen Byram, or old friend Evan Rodrigues. However, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews are still there and that’s more than enough to cause anyone major headaches. The Avs have won four of their past five games and are in Winnipeg Tuesday night. They’ll be in Buffalo waiting for the Sabres Thursday after Buffalo returns from a Wednesday night tilt in Detroit against the Red Wings who have won four straight games after losing four in a row before that (0-3-1) and deal with Toronto on Monday. The NHL schedule is never easy and sometimes it’s a lot rougher than it normally is. That’s this week for Buffalo.
Chychrun coming? Jeff Marek shared that the Sabres are a “dark horse” to acquire Jakob Chychrun from Arizona
If there’s going to be a chatter topic to dominate discussion for the next little while it’ll be how Sabres fans concoct as many trade ideas as possible for how the Sabres can add the Coyotes’ No. 1 defenseman, Jakob Chychrun.
Marek mentioned the possibility Saturday night (as seen above) and Lance Lysowski confirmed with sources that there is interest from Buffalo on the 24-year-old defenseman.
Arizona wants an Eichel-ish type of package for him, and the Sabres have plenty of player, prospect, and draft pick capital to make it happen should they want to pursue him. The thought of having a top-four on defense of Chychrun, Dahlin, Samuelsson, and Owen Power is mesmerizing and beyond formidable and even if the Sabres couldn’t re-sign him in two years when his contract is up or if Chychrun just wants to test the market, the Sabres could trade him again and recoup the assets they gave up acquiring him in the first place.
It makes too much sense, but we know Kevyn Adams won’t rush into something rashly or give away all of their depth and draft pick stash to do it. Adams is shrewd and patient—the Eichel trade proved that—and he won’t get bullied into any decision. What makes it feel more possible is that Chychrun grew up neighbors with the Pegulas and went to school with their kids in Florida. This will be fascinating to watch if fire comes from all the smoke around this.
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Luukkonen ahead: What I’d like to see from Buffalo is how Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen handles the workload. Does he face Tampa and Colorado at home? Or does Craig Anderson get Colorado (a former team of his) and Luukkonen plays two in a row against Tampa and Detroit? I’m giving UPL a pass for the rough game against Toronto because he was pressed into it suddenly after Eric Comrie’s injury and his teammates played a brutal game in front of him. He was very, very good in the win against St. Louis and building off that performance is a must for him and for the team while Comrie is out with a lower-body injury.
Love it: The Youth Line of J-J Peterka—Dylan Cozens—Jack Quinn
It was great to see Quinn pop a couple goals against the Blues because he’s played so well since returning to the lineup and he’s hit a ton of posts or just missed opportunities. Peterka and Cozens have already been playing very well this season and now with Quinn, who’s been a shot attempt/possession monster so far this year, turning in the goals, that line is going to be a problem for opponents. Youth with speed and skill give teams fits when they’re playing well, and that trio certainly is.
Leave it: Riley Sheahan’s unconditional waivers and eventual release
It’s unfortunate to see a veteran like Sheahan decide he didn’t want to return to the AHL because he wanted to seek opportunities elsewhere. He’s a veteran and that’s his prerogative and decision to do so. The organization needs useful veterans in both the NHL and in Rochester, but I can sympathize with not wanting to go through the up and down rigors. Sheahan and his family were living in Buffalo and Sheahan’s first turn with Rochester had him traveling back and forth often. It’s a tough way to do it and it was frustrating for the Sheahans.
I realize he signed a two-way contract meaning he made it easier for the organization financially speaking to move him to the AHL, but with the Sabres adding Jost off waivers, the writing was very clearly on the wall that the only way he’d be back would be injury and waiting for one to happen likely didn’t soothe his mind.
This week at Noted Hockey: Look for post-game write-ups about the Sabres battles with Tampa and Colorado. Also keep eyes out for a piece I’ve dragged my heels on, an overdue Across the Hall story from Arizona’s visit to town weeks ago that has some Sabres ties to it. Do your homework on that and you might be able to figure it out in advance. This could end up being a big week for Across the Hall material so prepare yourself for non-Sabres goodies.
Hope all my American readers had a lovely Thanksgiving and had your fill of family and food. It’s the reason for the season, truly. For readers from elsewhere, I hope you had a nice week and weekend.