Buffalo Sabres: Things We Know This Week

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My mother is visiting from Las Vegas where she retired in 2007 with my late father. I took her to Shea’s to see a musical for her Birthday Friday night. Musicals are not my ideal form of entertainment as I prefer sports or seeing a good concert or even a solid cover band. Even a live comedian takes preference over most musicals or theater plays. But I would like to think I am not one of those guys who is closed-minded or selfish.

If my mother, who drove me to hockey practice growing up at 5 AM, as well as hundreds of other places my entitled spoiled self-expected, enjoys a show, I am certainly going to take her. The same goes for my wife who goes to see bands she is not familiar with or drops me off at a fantasy draft or party to make sure I am not driving after a few adult beverages. If she wants Niagara-on-the-Lake or wine tasting, I am all in and open to participate in many things hoping to be a more well-rounded person.  I have been to many musicals in Buffalo, Toronto, Rochester, Vegas and even on Broadway.

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The musical I reference was called ‘Come From Away’ and it was quite very enjoyable. It was about the 38 planes that landed on September 11, 2001, in a tiny town in Canada and the story about how many different people from all over the world co-existed as the town’s population doubled within hours. The people found ways to accommodate the guests who did not know what happened in NY, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC as they spent hours on planes. Not nearly enough lodging was available, so they converted many buildings to shelters and some opened their homes to strangers.  By the end of it all after many hockey references as well as Tim Horton’s humor, people from many cultures, religions, languages and appearance grew together in a very well written story.

That said, Tuesday I took her to her first Sabres game since 2007 which was very much enjoyable. I have had to hear about the Golden Knights for a couple of years as the Sabres were not worth addressing as Buffalo loitered at the bottom of the NHL.

Things are different. The blue and gold are 9-2-1 thus far in their 50th anniversary season. Yes, Vegas is still good, but the Sabres are simply hot. Buffalo is enjoying success and the solid defense they are getting from Colin Miller, a former Golden Knight. Never did I think that an expansion team in the desert would be a team with a surplus of talent that other teams would make moves to obtain. The days of expansion teams being the pushover teams for multiple seasons are no more. As envious as I was that they were so good so fast, it is better for the sport that the Vegas franchise is competitive right away.

Yes, the true hockey fans in Vegas who relocated from other NHL markets would quickly be fans of the team right away. But if the team was to struggle as the older expansion teams did such as Atlanta, well, twice, the question would be how engaged a Vegas fan would become being new to a sport with a terrible team? The Flames and the Thrashers both were bad for long stretches and then finally left town. The non-hockey fans such as my brother-in-law were sucked right in as huge fans of the Golden Knights because of the amazing year one run they went on.

The Sabres were coming off a west coast trip and Tuesday’s game was the second part of a home and home series with the San Jose Sharks. The first period and early 2-0 Sharks lead had that look of a tired Sabres team that was just not going to enjoy Tuesday as being their night. But as they have found many ways to win this season, they rallied back and were up by a goal at one point before the Sharks tied it sending the game to overtime. Do not panic as the blue and gold were again victorious in overtime. It was a very entertaining second and third period in addition to overtime. Jack Eichel put on a clinic collecting four points in the win.

The Sabres came out the next contest against the Rangers and had a forgettable night, losing 6-2. This team, unlike in previous years, battled back against the Red Wings. Instead of falling into a losing streak, they bounced back yet again immediately following a poor showing. Good teams find ways to win in many different ways. They also have the short memory ad cab have some bad outings over 82 games but come back out the next game resuming their god ways. Another shutout is great. The fact that the shutouts now do not strictly show up on Hutton’s resume as Linus Ullmark closed the door on the Wings is very encouraging.

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Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal Goal
Rk Player GP GS W L T/O GA SA SV SV% GAA SO MIN QS RBS GAA
1 Carter Hutton 8 8 6 1 1 18 244 226 .926 2.21 2 488 5 1 2.33
2 Linus Ullmark 5 5 3 1 1 13 190 177 .932 2.56 1 305 3 0 2.75
Team Total 13 9 2 2 31 434 403 .929 2.34 3 793 8 1 2.50

Many fans are skeptical after last November being at the top of the entire league with all analytics suggesting missing the playoffs would take too much of a collapse. Well, they executed the collapse flawlessly. And then some.

This team doesn’t look like a team that was fortunate to win 10 in a row only to have reality hit like a ton of bricks in November. This team has had solid goaltending and the save percentage backs up the multiple shutouts. This team gets contributions from three to four lines and multiple defense pairings. The Sabres simply appear much better coached and prepared. Dan Bylsma improved the Sabres his first season and regressed in years two. That said, he could coach. Not a fit here, but indeed a good coach. I cannot say Phil Housley is NHL head coaching material. He did nice things with Nashville defense and even as a head coach at a lower level. Many times, the extremely talented superstar players do not translate well to head coaching. Not a total science and not accurate in all cases. But many times, someone so talented who made mistakes was bailed out by said talent. Housley could not coach water-downed four lines to be more talented. He also put a team on the ice that lacked an identity or even any sort of system at times.

This Sabres team does not resemble that squeaked out some questionable “W”s  to climb the ranks that eventually regressed back to reality. This team takes the appearance of being four lines deep many nights and certainly three on the rest. The defense seems to be better coached and more talented. The youth has matured.

Cautiously optimistic seems to be the attitude of the fans at the arena. Fans do not want to get burned again. But they are ready for some playoff hockey. They are ready for some playoff runs. They are certainly ready for a parade one of these years. Keep playing confident and hopefully, we will not be hearing “Here come the clowns” as an imploding team resurfaces. Just win baby.

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