Righting the Ship

Naturally transpired by being Buffalo Sports fans, followers, whatever you identify as, when adversity strikes it’s time to expect the worst. A glimpse of hope was to be found in the Sabres opening 3-2 loss to Montreal as the team showed great puck possession, adaptability to a new system and what many thought should’ve been a win.

Fast forward five days and now the Sabres have been on the wrong end of back to back blowouts by average teams and a fanbase left squandering for answers. Everyone expected a high scoring offense and three games in, the only Sabres goal scorers are named Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville, and Evander Kane, which if you haven’t figured it out yet is line one of four. What was the best powerplay in the NHL last season has given up 4 shorthanded goals in 3 games.

Many like to blame the goalies, which at times is fair, but the New Jersey game proved that Robin Lehner is not the issue. What happened between games one and two that had them looking completely different in their next two outings? The defensemen didn’t have the same puck movement up ice, turnovers have plagued the entire roster, and not a single player can make a tape to tape pass.

We’re only a few days in yet it’s fair to say the Sabres have reached a crucial part of their season in the upcoming week. The team has two days to figure it out in Buffalo before a four game swing on the west coast. One of the only forwards to show up, Evander Kane, said that if the Sabres play like that every night they’ll lose 10-0 against the West teams.

There’s one thing for certain, this team is no where near as bad as they’ve showed to this point. The game against New Jersey was easily the worst I’ve seen them play since the tank era. It’s practically impossible for them to sustain even close to that level of awfulness with how the roster shakes out on paper. Everyone looked out of place and confused and when you mix that with a concerning lack of effort, blowouts occur.

The Western road trip has a reputation of being great for teams and I think it’s exactly what the Sabres need right now. It’s great for guys building a bond off ice and it’ll help them just take this start of the season and pretend it never happened.

Thursday will be an interesting matchup as both the Sabres and the Sharks find themselves in a similar position. San Jose has started their season 0-2 with losses to Philadelphia and Los Angeles and will be hungry to bounce back against a fragile Sabres team.

With the team not practicing Tuesday it will be no surprise to see some big changes in the lines at practice on Wednesday. After the past two games it would be fair to assume that the Beaulieu-Ristolainen pairing isn’t meant to be. Beaulieu has had flashes of brilliance but his turnovers in back to back games leading to goals hasn’t helped him in sticking on the top pairing. He’s a nice player but it might be time he slides into a role more suited for him and Scandella or McCabe move next to Risto. I tweeted the other night that I was surprised how well Beaulieu and Ristolainen looked together as they’re both more offensive minded and apparently I spoke too soon. Ristolainen especially will benefit greatly from being able to play with a more defensive presence and be more free to jump up in the rush, same with Beaulieu.

It’ll be interesting to see what Housley does with the forward lines after the lack of offense from everyone outside the top line. Although having Reinhart at center provides more depth it doesn’t really matter when they’re not producing. It might be time Sam and Jack are put back together to try and spark this offense.

I’ve said on twitter how much I’ve liked Seth Griffith, (and at times) Sam Reinhart, this year so far and I just get torn apart with responses that they’re minus- whatever it may be for said game. I’m not sure how many of these people are actually watching, especially considering the whole team is in the minus category, but they’ve been two of the more consistent forwards in the offensive zone. Seth Griffith in my opinion has been the second best forward behind Evander Kane and is showing why he cracked the roster. Griffith has used his speed to win countless battles and extend plays in the offensive zone and has shown off his playmaking ability. Reinhart has been hot and cold in his transition to center, there have been mistakes, but his line has been the most consistent offensively even without producing. Yes, that sounds dumb since they have no goals to this point but they’ve had the best and most consistent offensive possession and chances, even more than the top line that have been able to finish plays. Reinhart and Griffith have showed some nice chemistry and I’ve counted three, maybe four, chances now for Reinhart with a pretty open net he either couldn’t get a stick on, tapped just wide, or was blocked. The production is coming for Sam and he’s been in the right spots which is one of the reasons I think a reunion on Eichel’s wing until pucks start going into the net isn’t a bad idea. Eichel also hasn’t been able to handle the puck nearly as much as he’s used to and although Kane has been good, he’s not the type that’s going to get Jack the puck. Evander Kane leads the team in shots by an incredible margin partly due to the fact that when the pucks on his stick near the opponents zone it’s not going to find itself anywhere but on net. Eichel’s at his best when he’s commanding play and setting the pace of the game, but he needs the puck to do so.

The forward group could really use some speed and Matt Moulson has been abysmal since cracking the roster in game two. He doesn’t have the speed to play in this system and just looks lost. There is no reason Justin Bailey or Nick Baptiste are in the minors while he takes up a roster spot. Bailey has been lighting up the AHL since being sent down to start the year and could add much needed speed and physicality to the bottom six.

Two of the biggest areas of concern so far have been Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo who have both taken responsibility for their lack of production and impact on the games. This is out of the norm as the two heavily payed forwards are at the top of the totem pole for impacting the outcome of a game. They’ve done some good things but like the majority of the team have found themselves invisible on the score sheet and for what they’re being paid, it’s not acceptable.

It’s time to right the ship and get this team where it was expected to be. The western road trip is the perfect place to begin that and once this team gets it’s confidence back, anything can happen. Luckily it’s still very early in the season and some of the biggest teams in the league such as the Oilers, Sharks, Predators, Stars, Wild, and Rangers have found themselves in a similar situation. It’s way too early for panic I wouldn’t expect these past two games to be any indication on how the rest of the season will play out.

Feel free to provide any feedback and thoughts on twitter –

@JxredNHL @SabresFanatics 

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