The Buffalo Sabres returned to practice on Wednesday after a well-earned day off on Tuesday.
On Monday, Carter Hutton back stopped the Sabres to a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. The Sabres will take their 2-1 record into their home game against Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
The Sabres have played well in their first three games despite having a few regular players out of the lineup. All three phases are playing well. Carter Hutton's .943 SV% is keeping the Sabres competitive.
Comes news today that help in the form of healthy bodies may be on the way back to the lineup.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian has been a day-to-day injury status since he suffered a lower-body injury during Buffalo’s Kraft Hockeyville game in Clinton, N.Y. on September 25.
The recent injury is not related to the successful hip surgery that Bogosian underwent in January.
Sabres fans want to know when Bogosian is going to make his season debut. Will it be versus the Avalanche? Or, will it be on the five-game Western Conference roadie that kicks off Saturday night in Arizona?
Sabres Phil Housley said Wednesday the team is treating Bogosian cautiously.
"I thought he (Bogosian) looked really good being his first practice back with our group, a pretty good upbeat, up-tempo practice”. A good sign he's able to get through it."
Assuming Bogosian is given medical clearance to play against the Avalanche, Housley will have to sit a defenseman to make room for the mobile, agile and hostile D-man.
If Bogosian is nothgreen-lighted for the Avs game, he may be activated to play Saturday night in Glendale versus the Desert Dogs.
Were I Housley, I would leave my top four D alone.
Combined. Scandella, Ristolainen, McCabe, and Dahlin have 20 shots on goal, 21 hits, one goal scored and two assists. The foursome has a respectable minus-3 rating in the first three games.
To make room for Bogosian, I would sit Nathan Beaulieu and play Bogosian alongside Casey Nelson.
Here is my recommendation:
Scandella - Ristolainen
McCabe - Dahlin
Bogosian - Nelson
There is no way Housley would break apart his top for core right now considering both pairs have played so well together. Adding to Bogosian to the third pair in place of Beaulieu would give Houlsey and his defensive coordinator Steve Smith a bigger, tougher, faster, stronger, more athletic defenseman to protect the fort and to support the rush to make it a unit of five.
All due respect to Beaulieu, He roams around looking for the puck and for hits far too much for my own liking. The manifestation of Houlsey’s five-man-in-the-attack system is appearing on a more regular basis inside games this season. I want to see more continuity and more speed for the third pair. In my opinion, Beaulieu freelances far too much, gets caught puck watching and tends to lose his man in coverage far too often when the puck is in Carter Hutton’s kitchen. Beaulieu is averaging 13:14 TOI despite the fact he is leading the Sabres D corps with 5 PIMs.
I think Bogosian at 80% to 85% is better than Beaulieu at 100%.
I also think that its premature to pull Nelson out of the lineup. The kid moves the puck well and he gets involved in battles in all three zones. Whereas Beaulieu is not reliable in his own zone, Nelson is.
Another area of attention if the bottom six forward group.
On Tuesday, injured forwards Vlad Sobotka and Johan Larsson practiced with their teammates. Sobotka has been sidelined since he suffered an upper-body injury in the loss to the Boston Bruins in the season opener on October 4. It looked to me that Sobotka go dinged in his skirmish with Bruins D-man Charlie McAvoy in the dying moments of Buffalo’s 4-0 shutout loss.
The veteran Larsson returned to practice on Sunday. The center has not been medically cleared to resume play due to his lower-body injury.
Will Larsson be getting discharge from the IR in time to play against the Avs on Thursday night? Don’t count on it. Ditto Sobotka.
Housley is not about to make roster changes with a two-game winning streak in progress.
Housley’s forward lines at practice on Wednesday conform that if it ain’t broke, Housley won’t fix it, so to speak.
L1: Sheary - Eichel - Reinhart
L2: Jeff Skinner - Berglund - Okposo
L3: Elie - Mittelstadt - Thompson
L4: Girgensons - Rodrigues - Pominville
*Extras: Sobotka – Larsson
In the past two games, the Sabres forwards have really responded well to getting embarrassed 40 on opening night.
The Eichel line has combined for 5 goals (2PPG, 1 GWG), 4 assists and 27 shots on goal.
The Skinner-Berglund-Okposo line has created 3 assists and 11 shots on goal in their past two games playing together.
The third line is intriguing to me because there is a lot of speed, skill, scoring and creativity on it.
Elie was a waiver claim from the Dallas Stars on the eve of the season opener. He’s been physical and hard on pucks. Though Elie, Mittelstadt, Thompson trio have no points and only 3 SOG the past two games together, I see group getting closer and closer to getting their names on the score sheet. Mittelstadt has been playing very conservatively, trying to stay disciplined and on the right side of the puck in his first three games of this season. I saw chemistry between the 81-37-72 line during Monday’s win over Vegas. The trio will score goals. That’s why I am keeping them together.
The Sabres fourth line just might be the best fourth line in hockey because of its abilities to defend and score. Girgensons-Rodrigues-Pominville have combined for 1 goal, 2 assists and 13 shots on goal.
Larsson and Sobotka are going to have to wait their turn. Ditto forward Scott Wilson who is out of thee lineup due to injury.
What will Housley do when Sobotka and Larsson get clearance to resume playing again?
I see Sobotka platooning with Girgensons on the third line. I keep Rodrigues-Pominville playing together.
What to do with Larsson?
I package Larsson with Beaulieu and trade them to a team looking for veteran leadership. In 258 career games played with Buffalo and Minnesota, Larsson has 26 goals and 39 assists for 65 points. Larsson is a 50% faceoff man in his career. Larsson scored 5 goals and 11 assists last season. As for Beaulieu, the veteran has scored 8 goals and 61 assists in 287 career games played in Buffalo and Montreal.
For the first time in over five years, the Sabres have legit organizational depth that is creating serious competition at every position on the Sabres roster. The days of settling for second or third best are over. Housley and Botterill are demanding the very best performances from e ach and every player at every practice and in every game. The Rochester Amerks have a roster that is bursting at the seams with young prospects who are hungry to play their way onto the Sabres roster. Forwards Alex Nylander and Justin Baley played well enough in training camp to earn roster spots in Buffalo. The same can be said of defensemen Brendan Guhle and Lawrence Pilut. Unfortuanately for the youngsters, the NHl is a numbers game. Only 12 forwards and 6 D can play in games and only 20 skaters can be on the NHL roster.
Who will be the first call up when the inevitable injury bug bites? The second call up? The third?
For the most part, Housley and Botterill are getting the effort and results they want from their players. With healthy bodies coming back to the lineup soon, it's time to make tough decisions on which players stay in the lineup and which ones will sit out. That's what winning NHL teams do.
The Sabres play their next six games against Western Conference contenders, one game at home and five on the road. Colorado, Arizona, Vegas, San Jose, LA and Anaheim have a combined 9-8-1 record as we head into Wednesday night's NHL slate of games. This six game segement is the proving ground. It's going to be fast, physical, frantic. Each shift, period and game will be excruciatingly difficult.
If the Sabres want to shed the cellar dwellar brand that they create for themselves, the best place to earn respect is by beating Western Conference playoff teams at their own game.
It's time to earn respect and points against legit playoff contending teams.
All Housley need do, if he hasn't done so already, is to remind his team that the colorado Avalanche improved 47 points from the 2016-17 season to the 2017-18 season.
Two seasons ago, the Avs (22-56-4, 48 points) finished in 30h place in the NHL standings. Last season, the Avs finished 8th and earned a playoff berth in the Wild West by earning 95 points (43-30-9, 95 points)
To do so, Houlsey and Botterill must play the players that give them the best chance of winning.
It's time to play Big Boy Hockey.
Thursday's games versus Colorado will be Jason Pominville’s 664th regular-season game as a member of the Sabres, tying him with Mike Foligno and Ric Seiling for 10th-most games in franchise history.
After the Avs game, Pominville will be just 17 games behind Rick Martin (681) for ninth place and 48 games behind Alexei Zhitnik (712) for eighth place in Sabres history.
Pominville will be the first player to break into the franchise’s top 10 in games played since Zhitnik passed Foligno, Seiling and Martin to move into eighth during the 2003-04 season.
Pominville also ranks in or near the franchise’s regular-season top 10 in goals (12th, 202), assists (8th, 289) and points (11th, 491).
Jason Pominville needs 3 points to reach 700 career points.
Pominville needs 6 points for 497 points with Sabres (T-10th in franchise history)
Jack Eichel has recorded at least a point in each of his five career meetings with the Avalanche, totaling six points (2 goals and 4 assists) in those games.
Carter Hutton is 5-1-0 in six career appearances against Colorado with a .925 SV%, including a 3-0-0 record and .951 SV% last season while with St. Louis.
Casey Nelson scored his first NHL goal in his only previous meeting with the Avalanche on February 11, when these teams last met.