The Instigator Podcast 8.21 – Sam, Skinner and Shakeups

Should Jeff Skinner be reunited with Jack Eichel? Is it imperative for Sam Reinhart to play away from Eichel? Is it odd that after seeing two coaches shuffle Buffalo’s lines “too much”, Ralph Krueger has been hesitant to alter his top unit? We tackle a number of topics related to Skinner’s goal scoring struggles, and how the Sabres might best optimize the top six in a way that would get Skinner back on track and determine if Reinhart can indeed drive his own line.

Sabres Rewind: More Fun in the Defensive Zone

Buffalo’s most recent attempt to string together back-to-back wins fell short with a road home loss to Toronto on Wednesday night. The Sabres allowed three-straight to the Leafs after taking a first period lead and the first two goals were both messy in their own regard.

John Tavares’ tap-in was the product of an effective cycle driven by William Nylander and Buffalo’s continued struggles picking up coverage in the defensive zone. Far too often this season, the Sabres have gotten loose in their coverage, leading to uncontested shots and tap-ins for their opponents. Their coverage has been so poor at times that opponents managed to not only find a free lane to the net but have teammates sitting open on the back door as well. It’s a problem that’s plagued the Sabres all season and I’m not quite sure if they’ll ever solve the problem unless the coaching staff makes some fundamental changes to their system.

Like with most plays, everything is harmless enough as Nylander picks up the puck behind the net. Sam Reinhart is low in the zone filling the typical center duties, Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner are higher, covering the points, and Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella each have a man.

 

 

 

 

 

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Will Shuffled Lines Spark the Middle of Buffalo’s Lineup?

The search for secondary scoring has been arduous for the Sabres. While there have been glimpses of effective goal support from players not named Eichel or Skinner, it’s hardly come on a consistent basis.

Splitting up the Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart line had been floated for some time given the incredible lack of scoring from any other portion of the lineup. Heading into Friday in Carolina, it looks like Phil Housley will separate the trio in an attempt to get a few more lines going against the Canes.

They might be catching Carolina at the wrong time says the guys at Mytopsportsbooks.com. The ‘Canes have won five straight heading into their tilt with Tampa Bay on Thursday night and have scored at least four goals in four straight games. Even with Jack Eichel set to come back, facing a team that’s been filling the net doesn’t make for an ideal matchup for a team whose secondary scoring has come and gone. The one silver lining is Carolina’s goaltending has been about as streaky as Buffalo’s secondary scoring, which could favor Buffalo’s chances to string together back-to-back wins since December 11 and 13. Continue reading

Lack of Offense in Opener Feels all too Familiar

Give the Sabres credit, they’ve gotten good at stamping out any glimmer of hope.

The Sabres entered their home opener in 2017 with 10 new faces and came away from the season-opening loss with a positive outlook that things were about to change. They played a fast game and even in a losing effort, looked like they were going to be a different club than in years past. What followed was anything but. The Sabres were disjointed, more often than not they were slow and their play was accurately reflected in the standings.

Despite another summer filled with roster turnover last night’s premier was more of the same from the Sabres. They passed up far too many shots and looked downright confused in the offensive zone at times. Defensive lapses resulted in three goals and the Bruins never looked truly challenged in the 4-0 win. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 7.4 – 2018-19 NHL Season Preview

It’s been a long wait but Sabres hockey is finally back and we go deep on the Sabres, their new captain Jack Eichel and whether or not they can make serious strides in the league this season. Along the way we discuss the massive 20-game suspension levied on Tom Wilson while offering up a brief preview for the rest of the NHL for the 2018-19 season.

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Two in the Mailbox – When Does Mittelstadt get Signed, Next Year’s Goalies and Pipeline Graduates

Two in the Mailbox, the weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

Matt/@matt_hervan – Which Casey signs a contract first, Mittelstadt or Nelson?

Sign this man

This is a good one. There’s been some chatter that Mittelstadt will return to Minnestoa for another season rather than signing to play in Rochester. There’s no guarantee that’s what Jason Botterill would want him to do – although it’s likely given his m/o – but that’s an option that would be on the table which could also keep the clock on his entry-level deal from starting. However, if Mittelstadt is to sign it’s my belief that it will come this spring after his season with the Gophers comes to a close. The Sabres would have the ability to pitch him on getting pro games right away, even burning a year of his ELC if it comes to that. He’d get a chance to make his NHL debut and he’d be able to play in the playoffs with Rochester as well, which should be a decent selling point for the player just as it would be an attractive development step for the club.

Getting Nelson extended seems like it’s going to be an offseason task. He’s unrestricted thanks to his Group VI UFA status but he really fits the mold of a true RFA. So it seems likely that once the season wraps up that Botterill will get to work on penning a new contract between Nelson and his agent.

It’s worth noting that my assumptions here are based on rumors and media reports on both player’s contract status. It would be just as easy to view Nelson as a player the Sabres will prioritize now rather than waiting until the summer when the clock is really ticking. Same goes to Mittlestadt as there’s been more than a few reports indicating the full court press will come in the summer.   Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.24 – Grading Jason Botterill and Phil Housley’s Work

Our two week, sickness-induced layoff has come to an end and Chris and Tyler are back to full health to discuss Jack Eichel’s apparent return from injury and to offer up some progress reports on Phil Housley and Jason Botterill. The rookie GM and coach haven’t yet completed their first season on the job but it felt like a good time to evaluate what’s gone right and wrong for the duo during their first season at the helm.

The Instigator Podcast 6.20 – Back from the All Star Break

The All Star break is over and the Sabres have reverted to their most maddening form. On this week’s podcast we talk about Jack Eichel’s impressive weekend in Tampa and toss some ideas around about how the league can beef up the Skills Competition. We touch on Chad Johnson’s continuing struggles in the Sabres crease while also lamenting the continued scourge that is the offside and goaltender interference review system.

 

The Instigator Podcast 6.18 – New Year, Same Sabres

We had a brief holiday layoff and it appears the Sabres did as well. Chris and Tyler are back to discuss the dust-up between Justin Falk and Evander Kane at practice today. We also touch on Jack Eichel’s All Star nomination, Zach Bogosian’s injury and the recall of Brendan Guhle and Linus Ullmark.

Here We Go Now

Looking back, last year was something of a false start for the Sabres. Jack Eichel’s injury dampened the first half of the season and Tim Murray wasn’t willing or able to move enough pieces to shore up the blueline.

What was originally thought of as a coming out party became a regression and a practice in further patience with the rebuilding process.

This season feels different.

Maybe it’s the shine of a new coach and general manager combo. Phil Housley is pushing an uptempo style of play and Jason Botterill hasn’t been shy about reshaping the roster – especially on the blueline. But what has really stoked excitement for the start of the season was locking up Jack Eichel for eight more years.

Getting Eichel’s contract done will erase every take about potential distractions and his desire to play in Boston. More importantly, it ensures that Eichel’s prime years will be spent in the Nickel City.

Maybe it’s the Buffalo inferiority complex at play, but sometimes it seems like Eichel isn’t appreciated as the talisman that he is for this franchise. Not so much from a national perspective, but locally. Nevermind the process that it took to get him, but simply his impact on the ice; his ability to drive play even with two wet paper bags as linemates is something Sabres fans haven’t seen since Gilbert Perreault played. Yet, sometimes I feel like fans see him as just another piece of the puzzle and not the cornerstone that he is.

Eichel is an electrifying talent. He’s played little more than a season-and-a-half and his highlight reel is already astounding. He’s everything we’ve hoped the Sabres would find while also being the antitheses of what’s defined this team for so long. He’s the most exciting player to don a Sabres sweater in a decade (two decades? Three?) and should things go as expected, he may just go down as the most exciting player in franchise history.

The desire for gritty, hard-working, blue-collar players has grown to mythical proportions with the Buffalo fan base. Our greatest stars have almost always occupied the crease and despite being blessed by the greatest player to ever play the position, the Sabres never had the skaters to fully compliment the limitless talent Dominik Hasek offered.

In a way, it’s refreshing just to know that the Sabres aren’t simply building from the net out. This team is going to be led from the front and it’s going to be done by a dynamic talent well worth the trouble it took to get him. The pieces around him continue to fall into place and it truly feels like the Sabres are ready to stop the suffering and start winning.

Here we go.