The Instigator Podcast 8.6 – Sabres Season Preview featuring Ben Mathewson

With yet another Buffalo Sabres season upon us, Ben Mathewson joins the show to help us share some thoughts on the team’s outlook for the year. We spend a lot of time digging into the forward lines, what doesn’t make sense on the unit and the few things that are poised to work for the club. We touch on the defense corps as well before offering up some loose predictions for the 2019-20 season.

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Reasons for Optimism in the Sabres Crease

Ask around and most fans and pundits will tell you the Sabres will only go as far as their goaltenders will take them this season. While there are some question marks in the crease, I think Sabres fans may be in for a pleasant surprise this year.

There’s a lot of talk about exactly how far Robin Lehner can take the Sabres this season. His health, an issue last year, has served as the single biggest criticism of his game not just here in Buffalo but from his time in Ottawa as well.

However, given the level he performed at last season and the shape he came to camp in this fall should serve to erase most, if not all of the concerns Sabres fans have about the team’s starting goaltender. Tim Murray paid a lot to acquire Lehner and question marks followed him from Canada’s capital but there should be nothing but confidence in Lehner entering the season.

The start of Lehner’s first season with the Sabres is well documented. Concussion symptoms crept into his offseason training, leaving him overweight for the start of the season. Double down on the high ankle sprain suffered in the opener and the subsequent three-month absence and you’re left with an incomplete evaluation of his play. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.18 – Sabres Season Preview with Jeremy White of WGR 550

Jeremy White of WGR 550 joined Chris and Tyler to offer up a season preview for the 2016-17 Sabres season as we placed a particular focus on how the Buffalo blueline will shape the team’s success this year. We also touch on the new contract for Rasmus Ristolainen and the additional RFA contracts signed by Johnny Gaudreau and Nikita Kucherov. As always, you can find The Instigator Podcast on iTunes and through Google Play. Thanks again to Jeremy for joining the show and offering up his thoughts on the Sabres outlook for the year.

Sabres Twitter Drinking Game

I like to have fun with the Sabres Twitter account as you usually don’t need to look too far for a poorly timed Tweet or a general lack of communicating key hockey facts. With that in mind, I thought it would be #fun to create a drinking game to accompany Sabres Twitter on game nights this year.

Have some fun with this and feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section, we’ll make sure to update this as the season progresses. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 4.9 – 2015-16 Season Preview

Tyler and Chris are back after summer break and we’re talking about the outlook for the 2015-16 Sabres season. We spend some time looking at some question marks surrounding the defense corps, just how long of a look Brendan Guhle will get and realistic expectations for this year’s team.

Revamped Blueline a Key in Buffalo’s Turnaround

As the Sabres open their preseason campaign this evening against Minnesota, portions of the reshaped roster will be front and center for the first time. While this includes players like Jack Eichel, Buffalo’s beefed up blueline will be on display as well.

Buffalo returns most of their defensive corps from the end of the 2014-15 campaign as Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mike Weber will all see significant minutes this season. However, Mark Pysyk is expected to be in Buffalo full-time along with new additions Carlo Colaiacovo and Cody Franson. Those new faces should each play their own role in turning the corner after two years of woeful defensive results.

While Ristolainen will remain on the shelf for a little while longer due to a pre-camp injury, the club opened camp with a pretty clear picture of what their defense pairs will look like. Gorges is skating alongside Bogosian, Weber is paired with Pysyk while Colaiacovo and Franson are the next pair up. One would presume that Ristolainen steps in with Pysyk when he’s healthy, but that’s hardly set in stone at this point.

Based on the current pairings, it would seem that Gorges and Bogosian will serve as the team’s top pair with Pysyk and Ristolainen potentially seeing second pairing minutes. Colaiacovo and Franson are likely best used in manageable situations – something Murray mentioned after signing Franson – which would be ideal for a third pair made up of two veterans who can contribute offensively.

Assuming Weber is penciled in as the seventh man for the time being, he will likely be utilized when Dan Bylsma is looking to ice a heavier lineup or even a defensive corps with more of a tendency to stay at home.

Depth beyond the top seven is far more impressive than it was just a year ago. Of course, the top seven is far more impressive than it was a year ago. Jake McCabe is the prohibitive favorite to be the first call up and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t recalled on a fairly regular basis. Chad Ruhwedel, Matt Donovan and Bobby Sanguinetti all have NHL experience and while they’ll each see more time in Rochester than Buffalo, they provide fair replacement value should the Sabres be hit by an injury bug. Continue reading

Sabres should improve but still won’t contend in 2014-15

Things are going to be better for the Sabres this year. Mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last year.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL by a country mile. The Sabres were 14 points back of the 29th place Florida Panthers, the same Florida Panthers who also finished 29th in goals for in 2013-14 (39 goals better than the Sabres).

Tim Murray had quite a reclamation project to work on as he inherited a team that was 14 points and 39 goals south of the second-to-last team in the league last year. If the status-quo were to remain, the Sabres would have quite a hill to climb just to leap frog one team, let alone make a run at the playoffs.

Buffalo’s historically bad season was accomplished with only a month-and-a-half of Thomas Vanek, and interim stay from Matt Moulson and two-thirds of the year with Ryan Miller. Miller’s .923 save percentage was good for a monumental point share during his time here and I’ll be interested to see how Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth perform as a tandem.

Enroth is without doubt the number one goaltender on the roster. To say Neuvirth was shaky during the preseason would be an understatement and he may need a little more time to settle into a groove. Meanwhile, Enroth was tremendous in his preseason appearances and he’ll certainly see the lion’s share of the work early on this year. Will he be able to improve on his .911 save percentage? Will he avoid the lengthy losing streaks that have plagued his young career? The latter is perhaps the most important question here as Enroth’s up-and-down performances have been nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde of goaltending.

It’s safe to say that there will be a slight decrease in performance in the Buffalo crease. It may not be a regression so steep that it costs the team multiple wins, but it’s safe to assume that the expectations in net will differ from recent years.

Of course, the Sabres roster is vastly improved. The team that will take the ice on Thursday is heads and shoulders better than the one that took the ice in 2013-14. In addition to the departures of Vanek and Miller, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, John Scott, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain and Matt D’Agostini are all gone. There is some good and bad in that group, but the Sabres are more than improved from top to bottom.

A full season of Moulson and Chris Stewart alone should inject a fair bit of life into the Sabres offense as should the addition of Brian Gionta. With 23, 15 and 11 goals scored by the trio last season, it’s easy to say the Sabres have indeed made up their 40-goal shortfall from last season. Putting Moulson on the wing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford could potentially give the Sabres a bona fide scoring line, although I’m not expecting anyone in blue and gold to surpass 30 goals this season. Continue reading