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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Over-Thought: Rumor Season is About to Hit Full Throttle

Doing a breakdown of Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts is hardly an original venture but it was something I did every now and then for Dave Davis and The Buffalo Star. In an attempt to get some more content on the site I thought I’d resurrect this feature here at 2ITB for your reading enjoyment.

A primer, for those who may not be familiar with the practice: I’ll take a handful of topics from the most recent 31 Thoughts published by Sportsnet and offer up a few additional thoughts and opinions on the news of the week. The original text will be bold.

If you haven’t read this week’s edition yet, you can find it here.

  1. On Burakovsky: The Capitals have asked for a couple of mid-to-high round draft picks in exchange (seconds and thirds would be a good get) for him. That would give them more flexibility and assets to chase what they need. Even with a seven-game losing streak, absolutely no one is writing them off.

The Sabres haven’t been directly connected to Burakovsky yet but he’s better than at least five of Buffalo’s current wingers. If they plugged him into a top-six role, there’s reason to believe he’d surpass the production he’s had the last three years in Washington. He’d certainly be more effective than he’s been in Washington this year considering he’s struggled to crack the Capitals’ lineup.

That he’s been unable to cement a regular spot is disconcerting. He’s a quality player with elite skill, someone I’ve personally been a fan of going back to his time with the Erie Otters. However, he’s bordering on project territory and that’s not something I’d be too keen on seeing the Sabres take on. Luckily the expected price on Burakovsky is pretty low. A second and a third round pick would be pretty affordable and it could dip lower if his production stays stagnant leading up to the deadline.

If the Sabres could somehow leverage the Capitals to move Burakovsky for less than a 2nd and a 3rd (perhaps they’d like the added depth Nathan Beaulieu would offer along with a draft pick) I’d be very pleased with acquiring him. It’s a situation worth tracking as the opportunity to pair Burakovsky with a more aggressive deal to add young talent at center would represent a strong step towards remaining in the playoff conversation in 2018-19. Continue reading

Taking Inventory of the Rebuilds in Buffalo and Toronto

Saturday was a good day for Sabres fans. The team rebounded from a brutal start and beat the Jets, 3-2. Winning is always nice, but how the Sabres did it had me particularly pleased.

Hudson Fasching, days after signing his rookie deal, make Jacob Trouba look like a turnstile as he bulled around him and buried his first NHL goal. It was a prototypical power forward move, the type Sabres fans had heard so much about as Fasching excelled at the University of Minnesota. After Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel completed the comeback, the Sabres had three goal scorers aged 20 or younger and Eichel had his 50th point.

All was well for me until I came across an article with the headline “Maple Leafs Keep Doing Things the Right Way, Expect to be Rewarded by Hockey Gods.” This was the second article in the span of about a week that heaped praise upon the storied franchise just up the QEW while taking a subtle, or not so subtle, jab at the way the Sabres have executed their rebuild. The previously mentioned article, from The Hockey News, goes off a quote from Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock and praises the play of the prospects getting their first extended playing time in Toronto. Earlier in the week The Score came out with an article claiming the Leafs were better at rebuilding than the Sabres. To support this stance the author used such hard hitting facts as: Mike Babcock picked the Leafs over the Sabres, the Sabres fired their director of performance and the Leafs haven’t fired their director of sports science. Oh, and the Leafs beat the Sabres in meaningless late March game. Continue reading

It’s Never too Early to Shower the Leafs with Praise

It doesn’t take much to stir the ire of Sabres Twitter on the best of days. Today was no exception as David Alter’s post on The Score managed to work numerous Sabres fans into a froth despite being at peak #FaschingWatch. Speaking of which.

I encourage you to read through Alter’s article as he rolls through an argument that is worth having. The Leafs are one of the few teams in the process of a rebuild with the same financial might that Terry Pegula has to offer while also boasting a number of impressive prospects at the top of their pipeline. Both teams are positioned similarly. While the Sabres are likely a year or two ahead, the Leafs aren’t as far behind as some fans in the 716 would want to think.

The article itself is short on research and long on opinions that likely grew from Saturday’s 4-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre. I’m surprised that he held off on writing this for this week and not for, I don’t know Buffalo’s 4-3, comeback victory from earlier this month. That being considered, I thought I’d try my hand at a FJM of the post as it was simply too empty to stand as a proper evaluation of where each team’s rebuild stands in comparison to one another.

Original portions post will be in bold, my responses will be in normal type. Continue reading

NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. Continue reading

New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

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Rolston’s debut spoiled by familiar flaws

Hopefully you didn’t expect Ron Rolston to show up for 24 hours and sprinkle a magic cure-all on the Sabres roster. There certainly wasn’t much of a difference between the final game of the Lindy Ruff era and the first game of the Ron Rolston era.

A quick, uptempo start was erased by a poor second period littered with turnovers, penalties and a squandered lead. Ultimately the Sabres dropped another game (their second to the Leafs this season) and fell further into a hole that is looking near impossible to climb out of.

Firing Lindy Ruff was probably one of the toughest decisions Darcy Regier ever had to make. However, it was a necessary move that probably needed to be made sooner. Naming an interim head coach did a few things for the Sabres, namely keeping all options open once the season comes to a close.

You also might be able to speculate that having Ron Rolston take over on an interim basis keeps Darcy Regier untethered to any hire and may play a role in the expiring shelf life for the general manager. If Rolston has little impact on the roster, the writing would be on the wall for the Sabres to part ways with Regier at the end of the year.

As for Rolston, his impact wasn’t going to be felt in game number one. He officially took over just 24 hours previously and only had a morning skate as an introduction to his new team. Even tomorrow’s game against the Islanders will likely be a challenge as he will still have very limited ice and video time to impact his roster with.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation would be to wait until Tuesday night’s contest against Tampa Bay. By then Rolston will have had two full days of practice in addition to today to install some of the systematic tweaks he will want to run. Hopefully by Wednesday he has a firm grasp on running the team. Continue reading