The Buffalo Sabres roller coaster of a season continues to be.....well just that, a roller coaster. After going 3-0-1 at the end of November, Buffalo has since dropped its last two on its west coast trip to the Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks. Both games seemed similar. The Sabres would jump first scoring the opening goal, but then would struggle to find any sort of consistency to their game.
Opportunities were abundant but the Sabres continued to struggle with finishing. Head coach Dan Bylsma has struggled to find 4 lines that all have meshed well together. Jack Eichel has suffered from lack of playmaking ability on his wing positions. Far too many times Eichel has beat one or two defenders but his wingers (see Brian Gionta/Matt Moulson) have failed to be up on the play with Eichel, or have failed to finish some incredible passes given by the rookie sensation.
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Defense and goaltending has been the more prominent problem for Buffalo. 9 goals have been given up in the past two games. Too many times we are seeing the defense look lost in their own zone.
Rebound control has been an issue. Both the Oilers and Canucks have jumped on second chances given due to the fact that the defense is failing to wrap up forwards in front of the net.
Jake McCabe probably has been the biggest liability in that area most recently speaking. McCabe sat against the Canucks in favor of Mike Weber. Hopefully it will light a fire under the rookie for tonight's game against the Flames.
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The problem on both offense and defense can stem back to the result of a lack of depth on the roster. Injuries play a big role in that aspect as Tyler Ennis and Mark Pysyk have not played in a month. The return of Ennis will hopefully provide another playmaker to pair up with Jack Eichel.
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Losing Mark Pysyk has been the bigger issue without a doubt. Despite having 1 point on the season, Pysyk was the most fundamentally sound defender for the Sabres. He did the dirty work and was never caught pinching too far, searching for the puck like a boy lost in the woods, or turning the puck over.
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So compare Pysyk to Bogosian, here is the scoring chance percentage with Pysyk on and off the ice compared to Bogo.
Pysyk made players around him better. According to WGR 550, each player on the roster had a higher corsi when playing with Pysyk.
Player With Pysyk Without Diff % TOI
JOHNSON, CHAD 59.8 49.3 10.5 168:32:00
ULLMARK, LINUS 47.4 43.4 4.0 134:47:00
MCCABE, JAKE 50.7 50.1 0.6 98:19:00
EICHEL, JACK 46.4 45.9 0.5 86:46:00
ENNIS, TYLER 47.3 46.3 1.0 76:24:00
GIRGENSONS, ZEMGUS 57.3 48.2 9.1 75:11:00
LARSSON, JOHAN 51.7 48 3.7 68:49:00
REINHART, SAM 54.9 54.2 0.7 67:46:00
O_REILLY, RYAN 59.5 50.2 9.3 66:45:00
FOLIGNO, MARCUS 44.9 46 -1.1 64:01:00
MOULSON, MATT 68.6 46.8 21.8 62:53:00
COLAIACOVO, CARLO 55.6 42.5 13.1 60:22:00
MCGINN, JAMIE 58.3 45.4 12.9 56:22:00
GIONTA, BRIAN 62 42.6 19.4 56:02:00
DESLAURIERS, NICOLAS 53 36.6 16.4 48:56:00
LEGWAND, DAVID 56.2 39.5 16.7 43:30:00
KANE, EVANDER 55.7 56.1 -0.4 41:46:00
WEBER, MIKE 73.5 50.8 22.7 37:37:00
(Courtesy of WGR Sports Radio 550)
The lack of depth will also be solved over time with the emergence of prospects in Justin Baily, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Brendan Guhle, etc.
These players have impressed so far this season in the AHL, juniors, and college.
Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste have been rock solid in their rookie seasons as an American.
Bailey has 2 goals and 6 assists in 22 games for the Amerks with an even plus minus. He looks stronger on his skates and plays far more physical than he had in the OHL last season. His shot is extremely powerful and accurate.
In the video below, Bailey orchestrates the game winning goal in overtime.
Baptiste has continued to be a versatile winger for Rochester. The former Erie Otter has 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points. Every time you watch Baptiste, you see a guy going 100% throwing his body around, blocking shots, and thriving with great play makers. He has an impressive slap shot too. Nick Baptiste is a guy you can put on both your power play and penalty kill.
Expect both players to compete for a roster spot in Buffalo next season.
Struggling veterans in Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson may not have a spot on next year's Sabres roster because of the thriving young prospects.
The Sabres are lacking explosive plays from their wingers because of Bylsma's reliance on veteran players that may just not have it anymore.
Giving young guys like Bailey and Baptiste a shot could solve the depth problem for the Sabres.
Hey, eventually those guys have to get a shot. They will need to continue to progress and earn a spot but this summer will be an interesting one for GM Tim Murray who will need to decide if these prospects are ready to replace some veterans.
For now Buffalo will need to fix the problem with who they have.
Getting healthy will be a big step to get back on track but struggling wingers such as Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, and Johan Larsson will have to bounce back or else Buffalo's season could be in trouble before the half way point.