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Sabres secondary scoring woes, defensive slump led to missing playoffs

Dahlin, young core reasons for optimism

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Buffalo Sabres failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.

The Sabres (31-34-9) were eliminated from playoff contention Saturday when they lost 7-4 to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.

Here's a look at what happened in the 2018-19 season for the Sabres and why things could be better next season.

 

The Skinny

Potential UFAs: Jeff Skinner LW, Jason Pominville RW, Danny O'Regan C.

Potential RFAs: Zemgus Girgensons C, Johan Larsson LW, Linus Ullmark G, Remi Elie LW, Evan Rodrigues LW.

Potential 2019 NHL Draft picks: eight

 

What went wrong

Secondary scoring woes: Skinner (37) and captain Jack Eichel (26) are the only Sabres to reach the 20-goal mark. Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, scored his 19th of the season against the Canadiens on Saturday. Forwards Jason Pominville (15), Conor Sheary (13), Kyle Okposo (11) and Casey Mittelstadt (11), the next four highest goal producers on the Sabres, each had stints on the top two lines and struggled for consistency. Buffalo is 25th in the NHL with 201 goals.

Rough ride for Ristolainen: Rasmus Ristolainen came into the 2018-19 season -- his seventh in the NHL -- as the No. 1 defenseman on the Sabres depth chart but has the worst plus-minus in the NHL (minus-42); Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings is next at minus-30. Ristolainen is fifth on the Sabres with 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) but it's been in his own zone where he's struggled the most.

Video: BUF@BOS: Ristolainen whips wrister past Rask

Downward trend: They had a 10-game winning streak from Nov. 8-27, outscoring the opposition 36-25 in that span. The streak tied a Sabres record first achieved in January 1984 and matched to begin the Presidents' Trophy-winning season of 2006-07. Their record at the end of play on Nov. 27 was 17-6-2, putting them first in the NHL with 36 points. That's when the momentum ended. Buffalo went 14-28-7 (35 points) in the ensuing 49 games. The Sabres have not reached the playoffs since a seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Reasons for optimism

Rasmus is for real: Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, reached the 40-point mark (eight goals, 32 assists) against the Canadiens on Saturday, assisting on Alexander Nylander's second-period goal. The rookie's point total is the second highest by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history. Phil Housley had 57 points with the Sabres before turning 19 on March 9, 1983. Housley is Dahlin's coach in Buffalo.

Video: WSH@BUF: Dahlin one-times PPG from the circle

Young guns: In Dahlin, Mittelstadt (20), Nylander (20) and Eichel (22), the Sabres have a young foundation that stands to only get better. Their American Hockey League team in Rochester is second in the North Division with 85 points (40-21-3) and boasts some impressive prospects like 21-year-old center Rasmus Asplund and 19-year-old center Matej Pekar. It should make for some interesting position battles in training camp come September.

Aggressive GM: Jason Botterill has shown he is not shy to make moves to augment Buffalo's talent base since being hired as general manager in 2017. The Sabres signed free agent goalie Carter Hutton and traded for Skinner and Sheary. Buffalo also acquired smooth-skating defenseman Brandon Montour, who has seven points (two goals, five assist) in 12 games with the Sabres, from the Anaheim Ducks before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. The Sabres' top priority is to sign Skinner, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The Sabres also have two first-round picks for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 20-21.

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