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#DUFFALO: EARNING POINTS, SMASHING PUMPKINS AND ALREADY LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT SEASON

by Brian Duff / Buffalo Sabres

ON ICE


They had lost six games in a row – all in regulation time – and fallen to seven games below .500 for the first time this season.

It was Jan. 8, rolling into the wee hours of the 9th as the club made its way from Chicago to Winnipeg (you know, the city where the Sabres hadn’t won since the days of Mogilny and LaFontaine?). After a day off on the 9th, a matinee awaited on a Sunday afternoon, and so too did Sam Reinhart’s first NHL hat trick in a 4-2 Buffalo win.

Including that day/result, this team has gone 19-13-7 over its past 39 games. And with two games remaining, they have a chance to crest over .500 for the first time this season if they win out.

But extracting a win from the 'Peg may not have been the turning point.

Yes, the team won four of its next five, but they then proceeded to win only two of nine, capped by a 5-1 loss in Philadelphia.

The Sabres were 55 games in and still seven below .500. They were averaging only 2.2 goals per game and were allowing 2.75. In the 25 games since: 2.76 goals per game and 2.28 goals against.

Half a goal per game better in both categories, and they'd have had a 13-7-5 record. No wonder the cup doesn’t feel half empty anymore.

We’ve spoken nearly every game night about the line of Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta, and its value.

Here’s how the point production has broken down these past 25 games:

PLAYER GP G A P
Jack Eichel 24 8 10 18
Zach Bogosian 25 6 10 16
Sam Reinhart 25 6 10 16
Evander Kane 20 7 7 14
Ryan O'Reilly 14 4 10 14
Brian Gionta 25 3 10 13
Marcus Foligno 25 6 6 12
Johan Larsson 23 8 3 11


Also complimenting the 13 wins would be the plus-13 ratings for both Foligno and Jake McCabe. And of course, the last 13 decisions (14 appearances) by Chad Johnson in goal in which he has posted a sterling record of 10-2-1 and a 2.21 goals-against average.

Eighty points was the target set by Coach Dan Bylsma a few weeks ago. A 7-2-2 run has them thinking of 83, which would mark a 29-point improvement from one year ago.


OFF ICE
He’s off ice now due to injury, but there’s a player down in Rochester that has shown tremendous growth in the eyes of regular observers, scouts, and teammates as well.

I was having a casual conversation with Nathan Lieuwen upon his recall from the Amerks recently, and the easy-going netminder reminded me why goalies make such great analysts.

Lieuwen effortlessly and thoughtfully provided insight into any name I threw his way, and we were a few minutes deep when he stopped and said, “You know, going back to your original question, Will Carrier is the most improved player on the team.”

Carrier posted 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points in 56 games prior to an upper-body injury on March 23 that put an end to his second season as a pro. And while 20 of those points came in his final 24 games, there was so much more to his game.

“He plays so hard at both ends of the ice,” Lieuwen said. “He’s so committed. No one backchecks harder, and believe me, from the goalie position you certainly notice that. And it’s reflected in his plus/minus which is [at plus-14] – by far the best on the team.”

We’ll never know what Carrier might have shown had he received the late-season call up this year, but there is certainly every reason to look forward to seeing this 21-year-old again in the fall.


LIFE ON THE ROAD

Two reasons why concerts are such a draw for me when we are traveling with the team: the band and the venue.

We went 2-for-2 on this past road trip thanks to my first viewing (after all these years) of The Smashing Pumpkins in the truly remarkable and legendary Beacon Theatre on Broadway.

This video doesn’t do the sound quality justice, but I hope you’ll enjoy it all the same.

It was billed as the Pumpkins “In Plainsong” and it was a pretty cool experience.

Speaking of music, what did y'all think of this?

Ryan was pretty pleased with how this episode turned out and wanted to thank our entire crew.

To that we say, Thank you, Ryan and your family for the open door you took us through this year for two really enjoyable episodes of #BeyondBlueAndGold.


IN THE COMMUNITY
Almost every event we have ever written about in this section wouldn’t happen without the passionate hard work of the Sabres Community Relations team.

Teresa Belbas is the manager of that team, and to say that she is a terrific colleague and great friend would be an understatement. Our hearts go out to Teresa and her family at this time, after the recent passing of her mom, Abby Harms. Abby was a big Sabres fan who fought a courageous battle with cancer.

But like all moms, I’m sure she was a bigger fan of her little girl.

She leaves behind a beautiful, caring, fun-loving daughter that was beside her for every step of that fight, and one that we are fortunate to work with every day.

May you rest in peace Abby, and may we all continue the fight to eliminate cancer in our lifetime.

*****

There is just one home game to go, and whether you are in the building, or watching at home on MSG, we hope you are with us for Fan Appreciation Night!


DUFFALO THREE STARS
For the period ending April 7

1.Just two blocks over from First Niagara Center, Lockhouse Distillery on Columbia Street has a great vibe and almost literally fits the criteria of “hidden gem.”

1.Keeping with a close-to-home theme, gotta give a shout out to a local breakfast spot that has been around a while but is new for me - Savory’s on Camp Road in Hamburg!

1.And if you are hitting one of the final three Amerks home games this season (or planning a nice dinner out once spring returns), you really need to check out Fiorella in the Rochester Public Market.

Thanks to all of you for checking out #Duffalo this season. Looking forward to the Sabres 2016-17 campaign already!

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