PHILADELPHIA – Seven of the Buffalo Sabres past nine games have been decided by just one goal. While the team would like to get back on the winning side of things soon, being in close games is a sign of progress.
Buffalo’s past three games have been 2-1 affairs. Now they just need to figure out how to get over the hump and close them out.
On Tuesday, the Sabres played a tight game with the New Jersey Devils, but ended up falling in the shootout.
“When you’re losing games, it’s not fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5-1 or 2-1,” forward Torrey Mitchell said. “You can call them moral victories if it’s just a one-goal loss or an overtime loss or a shootout loss. But at the end of the day, I think we have enough character and pride in the room that we want to get the two points and if we don’t get the two points, we’re frustrated and disappointed.”
Even though Buffalo is at the bottom of the League standings, they’ve been competitive and have been hanging in games. Tuesday’s loss to New Jersey marked their first shootout since December. It’s in the shootout where Buffalo has been able to pick up some extra points this season, with a record of 6-2.
How have the Sabres been able to stick around in these games? There are several reasons.
IN GOOD HEALTH
For the most part, the Sabres forwards have been able to stay healthy since the All-Star Break. Most notably, they got captain Brian Gionta back from an upper-body injury and Marcus Foligno back from a broken hand. Foligno has one goal and two assists in his four games since returning.
They are missing Patrick Kaleta for 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury that required minor surgery and Cody McCormick, who will miss the rest of the season due to blood clots. But Buffalo’s top three lines have remained relatively consistent over the past few weeks.
Chris Stewart has been up with center Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Tyler Ennis. Torrey Mitchell has been the pivot between Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta. Foligno has been with Brian Flynn and, since a trade last week, Nicolas Deslauriers.
“I think Teddy’s trying do as good of a job of trying to keep guys together and trying to get some chemistry that way,” Mitchell said. “I know I’ve been with Gio and Mouls for at least the last two weeks so it’s good to have some chemistry that way, even if the wins and goals aren’t exactly coming. But it’s been good that way.”
Newly acquired Bogosian has been able to step right in and help fill the void left not only by Tyler Myers, but by alternate captain Josh Gorges as well. Gorges has been out for a week now due to a lower-body injury and no timetable has yet been set for his return.
On Tuesday, Bogosian played a game-high 29:14, but the rest of the minutes on the defense was pretty spread out.
Nolan would like to keep the minutes of young guns Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov in check so that they aren’t put in bad situations.
“It’s going to be a real haul on us coming up so we’ve got to make sure we manage our rest, our practice time, how many minutes we play – as long as we’re full of energy every time,” Nolan said.
The Sabres lost two veteran pieces in Myers and Drew Stafford as part of a trade last week and they received Bogosian, left wing Evander Kane and a goaltending prospect in return.
Kane will not play this season due to shoulder surgery and while having a former 30-goal scorer healthy now would be preferable, that’s not the situation the team is in right now.
As Nolan has often said, he can only focus on what he can control – and that is coaching the players given to him on the roster to the best of his ability. The team is well aware that more trades and changes could be on the way as the March 2 NHL Trade Deadline inches closer and closer.
“As I just learned a long, long time ago, you have to learn to live with what you’ve got. And you can’t complain,” Nolan said. “You have to just work with what you’ve got and be thankful for what you’ve got. But on the flip side of it, you don’t cheat yourself either.
“If you’re blessed with a certain amount of skill set, you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating your teammates and you’re cheating the organization if you don’t give what you have to give.
“That’s my big thing, is just making sure you’re patient and understanding and nurtured and grow and develop. And within time, if all those thing work out, you’ll be raising a trophy over your head and not just playing in the playoffs, but raising a trophy over your head. That’s what it takes.”
Michal Neuvirth is now the man Buffalo will lean on in net for the foreseeable future. Buffalo traded Jhonas Enroth to Dallas for a conditional third-round pick and goalie Anders Lindback, all but ending the starting goaltender battle for the Sabres.
Nolan has said that they’ll let Neuvirth carry the ball for as long as he can. So far, he’s done a fairly good job. In his last two starts, he’s stopped 62 of 65 shots
However, he hasn’t been able to pick up a win since Nov. 15. He feels as if that will come soon though and that the team can really build off their effort against the Devils on Tuesday.
It’s tough but I don’t think about it. I don’t need to put any more pressure on me,” he said. “I’m just going game by game and eventually, if you’re going to play like that, we’re going to have to win sometime soon.”
Production on the power play has been an issue all season, but in the past four games, Buffalo has gone 3-for-15 (20 percent). The units have changed a bit with the trades as Bogosian is now getting first-unit minutes and Zadorov and Ristolainen are manning the points on the second unit.
Overall, over the past nine games, Ristolainen and Zadorov have been Buffalo’s most consistent defensemen when it comes to putting up points. Offensively, Zadorov has been on a tear with one goal and four assists over that span while Ristolainen has a goal and an assist.
RIGHT BACK AT IT
After a team meeting at the hotel followed by an optional skate at Class of 1923 Arena, home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers, the Sabres will be back on the ice Thursday in preparation for their game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
Buffalo played the Flyers on Sunday and, as things have gone lately, it ended with a 2-1 Flyers win.
Puck drop is now scheduled for 8 p.m. with the Tops Game Night pregame show beginning at 7:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.