What’s In The Water At First Niagara Center??

teds stuff

Photo via Warner Bros. – Space Jam

 

WHAT is happening with the Buffalo Sabres?! They’re, like, playing good! For the first 18 games of the campaign, the Sabres were in a complete tailspin. They were 3-15 to start the the season. The team was a swirling black hole of utter chaos.   Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel seemed to be a complete lock.

Ted Nolan seems to have righted the wrongs and now has the team on a winning track, having won 9 of their last 12. They haven’t been beating slouches either. The Blue and Gold have blanked the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, swept division rival Montreal Canadiens in a home-and-home, taken down one of the league’s best in the Tampa Bay Lightning and shocked San Joese and Toronto in the process.

Ted has got the Sabres playing playoff caliber hockey! - Photo via www.si.com

Ted has got the Sabres playing playoff caliber hockey! – Photo via http://www.si.com

What can we chalk this all up to? Is this Ted Nolan pulling off what he’s advertised as and getting the most out of a mediocre roster? Buffalo is finding ways to win games without production from top “assets” such as Cody Hodgson, Chris Stewart and the always-streaky Drew Stafford. Leading the charge has been leading All-Star vote-getter Zemgus Girgensons and the surging Tyler Ennis up front. The blueline has been stellar with a revitalized Tyler Myers and the fantastic twin towers, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov who have helped on both ends of the ice. Last but not least, Jhonas Enroth has been playing absolutely out of his mind lately in goal, winning all nine of the games throughout this 12 game span.

Systematically, the defense has been tighter. The lack of Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit has been noticeable in a positive way(the Sabres should just give up on defenseman named Andrej). Tyson Strachan and the afformentioned Zadorov have stepped and filled the gaps, exceeding expectations along the way. The biggest key to the team’s recent success is their discovery of a transition game. Yes, the team actually performs real professional hockey breakouts now. Initial passes from the defense are tape to tape, finding the open guy, helping them slice through the neutral zone like a sharp knife through a Christmas ham.

Gionta has been the Captain the Sabres have been seeking for years!  -Photo via www.buffalohockeybeat.com

Gionta has been the Captain the Sabres have been seeking for years! -Photo via http://www.buffalohockeybeat.com

Buffalo is still struggling with possession and forechecking once they enter the attacking zone. They lack the skill, creativity and physicality to be an effective possession team. That’s a real problem in the modern day NHL where advanced stats show that possession is vital to success nowadays. The team’s Corsi statistics are consistently pitiful and currently ranked 30th in Corsi For as well as Corsi Against. Not good.

So…can the Sabres keep this success going forward? Fortunately for you tank-happy fans, I do not think so. The team is still giving up 30-40 shots a game and goal scoring is not where it needs to be. They still struggle to put more than 20 shots on net a game, and lack of puck possession will prove to be a huge factor as the season wears on. Enroth and Michal Neuvirth will eventually wear down and their inconsistencies will come to light, confidence will decrease, players will begin gripping their stick tightly and Buffalo will be bad again.

The team has also been the center of many trade rumors; what happens when they start trading away pending UFA’s like Stewart and Stafford and have to rely on Hodgson and Marcus Foligno for offensive production? Surely, things are not going to get any better.

UNFORTUNATELY for you tank-happy fans, I do not see the Sabres out-sucking Edmonton or Carolina this season. I do not see Connor McDavid OR Jack Eichel in our future. I predict the hometown club finishing 26th or 27th in the league this season, meaning we will all be huddling around the TV biting our finger nails, hoping for luck in the draft lottery and the end of the year. But hey, what’s being a Buffalo sports fan without needing a little help?

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