The Buffalo Sabres are now 2-1-0 to start the 2022-23 season, and there is a lot to be excited about from the first three games. JJ Peterka has been rock solid and performing up to the expectations that were looming over him this offseason, Alex Tuch has been a force to be reckoned with, and Rasmus Dahlin has easily been the Sabres’ best player. While some players have enjoyed early success, other top-end forwards have not found the groove they were hoping for to start the year.
In a season where results are clearly what matter, the pressure to perform has never been higher. Top scorers need to be at their best, and coming out of the gate with a slow start does not bode well for their confidence. It will definitely take more than a few games to get some players up to speed, but if their slumps last for longer than another game or so, then there will be something to start panicking about.
Tage Thompson Needs to Stop Thinking So Much
Tage Thompson needs to get out of his own head. In the first three games of the season he has been reluctant to just use his size and shoot the puck with confidence. He looks like he is trying too hard to play the “top-line center” role and distribute the puck to his wingers instead of taking the puck himself and scoring. He has good passing ability, but his best asset is his shot, and he needs to be using it more. His wingers in the first two games were Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson who are both “shoot first” mentality players, and most recently in Edmonton he had Alex Tuch replace Olofsson, so he has the right linemates to maximize his abilities, he just needs to think less, and shoot more.
Thompson is noticeably second-guessing some of his own plays in both zones, and has made some big passing blunders in the process. There have been a lot of no-look passes coming from him, and if he would just stop thinking so much he would be producing at a much better rate. His confidence is still there (as shown in his fantastic goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday), but it will decline if he does not heat up during the Sabres’ current western road trip. There is a lot of pressure on him after he signed his big contract extension this offseason, so it makes sense why he is trying to do everything on the ice, but he needs to realize that he doesn’t have to. The fact of the matter is, he just needs to play a simple game and shoot the puck, and good things will happen.
Snakebitten Jeff Skinner Has Returned
Jeff Skinner had a bounce-back season in 2021-22 and he really showed off a playmaking side of his game that previously had gone unnoticed. He did return to his usual goal scoring form since he put up 33 last season, but to start off this year, his results have been a little different. He has always had a tendency to try and do too much. Whether it’s attempting to dangle his way through four defenders alone or make some ridiculous pass or score from some impossible angle, he always has a “never say die” mentality and it’s refreshing to have in a top forward. The problem this season is that he cannot seem to find the back of the net. He has had plenty of chances and been put in the right spots to score, but he has not yet been able to finish a high-opportunity scoring chance yet. His best came against the Florida Panthers when he was robbed by goalie Spencer Knight on what is an early “save of the year” candidate.
Skinner will eventually find the back of the net, but having a slow start to the season is not ideal for someone like him. He already carries around criticism for his $9-million cap hit after he cashed in a few seasons ago with his contract extension, so the longer he goes without scoring goals, the pressure will pile up on him. On the positive side, he is not the kind of player that has a bad attitude, so that pressure will not break him easily. He has gone through full seasons of scoring slumps and still comes out on the other side being the confident goal scorer he really is. He may be snakebitten now, but once he shakes it off, expect a nice hot streak goal-scoring-wise.
Jack Quinn is Going to Learn the Hard Way
Jack Quinn was scratched Tuesday night against the Oilers in favor of Vinnie Hinostroza, and that roster move paid off for coach Don Granato. The rookie forward had an amazing season in the American Hockey League (AHL) last year, but he is yet to translate it into any form of NHL success. Because of his scoring talents, he was given a top-six role for the first two games of the year alongside Alex Tuch and Casey Mittelstadt, but he has failed to do anything with that time. For both games he has played, Quinn has been invisible besides one good hit he made against the Florida Panthers, so there hasn’t been anything to note for his overall play thus far.
The reality for Quinn is that he consistently goes through this cycle of learning in extremes. He has done this from the junior level up until now, and it will make this season a bit difficult to watch. He has a tendency to have terrible production one season, and then follow it up with numbers that blow people away the next year. If he continues to stick to this pattern, then this season will have him learning some hard lessons and scoring very few points. The positive side to this, is that next season will be the year he breaks out and becomes the player that the Sabres really need.
Sabres’ Line Combinations Need a Slight Adjustment
These three aren’t the only players that are having slow starts to the season, but they are the ones that are the most notable. They have a combined two points between the three of them, and that will not cut it for very long if the Sabres wish to win more games this year. Adjusting the lines to give certain players more success will be the key to breaking out offensively, but the issue is figuring out which combinations would be the best.
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The Sabres have a number of players that can be rotated around so they mesh with different teammates, but Tuch has shown he can play on any line and make it better, so he will likely be moved around the most to test where he injects productivity. The team has not been unproductive in their first three games, but the slow starts for players that were expected to be hot have left a lot to be desired from the offense. The bulk of the scoring opportunities have lied with Dahlin, Tuch, Cozens, and Peterka, and while it is great to see all of them doing so well, it would be much better to see more consistency out of the top forwards the Sabres possess.