The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up their last game of October on Halloween night by thrashing the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 8-3 and it was a culmination of everything going right offensively for them. They improved to an overall record of 6-3-0 and there has been a lot to be positive about during those first nine games. The goal-scoring has been incredible, the goaltending has been solid, and the defense has persevered through adversity. This has been a Sabres team that is fun to watch, and one that has the tools to make a run at the playoffs.
Making adjustments to the lineup on the fly has been a real strength of coach Don Granato this year, and as he continues to navigate his young squad into tougher waters, his creativity will only serve them well in the long run. He has found a way to adjust forward lines and combine hot players with struggling ones to get better results from almost everyone, and his unwavering confidence in Rasmus Dahlin to lock things down on the back end has proven fruitful. Buffalo has had hot starts in the past, so they should not settle for what they have now and should look to do better on each side of the puck.
Sabres’ Offense Needs to Stop Looking for “Perfect” Plays
The entire offense is playing with confidence and it is a fantastic sight to behold each night. Top players like Tage Thompson and Dahlin have been absolute dynamite as of late, especially with Thompson making a huge statement by posting a six-point game on Halloween. The other offensive weapons like Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, and even Dylan Cozens all are picking up steam as the season goes on, and the team chemistry is some of the best that it has been in years. The best part about the Sabres’ offense right now is their shot generation and finishing ability. They average 33.1 shots per game, 4.1 goals per game, and are a plus-12 on their goal differential, so the offense is flowing and scoring at a consistent rate.
The problem with the offense is not the production, but the effort it takes to get that production. The Sabres can often be seen overpassing the puck and looking for that “perfect” play instead of taking the puck to the net, or putting a good shot on goal and looking to get a rebound. The players most guilty of this have been Owen Power, Jacob Bryson, Peyton Krebs, and Thompson. This is a bit of a nitpick at Thompson’s game as he has been dominant lately, but it would be nice to see him do what he did during the game against the Red Wings more often.
When they played the Red Wings on Halloween, they kept things simple and just kept shooting from positions they previously would be passing from and they were rewarded for it. It was a refreshing sight to see, and they should remember the success that simple plays and shooting instead of overpassing brought them. The whole team was firing on all cylinders and kept burying chances in high-danger areas. They likely won’t score eight goals each game, but they can absolutely keep up the pace of around 4.1 goals per game.
Sabres’ Defense Is Still Young and Improving
Beyond Dahlin, the Sabres’ current defense has very few NHL games under their belt. The loss of Mattias Samuelsson has taken a huge toll on them defensively, and it is noticeable that he is no longer there to lock down pressure situations and defend from high-danger players. Both Henri Jokiharju and Ilya Lyubushkin have also gone down with injuries, so the Sabres have been left with rookie Power to take on an increased role early on. So far, he has not done very well with the added responsibility, but he is still very young and has a lot to learn.
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The remaining defensive players Jacob Bryson, Casey Fitzgerald, Lawrence Pilut, and Kale Clague have all been decent, but are also young and continue to learn the NHL game as they go along. They have all risen to the task of being called upon for any situation as Granato continues to be creative in replacing Samuelsson. Dahlin is the star of the defense, and he has been shining, but the inexperience on the blue line is a ticking time bomb, and the only thing that will prevent it from going off completely is the goaltending.
Sabres Goaltending Defies Odds and Age
Nobody would have guessed that 41-year-old Craig Anderson would have the start that he had during October. He finished with a 3-0-0 record and put up a stunning 1.66 GAA and a .946 SV%. He has stood tall during every game he has started this season, and his age-defying numbers are something to be lauded. Eric Comrie has taken to his role well as he is putting up some solid numbers as well. While his stats are not as inflated as Anderson’s, Comrie’s 3-3-0 record along with a 3.34 GAA and .902 SV% are still respectable. He has faced off against tougher competition and has turned away countless difficult shots up to this point. His positioning has been good, and his ability to read plays has steadily been improving as well, so his numbers will improve as the Sabres’ defense becomes more healthy and experienced.
The two goaltenders will continue to share ice time and split the crease in order to keep both players fresh and motivated. Comrie is in the position to start more games because of Anderson’s age, but if Anderson continues to put on a goaltending clinic reminiscent of the Sabres’ own Dominik Hasek, then Comrie won’t be able to pull away with more starts. The Sabres also have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen waiting to be called upon in Rochester, and that is a luxury that hopefully does not need to be used due to injury. He is expected to see a few games in Buffalo this season, but the performances of both goalies right now is making it hard to find a reason to call him up. If Buffalo does decide to bring him up, it will be to give Anderson some rest, but otherwise, there is no need to adjust anything at the goalie position right now.
Sabres Should Continue to Grind
The Sabres have no room to become complacent with their standing. November will be a huge turning point for them as they try to gain more respect from around the league. With Thompson and Dahlin leading the charger they definitely are gaining more attention, but they need to continue winning games to garner more league respect. The Atlantic division is highly talented and there will be pushback from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Toronto Maple Leafs, so Buffalo will need to hold strong against them if they want to be playing meaningful games in January and beyond.
Getting Samuelsson back in the lineup will help them immensely, but he is not their only key to success. Individual improvements from young players like Power, Krebs, and Jack Quinn will make a massive difference in how the next month plays out. Power has been a weak link most nights, but he will have to continue learning the hard way if he wants to be an NHL-caliber defender. Krebs needs to be more decisive with the puck overall, and Quinn needs to find a way to be more involved in the game. There are general improvements that will come team-wide with more practice and games played, but ultimately this team should never be satisfied with “good enough”… Not anymore.