Sabres Morning Skate: Roller Coaster Start

The roller coaster start to the season for the Buffalo Sabres continued over the past week. They began the week by ending a four-game road trip with a meeting against the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo played well through 40 minutes and took a 3-0 lead into the third period. In the final period, though, the Sabres sat back and allowed the Flyers to score three goals to tie the game and would end up losing a very disappointing game in the shootout, ending the road trip by losing their last three games.

The struggles followed the club back to Buffalo as the Minnesota Wild skated by the Sabres with a 4-0 victory. Things looked bleak heading into the weekend with back-to-back matchups against the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets.

The roller coaster season, though, took another twist as Buffalo won both games over the weekend. They shutout the Panthers at home 3-0 with a solid performance from Anders Nilsson, and the following afternoon the club skated to a 3-1 win in Winnipeg with another solid goaltending performance, this time from Robin Lehner.

I think that’s probably our most complete game of the year – Kyle Okposo on 3-0 win over Florida

Improvement in Goal

Lehner missed three games this week with the flu and new backup Nilsson made his first appearances for the Sabres. The 26-year old filled in well, going 1-1-1 with a 1.96 goals against average, .937 save percentage and a shutout in those three games. Nilsson played well enough for his team to win against the Flyers and deserved a better fate than a 4-3 shootout loss. The big Swede proved he could be a reliable backup for Lehner. Prior to the season, uncertainty surrounded Nilsson with his poor career numbers and lack of NHL appearances last season.

When you see your goaltender make three, four, five saves that are just hitting him right in the chest…you know he’s playing big and strong… – Dan Bylsma on Anders Nilsson (October 29th)

Buffalo’s number one goaltender returned to the crease after his illness on Sunday against the Jets and led the team to a victory making 37 saves on 38 shots against a quick Winnipeg team. After a rough start to the season, the 25-year old’s numbers are returning to a more respectable status. Through five games, Lehner is 2-2-1 with a 2.61 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. It appears that he is trending up for the Sabres, which is obviously a good sign moving forward.

Earning the Money

The big free agent signing of the summer, Kyle Okposo, has come as advertised thus far for the Sabres. He’s quickly settled in on the top line, finding chemistry with top center Ryan O’Reilly and former teammate Matt Moulson. Okposo has been a point per game player through seven games with four goals and three assists. The 28-year old notched his first ever NHL goal in Buffalo against the Panthers on Saturday and two more goals against the Jets the following day.

Okposo has been just what the Sabres needed to fill out the top-six of their roster. He’s also brought stability to the defensive zone with his 200-foot game. The former first-round pick looks like the ideal power forward that Buffalo has been missing in their lineup the past few years.

The Week Ahead

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL
(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sabres will play three games this upcoming week, beginning with a visit to Minnesota to face the Wild. Buffalo will host the young and exciting Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Auston Matthews, on Thursday. They’ll then end the week by visiting division foe Ottawa Senators on Saturday evening.

The schedule appears to lighten up here for Buffalo over the next few weeks before ramping back up again in the middle and end of November. The Sabres will look to continue to earn points as the return of Jack Eichel and Evander Kane doesn’t appear to be too far off.

Around the Division

Montreal Canadiens – 8-0-1 – 17 points

The Canadiens are off to another hot start with Carey Price now back in the fold after missing a few games to begin the season with the flu. Also, newly acquired Shea Weber looks to have settled in with his new team without a hiccup, scoring four goals and ten points in his first nine games.

Montreal will look to stay hot with two home games this week against the Vancouver Canucks and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Habs will also make a trip to visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday

Detroit Red Wings – 6-4-0 – 12 points

Like the Sabres, the Red Wings have been up and down to start the season. After winning six straight, Detroit has dropped their last two games. Former Sabres forward Thomas Vanek was having a career resurgence prior to getting injured with four goals and eight points.

Detroit will begin their games for the week with a trip to Philadelphia and later host two young teams in Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Ottawa Senators – 5-3-0 – 10 points

Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators, NHL, Milestones
Craig Anderson (Steve Alkok-USA TODAY Sports)

The Senators are off to a good start with scoring coming throughout the entire lineup. Ottawa ended the week with a 2-0 victory over the Oilers as Craig Anderson earned the shutout in his first game since leaving the club to be with his wife who was diagnosed with cancer. It’s obviously a difficult situation for Anderson and I send my best wishes to him and his wife.

The Senators will play all three games at home this week against the Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks and Sabres.

Tampa Bay Lightning – 5-4-0 – 10 points

The Lightning have struggled to find consistency thus far. The Eastern Conference favorite has lost their last three, including an embarrassing 6-1 loss at the hands of the New York Rangers to end the week.

Tampa Bay will look to get back on track as they start the week visiting the New York Islanders. They’ll then host the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils to round out the week.

Florida Panthers – 4-4-1 – 9 points

The Panthers, who have high expectations this season, hit the skids recently losing five of their last six games before defeating the Red Wings on Sunday.

Florida will look to string together some wins by hosting the Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils to start the week. They’ll end it with a trip visiting fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse the Washington Capitals.

Boston Bruins – 4-4-0 – 8 points

The Bruins have struggled with injuries to Tuukka Rask, David Backes and Patrice Bergeron to start the season. Boston lost the previous three games by a combined score of 14-4 before beating Detroit 1-0 on Saturday.

Boston will make a trip to Florida to visit the Panthers and Lightning before ending the week at home against the Rangers.

Toronto Maple Leafs – 2-4-3 – 7 points

The Leafs have certainly been an exciting team to watch with the young kids Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Matthews playing at an elite level. However, newly acquired goaltender Freddie Andersen has struggled with a 3.67 goals against average and .876 save percentage in his seven starts.

Toronto will host the first NHL meeting of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. They’ll finish out the week with a trip to Buffalo and then host Vancouver on Saturday.