An early-season west coast road trip has become somewhat of a scheduling tradition for the Buffalo Sabres. Last season, it was a trip to California to face the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks before their first-ever matchup against the Seattle Kraken. This season provides a similar trip but a different group of teams they will face off against.
An early season road trip brings with it challenges but also opportunities for a team to capitalize on. On one hand, it is a tremendous bonding experience for the players early in the season, which the Sabres hopefully will be able to take advantage of to bring them closer as a team for the rest of the year. On the other, the start of the season has been a bit of a mixed bag, so this early season trip brings with it the expectation of improved performances against tougher opponents. This stretch of games is a really important one for the team, both because of the need to stack wins in the early part of the season and the need to get their game on track in adverse conditions.
Sabres Season Performance Thus Far
Week one of the NHL season was an interesting one for the Sabres. They won their season opener against the Ottawa Senators in a 4-1 fashion, but the final score was far from indicative of their performance overall. While they were able to come away with the win, it was a sloppy effort for most of the game. This is to be expected with the influx of new players and the need to shake off the rust that comes with a new year. Craig Anderson was outstanding from the get-go, giving the team the opportunity to come away with the win. Overall, the game was a success because they came away with the win, but there are certainly things they need to clean up on offense and defense.
In their second game, the Sabres were defeated by the Florida Panthers, 4-3. Florida is one of the elite teams in the NHL, and they showed it against the Sabres. They were the better team for most of the game on both offense and defense, and the Sabres were once again left relying on a strong performance from their goaltender, in this case, Eric Comrie. Defensively, this game was another very sloppy one for the Sabres, as they gave up multiple odd-man rushes, were dominated in the neutral zone, and gave the Panthers six power-play opportunities. Offensively, they failed to sustain pressure, and the chemistry didn’t seem to be there for any line other than Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens and JJ Peterka.
They are very fortunate to come away from these games with a 1-1 record, and they will certainly need to improve their play in their upcoming games against some of the better teams in the Western Conference. The response we see from them on this trip will give us a strong indication of whether they can improve their play and be a competitor this season or if they will be a middle-of-the-pack team destined for another year of mediocrity.
Previewing the Sabres’ Week Ahead
In total, this trip consists of four games. They lead off the week with a meeting against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. They then head to Calgary for a Thursday night matchup with the Flames before closing out their week on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks. The last game of the trip is on Oct. 25, when they play the Kraken before heading back to Buffalo.
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This stretch of games can essentially be broken into two different categories. The matchups against the Oilers and Flames are going to be tough games. Having to head west is always tough on the body because of the different time zones and later games, and facing off against two of the league’s best teams will only complicate things more. They will need to turn their play around quickly if they want to compete in these games, and the changes need to start in the neutral zone. The odd-man rushes and struggles in that zone will be quickly exploited by both Calgary and Edmonton if not corrected immediately, and it needs to be a point of emphasis.
The second two games are against teams that more accurately fit the Sabres’ weight class. They were able to sweep the Canucks in their two meetings last season and will look to repeat that success on Saturday. The Canucks boast top-end talent up front and have an excellent goaltender, so a strong start will be necessary so they can gain momentum out of the gate.
The last game of the trip is against the Kraken, who the Sabres have yet to defeat since they joined the league last season. They also gave up a total of 12 goals in their two matchups last year, but with improved goaltending and what should be an improved defense core, hopefully, they will be able to tighten things up defensively.
The timing for this road stretch is really not on the Sabres’ side. Coming off two games of sloppy play to then fly across North America for four games puts them at a disadvantage, but it also gives them an opportunity to prove they can turn their play around. Head coach Don Granato has already started to make some adjustments by changing his lines around in practice, and we can surely expect more modifications to both their structure and lineup. The season is still young, and two games do not define where a team will be at the end of the season. They have time to identify where things have gone wrong thus far and make the necessary corrections to perform better. Having to do so on the road is not necessarily ideal, but it gives the team a bit of adversity to face in the early part of the season.