The Buffalo Sabres are now officially halfway through the 2021-22 NHL regular season, and they’re sitting just about where most people thought they would end up: the bottom of the NHL standings. The Sabres are 13-21-7 through their first 41 games, good for 33 points and sixth place in the Atlantic Division. They currently sit at 28th place in the overall standings. But despite looking like they’re headed for another season with no Stanley Cup Playoff berth, the Sabres are showcasing some positive changes and impressive outings in recent games, and there’s always a positive way to look at things. In this edition of Sabres Weekly, read about the latest Sabres storylines heading into a new week.
Sabres Win Only Game of Weekend
The Sabres won their only game of the weekend, a 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. They snapped a streak that saw them lose three of their last four games before that, and survived the revenge match return of former Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who did notch a goal against his former team. The six-goal effort against the Flyers sets their season-high for this season, with the last highest-scoring efforts coming in a pair of five-goal games way back in October, when the Sabres got off to their hot 5-1-1 start.
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The first star of the game was newcomer Peyton Krebs, the young, 20-year-old prospect general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams acquired as part of the return for Jack Eichel from the Vegas Golden Knights. Krebs notched his first NHL goal early in the game, and then notched his second NHL goal shortly after that. He’s played seven games with the Sabres so far. “I’m not known as a goal scorer, so I wasn’t too worried about it,” Krebs said after scoring his first career goal. “But it’s kind of just a nice thing to get off the back.” (From ‘’Sharpen Up: January 24, 2022 | Looking back at Saturday afternoon’s win’ NHL.com, 1/24/2022)
Krebs wasn’t the only Sabres forward to stand out in last weekend’s game. Forwards Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson each recorded two goals and one assist for three points apiece, while Alex Tuch recorded a pair of assists, as did Rasmus Dahlin from the back end. In all, it was a successful, complete effort driven by the Sabres’ top players – exactly the type of efforts they’ll need to see more of if they wish to continue to improve over the second half of the season.
Michael Houser Continues Strong Play
Michael Houser made his second start in the 2021-22 season, saving 30 of 33 shots and backstopping the Sabres to a decisive victory. He’s now 2-0-0 on the season with a 2.00 goals against average (GAA) and .948 save percentage (SV%), with just four goals allowed. Houser became the sixth goalie to start a game for the Sabres this season, following Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, Aaron Dell, Malcolm Subban, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who have all spent some time away due to injury, illness, or otherwise. Houser was also coincidentally the sixth goalie to start a game for the Sabres last season, too, when they had an entirely different goalie carousel.
Houser is 29-years-old, and was just re-signed to a one-year contract a few weeks ago when it was clear the Sabres needed somebody – anybody – to fill the goal crease. But he’s gone 4-2-0 in six career NHL games over the last two seasons, and looks capable enough despite spending most of his career in the ECHL, one level below the American Hockey League (AHL) in the minors. If he can keep up his strong play, he might be able to insert himself as the best option the Sabres have at the moment to fill in as a veteran backup in the NHL or AHL. One thing is for sure: if he’s the hot hand right now, the Sabres have to ride him for as long as that lasts.
Casey Mittelstadt Expected to Return This Week
In the form of good news this week, Casey Mittelstadt is expected to return for Tuesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators. Mittelstadt has been held to just four games played this season, scoring one goal in those appearances. He was poised to be the Sabres’ first-line center this season after a strong second half of the 2020-21 season, when he scored a team-high 17 points in his last 22 games, making for the best stretch of his career to date. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the chance to prove himself, but is determined to show what he’s capable of over the second half of this season.
“He adds competitiveness, he wants to win, he wants the puck,” said teammate Kyle Okposo when asked about Mittelstadt. “I think that’s one of the best attributes you can have as a guy that gets points is he never shies away from having it. Like, he always wants the puck and just shows how competitive he is and how much he wants to be the best. I think that’s pretty infectious to our whole group.” (From ‘’’True competitor’ Mittelstadt expected to return Tuesday in Ottawa’ NHL.com, 1/24/2022)
Mittelstadt is set to return at exactly the halfway point of the season, so there is still plenty of time to take advantage of the opportunity he’ll have playing in the team’s top-six forward group. Following a long absence and recurring injuries, hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to find his groove and get back into the swing of things and start contributing.
The Sabres Week Ahead
The last week presented a lot of news on the Sabres’ injury front, some of it good, some of it not so good. After last Thursday’s loss against the Dallas Stars, Jack Quinn was assessed for an injury he sustained and will miss at least four weeks with a lower-body injury. Quinn scored his first career NHL goal that game, and had played just two games so far this season.
On the positive side of things, Mittelstadt will be back in time for next game, and goalie Craig Anderson returned to practice last Friday and will travel with the team on their road trip this week to Arizona, Colorado, and Las Vegas. The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and look to improve on that streak with some fresh faces returning to the lineup.