NHL

Buffalo Sabers are back! (At the bottom of the ranking)

Buffalo Sabers are back! (At the bottom of the ranking)

It was very strange to see a A potentially competent Sabers team opens the year on such a tidy winning streak. Future generations might even look back and marvel at the early days of November 2022, when Buffalo was 7-3-0 and facing giants like Tampa Bay, Toronto and Florida in the Atlantic Division standings. It was real, but order has since been restored. The Sabers have lost seven in a row since that fleeting brush with success, and now, sitting just one point out of last place, have quite a hole to climb if they want to make the playoffs for the first time. since 2011.

The last blow came at the hands of their neighbors from the basement, the Ottawa Senators. With the score tied at one midway through the second period, precocious Sens rookie Jake Sanderson fired a long shot that hit the boards behind the net and bounced toward the goal line. Captain Brady Tkachuk, who was almost unchallenged in front of the goaltender, turned the rebound and smoothly chipped the puck past Eric Comrie for what turned out to be the game-winning goal in this 4-1 win.

There was a lot of bad news for Buffalo in this one, including Comrie, who has been subpar since coming over from Winnipeg, but is the only goaltender under 41 they have, leaving the game. after a friendly fire injury, plus the team just 1-for-8 with their power play chances. One bright spot, at least, is Tage Thompson, who scored the team’s only goal on an Ovi timer from the circle and has become something of an unwitting heir to Jack Eichel, separate table eccentric. The 25-year-old broke out last season, several years after being traded from the Blues in the Ryan O’Reilly deal; he’s very tall (6-foot-7!) and reasonably charismatic and has what it takes to be the face of this franchise, should they ever become prominent enough to need such a thing again. For now, he’s just putting a lot of pucks on the net in these wasted efforts.

What struck me after the game, as the Sabers struggled to deal with this extended losing streak, was the attention the second-youngest team in the league paid to their mental health. It’s like they saw how they could win in the early weeks of the season, and they still believe they can still get to that level, but they’ve been thwarted by their own fears.

“The challenge of the last three games in this little bit has been a little more attention, anxiety. Psychological components” head coach Don Granato said. “Maybe that’s why you don’t score as well, or you squeeze a stick a little more. And that’s something, unfortunately, we have to grow into.”

Top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who is a five-year vet at 22, echoed those thoughts.

“We’re taking too much of the stick,” he said. “We have our chances, but we can’t really execute right now. We need more swagger in our game. We just have to get back to work.”

Actually, they don’t seem so strange. Over the last seven games, the Sabers are not overcoming his opposition, but by 5-on-5 Corsi they are putting pucks on net and preventing other teams from doing the same at a more lopsided rate than anyone but the Hurricanes. They’re not getting high-quality opportunities, but with Dahlin and the emerging Owen Power as the backbone, and a few solid scorers on offense, the Sabers at least have the rough outline of a group that can play well hockey. . It just lacks a killer instinct in the most dangerous areas of the ice, which befits a team that has spent more than a decade as a consistent underdog.

The goalkeeper has also been a gigantic topic, as always. The Sabers have had to start six different goaltenders in each of the last two seasons, and with Comrie going down, heading into this year they’re on their way to a third, likely minor-leaguer Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Comrie’s actual numbers this year aren’t good, especially when compared to Craig Anderson’s solid work in his seven games. But with Anderson over 40, he’s not the type of day-to-day option an NHL team can rely on, and so Buffalo will continue its search for another shot to keep what he can still be a very active offense in their games.

I hate to be a downer early in the season, but in a division full of Cup contenders, even this small stretch of bad play could have doomed Buffalo to another lost season. But what they have shown, while far from perfect, is really promising. They have a handful of pieces that can fit together to form something resembling a professional team, and if they can spend the next few months working to break down their prospects, test opposing goaltenders more rigorously, tighten up the defense (i.e. not letting Brady Tkachuk open a hot dog stand in the crease), and developing that muscular system that keeps good teams from consecutive bad performances, and also fixing their Zambonis, they could be ready to mount a more serious challenge in the medium term future. I give you permission to curtail your Sabers curiosity for now. But maybe next year.





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