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Morris' Final ENTRY Before we Pick Our NEXT GREAT SABRES BLOGGER!

May 3, 2021, 12:00 PM ET [1623 Comments]
The Fan Blog
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Ek'sNote: My word! The final four writers are all so frigging interesting and different and this decision is going to SUCK! I have some ideas how to keep them all on the roster, but we do have to find the person that really resonates and dives into this herculean task. So next step will be me interviewing our four finalists on zoom and then announcing who your next writer is...which is so important given this summer will be "The summer of the Sabres." So many moves, a new coach, maybe more than that....so we need the right person keeping you up to date and getting the conversations going! now...for Morris...


Insufferable Buffalo

Islanders -280 @ Sabres +230 5/3/21 7:00 PM
The Sabres take on the Islanders tonight in the penultimate matchup of their season series- if you can even consider it being a series so far. The Islanders have gone 6-0 against the Sabres this year, out-scoring Buffalo 24-9 in the process and winning the previous three matchups 5-2. Though the Islanders clinched a playoff spot this past weekend, do not expect them to play lightly, as they are only four points behind Pittsburgh for first place in the Circuit City East Division. Since beating the Bruins two Fridays ago, the Sabres have lost four straight and as much as I’d love to play optimist; it will probably be five straight after tonight.

Led by one of the NHL’s best defensive pairing in Pelech + Pulock, the Islanders are one of the most defensively stifling teams which makes it so boring to watch the Sabres lose to them. Pelech and Puloch have the fourth highest expected goal percentage (62%) in the league for defensive pairings who spent at least 200 minutes together. For those not familiar, expected goals is more than just corsi shots thrown at the net, it takes into account shot quality, shots that actually have a shot of going into the net, and anything above 50 percent shows you are controlling play. Of forward lines that have spent 200 minutes together this year, the Islanders have 3 forward lines in the top 20 for expected goals percentage. Before eye test only guys get mad, that includes the bangers line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. They are as effective as they are exciting to watch with their old style, hard nosed play.

The Story So Far
To beat a twice dead horse; this has not been a fun series to say the least. In 6 games, Buffalo is unsurprisingly being led by Reinhart (2 Goals, 2 Assists), followed by Oloffson (1G,2A), Dahlin (3A), and Eichel (3A). With Hall (1G,1A) and Lazar (1G,1A) gone, Mittelstadt (2A) is the only other Sabres with more than one point in the six Islanders games this year. The Sabres need a shakeup this game and perhaps a little line juggling by Granato just to get something going.

As much as I would like to lie, goaltending hasn’t been any more inspiring than Buffalo’s offensive offense. With each having played 2 out of the 6 Islanders’ games, Ullmark recorded a .884 save percentage, Hutton: .871, and Johansson: .876. That’s “good” for a combined .877 save %. To make matters worse, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had to leave Saturday’s matinee with a lower body injury, leaving Michael Houser as potentially the only(!) signed healthy goalie on the entire roster. Tokarski wasn’t at practice this morning and although Ullmark did practice, it is highly doubtful he is in game shape. There are only four games left, but Buffalo will have to sign another obscure insurance goalie. Before you get excited, due to covid protocols, the Sabres won’t have the chance at another bar league emergency backup goalie situation a la David Ayres. During the morning practice Michael Houser is in the starters crease. Houser doesn’t have any professional games this year and, per Lance Lysowski, hasn’t played in more than 6 AHL games since 2014-15.

Let me reiterate in case it isn’t clear before I describe the Islanders statistical success against the Sabres this year; I hate the Islanders. The Islanders have 17 players who have recorded at least a single point against Buffalo and 16 of them have recorded more than one. With a standard playing roster being 18 skaters, that means the Islanders’ offense could come from just about anywhere tonight. The Islanders are being led by Lee (6G,1A), Pageau (3G,3A), Nelson (4G,1A), Martin (3G,2A), Cizikas (1G,4A), Eberle (1G,4A), and Bailey (5A). On the bright side, Lee is injured and at least the Sabres are somewhat limiting Barzal (1G,3A) I guess? That fourth line of Martin - Cizikas - Clutterbuck is a Sabre killer everytime we play. Hardly known for their offensive output, they have racked up a collective 13 points in 6 games. Anyone looking to throw a few dollars on goal scorers may want to take a risk on the good odds for any of those three fourth liners to score.

Though it helps their defensive play is so strong, goaltending for the Islanders against the Sabres has been sharp in its own right. Varlamov is currently on a three game shutout streak and has sported a .935 save percentage against Buffalo this year. Sorokin got his first career win and shutout against Buffalo earlier in the year and has touted a similarly impressive .941 save percentage. Varlamov and Sorokin have split the series so far, 3 games a piece, and will continue that trend with the Sabres and Islanders playing Tuesday night as well.

Game Notes
-The Sabres have the worst goal differential in the third period, so if they’re going to have any shot at winning tonight; they’re going to have to win early.
-God forgive me if I’m sounding like Rob Ray’s brutally simplistic “Keys to the Game,” but the Sabres need to play loose and take offensive chances against the Islanders. The only game Buffalo outshot the Islanders also not-so-coincidentally happened to be their closest game (3-2 loss). Please take shots. Reinhart and your ridiculous 19.2 percent shooting percentage- I’m looking at you. If Reinhart takes five shots tomorrow, he’s guaranteed at least a goal, right, because uhhhh- math???
-Trotz may roll out the hot hand in Varlamov so he can continue his 3 game shutout streak which may not be a bad thing for Buffalo because Varly’s perfect streak will have to end sooner than later. Sorokin let in 6 goals on 30 shots in his previous start, so whether the Sabres see Sorokin tonight or tomorrow, they’ll have an opportunity to further test his confidence. Sorokin is still a rookie afterall.
-I know Granato can only do so much with the tools he has, but a shakeup was needed in the forward lines. That being said, I don’t like Eakin rejoining the lineup over Reider one bit. I’d like to see the fourth line of Reider - Sheahan - Caggiula reunited; they had a strong couple games together and were one of the better lines the Sabres had. Fun fact, that lines’ combined salary is 2.1 million and Girgensons makes 2.2 million. Hopefully in this upcoming offseason, Adams’ realizes good depth players can be had for league minimum.
-If the Sabres outshoot the Islanders I can see them making it a closer game, but really who the hell knows with Michael Houser in net. If the Sabres get outshot and let the Islanders control play, I could realistically see a 5-0 loss.
- There are four games left. Nothing matters. In the wise words of enlightenment thinker Ilya Bryzgalov: “It’s only game, why you have to be mad?”

Projected Lineups
Skinner - Reinhart - Oloffson
Asplund - Mittelstadt - Thompson
Bjork - Cozens - Ruotsalainen
Sheahan - Eakin - Caggiula
Dahlin - Jokiharju
Samuelsson - Ristolainen
Bryson - Borgen
Houser
Komarov - Barzal - Eberle
Beauvillier - Nelson - Bailey
Palmieri - Pageau - Wahlstrom
Martin - Cizikas - Clutterbuck
Pelech - Pulock
Leddy - Mayfield
Greene - Dobson
Varlamov

Thank You Ryan
What a follow up to Dominik Hasek. Ryan Miller thank you for everything you gave to the city of Buffalo. I hope Adams does right by the fans and Miller and signs him to a one day contract to let him retire a Sabre. Miller finishes his career as a Hobey Baker Winner, NHL All Star, Vezina Winner, Olympic Silver Medalist, one of only30 goalies ever to reach 300 wins, and the winningest US born goalie of all time. Miller is a future Hall of Famer and will have his jersey eventually retired by the Sabres. If you missed it, here’s the Ducks and Kings honoring Miller after fashionably winning the last home game of his career:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omPYM8ja8rI

References: MoneyPuck, LeftWingLock, Hockey Reference
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