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Housley shuffles bottom-six and PP units with team in a tailspin

December 10, 2018, 2:46 PM ET [809 Comments]
Michael Pachla
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

There's much to be made in the fact that Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner, a trio that comprises Buffalo's top line and three-fifths of their first powerplay unit, are the only players to score goals in the last four games. The Sabres are 0-2-2 in those games with that trio accounting for all eight Buffalo tallies.

As we delve a little deeper into those numbers, that trio accounted for 15 (8+7) of the 21 total points on those goals and of the seven primary assists involved (one, by Reinhart, was unassisted,) that trio had four of them. Here's a list of what the rest of the team has done on the scoresheet in those four games:

3-2 OT loss at Florida
--goalie Linus Ullmark, secondary assist on second goal

2-1 loss at Nashville

4-3 OT loss vs. Toronto
--defenseman Nathan Beaulieu primary and Rasmus Ristolainen secondary assists on first goal
--Ristolainen primary assist on second goal

6-2 loss vs. Philadelphia
--defenseman Lawrence Pilut primary assist and Ristolainen secondary assist on second goal

Although it's good to see the defensemen continue to push the play and contribute to the offense, the fact that Ullmark's one assist outscored every Buffalo forward outside of the top trio is rather alarming and head coach Phil Housley needs to find some answers.

The last time the team was struggling Housley made changes that eventually led to a 10-game winning streak. Those changes up front happened way back in October with his team off to a 3-4-0 start and in the midst of a five-game Pacific division road trip where they'd just lost two in a row.

Skinner scored a hat trick in that night in LA against the Kings, the Sabres would go on a three-game winning streak that turned into a five-game point streak before a regulation loss made it a three-game losing streak. Two games later, with minor tweaks to the lineup mostly in the bottom-six, the Sabres went on a 10-game winning streak with Housley doing some tweaking throughout which included moving Reinhart to Eichel's right wing.

We're back on the losing end of things as secondary scoring has dried up and the Sabres are now on a five-game losing steak after a real clunker against visiting Philadelphia on Saturday. According to reports from the rink, Housley made one change to the top-six at practice today, moving Okposo in and Pominville out. However, he continues to mash up the bottom-six.

Here's what the bottom-six looked like last game against Philadelphia:

Vladimir Sobotka-Evan Rodrigues-Okposo
Patrik Berglund-Johan Larsson-Tage Thompson

Here's what he used today:

Rodrigues-Larsson-Zemgus Girgensons/Berglund

There is a large contingent in Sabreland who are ready to see some player movement in the bottom-six. Some want old, tired names Larsson and Girgensons gone, others are ready to move on from Okposo (who has been moved up and down the lineup) while still others feel Berglund and Sobotka, two vets brought back in the Ryan O'Reilly trade, aren't good fits and should be moved. And then there's a small group that feel Reinhart's time has come and gone, despite a recent stretch that includes a four-game goal-streak during his present six-game point-streak that has yielded nine points (5+4.)

There are also many who feel that certain players should be called up from Rochester as replacements for players they'd like to see either traded or waived. The biggest name on this list is 2014 seventh round draft pick (181st-overall) Victor Olofsson who has 22 points (9+13) in 21 games. They want to see either C.J. Smith, who continues to impress in an all-around game, or Alexander Nylander, who has struggled at the pro ranks but seems to be slowly coming around, get the call.

But barring injuries in Buffalo, it doesn't look like anything will happen with that group in the near future.

The Sabres have a winnable game against the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night, that is if they show up to work and decide that they want to play. The Kings were the victims of Housley's line changes back in October as the Sabres came away with a 5-1 win. That said, Buffalo had blitzkrieged Philadelphia 5-2 in their first meeting and were up 2-0 in the first period before they gave up six unanswered goals to the Flyers on Saturday. Perhaps they learned nothing's a given.

Buffalo's powerplay had been terrible heading into the Philadelphia game having converted only one of their previous twelve opportunities and it got worse as they gave up a short-handed goal on their only chance against the Flyers. The Sabres powerplay has struggled under Housley. After finishing the 2016-17 season ranked No. 1 in the league they've hovered in the middle of the pack or lower ever since. At practice today he shook the powerplay units once again. According to reports here's what they looked like:

Eichel, Reinhart, Skinner, Ristolainen, Dahlin.
Sheary, Mittelstadt, Okposo, Pilut, Rodrigues

Yesterday they had the big "team meeting" while today Housley moved some players around as they're trying to get through a rough patch. Their current five-game losing streak has dropped them from the top of the league to third in the division. It streak started with a loss at Tampa Bay, who were one point behind them in the standings, and after five losses the Sabres now find themselves nine points behind the Lightning with a game in hand. And they'd better find some answers quick or they'll drop down and into the wild card race as Boston is now only two points behind them.

The Philadelphia game should have been an eye-opener for everyone on the Sabres team not named Eichel as he was a force once again while trying to carry the load. It was obvious that they took the game lightly, especially after Captain Jack staked the club to a 2-0 lead. Once the Flyers put the lock on the Buffalo's first line, the Sabres had no answer. It's been a problem the last four games and if the Buffalo wants to get out of it's funk, the nine other forwards need to get into the game and onto the scoresheet.
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