Okay. Let's get this out of the way. Winger C.J. Smith will not be Buffalo's savior. Smith, who was called up from Rochester today, will not single-handedly turn around a team that has lost 18 of their last 26 games (8-14-4) nor will he help the goaltending, which has been a sieve as of late (35 goals in their last eight games) nor will he help the d-corps get their collective head out of their butt.
However, what he can do is help the mid-six forward group.
Since head coach Phil Housley put all his scoring eggs of Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart into one basket, the team has struggled mightily with secondary scoring. While the top line was doing their thing and the bottom line theirs in a defensive vein, the middle six has contributed very little to the cause. It's a giant hole that emerged during the season and it's really not the fault of players or coaches.
The Sabres have no real second line.
Kyle Okposo is a three-time 20-goal scorer with a couple of 60-point seasons and was looked at as a top-six winger when he signed his 7yr./$42 million deal in 2016. That hasn't worked out so well as Okposo has been playing on the fourth line as of late with many Sabres fans willing to give up a package that includes a first rounders (picks and players) to get out from under his contract. The sad part of the situation in Buffalo is that Okposo's nine goals rank him fifth on the team. The rest of the mid-six consists of 36 yr. old Jason Pominville, who's fourth on the team with 11 goals. The rest includes rookies and vets, draft picks and free agents that are inconsistent at best, invisible at worst and what the Sabres really working with right now is two third lines.
Having said that, the mid-six group has been better as of late and Housley may have found one of his two middle lines in rookie Casey Mittelstadt centering undrafted free agents Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary. Whether Housley sticks with them remains to be seen but they showed a lot of promise despite some tough assignments.
Smith showed very well when he got the call to Buffalo for a four-game stint around New Years Day. He scored his first NHL goal on January 8 before being sent back down as the injured returned to Buffalo's lineup. Smith didn't take to kindly to that as he scored a hat trick in his first game back with the Americans. In seven total games with Rochester since that demotion he scored 12 points (5+7,) took over the team lead in scoring and helped the Amerks remain atop the AHL's North Division as they went 6-0-2 in those eight games.
In order to make room for Smith, the Sabres waived forward Remi Elie.
Elie was a waiver-claim by the Sabres back in early October and he didn't amount to much. In 16 games for Buffalo this season, the 2013 second round pick (40th-overall) of Dallas had one assist and was a minus-3 leaving many to wonder why it took the team so long to waive him. Elie went unclaimed.
The Sabres will have had three days to think about the debacle that was their 7-3 drubbing Friday night at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, who were 29th in the NHL coming into the game. Buffalo played a solid first period but couldn't convert on numerous opportunities (and passed up shooting on a few others) and left the first period down 1-0. From there they fell apart as tepid goaltending and mental mistakes buried them. Even when they managed to claw their way back with two goals to make it 4-3 early in the third period, they were shaky to point where it seemed as if they had one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave.
That loss didn't help Buffalo in their playoff push. It's one of six losses in their last eight games during a rough patch where they went from fourth in the Atlantic Division while holding down the second wild card spot to their present position of ninth in the Eastern Conference, three points out of the second wild card spot. The good news is that the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold down that second wild card spot in the East, are in a tail spin (five straight regulation losses) but the bad news is that Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers (winners of seven in a row) are in hot pursuit of the Sabres.
With the Tampa Bay Lightning are running away with the conference, here's the Eastern standings of interest for Buffalo at this juncture:
--NY Islanders (1st Metropolitan division)--66 points
--Toronto (2nd Atlantic)--65
--Montreal (3rd ATL)--64
--Pittsburgh (2nd MET)--62
--Washington (3rd MET)--62
--Boston (4th ATL, 1st wild card)--61
--Columbus (4th MET, 2nd wild card)--59
--Buffalo (5th ATL)--56
--Carolina (5th MET)--56
--Philadelphia (6th MET)--52
Who's hot in their last 10:
--NY Islanders 7-1-2
Update: It would seem as if Housley put his lines in a blender for this mornings practice. According to Sabres twitter these were the lines:
Johan Larsson is back on the ice after missing yesterday's practice and he's skating as an extra.
Housley also shook up his d-pairings a bit:
And...Housley changed up the pp units, according to those at the rink today: