Pittsburgh’s schedule hasn’t been easy by any stretch to close the year out. Things are going to get a little better. Tonight they play the Sabres who will be missing superstar Jack Eichel. They also have Detroit and the New York Rangers twice apiece. There really is no excuse for the Penguins to not come away with the full two points in regulation considering the Sabres have been a mess with Eichel.
Phil Housley has done a horrible job this year with managing his roster. For being a Hall of Fame defenseman he sure doesn’t seem to want to play to his groups strengths. Buffalo sports are perennially drenched in underachieving and bad luck. The Sabres finally won the draft lottery with Rasmus Dahlin and then their coach acts like they didn’t acquire one of the best young defenseman to come out of the NHL draft in recent years. He ranks fourth overall in ice time per game behind Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, and the newly acquired Brandon Montour. He should be leading that group in ice time even as an 18 year old. You would think with the acquisition of Brandon Montour they would have loaded up and played him with Dahlin right away. It does appear that change will be made tonight. Given that the Sabres are a one line forward team they might as well put all their eggs in one basket and load up their lines and pairings and hope for the best.
The reason they are a one line team is because Casey Mittelstadt isn’t ready for prime time and the organization completely botched the Ryan O’Reilly trade. O’Reilly is a great center and they got junk in return. Vladimir Sobotka and the now unrostered Patrik Berglund were salary dumps that provide(d) no real value to the team. Tage Thompson is an underwhelming prospect that hasn’t had any traction at the NHL level while being bumped all over the lineup, but predominately in the bottom six. The first round pick isn’t looking like it is going to be below 20th with the way St. Louis is performing now. It wasn’t lottery protected anyways. I do think Terry Pegula got in the way of the team getting a better return. The O’Reilly trade was forced before July 1st when O'Reilly's 7.5M signing bonus was due. Terry “I’ll just drill another oil well” Pegula obviously didn’t want to pay that and as a result the trade was rushed and the return terrible. O’Reilly was jettisoned because of “culture” reasons because there is nothing Buffalo sports teams love more than talking about culture. They’ve yet to figure out that winning is the sure fire way to have a great culture. Everything else is background noise.
Long story short, the Sabres have one line and a large part is because Ryan O’Reilly is gone and nothing they received back is worth a damn at the present moment.
Did I mention there is no Jack Eichel tonight?
He does so much of the heavy lifting for that team. Again, no excuse to lose to the Sabres without him.
One positive for the Sabres is that Jeff Skinner is in a goal scoring slump. It might save the Sabres 500k per year that they might have had to pay if he’d hit the 45 goal mark or higher
Bryan Rust skated in a non-contact jersey which is good. His injury didn’t look great and he’s skating sooner than I thought he would. The news on Zach Aston-Reese is not as good. He is going to be out “longer” term now. Letang and Maatta skated earlier on their own so no change in their status.
The lines will be the same as they’ve been
Mike Sullivan has abandoned the split power play approach, or at least isn’t willing to pretend he has two units to start tonight’s game. He will be going with Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Kessel, and Schultz which is the right move.
Thanks for reading!