The Buffalo Sabres have a problem.
After the intoxicating lift of the 8-1-1 record to start the season, the Sabres have now lost five of their last six games.
Ralph Krueger finds himself knee deep in the hoopla of his first official slump of his brief coaching career with the Sabres.
We knew adversity would arrive. We didn't know what form the advesrity would take on.
The question du jour is how will Krueger get his team out of its mini tailspin and back on the winning ways.
Buffalo's past six games have revealed an alarming trend that players not named Jack Eichel, Samson Reinhart and Jeff Skinner cannot score goals.
Two weeks ago, the Sabres were in first place in the Eastern Conference. They were the first team to earn 20 points this season. The Sabres led the NHL with a +14 goal differential. All four lines and the D corps were scoring at a rapid rate while keeping the puck out of their own net.
After the lift comes the let down.
In the past six games, the Sabres have scored just 9 goals while allowing 19 goals against. Their goal differential is now +4.
They have scored just 3 goals in 3 games played in the month of November.
On Friday, the Sabres gave up the first goal of the game for the sixth time in sixteen games and lost 3-2 to the Tampa Lightning in Stockholm.
Welcome to a 9-5-2 record.
That's a far cry from the 8-1-1 record of yesterday.
Note the polarity of pointst production forom the first ten games until today:
On Friday, Reinhart scored twice for the struggling Sabres in the 3-2 loss to the Lightning.
In the last six games, the Sabres have won game largely because they have scored only 9 goals. Of the 9 goals, 5 have been scored by the Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart trio.
Reinhart has scored three goals and two assists in the past five games, while Eichel and Skinner and scored one goal each in the last four games. The remaining three goals have been scored by Sabres defensemen Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Henri Jokiharju. Vlad Sobotka is the only other Sabres forward to score a goal in the past six games besides Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart.
The Sabres lost Sobotka on Friday on a scummy, low-bridge check by Bolts sniper Nikita Kucherov, ho destroyed the Sabres winger's knee with a greasy, dangerous low bridge hit that was delivered well after Sobotka had released a shot attempt at the Tampa net.
Sobotkka will be lost to the Sabres for an extended period of time as a result of the punk hit by the Tampa winger.
There are Kucherov apologists all over the worldwide web today who are defending the Tampa star's idiotic decision to take out Sobotka's knee with a low hit. 'It's a bad hit but its not that
bad"is a common refrain. That is the world we live in. Deny, deny, deny, deny. People see what they want to see. They create their own narrative to validate their poor behavior and stupid decisions.
Ask yourself what would happen if on Saturday Sabres grinder Zemgus Girgensons were to deliver the same hit to the right knee of Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point while the puck was 50-60 feet away fom the collision.
You better believe there would be outrage. And rightly so.
After the game, Sobotka was seen wearing a walking boot immobilizer on his right leg. Any time a hockey player has a non-weight bearing injury its a major concern. Sobotka has ben ruled out of Saturday's rematch with the Lighting in Stockholm. Krueger said Sobotka will be evaluated by Sabres orthopedic specialists when the team gets home on Monday.
The normally mild mannered Krueger ripped referrees Eric Furlatt and Chriss Lee for not calling a penalty of the Kucherov illegal hit on Sobotka. In a rare moment of pure disgust, Krueger challenged their authority and demanded justice for his injured player, who would not return to the game after being submarined by Kucherov. The hit was cowardly. It could have been and should have been avoided. Kucherov knows better than that. He deserves to be suspended for his carelessness. NHL Deprtament of Player Safety will likely want to pull Kucherov into a hearing on Saturday ahead of the rematch between the Sabres and Bolts.
Lee (#28) is lying through his teeth when he says that he didn't see the Kucherov hit on Sobotka. He had a front row seat and a bucket of popcorn in his hands as he watched unfold before his very eyes. No penalty was called on the play.
Kucherov is no stranger to NHL supplemental discipline.
Exhibit A: Kucherov's antics during in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs where "Kooch" was assessed a major penalaty and a game misconduct AND a one game suspension for boarding Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara
Kucherov is a repeat offender.
He should be suspended for Saturday's rematch with the Sabres.
After the game, Krueger was diplomatic in his choice of words regaridng the Kucherov hit on Sobotka.
Referees Furlatt and Lee kept the whistles in their pockets and failed to assess a penalty to Kucherov.
“That was their decision and we need to move on whether we like it or not. Everybody could look at that video and make their own decision on it.”
The Sabres brought winger Evan Rodrigues to Stcokholm. Rodriguies was a healthy scratch on Friday and will draw back into the starting lineup in place of Sobotka on Saturday.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill has been working on trades. Will he finally go outside the family to add a top six scoring forward like Taylor Hall, Jonathon Drouin, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Tyler Toffoli?
The Devils, Canadiens, Oilers and Kings have been scouting and studying the roster of the Sabres for weeks. Botterill brought 8 defensemen to Sweden. He still has Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella back in Buffalo. Bogosian is still out indefintely while Scandella is a week away from returning from the lower body injury he suffered on October 25. Botterill also has defensemen Will Borgen, Casey Nelson, and Casey Fitzgerald in Rochester.
Botterill has more NHL defenemen than he can handle right now. For months has been rumored that the Sabres will be trading a defenseman for a difference making forward. I think Botterill and his AGM Steve Greeley have seen enough of the unpredictable offense. It is time to make a trade to take the pressure off Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart.
Make a trade, Jason. Shake it up. You can't wait for Jimmy Vesey, Marcus Johansson, Conor Sheary, Casey Mittelstadt and Victor Olofsson to awaken from their lumber slumber (16 goals combined) and provide more even strength scoring. Your Sabres are locked into a steel cage battle royale with divsion rivals Boston, Toronto, and Tampa.
Or, will Botterill call down to the farm to Rochester Amerks and promote winger Tage Thompson to Buffalo? Thompson currently leads the Rochester Americans with 5G and 6A in the first 12 games of the season. Other call-up options from the Amerks are J.S. Dea (5G) and Curtis Lazar (3G). On Friday, the Amerks placed winger C.J. Smith on injured reserve for the next 4-6 weeks.