It’s only three games into the season, but the Buffalo Sabres early success is showing that this team is a lot different than last years. Buffalo is off to a 2-1-0 start that includes a 4-2 win over the defending Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights. This is Buffalo’s first winning record since the 2013 season when they started out 2-1-0 as well.
Last season the Sabres won back to back games only five times, and this season they have already done it in their first three games. They will have the chance to push their win streak to three games this Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche; something they did only once last season.
A busy offseason for the Buffalo Sabres seems to be paying off well. This is a team that only improves with each practice and game they play.
Captain Jack Eichel Reporting For Duty
Jack Eichel became the captain of the Buffalo Sabres on October 3, just one day before their season opener against the Boston Bruins.
Changing the culture of a hockey team that has not made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season, but with a new Jersey number and group around him, Jack Eichel seems to be up to the task.
Leading By Example
After a bitter 0-4 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres faced an early season challenge. Responding to an embarrassing loss early in the season.
Jack Eichel took matters into his own hands as he recorded a goal and an assist en route to a 3-1 win against the New York Rangers. But what might have been the most impressive stat for Eichel was his career high 25 minutes and 45 seconds of ice time that he logged.
Eichel followed up his performance against the Rangers with a two-goal game against the Vegas Golden Knights that paved the way for a 4-2 win, giving Buffalo their first winning record since 2013.
Eichel’s efforts did not go unnoticed by his head coach Phil Housley who said of Eichel
“He’s doing the right things, he’s leading by example, he’s making the right decisions with the puck. I know the first game he tried to do too much. He’s trusting his teammates now, so it’s good to see him playing well.”
Housley speaks highly of Eichel and only sees him getting better as the season goes on and chemistry builds.
Eichel has taken the challenge of being the leader of the Sabres’ head on.
“That was my goal coming into camp, to be a leader, to be a guy others could rely on and try to push our team and organization to the next level,” Eichel said. “I want to be that person; I want to take on more responsibilities.”
Eichel is the guy for the Sabres, and he seems to have embraced the challenge and is thriving under pressure. Eichel is poised for one of his biggest seasons yet, and it reflects on the new talent around.
A Changing Culture
With all the new faces there is no doubt that General Manager Jason Botterill had the goal of changing the culture in Buffalo.
Carter Hutton spent last season in St. Louis where he put up career numbers. In his 32 starts last season, Hutton finished with a 17-7-3 record, a 2.09 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.
In just 32 games Hutton was able to achieve three shutouts, something the Sabres were barely able to accomplish in a full 82 game season.
Hutton started the year off with a bang for the Sabres as he recorded 43 saves on 44 shots against the New York Rangers which is the second highest total so far in a game this season.
The impact of Hutton in net has already been felt this season, and through three games his .943 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average are among some of the league’s best for goalies that have started their teams first three games.
Conor Sheary spent last season in Pittsburgh before the Sabres acquired him during the offseason. Sheary had 30 points in 79 games last season, but the Sabres are expecting a big jump in production from him as he plays on the top line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Sheary’s made an immediate impact on the ice as he had a two-goal performance against the New York Rangers and an assist in their win against the Golden Knights.
Production from the top line is something that the Sabres have lacked the last few years, but early on that seems to be changing as the top line has set the example for the rest of the team to follow.
Acquired with the number one overall pick in the draft many scouts and experts believed that Rasmus Dahlin would have a significant impact on the Sabres right away. So far through three games, it seems as though Dahlin is going to deliver on that promise.
Although his point production is not high, Dahlin is impacting the game in other ways for the Sabres. Dahlin is averaging 19 minutes and 26 seconds of ice time in his first three games and has a minus one plus-minus rating on the season.
Like most 18-year old players in the NHL, there are going to be growing pains for Rasmus Dahlin as he adjusts to the NHL game. Coach Phil Housley seems to be prepared to coach through those pains, and he is letting Dahlin figure it out by being on the ice.
Housley spoke about Dahlin after the season-opening loss to the Boston Bruins where Dahlin played a season-high 22 minutes and 37 seconds of ice time. “He looked like a rookie early on, but he got better as the game went on.”
Boston Bruins veteran Brad Marchand had a lot of positive things to say about Dahlin after their victory. “He can really skate. And when you see some of the crisp passes he made, his upside is obvious,” Marchand said, “You can see he has the makings of a franchise player someday.”
Dahlin along with linemate Jake McCabe are the two most played defensemen on the roster so far through three games, and there seems to be no intention of that changing; however, on the power play the Sabres have leaned toward Rasmus Ristolainen to shoulder the load as their solo top-line defensemen. As the season goes on it is expected that Dahlin will slowly overtake that role, but for now, coach Housley is settling for experience as opposed to talent on his specialist units.
The upside for Dahlin is tremendous. Teammates, coaches and opposing players have spoken on it. As the season continues on Rasmus Dahlin and the rest of the Buffalo Sabres are only going to become better players as they adjust and learn how to play with one another out on the ice.
Looking ahead for the Sabres the early part of their schedule has some early tests; including a two week, west coast road trip that begins on Saturday. But before that, on Thursday the Avalanche come to town, and we will get a look at how Dahlin and McCabe fair against the superstar that is Nathan MacKinnon.
Buffalo has a lot of room to grow as a complete team yet. As the season continues on the Sabres will begin to build more chemistry and become stronger as a team.
For now, the Sabres will enjoy the fact that it seems they are headed back in the right direction. It has been a long time since the city of Buffalo has seen a competitive hockey team, and it seems that Sabres management is finally going to deliver.