Is Colorado’s rise a fair example of what might happen in Buffalo?

7 Comments

The Buffalo Sabres are frankly expected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2014-15. It’s easy to see why: They’re a rebuilding club coming off of a season where they posted a 21-51-10 record. They could have added six wins last season and still finished in last place. For that matter, they could have scored 37 more goals and still ranked 30th offensively.

The short-term situation is so bleak that there are Sabres fans rooting against their team as they’ve already abandoned hope of them being competitive next season and just want them to be able to draft a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Chris Stewart, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis in February as part of the Ryan Miller trade, doesn’t want the fanbase to write the Sabres off.

“Look at the Colorado Avalanche two years ago,” Stewart recently said. “They were a last-place team, and they were arguably one of the best teams in the league last year. So the past is the past. You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly.”

Of course you’d be hard pressed to find a player that wants to lose or, for that matter, one that is going to paint anything other than an optimistic picture going into the season, but does Stewart have a point? Does Buffalo have a chance to follow in Colorado’s footsteps?

Let’s move past the obvious answer, which is: Of course. Anything can happen, so obviously there’s a chance that Buffalo will make the playoffs. But is it a big enough one to give Stewart’s argument validity?

Well, first off, he is correct that the team will look very different than the one that opened the 2013-14 season, which right off the bat actually makes this story a lot different than the one in Colorado. The Avalanche team that surprised the hockey world in 2013-14 wasn’t substantially altered from the one finished with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.

Additionally, different isn’t automatically better. The Sabres have lost Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek for example and you can make an argument that no one on their current roster is better than those two players — at least not yet as some of their youngsters have high ceilings.

A few things did change in Colorado though. Patrick Roy took over as the team’s head coach and, in addition to giving them new hope, he joined goalie coach Francois Allaire in helping Semyon Varlamov take a huge step forward. Varlamov was at the center of the Avalanche’s success as they were bombarded with shots all season and relied on him to stand tall.

Meanwhile, Buffalo struggled largely in spite of Miller’s goaltending last season so while the new combination of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth might prove to be solid, the single biggest change that bolstered the Avalanche wouldn’t have quite the same effect on the Sabres.

What Buffalo needs is for its defense to improve, but more than that, they need someone to find the back of the net. Colorado saw its offense improve in part thanks to a strong rookie season from Nathan MacKinnon and while the Sabres have some promising young forwards that might step up, they have a far bigger gap to overcome.

The Avalanche’s offense wasn’t great in the lockout shortened campaign, but Buffalo’s offense last season was statistically the worst of the 21st century.

It’s that gap that will be difficult for the Sabres to overcome in a single campaign. They do have some noteworthy scoring threats such as Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, but their top two lines don’t look overly promising on paper.

So maybe Colorado isn’t an ideal example for Buffalo, but the thing about a young team is that you never know quite what will happen. It seems realistic to assume that this will be a season of growing pains for the Sabres, but if they find their groove early in the season, then they might surprise people.

The Buzzer: Benn vs. Benn, poor get poorer

Getty
7 Comments

Line of the Night: The St. Louis Blues’ superb top trio.

Seemingly every night, at least one of the NHL’s best scoring lines seems to make its case as the best. It’s getting to the point where any off night is surprising, which seems almost impossible in a league where it’s still (allegedly?) tough to score on a nightly basis.

In Tuesday’s case, the Blues’ red-hot trio of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Oilers’ profound miseries by triggering an 8-3 stomping.

Schwartz scored one goal and three assists, while both Schenn and Tarasenko enjoyed ridiculous two-goal, two-assists nights. Schwartz and Schenn both are at 30 points in 2017-18, while “The Tank” is rolling with 26. Tarasenko almost had a hat trick today, but settled for the Gordie Howe:

Highlight of the Night: Jamie Benn vs. Jordie Benn, just in time for American Thanksgiving.

(They’re Canadians, but still.)

Shared sadness: The Canadiens lost a hard-fought game to the Stars as the 3-1 margin of defeat was inflated by an empty-netter, while the Oilers were just humiliated, yet both teams really needed wins and neither even got a standings point for their efforts. Times are getting tense for two Canadian franchises that came into 2017-18 with high hopes.

Brendan Gallagher‘s reaction to the empty-netter says it all:

Factoid of the Night: Clearly, it’s totally Connor McDavid‘s fault.

Scores

Canucks 5, Flyers 2

Blues 8, Oilers 3

Stars 3, Canadiens 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers

15 Comments

If you judge a person or sports team by how they react to their backs being up against the wall, then the Edmonton Oilers were complete failures on Tuesday.

Whether you place most of the blame on Connor McDavid (bad) or management (fair), the bottom line is that a response was needed, as people are already doing the math to wonder if the Oilers can dig themselves out of an early hole with a huge rally.

Instead, we saw the same story tonight, only it was sadder and more dramatic. The St. Louis Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers by a score of 8-3, and that deficit wasn’t an unfair depiction of what happened on the ice. The red-hot Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers, seemingly scoring at will.

Just check Paul Stastny‘s body language after this beautiful goal; it almost seemed like the veteran forward felt squeamish about the carnage going on in Edmonton’s zone.

Again, it was the same story with McDavid straining to create quite a few chances, even while dealing with an unspecified sickness (note: sickness not a joke about the poor team around him, this time).

It seems fitting that the same few Oilers contributed at least something to the cause, as McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were involved in Edmonton’s three scores.

This loss encapsulated a lot of the themes of this season for Edmonton: not enough support, a cratering structure, and goaltending Cam Talbot having a miserable night.

Morale in Edmonton is, uh, low.

Now, none of this should take away from the West-leading Blues’ side, as they flexed their muscles once again. Really, the main debates surrounded if the Blues were the best in the West by a large or merely a slim margin.

It was a banner night for one of the best lines in the league in Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko almost had a hat trick, but will settle for the Gordie Howe variety, as he dropped the gloves with Matt Benning.

Fittingly, the Oilers didn’t even win that battle, either.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight video: Vladimir Tarasenko vs. Matthew Benning

5 Comments

Vladimir Tarasenko earns the nickname “Tank” because he’s a big, hoss-like scorer and because it matches up well with his name.

He showed a different kind of firepower on Tuesday, though, as he took exception to a Matthew Benning hit and decided to fight the Edmonton Oilers defenseman. The bout happened even as the Oilers seemed like they were getting a precious scoring chance, but the crowd in St. Louis was riled up mainly to see the superstar drop the gloves.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first battle for “The Tank.” According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Tarasenko fought once in 2015-16 and another time in 2014-15, while also dropping the gloves once in the KHL.

(This is his first fight against someone not named Ryan, as he exchanged fisticuffs with Ryan Kesler and Ryan Ellis in his other NHL fights. I mean, unless Matthew Benning’s middle name is Ryan?)

So far, the Oilers haven’t been showing as much fight as Tarasenko, as the Blues currently hold a 3-0 lead and chased Cam Talbot. Read more about what’s been a tough night for goalies so far here.

Tuesday has not been kind to goalies

Getty
1 Comment

There are three games on Tuesday, yet we’ve already seen two goalies benched for poor play.

If variety is important to you … hey, at least the two situations were different, albeit with some regrettable moments of pucks going into nets.

The most depressing probably came during Tuesday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues, which you can watch on NBCSN right now.

Now, you can justifiably hang a lot of the Oilers’ struggles on poor management from GM Peter Chiarelli, yet it’s also true that teams/coaches/general managers often see their reputations rise and fall with the play of their goalies. Cam Talbot has already been struggling in 2017-18 after playing outstanding hockey – and a ton of games – last season, but tonight serves as one of his shortest and most troubling efforts.

(And Talbot gets whatever is the opposite of bonus points for languishing while angst is nearing a fever pitch in Edmonton.)

Talbot made it through just 7:35 of ice time on Tuesday, allowing two goals on just three shots before Todd McLellan understandably pulled the plug. This Dmitrij Jaskin goal was a real soul-crusher for the reeling Oilers:

Credit Laurent Brossoit for playing very well in relief of Talbot, at least as of this writing. But this isn’t what the Oilers wanted to see. (Brossoit just allowed a goal, but he has been sturdy overall with a lot of time left in this game).

Negative night for Neuvirth

Compared to Talbot, Michal Neuvirth had a long night for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, it was a long night in more ways than one, as Neuvirth struggled against the unexpectedly potent Vancouver Canucks.

Neuvirth got the hook after giving up four goals on 22 shots over 34:26 of game time. Some of that’s on the defense in front of him, as Philly can’t be happy to give up so many chances against a Vancouver team that still has something to prove.

So, this leaves one burning question: will any other goalies get benched tonight? As it is, two out of three is quite bad. Sorry Meatloaf.