There are plenty of reasons to doubt the Buffalo Sabres, but Friday evening the club responded with an important victory following a disappointing effort the night prior.
Jake McCabe potted his first of the season, Sam Reinhart notched a power-play goal and Linus Ullmark recorded his third-career shutout as the Sabres prevented Thursday night’s 6-2 loss against the New York Rangers from having a ripple effect.
“It definitely as a coach helps when you have confirmation. Nothing ever replaces winning in sports,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger recently said. “And we know the opposition will have more and more respect for us as we go on here, and we will need to be better every day to continue having success.”
Buffalo has been down this road before, posting a 17-6-2 record to open up the 2018-19 regular season. However, the Sabres’ 2-0 win against the Red Wings could be the mark of a team that is ready to turn the corner.
Last November, when the Sabres’ impressive 10-game winning streak came to an end, Buffalo dropped five consecutive games and its game dipped dramatically. The team only secured 16 victories in the final 57 games and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a wide margin.
But this year feels a bit different.
“When we play the right way, you see the results,” defenseman Colin Miller told The Athletic. “If we play within our system, I think we’re going to have a good chance every night. It’s fun hockey right now.”
Krueger’s impact on the Sabres has been felt in every aspect of the game through their 9-2-1 start. But his ability to allow his players to utilize their creative instincts has been most prominent on the man advantage. Buffalo’s power-play unit is operating at close to a 30% clip and is currently one of the five best in the NHL.
Victor Olofsson has been front and center with his six power-play goals. But, Jack Eichel leads the team with eight points on the man-advantage including an assist against Detroit. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has been able to effectively quarterback the group from the point, giving the Sabres options from multiple positions.
“You need to be creative within each game and take each game with a different approach to neutralize some of that pre-scouting that’s going on,” Krueger told the Athletic. “But what we have is an extremely skilled group when it comes to puck possession and the opportunity that lies within it. It’s been a lot of fun. They’ve bought into the principles and we give them a lot of freedom to create within that.”
The Sabres will be forced to prove the doubters wrong given their recent history. But with an imaginative coach and a lethal power-play unit, they have the chance to snap their postseason drought.
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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.