What Went Wrong: 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres


As the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, NHL teams will start getting mathematically eliminated from contention. PHT’s “What Went Wrong” series aims to analyze why each team missed the playoffs. The “What Went Wrong” series begins with the Buffalo Sabres, the first team to be officially eliminated.

When you ask most hockey fans “what went wrong with the 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres?,” plenty will answer ” … Everything.”

Speaking more literally, that’s an exaggeration. But that’s certainly how it must feel to be a Sabres fan in 2020-21, and likely how it often felt to be a player or staffer. With that in mind, there’s a lot to chew on when it comes to dissecting the Sabres’ spectacular failure of a 2020-21 season.

(Note: full season Sabres stats from before Buffalo’s 2-0 loss to the Bruins from Tuesday.)

What went wrong before the Sabres 2020-21 season

Look, the Buffalo Sabres didn’t tie an NHL record by extending their playoff drought to a haunting 10 consecutive seasons because of any single failure.

Instead, the Sabres have made mistakes at virtually every level, and you could say that the 2020-21 team boiled down to paying for past sins as much as anything else.

  • As much as people want to heap blame on Jack Eichel, his development hasn’t been the problem.

Instead, the Sabres haven’t been able to find much NHL talent outside of the first round. And, unfortunately, even some of their high first-round picks haven’t panned out. Not every situation is as bad as trading 2016 eighth overall pick Alex Nylander for a marginal defenseman, but there are a lot of swings-and-misses.

To an extent, the 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres suffered for the franchise’s past sins as much as anything else.

  • They’ve failed to make up for draft and develop struggles by flubbing free agency, too.

To be fair to Kevyn Adams, the Taylor Hall signing probably should’ve gone better. Most importantly, he didn’t make a huge gamble by giving Hall a bunch of term.

Unfortunately, the Sabres are paying for previous GMs failing to learn those lessons. From Ville Leino and Matt Moulson to Kyle Okposo and Jeff Skinner, this franchise has been saddled with terrible contracts.

Either way, though, there haven’t been many free agent additions to paper over failures in drafting and developing prospects.

  • They haven’t found the right coach, either.

For all the positive buzz Ralph Krueger brought in, he couldn’t put it together for the Sabres.

No doubt, some of that boils down to weak personnel. Even so, Krueger didn’t always hit all the right notes. Healthy-scratching Jeff Skinner for multiple games only made matters worse. It’s possible that he shackled Rasmus Dahlin and others with his defensive system, too.

What went wrong during the Sabres’ 2020-21 season

While people praised some of Kevyn Adams’ work in surprisingly landing Taylor Hall and shrewdly trading for Eric Staal, it wasn’t enough to raise expectations too high. After all, no one polled by PHT picked the Sabres to make the playoffs in 2020-21.

Still, it was surprising to see the Sabres reach new lows in 2020-21, but that’s exactly what (agonizingly) happened.

Bad luck

Hockey can be a sport of cruel bounces. While the Sabres paid for mistakes of the past (recent, but mostly before Adams’ time), their 2020-21 season felt like a series of worst-case scenarios.

During January, the Sabres looked average (sometimes downright good) according to underlying metrics, but their results were below-average. As one example, the Sabres only scored eight goals on 86 high-danger chances at even-strength, while allowing 12 goals on the 71 high-danger chances they allowed.

At that time, the Sabres were probably cursing their bad luck, but it would get a lot worse. Unfortunately, the Sabres’ 2020-21 season experienced a serious COVID-related disruption. Word was that Rasmus Ristolainen dealt with significant issues, and even then-head-coach Ralph Krueger tested positive.

From there, the Sabres’ actual play gradually started to match their dismal record … until they set some dismal NHL records.

If you want to summarize the Sabres’ lousy luck during the 2020-21 season most simply, turn to Taylor Hall. In 37 games with the Sabres, Hall only scored two goals on a 2.3 shooting percentage, easily the worst of his career. Hall needed just three games to reach two goals with the Bruins, and his shooting percentage with Boston dipped to 18.2 after “settling” for an assist in his fourth Bruins game.

Naturally, the Sabres dealt with injuries, too. But between a daunting lack of puck luck and the unique challenges of COVID, some big bounces went against them.

That 18-game winless streak, and Krueger’s firing

Even for a bad team — and an unlucky one — it’s still stunning that the Sabres suffered through that 18-game winless streak.

PHT’s Adam Gretz broke down some of the numbers from the Sabres’ 18-game winless streak, and it’s staggering stuff.

  • The Sabres were outscored 74-30 during that 18-game winless streak, making for a -44 goal differential.
  • Buffalo ranked last in goals per game and goals against per game, and in the bottom-three in shots per game, shots against per game, save percentage, and on the power play.
  • Only two Sabres scored more than two goals during that 18-game winless streak: Sam Reinhart (six) and Jeff Skinner (three).

(There’s more, so check out Gretz’s piece.)

Once the Sabres lost their 12th game in a row, they decided to fire Ralph Krueger. Really, it all seemed inevitable, especially when Krueger pointed to the team’s fragile psyche and said they were in a “dark, dark place.”

You almost wonder if injuries to Jack Eichel and others felt like missed blessings, as they no longer had to slog through the Sabres’ miserable 2020-21 season. Yes, it was that bad.

Bad enough to make a rebuild harder, thanks to plummeting market value for a Taylor Hall trade, and so on.

So, the Sabres were unlucky, but they were also bad. There’s only so much you can do to sugarcoat that.

What went right for the Sabres?

Obviously, the larger answer is “not much.” That said, you can shine a light on a few things.

  • Through February, the Sabres boasted one of the best power plays in the NHL. During that span, they connected on 31.2-percent of their chances (19 PPG on 61 opportunities), the third-best rate in the league.

It’s unclear if Victor Olofsson can develop beyond being a power-play specialist, yet it’s clear that his shot is a useful weapon in that area.

  • Sam Reinhart continues to establish himself as a quality piece. No, he’s not the superstar you dream of when selecting second overall, but he could be part of the solution in Buffalo. Maybe.
  • Quietly or not, Linus Ullmark put together a pretty good season — again.
  • If Jack Eichel’s willing to stick around, he’s a true star, and he’s still only 24.

What’s next?

In trying to fix the Sabres, GM Kevyn Adams has his hands full. He needs to re-sign (or trade) RFAs, such as Sam Reinhart. And, no doubt about it, the Sabres either need to trade Jack Eichel, or at least find ways to maintain his morale.

Really, it’s such a complicated process that it justifies its own post. So stay tuned for that.

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.

Crosby reaches 30-goal mark, Penguins knock off Avs 5-2

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DENVER – Sidney Crosby wasn’t even aware of reaching yet another milestone. He’s simply locked in on helping the Pittsburgh Penguins make a 17th straight postseason appearance.

Jeff Carter had a pair of goals, Crosby scored on a nifty backhand shot in the second period to reach the 30-goal mark for an 11th season and the Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Crosby moved into a tie with Hall-of-Fame center Mario Lemieux for the most 30-goal seasons in Penguins history. Another milestone reached – it came as news to him.

“I think the most important thing for me is just try to be consistent and if that reflects that great,” said Crosby, who turns 36 in August.

Even more, Crosby’s the first player in league history to post a 30-goal campaign at 18 years old and again when he was 35-plus, according to NHL Stats.

“It means I’ve been in the league for a while,” Crosby cracked. “That’s been the thing that’s driven me since since I got into the league – in your first year, you want to prove that you belong. Even at 35, I still think you want to prove you belong, because it is a younger league.”

Jake Guentzel also scored and Bryan Rust added an empty-net goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game slide and moved back into a wild-card spot in the East.

“It’s definitely a big one for us, for sure,” Guentzel said. “Defending champs, coming to their building, you know how good they are. Top to bottom, we defended hard and that’s what we have to do at this time of the year.”

Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry stopped 28 shots in improving to 11-4 this season against teams from the Western Conference.

J.T. Compher and Devon Toews had goals for the Avalanche, whose six-game winning streak was halted. Nathan MacKinnon had an assist to extend his home points streak to 18 games.

It was a missed opportunity for Colorado, which could’ve pulled into a three-way tie with Dallas and Minnesota in the Central Division with a victory.

“We knew they were going to play with urgency,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “But I didn’t feel like there was any reason why we couldn’t, either. … We didn’t get it done. Hopefully we get another one.”

Alexandar Georgiev made 40 saves, including several critical ones in a second period controlled by the Penguins, who outshot the Avalanche by a 21-9 margin. It could’ve been more than a 3-1 deficit heading into the third period.

Toews’ power-play goal made it 3-2 with 9:32 remaining. But Carter wrapped up the win with his first multigoal game in the regular season since Jan. 11, 2022.

“I’m thrilled for him. We’re all thrilled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Carter. “He cares about the Penguins. He wants to win, and he wants to contribute in helping us win so we couldn’t be happier for him.”


Bednar was appreciative of the three-year extension he signed Tuesday that goes through the 2026-27 season. In his seventh season, he’s the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Sullivan (December 2015).

“It’s not a forgiving league or sport, for the most part, but obviously that’s part of the reason why I’m so grateful and thankful,” Bednar said. “Because there were times over my tenure that got a little hairy and management could have made another decision. But obviously they didn’t.”


Avalanche D Cale Makar missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. “I still have him as day-to-day,” Bednar said. … F Darren Helm returned after missing 64 of 69 games this season with a lower-body injury. … Penguins D Jeff Petry (upper body) skated in the morning but sat out his third straight game. … The Penguins are 11-1 against the Central Division this season. … Penguins standout Evgeni Malkin assisted on Guentzel’s goal to reach the 50-assist mark for a seventh time in his career.


Penguins: At Dallas on Thursday night.

Avalanche: Host Arizona on Friday night.

Report: Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed jerseys

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CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against Vancouver because of security concerns involving a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country.

The decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

The Blackhawks have worn Pride warmup jerseys previously and donned special warmup jerseys on some other themed nights this season. There had been ongoing conversations about a Pride jersey with the players, according to the person who talked to the AP, but the organization made the decision to hold Pride Night without the jerseys this year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in December that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country. Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country.

The decision by the Blackhawks comes after San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys. The New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

Russians Nikolai Knyzhov and Alexander Barabanov wore the Pride-themed jerseys for the Sharks on Saturday.

While Chicago will go without Pride warmup jerseys this year, the team has planned a variety of activities in conjunction with Sunday’s game. DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.

Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2.

Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

“That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

“Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

“Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

“Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

“I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

“We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

“It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

“I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

“We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.