Sabres shuffle lines looking for spark

What a difference two months makes.

The Buffalo Sabres were the darlings of the NHL back in November when they tied a franchise record with 10 straight wins and sat atop the NHL standings at 17-6-2. But since that 10-game winning streak, the Sabres are just 8-14-4 with 20 points, which is tied for the fewest in the league during that span.

During Monday’s practice head coach Phil Housley drastically shuffled his lineup and placed his top three scorers – Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart – on three separate lines. Eichel centered the top line between Conor Sheary and Kyle Okposo, Skinner skated alongside Casey Mittelstadt and Jason Pominville, and Reinhart moved to the third line beside Evan Rodrigues and C.J. Smith.

At 1.13 points per game, Eichel is without question Buffalo’s best player. The captain’s playmaking ability could help spark Sheary and Okposo, who have both had down seasons, but have shown promise in the past, especially when playing next to superstars. Sheary was extremely productive when skating alongside Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. He tallied 53 points and 23 goals in just 61 games during the 2016-17 season with the Penguins. Okposo’s best years came in his final three seasons with the New York Islanders, when he registered 69, 51 and 64 points respectively before signing a 7-year, $42 million deal with Buffalo in July of 2016. A significant portion of those Islander years were spent alongside John Tavares. Both Sheary and Okposo have struggled to find the same consistency since joining the Sabres. Perhaps this is the catalyst to get them going.

Skinner’s 31 goals are tied for second in the NHL, trailing only Alex Ovechkin. The pending unrestricted free agent has been a perfect match with Eichel all year and is seemingly in line for a big pay day. He’ll now look to find the same chemistry with the 20-year-old Mittelstadt and 36-year-old Pominville. Mittelstadt has struggled mightily with just two goals and six points in his last 19 games. The veteran Pominville has been even less productive, with four points and two goals over his past 25 games.

Meanwhile, Reinhart has 45 points and is on pace for 72, which would shatter his previous career-high of 50 set last season. The rookie Smith has played in just four games this season and six in his young career. He scored his first NHL goal in his last game back on January 8 against New Jersey. Rodrigues has started to pick up the pace with seven points and four goals in his last nine games.

Despite their struggles over the last two months, the Sabres are only three points out of a playoff spot. Now would be an ideal time for them to make a push, as they are in the middle of a season-long seven-game homestand that continues Tuesday night against Minnesota.

MORE: Sabres goalies need to shake off tough month

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Sabres on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and the Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Caps this season, following Washington’s 4-3 shootout win six days ago in D.C. The season series will conclude on Feb. 23 in Buffalo.

Buffalo is coming off a 5-2 loss at home to Florida – a game the Sabres led 2-1 after two periods. Buffalo had been 9-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes this season. In the 10 games since Buffalo’s team-record-tying 10-game win streak, they’ve gone 3-4-3.

The Sabres are getting the vast majority of their offensive production from their top line of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart. Skinner has already surpassed his goal total from last season (which was 24 in 82 games with Carolina), so given that he’s in a contract year, more and more attention is being paid to his future.

Though Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet on Wednesday, he’s still scored 29 goals in 33 games, and is on pace to crack the 70-goal barrier. No one has scored 70 goals since Alexander Mogilny (with the Sabres) and Teemu Selanne both scored 76 in 1992-93.

With one more goal, Ovechkin would join former longtime Capital Mike Gartner as the only players in history to score 30-plus goals in each of their first 14 NHL seasons (Gartner did so in his first 15).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Buffalo Sabres at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Friday, Dec. 21, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sabres-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SABRES
Jeff Skinner – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Conor ShearyVladimir SobotkaEvan Rodrigues
Zemgus GirgensonsCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo
Remi ElieJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian
Lawrence PilutRasmus Ristolainen
Marco ScandellaJake McCabe

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Chandler StephensonNic DowdDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Jonas SiegenthalerMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sabres suspend Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failing to report to team

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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Saturday morning that the organization has suspended forward Patrik Berglund indefinitely for failure to report to the team. The Sabres said they will have no further comment on the suspension at this time.

This announcement comes after the 30-year-old forward missed the previous two games due what coach Phil Housley had called an illness. The Sabres are set to play the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Saturday evening and are looking to win their third game in a row.

“From my knowledge talking to the medical staff, he was ill, so we handled it that way,” Housley said. “Obviously it developed into something different, and [GM Jason Botterill] and the management are handling that.”

Berglund was one of the players acquired by the Sabres over the summer in the blockbuster Ryan O'Reilly trade with the St. Louis Blues.

In 23 games with the Sabres this season he has two goals, two assists, is a minus-five, and had been averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game. Before he missed the previous two games he had been stuck in a 10-game point drought. The last time he found the scoresheet was the Sabres’ win over the Ottawa Senators back on November 3 when he scored a goal and recorded an assist.

He scored 17 goals and nine assists in 57 games for the Blues a season ago.

Berglund is in the second year of a five-year, $19.250 million contract that carries a salary cap hit of $3.85 million per season and includes a modified no-trade clause.

The Sabres have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprise teams this season with a 19-9-4 record entering play on Saturday, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division and a 10-point cushion over the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. This is all happening after they finished the 2017-18 season with the worst record in the league for the third time in five seasons. Along with Berglund, the Sabres also acquired Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka in the O’Reilly trade, while also adding Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary, and Carter Hutton and selecting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Their 42 points on the season are currently tied for the fourth most in the league.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres have won 10 straight games

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Jeff Skinner keeps scoring goals and the Buffalo Sabres keep winning games

Skinner’s overtime tally on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks was not only his 19th goal of the season, it also pushed the Sabres’ current winning streak to 10 games, tying a franchise record.

This latest win pretty much sums up what this streak has been about — close games, overtime games, and Jeff Skinner goals.

[Related: Sabres on top of PHT Power Rankings]

Some quick facts…

  • It was the ninth game during the streak that was decided by one goal. According to the NHL, this is only the second time in league history a team has won that many one-goal games during a winning streak of 10 games or more. The 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins are the other.
  • It was the seventh game during the streak that required overtime or a shootout.
  • Skinner has scored 10 of his 19 goals this season during the streak.

The fact the Sabres are winning so many close games and overtime games suggests there is a bit of luck to this this streak, but every lengthy winning streak for every team requires at least some amount of luck. You also can’t take away the wins that already happened and the Sabres are sitting in a pretty good position right now with a 17-6-2 mark through their first 25 games.

Even if they see a bit of a regression the rest of the way they have given themselves a nice cushion when it comes to earning a playoff spot. Keep in mind the eighth playoff team in the Eastern Conference during the 2017-18 season finished with 97 points. Buffalo now only needs 61 points in its remaining 57 games to reach that mark. That is well within reach.

The fact the Sabres are in this position a quarter of the way through the season is a huge development when you consider they had the worst record in the league this past season. But the offseason additions of Skinner, Conor Sheary, starting goalie Carter Hutton, and the arrival of top pick Rasmus Dahlin have all played a huge role in the quick turnaround.

Along with Skinner’s tally, Rasmus Ristolainen scored a highlight reel goal to get the Sabres on the board in the second period, while Hutton stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Flyers on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINES

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

James van RiemsdykJordan WealWayne Simmonds

Dale WeiseScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovRobert Hagg

Shayne GostisbehereChristian Folin

Travis SanheimRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Alex Lyon

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SABRES

Jeff SkinnerJack EichelJason Pominville

Tage ThompsonVladimir SobotkaSam Reinhart

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonEvan Rodrigues

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian

Nathan BeaulieuCasey Nelson

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton