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It’s Buffalo Sabres day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

[Three Questions | Under PressureBuilding Off a Breakthrough]

2017-18
Record: 25-45-12, 62 points. (8th in the Atlantic Division, 16th in the Eastern Conference, 31st in the NHL)
Did not qualify for the playoffs

IN:
Jeff Skinner
Vladimir Sobotka
Patrik Berglund
Tage Thompson
Carter Hutton
Conor Sheary
Matt Hunwick
Scott Wedgewood

OUT:
Ryan O'Reilly
Robin Lehner
Chad Johnson
Josh Gorges
Benoit Pouliot

RE-SIGNED:
Scott Wilson
C.J. Smith
Danny O’Regan
Justin Bailey
Nicholas Baptiste
Sean Malone

The best part of the Buffalo Sabres’ season last year was the day it ended and they had secured the highest odds for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft

And after winning the lottery with the best odds, the Buffalo Sabres went out and took defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to bolster their defense.

It’s a nice reward for a horrible season, where Buffalo finished dead last in goals-for with 198, the only team in the NHL not to eclipse the 200-mark, and gave up the third-most goals-against.

Their season was a tire fire that burned until for a good, long while.

The good news for Sabres fans is that’s all in the past now, and suddenly the team might just work itself in to — get ready for it — the playoff discussion.

Yes, general manager Jason Botterill has been hard at work trying to craft a better hockey team. Losing Ryan O’Reilly via trade to St. Louis stung, but they got three roster players in return in the deal, added Carter Hutton in goal to replace the outgoing Robin Lehner, and made a splash just this week to get Jeff Skinner to inject some offense into the team.

Botterill has a something that resembles a team now, and a future to go along with it as he’s cobbled together three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft.

What the Sabres look like in terms of lines and defensive pairings remains to be seen, but rest assured, it has to look better than last season.

Prospect Pool:

Casey Mittelstadt, C, University of Minnesota – 2017 first-round pick

Mittlestadt had 11 goals and 30 points in 39 games in his first season of college hockey this past season, led the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships with 11 points, including four goals, as Team USA finished with a bronze medal and then scored his first NHL goal with the Sabres as he played in six games, amassing five points. Mittelstadt turned pro in March, signing an entry-level deal and looks poised to be a key contributor to the Sabres next season.

Brendan Guhle, D, Rochester Americans – 2015 second-round pick

Guhle had 26 points in 50 games in a solid first pro season in the American Hockey League. He also played 18 games with the Sabres, putting up five assists in that time. He didn’t look out of place during his time with the big club and will compete for a roster spot in Buffalo come training camp.

Alex Nylander, RW, Rochester Americans – 2016 first-round pick

Perhaps a bit of a polarizing figure in Buffalo as he hasn’t progressed as quickly as brother William has in Toronto. Still, it’s premature to label Nylander — who is only 20 — a bust. His eighth overall pick status in 2016 comes with certain pressure, sure, but Nylander improved in his second pro season despite beginning it injured. His 27 points were one fewer than his 28 from the previous year, but he played in 14 fewer games in 2017-18. He also had eight points in seven games as Sweden captured the silver medal at the World Juniors and scored his first NHL goal on April 6.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Buzzer: Milestone night in Vegas, Johnson backstops Sabres to first win

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Player of the night: Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights

There were a few candidates tonight, particularly from the Vegas Golden Knights victory over the Boston Bruins. Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov both made their debuts for the expansion team and both scored their first career NHL goals.

Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban also recorded his first career NHL win, stopping 21 of 22 shots faced as the Golden Knights held on in the end for a 3-1 victory. Subban was solid. He made a difficult stop in close off Brad Marchand and helped defeat the team that put him on waivers only two weeks ago.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Subban, per NHL.com. “I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I’m just happy to get the win.”

Boston selected Subban in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he spent the vast majority of his time in the American Hockey League. Putting Subban on waivers prior to the start of this season was a risk the Bruins were well aware of, and he was claimed by the Golden Knights. He started Sunday, while Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve.

Highlight of the night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally have their first win of the season. They received a goal from recently recalled forward Justin Bailey and a 25-save performance from Chad Johnson. He had the glove working in this one, but arguably his best save of the night was this pad stop on Nick Ritchie to keep his team in the lead, at least at the time, during the second period. The angle from behind the net shows just how close this puck came to going in, but Johnson managed to trap it right against the post before the mayhem ensued.

Factoid of the night:

Cam Fowler, selected 12th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010 and still only 25 years of age, achieved a career milestone and made franchise history on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Scores:

Buffalo 3, Anaheim 1

L.A. 3 – NY Islanders 2

Vegas 3, Boston 1

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Sabres, who could use a spark offensively, recall Justin Bailey

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It’s been a brutal start to the season for the Buffalo Sabres.

They’re off to an 0-4-1 start. Jack Eichel, their star forward who recently signed an eight-year, $80 million contract extension, has voiced his displeasure with the team’s consistent losing.

While there was promising news earlier in the week regarding defenseman Zach Bogosian, who hasn’t played a game this season because of a lower-body injury, the Sabres moved him to injured reserve on Sunday and recalled right winger Justin Bailey from the American Hockey League.

“Zach is doing quite well. He skated again today,” Sabres coach Phil Housley recently told the Buffalo News. “He’s making really good progress. He’ll continue to go on the ice and work on his game and hopefully that will mean he’s playing soon.”

The Sabres, who were also without Kyle Okposo last night due to illness, desperately need a spark on offense and Bailey may be able to help provide that.

Through five games, Buffalo has just 11 goals, which puts them in the bottom third of the league in that category. The aforementioned Eichel has been one of the few bright spots with seven points through five games, including two points in each of the first two games on this road trip through California and Las Vegas.

Bailey, Buffalo’s second-round pick in 2013, has been productive in each of his first two seasons in the minors, reaching the 20-goal plateau both times. He started this season with two goals in his first three games in Rochester. While the goal production has been there for him in the minors, it hasn’t yet translated into the NHL, with two goals in 40 games with the Sabres.

The Sabres continue their road trip tonight, when they visit the Anaheim Ducks.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

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This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

It’s easy to see why Alex Nylander is eager for the season to get underway.

Nylander got a taste of the NHL by appearing in four games for Buffalo at the end of last year. Now, he wants more. That desire for extended action is likely fueled, in part, by a sibling rivalry — Alex’s older brother, William, posted a terrific rookie campaign in Toronto, scoring 22 goals and 61 points while finishing sixth in Calder voting.

The similarities between the two are striking,. Both were taken eighth overall in their respective draft years. Both appeared in at least 60 AHL contests before making their big league debuts.

And though William’s first “taste” of the NHL was bigger — 22 games, as opposed to Alex’s four — the blueprint was largely the same. Which is why Alex is gunning for a spot on Buffalo’s opening night roster this fall.

“[I’ve] learned new things to get better, and also to be more like a professional,” Nylander said at the Sabres’ prospect development camp, per the News. “I will definitely take that into September. I was working hard. Of course things I think I’ve done in the summer have helped me on the ice, and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Nylander had a whirlwind ’16-17 campaign. There were highs — making his Sabres debut, finishing as the co-leading scorer at the World Juniors — but there were lows, too. The 19-year-old struggled at the AHL level, finishing with just 10 goals in 65 games for Rochester. Most chalked that up to a lack of strength and size (Nylander was ambitiously listed at 179 pounds last season), the same concerns some had with William prior to his breakout rookie campaign.

To be fair, William never struggled to score in the American League. He put up 77 points in 75 games with the Marlies.

As for Alex, his future will be decided by how he does in training camp and the exhibition season, but also how the battle for minutes at left wing shakes out. It’s one of the thinnest positions on Buffalo’s roster. Evander Kane is the unquestioned first-liner, and GM Jason Botterill is hopeful Edmonton castoff Benoit Pouliot can overachieve, and take the second-line spot.

After that? Nylander’s battling the likes of Matt Moulson, Nicolas Deslauriers and Justin Bailey. New head coach Phil Housley could also slide a center over to fill the void.

It’s important to remember, though, that Nylander could very well be AHL-bound. New GM Jason Botterill has stated the organization will take a more measured approach to prospect development than in years past, and is a big proponent of the American League. He had a ton of success grooming prospects in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while with the Penguins organization.

And at the end of the day, Nylander is still pretty much that — a prospect. A good one, sure, but one that also might need more seasoning.