Nicholas Baptiste

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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

WATCH LIVE: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Toronto Maple Leafs

Zach HymanWilliam NylanderConnor Brown

Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner

James van RiemsdykTyler BozakLeo Komarov

Matt MartinTomas PlekanecKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey

Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev

Travis DermottConnor Carrick

Starting Goalie: Frederik Andersen

[Maple Leafs – Sabres preview.]

Buffalo Sabres

Zemgus GirgensonsRyan O'ReillySam Reinhart

Scott WilsonJohan LarssonJason Pominville

Jordan NolanJacob JosefsonKyle Okposo

Benoit Pouliot — Kyle Criscuolo — Nicholas Baptiste

Marco ScandellaRasmus Ristolainen

Brendan Guhle — Casey Nelson

Nathan BeaulieuVictor Antipin

Starting Goalie: Chad Johnson

Condon continues strong start with Senators

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Coming off what Guy Boucher called their “worst game of the year,” the Ottawa Senators impressed their coach with a comeback effort Wednesday night.

Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris scored during a shootout, helping the Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1.

Backup goaltender Mike Condon made 31 saves, including eight in overtime, as the Senators rebounded from a 3-1 loss in Nashville on Tuesday and avenged a 2-1 loss to the Sabres at home Saturday.

“That’s a lot of resiliency,” Boucher said. “I’m really proud of the guys because that’s a tough back-to-back.”

Turris scored in the first round of the shootout to match Sam Reinhart‘s tally, and then Ryan put Ottawa ahead in the second round. Condon stopped Brian Gionta on Buffalo’s final attempt.

Ryan Dzingel got a tying goal for Ottawa 7:15 into the second period.

Nicholas Baptiste scored for Buffalo, and former Senator Robin Lehner made 28 saves while the Sabres lost their second in a row.

Buffalo controlled the action throughout overtime, outshooting Ottawa 8-0.

“We just possessed the puck the whole time for the most part and had some glorious chances to win the game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.

Zemgus Girgensons got a point-blank shot past Condon with 27 seconds remaining, but the puck ricocheted off the back of Condon’s skate and the left post.

“It’s funny how puck luck works,” Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe said. “Hopefully one of these days, the puck’s going to bounce our way. But we just got to keep doing the right things, create our own luck.”

Condon has won both of his starts for the Senators since being acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. He made 27 saves in a 1-0 shutout of Vancouver in his debut.

“It’s great for a guy to come in and make his presence known like that,” Dzingel said. “Hats off to him. Two great games.”

Baptiste gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 2:49 into the first. Derek Grant‘s faceoff win and a quick pass from Cole Schneider set up Baptiste’s wrist shot from the left circle. It was Baptiste’s second career goal and Schneider’s first point.

The Senators tied it when Dzingel split defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Rasmus Ristolainen and lifted a shot from the left slot over Lehner’s blocking pad. Dzingel has scored four of his five goals on the road this season.

Buffalo killed three penalties spanning 4:36 in the second period, including a 5-on-3 that lasted 1:24.

Forward Evander Kane returned to the Sabres top line after missing 11 games with cracked ribs, but Buffalo was still without its top two centers, Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. O’Reilly is day-to-day with an upper body injury, Bylsma said. Eichel has yet to play this season due to a high ankle sprain, but Bylsma said he could be cleared for on-ice workouts next week.

NOTES:

Senators F Chris Neil missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Ottawa recalled F Mike Blunden to replace Neil on the fourth line. … F Tyler Ennis sat out for Buffalo with a mid-body injury. … Buffalo recalled Schneider from the minors and sent down F Hudson Fasching. Schneider was tied for the AHL scoring lead with 15 points.

UP NEXT:

Senators: Host Los Angeles on Friday.

Sabres: Host New Jersey on Friday.