Sam Reinhart

Sabres
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‘Unacceptable finish’ sends Sabres to another loss

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With their most recent loss on Saturday afternoon, a 6-3 decision at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, the Buffalo Sabres continued their slide out of playoff contention. For as frustrating as this season has been in Buffalo, this latest defeat seemed to really sting because of how close they were to getting something out of it.

With 14 minutes to play in regulation they were tied in a competitive, entertaining back-and-forth game that seemed to be there for the taking.

It was at that point that everything started to unravel as they surrendered three unanswered goals,

“That’s definitely something we can’t accept,” said coach Ralph Krueger after the game.

“It was a hell of a hockey game until 14 minutes to go, and we turned it into a very painful, unacceptable finish. We know how they play, we respect their skill, and the way they push the game offensively. They like to play an open game. Somewhere through all that we ended up trying to play more their game than on our, and gave up on it. It’s very frustrating right now for all of us.”

He continued: “We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. The comebacks from going down 2-1, going down 3-2, I thought we stayed pretty calm, we stuck with it, it was a good game going on. Just too many individual breakdowns today through the game, from beginning to end. We need to look hard at this. Those final 14 minutes we really, really have to put a mirror in front of our faces and figure out why we gave up on what is our game. There is just no sign of it.”

The Sabres are in a world of trouble right now. They are without two of their best offensive players in Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson due to injury, and they do not have enough depth after Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart to make up for it.

On top of that, they have now won just three of their past 12 games.

After starting the season with a 9-2-1 mark through 12 games, they are just 10-16-6 in the 34 games since. That leaves them seven points out of a wild card spot (with five teams ahead of them) before the rest of Saturday night’s games. If they do not get this turned around it is going to be the second year in a row they waste a fast start to the season.

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.

 

The Buzzer: Hat trick for Rantanen; Hutchinson shines for Maple Leafs

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After routing the St. Louis Blues in their most recent, the Avalanche have now won back-to-back games thanks to their 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. Mikko Rantanen shined in this one with three goals on three shots in the win. He has 15 goals and 31 total points in only 26 games this season. That is a 47-goal pace over 82 games.

2. Michael Hutchinson, Toronto Maple Leafs. Hutchinson has been having a miserable season for the Maple Leafs and has struggled to find his game from the very start. He has now won three consecutive decisions for and stopped all 33 shots he faced on Saturday against the New York Islanders to record his first shutout of the season. The Maple Leafs are now on a 9-0-1 over the past 10 games and are 15-4-1 in their first 20 games under new coach Sheldon Keefe. In Hutchinson’s first six starts this season he went 0-5-1, only once had a save percentage higher than .875 (never higher than .897), and allowed at least four goals in every game, including four games where he allowed five goals. He has allowed just five total goals in his past three starts.

3. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks. Markstrom found out he is going to the All-Star game on Friday to replace Marc-Andre Fleury (read more about that here). He played like an All-Star on Saturday against the New York Rangers. Markstrom’s 36 saves helped the Canucks steal a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers to maintain their hold on a top-three spot in the Pacific Division and keep pace with the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. He has been one of the Canucks’ best players this season and really solidified their goaltending spot as he continues to play for a big contract this summer.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The San Jose Sharks won their second game in a row and snapped the Columbus Blue Jackets’ point streak with a 3-2 win.
  • Eric Staal scored a controversial goal in overtime to lift the Minnesota Wild to a big win over the Winnipeg Jets. Read more about that play here.
  • The Edmonton Oilers scored four consecutive goals to stun the Boston Bruins. David Pastrnak scored his league-leading 31st goal of the season for the Bruins.
  • Chandler Stephenson continued his strong play for the Vegas Golden Knights since being acquired in a trade from the Washington Capitals, recording two points in a come-from-behind overtime win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. His goal, the overtime winner, is already his fifth goal in 16 games with the Golden Knights. Before this season he never scored more than six goals in a single season.
  • Sam Reinhart had a big game for the Buffalo Sabres as they chased Sergei Bobrovsky early in a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers. Read more about Bobrovsky’s struggles here.
  • Matt Murray had a strong game for the Pittsburgh Penguins to help them get a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Tyler Johnson scored a late third period goal to help the Tampa Bay Lightning extend their winning streak to six consecutive games.
  • Clayton Keller scored two goals for the Arizona Coyotes in a big 6-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Coyotes did lose starting goalie Antti Raanta to a lower-body injury in the win. Read more about that here.
  • Rocco Grimaldi‘s two points and Pekka Rinne‘s 23 saves helped the Nashville Predators snap what had been a three-game losing streak in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Kasperi Kapanen helped get things rolling for the Maple Leafs on Saturday with this slick assist.

Cale Makar makes it look easy as he enters the offensive zone and finds Rantanen for one of his three goals for the Avalanche.

Roman Josi had the play of the night for the Predators as they get a much-needed win against Kings.

Blooper of the Night

Ottawa Senators forward Colin White found you can not head-butt the puck in the net. Read more about it here.

Factoids

  • The Maple Leafs are now on a 10-game point streak (9-0-1) for the first time since the 2005-06 season. [NHL PR]
  • The Golden Knights’ come-from-behind win on Saturday was the first three-goal comeback win in franchise history. [Vegas Golden Knights]
  • With the Sharks’ win against Columbus on Saturday general manager Doug Wilson became the 19th general manager in NHL history to reach 700 wins. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Leon Draisaitl has recorded at least one point in all but eight games this season for the Oilers. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to his two goals on Saturday Zach Werenski is the first defender in Blue Jackets franchise history to score 50 goals for the team. [NHL PR]
  • Canucks rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes needed just 41 games to record his 30th point this season. That is faster than any rookie Canucks defenseman in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Roman Josi is on a nine-game point streak for the Predators, tied with Shea Weber for the longest run by a Predators defender. [NHL PR]

Scores

Edmonton Oilers 4, Boston Bruins 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Buffalo Sabres 3, Florida Panthers 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 5, St. Louis Blues 4 (OT)
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, New York Islanders 0
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Montreal Canadiens 2 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Ottawa Senators 3
Colorado Avalanche 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Arizona Coyotes 6, Philadelphia Flyers 2
Vancouver Canucks 2, New York Rangers 1
Nashville Predators 4, Los Angeles Kings 1

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.

Eichel’s point streak reaches 14 as Sabres send Blues to third straight loss

There is simply no stopping Jack Eichel right now.

The Buffalo Sabres’ captain extended his point streak to 14 consecutive games on Tuesday night by scoring the game-winning goal five minutes into the third period (then adding an empty-net goal), helping to send the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues to their third straight loss in a 5-2 decision.

The win helped the Sabres keep pace in the tight Atlantic Division playoff race and was their second in a row.

Let’s take a quick look at three big takeaways from this one.

1. The Eichel line keeps dominating. Eichel’s two goals on Tuesday give him 20 on the season — a mark that is good enough for third in the league behind only David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin — and currently has him on a 51-goal pace for the season. It is worth pointing out that the Sabres have not had a 50-goal scorer since Alexander Mogilny (76) and Pat Lafontaine (53) both hit that mark during the 1992-93 season.

This hot streak all started with a four-goal game back on Nov. 16 and he has not slowed down since then. After Tuesday’s game he is now up to 12 goals and 25 total points during the streak, leading the league in both categories during that stretch.

But it’s not just the play of Eichel that is making things click.

Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson, the other two members of the team’s top line, are also playing some outstanding hockey right now and helping to carry the team’s offense. Olofsson, who has in the middle of an outstanding rookie season, picked up two helpers on Tuesday to give him five goals and 10 assists over the past 14 games, while Reinhart’s two points (one goal, one assist) give him 10 points during that stretch.

2. The Blues fell asleep on Eichel’s game-winner. Seriously, what happened here?

The Blues have been one of the NHL’s best defensive teams going back to last season, but this was a terrible breakdown at the worst possible time. There is no reason for Eichel to be able to walk in front of the net completely uncontested like this in a five-on-five situation. Everyone just fell asleep here and made it way too easy for the league’s hottest player to get a wide open look. You are not really helping your goalie here at all.

3. This is the Blues’ first real slump of the season. Yes, they did lose four games in a row earlier this season but they lost two of those games in overtime and were at least able to collect a couple of points. This is the first time all year they have lost three consecutive regulation games, while they have been outscored by a 13-5 margin during that streak. It is also the first time since last November that they have dropped three consecutive regulation games. Over an 82-game season even the best teams are going to run into slumps like this, so it’s probably not a cause for huge concern at the moment. But the Blues still have to be a little worried about the state of their offense without Vladimir Tarasenko. Since he went out of the lineup in late October this has been one of the league’s worst offensive teams, currently sitting in the bottom-10 in shots and goals per game at both even-strength and in all situations. Yes, they are defensive team. But they still need to find more offense than this.

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.

What’s gone wrong for the Sabres?

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Exactly one year ago the Buffalo Sabres were in the middle of a 10-game winning streak that would catapult them to the top of the NHL standings. Expectations were increasing, excitement was building, and at the very least it seemed as if the team had at least banked enough points in the standings that their playoff drought would finally come to an end, barring some sort of unspeakably bad collapse.

Then the unspeakably bad collapse happened.

They responded with another coaching change (their fifth in eight years), re-signed Jeff Skinner, made a few tweaks to the roster, and roared out of the gate this season by winning eight of their first 10 games and once again gave their fans a brief glimpse of hope.

It has, once again, been all downhill ever since.

The Sabres enter Monday’s game against Boston having won just two of their previous 11 games (the two wins were against Ottawa and Detroit) and are facing a pretty grueling six-game stretch that has them play Boston, Florida, Tampa Bay, Calgary, and Toronto (twice). There are a lot of divisional games there which means things can swing pretty dramatically in either direction in a very short period of time. Pick up a few wins, and the season can still be salvaged. Lose, and things can start heading down a very disappointing path.

The problem a year ago is that the Sabres’ fast start was the result of a lot of good luck and a lot of smoke and mirrors. Almost every game on the 10-game winning streak was decided by a single goal and required overtime or a shootout. The underlying numbers as a team were poor and it seemed like a team just waiting to collapse on itself.

Let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong this season.

They just don’t have enough offense

Jack Eichel is one of the best players in the league, while Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart are solid complementary players at the top of the lineup. That trio has combined to score 13 of the team’s 22 goals over the past 11 games, meaning the rest of the team is doing almost nothing, and some of the numbers are pretty jarring.

Take Casey Mittelstadt, for example. The No. 8 overall pick from 2017 is in his second full season in the league and is supposed to be a long-term core building block. He has been a complete non-factor this season offensively, entering play on Monday with just three goals and only 21 shots on goal in 21 games. He has just five shots on goal over the team’s 11-game slide and has been held without a shot in seven of those games.

Marcus Johansson was one of the team’s offseason additions and got off to a strong start with four goals and seven total points in his first nine games. He has been sidelined for the past two weeks, but even before he went out of the lineup his offense had completely disappeared with only five shots in his final eight games. Six of those games resulted in no shots on goal.

There are 33 forwards in the NHL with at least 15 games played this season and averaging one shot on goal or less per game — four of those 33 players play for the Sabres. You can not score goals that way.

Rasmus Dahlin‘s sophomore struggles

The league’s reigning rookie of the year is actually ahead of his scoring pace from a year ago (at least as far as assists are concerned) but every other aspect of his game has seemingly taken a small step back. He even found himself benched in a recent game. Dahlin is one of the most important players in the Sabres’ organization because of the potential he has and the role he is expected to play. If he becomes the player he was projected to be entering the league he could be the type of defensemen that can significantly change a team’s fortune. During his rookie year he looked like he was on his way to being that player. There is no reason to be overly concerned that he still won’t get there, but he’s definitely going through some growing pains. And since the Sabres don’t have another defender that possesses his skill or potential, if he’s not dominating games from the blue line, no one will.

This simply might be all they are capable of

The biggest issue with the Sabres isn’t necessarily “what’s gone recently,” but rather “what if this this is as good as they are?”

What is the identity of this team? What does it do well?

Even though Eichel has met his pre-draft expectations and become a top-line player, there is not much help around him to make this a good offensive team unless the power play dominates. The power play was hot at the start of the year, but has cooled off considerably since.

They are not great defensively unless they get outstanding goaltending, and everything about their 5-on-5 play points to a mediocre (to maybe even bad) team. They rank 14th in shot attempt differential at even-strength, and sit among the bottom-six in scoring chance, high-danger scoring chances, and expected goals (all via Natural Stat Trick), while owning an even goal differential (39 for, 39 against). Nothing stands out about them, and that has to be the most frustrating thing for Sabres fans as they go through what could be a ninth consecutive year of this.

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.

The Buzzer: Big night for goalies; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings. Robby Fabbri was not the only Red Wings player to have a big night in their upset win over the Boston Bruins. Bernier had a huge night making 26 saves — including a highlight reel glove save on David Pastrnak that you will see down below — and recording two assists. He is the first goalie since Tuukka Rask in 2016 to record at least two assists in a single game.

2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Even with a makeshift defense the Jets are still doing their best to hang around in the Western Conference and picked up a big win on Friday night against Vancouver, beating the Canucks, 4-1. While Kyle Connor had a goal and an assist to help drive the offense, Hellebuyck was the Jets’ big star by making 32 saves including a desperation glove save on Bo Horat to help protect the lead late in the third period.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. A clean sweep for goalies when it comes to the stars of the night as Koskinen turned aside all 26 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the New Jersey Devils. It is his first shutout of the season, improved his record to 6-1-1 in eight appearances, and pushed his save percentage for the season over .920. The goaltending being a pleasant surprise has been a huge part of the Oilers’ early success this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Leon Draisaitl extended his current point streak to eight consecutive games when he opened the scoring for Oilers in the first period, scoring on a breakaway for his 14th goal of the season. More on that below, including a look at the goal.
  • Fabbri took advantage of his first opportunity with the Red Wings by scoring two goals. Read more about it here.
  • Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde all scored goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they started to regain some of their swagger in a win over the Buffalo Sabres in the Global Series. Read all about that game here.

Highlights of the Night

This is Bernier’s highlight reel save on Pastrnak that was mentioned above, by far his best save of the night.

Speaking of great saves, here is Hellebucyk’s game-saving stop on Horvat in Winnipeg.

Draisaitl gets behind the Devils’ defense and scores his 14th goal of the season, making it look easy.

Blooper of the Night

It was not as costly as the 3-on-0 they gave up in overtime against the St. Louis Blues earlier this week, but the Canucks again literally fell over themselves to set up an easy goal for their opponents. This was an empty-netter by the Jets to put the game away, once somebody decided to actually put the puck in the net.

Factoids

  • Pastrnak is up to 31 points in 16 games, making him just the sixth different Bruins player in the past 25 years to do that. [NHL PR]
  • Draisaitl is the first Oilers player in 20 years to score 14 goals in the team’s first 18 games. [NHL PR]
  • The Jets have won nine games in a row against the Canucks. They have outscored them 31-10 in those games. [NHL PR]
  • Fabbri is just the seventh Red Wings player to ever score two goals in his debut with the team. [NHL PR]
  • Sam Reinhart scored both goals for the Sabres in their 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay, making him the third Sabres player to score multiple goals in a game played outside of North America. Yes, two other Sabres (Thomas Vanek and Luke Adam) have done that. [NHL PR]

Scores

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Buffalo Sabres 2
Detroit Red Wings 4, Boston Bruins 2
Winnipeg Jets 4, Vancouver Canucks 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, New Jersey Devils 0

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.