Sabres preach patience to a young squad in playoff race

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sabres captain Kyle Okposo is one of the oldest players on one of the NHL’s youngest teams, and takes care to present a patient front in the midst of a late-season playoff push.

Though Okposo would like nothing more than to end a league-worst 11-year playoff drought, the soon-to-be 35-year-old understands there are lessons to be learned and steps that can’t be skipped.

Before the Sabres embarked on their current three-game trip, Okposo said the team was close.

“And if you were to say before the year we would be in this spot, most people would have laughed,” he added. “So we’re getting there. We just have to keep pushing and we have to continue to know that what we’re doing works, and we cannot become impatient with the results.”

It’s a challenge for a team on which the majority of players are experiencing an NHL playoff race for the first time.

“It’s a different pressure than last year,” Okposo said, referring to how a team that was already out of contention closed the season on a 14-7-3 run. “Last year, we were trying to build something. So how do you continue to build, and how do you continue to handle the pressure?”

The results so far have been mixed, and reflective of a team featuring three rookies and seven players born in 2000 or later. Plus, just eight players have been in the playoffs for a combined 218 playoff games, led by Alex Tuch‘s 66 appearances with with Vegas.

At 33-28-6, Buffalo is on the fringes of the playoff race – 11th in the Eastern Conference standings with 72 points, and six out of wild-card contention with 15 games remaining.

On the bright side, with three more wins, the Sabres will have the most since 2011-12, which is the last time the team finished with more regulation wins than losses (39-32-11).

The telltale signs of youth have been apparent on Buffalo’s 2-5-2 record in its past nine games.

The Sabres rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Toronto 4-3, then they squandered a 4-2 lead in the final 10 minutes of regulation in a 5-4 shootout loss at Washington.

The low point was a 3-2 loss at the New York Islanders – decided on a goal the Sabres questioned for being kicked in, when the puck banked in off Hudson Fasching’s shin. The frustrations carried over into a 10-4 drubbing at home to Dallas two days later.

Following the loss, coach Don Granato joked he couldn’t bench everyone, while shifting the focus ahead by saying “something good has to come of this.”

“Everybody makes mistakes, and the faster you learn, the better,” he said. “Tonight has to be one of those unfortunate negative outcomes, a bad memory, that makes you better.”

Buffalo responded with one of its most efficient defensive outings in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.

General manager Kevyn Adams is being careful in balancing long-term development and short-term success for a franchise that has too often faltered when attempting to rush its process during an 11-year stretch in which Buffalo has finished with the NHL’s worst record four times. That included the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, during which Adams launched his vision by purging the veteran core of his roster.

Though the team has shown signs of growth, Adams felt it important to stick to his plan by mostly standing pat at the trade deadline last month, with the exception of acquiring forward Jordan Greenway from Minnesota.

“What I want to see our guys do is just go and just be themselves, play fearlessly,” Adams said. “I know what it takes to win in this league, and I know we have it. Now I just want to believe in these guys and let them do it.”

Adams never promised there wouldn’t be bumps in the road, and his players understand that.

“I’m not saying we’re going to win right now, but we’re learning and it’s been taking time, as it should” defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said. “It takes time, but when you kind of understand what it takes, it’s a lot of fun. But we’re still on the learning path, and we’re not done yet.”

McDavid scores two in Oilers’ 3-2 win over Sabres

Getty Images

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft likes to compare watching Connor McDavid play to living at the foot of Mount Everest, and being almost numbed by taking in the spectacular scene on a daily basis.

That view turned breathtaking for Woodcroft and the Oilers on Monday night, in witnessing McDavid score twice to push his NHL-leading goal total to 54, and set a career high with 124 points in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

“The finish was all-world,” Woodcroft said of McDavid scoring the go-ahead goal on the fly by beating Craig Anderson through the legs 3:23 into the third period, and less than two minutes after the Sabres tied the game at 2.

“I saw someone that was competitive right from the puck right from the puck drop,” he added. “Connor’s at a different evolutionary stage in his game right now, and I think everyone saw that here tonight.”

McDavid continued making a case to win his third Hart MVP Trophy in eight seasons with his 12th multi-goal game of the year. His 124 points in 65 games are one more than the career-best he set in 80 games last year, and McDavid extended his points streak to 11 games, in which the Oilers’ captain has 12 goals and 15 assists.

“Who’s more likely to make a big play than him?” asked teammate Zach Hyman in wonder. “He’s the best player in the world, and he’s pushing his own boundaries. He’s been driving the bus for a long time and continues to get better.”

Derek Ryan also scored and Stuart Skinner stopped 37 shots for the Oilers, who improved to 5-4-3 in their past 12, and bounced back from a 7-5 loss at Winnipeg on Saturday.

Jeff Skinner and Dylan Cozens scored for the Sabres, and Anderson stopped 34 shots.

In dropping to 6-4 in its past 10, Buffalo continued its season-long struggles at home in losing five of its past seven.

Buffalo (32-26-4), in the midst of an NHL-worst 11-season playoff drought, failed to gain ground in a tight Eastern Conference race. The day began with four points separating the seventh-place New York Islanders, and ninth-place Buffalo, which was locked in a four-way tie with teams with 68 points.

Earlier in the day, Sabres coach Don Granato, declined to say whether he considered McDavid to be a step above everyone else in the league out of deference to his young stars. Afterward, Granato had no choice but to praise the Oilers’ captain, who scored twice on three shots on net.

“He’s got 50-plus for a reason, he doesn’t need many (shots),” Granato said. “He’s done that to lots of teams and goaltenders, and he was ready for his opportunities. That’s what makes him special.”

The Oilers (35-22-8) moved into a tie with Seattle for third in the Pacific Division.

After opening the scoring in the first period, McDavid scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, shortly after Cozens tied the game.

Warren Foegele drove up the left wing to gain the Sabres zone and then spun to hit McDavid in stride cutting up the middle. McDavid veered to his left to get by defender Jacob Bryson, and snapped a shot in though Anderson’s legs.

It was McDavid’s ninth game-winning goal of the season, after he began the day in a four-way tie for second and one behind teammate Leon Draisaitl.

INJURIES Oilers LW Evander Kane, who is traveling with the team, missed his ninth game with a rib injury. … The Sabres were without C Tyson Jost and Ds Mattias Samuelsson and Riley Stillman (head), who are listed day to day.


Oilers: At the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

Sabres: At the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Bruins rout Sabres 7-1, become fastest team to 100 points

Boston Bruins David Pastrnak Contract Trade Rumors
Getty Images

BOSTON – David Pastrnak had a goal and two assists just a few hours after signing a new contract and the surging Boston Bruins became the fastest team in NHL history to reach 100 points by beating the Buffalo Sabres 7-1 on Thursday night.

Jakub Lauko scored twice, Dmitry Orlov added a goal and two assists and Jeremy Swayman stopped 26 shots as the Bruins overcame the loss of Brad Marchand to a lower body injury to win their ninth straight.

Boston improved to 48-8-5 in its 61st game, besting the Montreal team from 1976-77 that reached 100 points in 62 games when there were regulation ties and no extra points for overtime or shootout victories. The Bruins have seven points for overtime and shootout victories in their 101 points.

Pavel Zacha, Patrice Bergeron and Connor Clifton added goals for Boston.

“It’s been really amazing to watch them want to be great,” coach Jim Montgomery said.

Casey Mittelstadt scored for Buffalo and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 35 shots But his unusual tripping penalty led to Orlov’s power-play goal and turned the game as the Sabres dropped their second straight.

The victory capped an eventful day for the Bruins. They acquired Tyler Bertuzzi from Detroit and inked Pastrnak to an eight-year, $90 million extension.

“Probably took a little longer than we hoped for, but we finally got across the finish line,” Boston president Cam Neely said. “We’re thrilled to have him for another eight years.”

Pastrnak drew the odd penalty against Luukkonen in the second period and then assisted on the ensuing goal. He scored his 43rd goal into an empty net in Boston’s five-goal third period that also saw him earn his 40th assist.

Bertuzzi, called a good “sandpaper” guy by Montgomery, will help fill the roles of fellow wingers Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno. Hall was placed on long-term injured reserve and Foligno regular IR.

Last week, GM Don Sweeney picked up Orlov and Garnet Hathaway in a deal with Washington. Orlov has three goals and five assists in four games since the trade.

A lengthy absence by Marchand would hurt Boston, however. He took a big hit in the second period and didn’t return for the third.

“We think he’s going to be all right,” Montgomery said.

The Sabres, who lost top-line forward Alex Tuch (lower body) last week, again played without banged-up top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He was was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Friday, opening a roster spot for defenseman Riley Stillman, acquired Monday from Vancouver.

Stillman made an immediate impression, recording five hits in a scoreless first period.

And it remained deadlocked until Luukkonen was called for tripping as Pastrnak tried to beat him while skating in alone.

“It was an unfortunate call,” coach Dan Granato said. “Obviously, the referees thought it was a trip. Luukky came out and played the puck, but that’s what happens. You’re going to have challenges like that, but obviously it was a momentum swing.”

Orlov scored on a one-timer on the ensuing 4-on-3 and Lauko knocked in a fat rebound 1:26 later to make it 2-0.

Buffalo, in a scramble for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, couldn’t recover.

NOTES: Sweeney said Hall and Foligno are unlikely to return before the end of the regular season. … Bertuzzi was expected to arrive in Boston late Thursday. … Sweeney doesn’t anticipate making another deal before Friday’s trade deadline. … The Sabres sent F Anders Bjork to Chicago for future considerations. … The Bruins recognized Buffalo firefighter Jason Arno during a first period timeout. Arno died in a fire Wednesday.


Sabres: Host Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Bruins: Host the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Anderson makes 53 saves, Skinner powers Sabres past Panthers

sabres panthers
Rich Storry/USA TODAY Sports

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jeff Skinner scored twice and Craig Anderson made 53 saves against his former team to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

The 41-year-old Anderson spent three seasons with the Panthers (2006-09) and still maintains a home a few miles north of their arena. He helped Buffalo get to 64 points and pull into a three-way tie for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with Detroit and Florida.

The Sabres have not been to the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2011 – the longest such drought in the NHL.

Buffalo also got a power-play goal from Alex Tuch, and Tage Thompson had three assists.

Carter Verhaeghe scored his 31st of the season for the Panthers – who were playing without their two top centers in Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett due to injuries. Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 saves in the loss.

Buffalo, coming off an overtime win at Tampa Bay on Thursday night, took the lead at 3:51 of the second period when Skinner found himself alone at the right side of the net and scored on a pass from Thompson.

The Sabres made it 2-0 on Tuch’s goal, which came two minutes after Buffalo had a goal taken off the board due to video review showing Tuch was offside.

Florida finally got one past Anderson at 8:24 of the third period as Verhaeghe took a cross-ice pass from Anthony Duclair and fired a shot from the right circle.

Skinner got his second of the night and 24th of the season about two minutes later to give his team some breathing room again with a tough-angle shot from the goal line to beat Bobrovsky.

NOTES: For the first time this season, the Panthers had Duclair in their lineup. He had been out since having Achilles tendon surgery in July. . With Barkov and Bennett out, Florida recalled Grigori Denisenko and Zac Dalpe from its AHL team in Charlotte. Denisenko had been sent to Charlotte on Wednesday to help clear cap space for Duclair. . Florida goalie Spencer Knight will be away from the team for an undetermined amount of time after entering the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. . The Panthers also placed Givani Smith on long-term injured reserve after he was struck in the face by a puck Monday against Anaheim. . The Sabres made Rasmus Asplund, Jacob Bryson and Eric Comrie healthy scratches.


Sabres: Host the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon.

Panthers: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.