The Sabres have played just five games so far, but have an honorable record of 3-2. They are in the middle of a crucial road trip that can go a long way to spring-boarding their season or torpedoing it. Here are some thoughts thus far:
Finally, Finally, Finally.
After years of saying it, this team looks improved and better from top to bottom. It feels like we have been saying the same things for the last three seasons, only to be disappointed. This year’s team is noticeably improved at forward, where they are creating a good amount of scoring chances and play an entertaining style of hockey. The goal-tending is far more stable. Robin Lehner had good numbers, but seemed to always to let in bad goals at the worst moments. Carter Hutton has done a good job just bringing some stability and Linus Ullmark’s shutout against the Coyotes was a great first game. The defense is a work in progress and at times the Sabres get stuck in their end a bit too long, but the outlet passes and work to jump in rushes really is improved.
It was a pretty stark fact that the Sabres being 2-1 after three games was the furthest the team has been over .500 in years. That said, it’s encouraging to see they have seemed to built a little momentum and are not 1-4 or 0-5 like in years past.
Jack Eichel looks like the leader he has spoke of wanting to be and his play has reflected that. In the games against the New York Rangers and Vegas Golden Knights, Eichel played like a guy who wanted the responsibility of carrying the team. Whether it’s just another year of growth maturity-wise or perhaps finally having some skilled help beside him at wing, Eichel seems far more comfortable as the focal point of the roster.
Tage Thompson forced his way onto the roster after a fantastic preseason. The first two games he certainly looked lost like a player finding his way and was limited in ice time. But in the last three games, Thompson has seen the ice more, and while he hasn’t scored, he has been shooting the puck more like the Sabres saw in preseason. Once Thompson gets his first goal, you may see him on the scoresheet more regularly as the pressure relents.
Casey Mittelstadt is another youngster who has started slowly compared to expectations. Mittelstadt though has been a nice help to the power play, which has looked much improved with quick passing and dominating puck possession. With Mittelstadt, it is just a matter of time until you see him scoring more and the additions of Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary have helped to properly shield from too much responsibility as he finds his way.
So far so good on the Western road trip with the Sabres 3-0 win over Arizona. If Buffalo can squeeze out a couple more victories, they will be in a nice position to stay over .500 and third in the Atlantic. The longer the Sabres are in a playoff position or right on the edge, the more confidence this young roster will build.
Speaking of confidence, the Toronto Maple Leafs look like the offensive monster many predicted with their torrid 5-1 start. The first Sabres-Maple Leafs game is not until December 4th, but even if Toronto slows down a little this should be a really exciting matchup.
Tuesday’s rematch with Vegas and Thursday’s tilt with the San Jose Sharks are two early tests for the Sabres to see where they stack.