10 thoughts after 10 games

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We are 10 games into the season and the Buffalo Sabres are off to a 6-4 start. They’ve been playing much better of late as they are riding a small three-game winning streak.

1. So far, most of the new additions that Jason Botterill brought in during the offseason are looking like good finds. Jeff Skinner looks great on Jack Eichel’s wing and leads the team in goals. Conor Sheary has been productive on the power play, Rasmus Dahlin has looked good, and Carter Hutton has been solid in net.

2. Tage Thompson should be in Rochester. He’d at least get to play instead of being a healthy scratch. He looked great in the preseason and it is understandable why he made the opening roster, but he has been non-existent so far this season. Thompson dressed for the first seven games this year, but did not show up on the scoresheet in any game. Thompson will be 21 next week and should go to Rochester for a little bit to refine his game. He has the talent, but it doesn’t look like he is quite ready for the NHL yet.

3. On the flip side of Thompson, Victor Olofsson deserves a shot at the NHL. He has been tearing it up so far this year in Rochester, scoring five goals and nine assists in his first eight games. He doesn’t have as much NHL experience as Thompson, but the 23-year-old has played professionally in the Swedish Elite League for the last five seasons. Last year, he lead the league in scoring with 43 points in 50 games as a teammate of Dahlin’s for Frolunda HC. Again, it is still early in the season, but given what Olofsson has shown so far, it’s worth giving him a look.

4. Skinner and Eichel belong on the same line. Their individual styles of play complement each other very well. They are both great at possessing the puck and have top-level speed. Eichel’s playmaking ability goes great with Skinner’s shooting mentality, and there is no reason to think that Skinner can’t score over 30 goals on Eichel’s wing this season.

5. Even though Carter Hutton has looked good so far this season, Linus Ullmark deserves more playing time. Ullmark is the future starting goaltender and he has looked great in his first two starts of the season, putting up a 2-0 record with a .982 save percentage and giving up only one goal. 

6. Rasmus Dahlin is playing better than what the stat sheet says about him. He may only have one goal and three assists so far, but he has looked good defensively. All the hype coming in to the draft was centered on Dahlin’s offense, which he has flashed at points, but it looks like he is getting used to the NHL game and the smaller ice surface. I would expect that he starts jumping up into plays a little more frequently as the season moves forward, which may be why he is currently paired with Casey Nelson. Nelson isn’t necessarily an offensive minded defenseman and won’t jump up in the zone too often. Earlier in the year, Dahlin was matched with McCabe, who likes to jump up, and that may have made Dahlin hesitant to leave the blue line unattended. For anyone who may be worried about his lack of numbers right now, he is only 18 years old and we are only 10 games into the season. The goals will come.

7. Zach Bogosian has been a wrecking ball on the ice since he returned from injury. In five games, he has one goal, one assist, 15 blocked shots, 11 hits, and three fights. He brings a toughness that was missing from this team the first few games. He is a key member of the defense and the Sabres need him to stay healthy.

8. Both of the special teams units need to improve. Through 10 games, the Sabres have scored on eight of 36 power play attempts and they have successfully killed off 24 of 32 penalties. They are right around the league average for both, but if they have postseason aspirations, they need to be better than average. 

9. One of the more noticeable offensive stats for the Sabres compared to last year, is the goal scoring of their defensemen. Last season, Sabres defensemen scored a total of 19 goals. Through the first 10 games this season, Sabres defensemen have already scored six goals. It seems like they are finally playing how Housley had Nashville’s defense playing when he was an assistant a few years ago. 

10. For the first time in recent memory, the Sabres look like a competent NHL-caliber hockey team. This couldn’t be said since the Lindy Ruff era, which ended early in the 2012-13 season. It seems like they finally have a solid leadership group with Eichel, Bogosian, and Okposo. They aren’t getting down on themselves when they give up a tying goal or fall behind early. They are playing with a confidence that has been missing for years and it has made them a better team.

I picked this team to make the playoffs before the season started and through ten games I am still confident in my pick. They still have a lot of work to do and areas that need to get better, but as long as they keep playing like they have, especially like the last three games, the Sabres should make the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.

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