Buffalo Sabres’ determined not to repeat last season’s collapse

Heading into the last week of October the Buffalo Sabres were surprisingly sitting atop the Atlantic Division and tied for the Eastern Conference lead with the Washington Capitals. The Sabres were 9-2-1 for 19 points with 41 goals scored and 30 allowed. However, fans aren’t celebrating their good fortune too much since the club put together a franchise-record 10-game winning streak early last season before falling flat on its face.

The Sabres’ power-play success is definitely one of the reasons they’re off to a red-hot start at is was ranked fourth in the league at 28.9 per cent while their penalty-killing was 14th at 81.1 per cent. They have also been scoring at a pace of 3.42 goals per game while giving up 2.50 per night. Goaltender Linus Ullmark was ranked fourth in the league with a 93.1 save percentage and had a 2.56 goals-against average while fellow netminder Carter Hutton was 10th-best in GAA at 2.27 with a 92.0 save percentage as their platoon system was working well.

After the Sabres posted their 10-game winning streak last year they more or less collapsed and failed to reach the postseason. Head coach Phil Housley was sacrificed and Ralph Krueger was brought in as the team’s new bench boss. Krueger must be doing something right early in 2019/20 as his squad has been in fine form since the puck dropped . Twenty-two-year-old centre Jack Eichel has been leading the way offensively with six goals and 10 assists in the first 12 outings but the team has been getting consistent scoring from several other players.

Second-year blue liner Rasmus Dahlin, who was named one of the three finalists for the rookie-of-the-year-award last season, had contributed a goal and 10 points while forwards Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson also had 10 points. In addition, Jeff Skinner and Marcus Johansson each had eight points while Casey Mittelstadt had seven. Eichel, Olofsson and Dahlin have also proven to be key power-play contributors as Eichel and Olofsson had eight points each with the man advantage while Dahlin had seven. In fact, the 24-year-old Olofsson of Sweden set a new NHL record earlier this season when he scored his seventh-consecutive power-play goal in the league.

Olofsson became the first NHL’er to score the first seven goals of his career all with the man advantage. His streak actually began last year when he was called up for six games by the Sabres and notched a pair of power-play markers. The rookie winger then set the new record by scoring his first five goals this season on the power-play as well. The previous record of six power-play goals to start an NHL career was held by the Winnipeg Jets’ Craig Norwich (1979/80), The Hartford Whalers’ Sylvain Turgeon (1983/84) and the New York Islanders’ Jeff Norton (1987/88).

Olofsson has done well to make it to the NHL considering he wasn’t drafted until the seventh round with the 181st pick in 2014. He stayed at home in Sweden until last season when he skated with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and impressed with 30 goals and 63 points in 66 games before the Sabres called him up for six contests. Olofsson made the team out of training camp this year and should give the Sabres’ offence a big boost.

If there has been a disappointment in Buffalo so far this season it would have to be 26-year-old forward Jimmy Vesey with just two assists after 11 outings while registering just 13 shots on goal. Vesey is a former Hobey Baker Award winner as the best collegiate player in America and had posted 50 goals and 90 points in his first 240 NHL appearances with the New York Rangers. The Sabres traded for him this summer for a 2021 third-round draft pick. Vesey was recently injured though and missed Buffalo’s 2-0 win over Detroit on October 25th, so may come back and pick up his game.

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