Thoughts From the Bench Offices, December 5th, 2018

The growing NHL season has been full of surprises. Once iconic playoff teams falling on hard times as a new batch of emerging young stars lead their teams into prevalence. One such story are the Sabres of Buffalo.

Lead by Jack Eichel, this team has been in the process of a re-build since 2014. When the team traded away all of its assets in an attempt to bomb for a chance at the Connor McDavid Lottery. Their efforts proved fruitful getting the second overall draft pick, which kept them from selecting McDavid, but still giving them the second generational player in that draft class Jack Eichel.

Since then a combination of Tim Murray and Jason Botterill have gone about piecing together a team of young stars to drag this once proud hockey franchise back to its glory days.

Drafting accessory pieces like Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart, as well as trading for assets like Jeff Skinner. The Sabres have generated a team that stands third in the stacked Atlantic Division with a record of 17-8-4 playing just shy of thirty games.

So the question must be asked, are the Buffalo Sabres The Real F*ckin Deal?

To this point in the seasons they have strung together a ten game win streak, and have been beating the cream of the crop. Defeating the Lightning, Wild, Jets, and Penguins all in that stretch. So when I noticed a pair of games against the Central leading Nashville Predators and Atlantic leading Toronto Leafs I took notice of the measuring stick against two potential cup favorites.

So how did they fair?

Monday nights game was set in Nashville and the Sabres skated to a 2 to 1 loss. However it’s the fashion in which the lost the game that intrigued me. Carter Hutton was in goal to face the western conference foe. The Sabres gave up a power play goal to start the scoring. Then it was the Jeff Skinner show. The lone Buffalo goal was a complete creation of Skinner’s effort. He wasn’t credited with a point but his original shot on net leads to chaos in front. Then off the Sam Reinhart shot Skinner’s pressure on the back door trigger Roman Josi to accidentally swipe the puck into his own net.

He would take over the game from there generating 22 shot attempts and playing roughly 23 minutes of ice time.

In the final minute of the game the Sabres came close twice to tying the game but some bad puck luck preserved the Predators advantage.

All and all I’m sure the Sabres would have preferred a win or at least an OT loss, but the effort was there and the game was well within reach.

The next night the scene switched to the friendly confines of the KeyBank Center in Buffalo. The high octane Leafs were in town,and this game did not disappoint. The stars for the Leafs were in full form. Auston Matthews finished with three points, and five shots. Including a jaw dropping goal in which he grabbed a puck out of the air, behind the Sabres net, and scored on a back handed wrap around… Can’t make this shit up, Captain America is definitely the RFD. He also scored the overtime winner with 4 seconds left in overtime.

Not to be out done by his American comrade, Eichel scored two goals and had eight shots. At one point Eichel walked down broadway shifting his way through Leafs defenders rifling off a shot to give the Sabres a late lead.

The positive takeaways from this game were they came back to take the lead against the Leafs and forced overtime, snatching a point from the division leaders in a tight title race.

The Buffalo Sabres are not a team where the individual parts are more than the sum of the whole. The success of teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, and Colorado Avalanche have introduced a new team structure. This team structure seems to be working, have one top line that generates most of your offense. Behind that top line is a supporting cast of players who are good enough to maintain leads, or keep teams in games.

It’s a counter to the team structure of old that the Penguins, Hawks, Kings, Sharks and Leafs use. The idea of loading a team with stars and just over powering opponents is becoming a thing of the past. Teams like the Sabres are proving that small market team with a smaller checkbook can compete in the NHL. It’s creating a parody in this league that makes the game exciting and fresh. Pair that with the explosion of goals this season the, and the NHL has become one of the most entertaining sports on TV.

As for the wether or not the Buffalo Sabres are the Real F*ckin Deal? Time will tell, but I have a hunch with a little luck this team is playoff bound, and possibly instore to make a deep run into Lord Stanley’s Playoff Gauntlet.

So until next time remember, always keep your stick on the ice. – Johnny V –

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Written by Johnny Violence

The lead NHL/Hockey writer for Thoughts From The Bench.

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