We are already just days away from Halloween – if you can believe it. The Buffalo Sabres have completed the October portion of their season schedule, which gives us a minute to take a look back at what has happened.
Boy, what a strange trip it has been so far.
We can start with..oh hello Jason Pominville, point-per-game player.
Wait, what did you just say?
Indeed, Pominville has an improbable 12 points in 12 October games (six goals, six assists). Now, he sees himself sitting at a gaudy 23.1 shooting percentage but don’t try to take this away from us. The return of the Population has been nothing short of incredible.
Pominville’s linemates Evander Kane and Jack Eichel also sit at point-per-game status through October, although it appears their statuses might be a little more sustainable.
Kane (six goals, six assists) currently has a 10.0 shooting percentage, just one percent higher than his career average. As for Eichel (four goals, eight assists), his 12.5 shooting percentage is just a tick higher than his 10.0 career average but it does appear to be sustainable.
Speaking of goal scoring, here is where we dive head first into the downright ugly.
Buffalo has scored 29 goals in the month of October – which comfortably puts them in the bottom-half of the league. Of those 29 goals, 16 have been scored by three players who have seen most of their time on the same line.
While Kane/Eichel/Pominville have had much success this month, the rest of the team is just hanging on for the ride.
Again, Buffalo struggles to get any point production from their blueline. While I can try to blame Matt Tennyson (#BenchTennyson), the issue appears to be a little more than that.
Among the combine defensemen (Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, Victor Antipin, Tennyson, Josh Gorges and Zach Redmond), Buffalo has a whopping 11 points (zero goals, 11 assists) in 70 combined games played on the backend.
Expect the defense to get a little better as they continue to search for their fit in Housley’s defensive scheme. We’ve seen big improvements from Marco Scandella over the last handful of games, which tells us that not all hope is lost with this group.
Offense has been a difficult nut to crack for Buffalo this month – in 8 of 12 games this month, Buffalo has scored two goals or less.
Whether it is the noted issues with learning Phil Housley’s new system or just downright offensive ineptitude, Buffalo is still struggling to find their identity.
November will prove to be a month that will help determine how the remainder of the season will go for Buffalo. The team plays 13 games in the month, including a stretch on Thanksgiving week that sees Buffalo playing three times at the Keybank Center in five days, four times in six days overall.
Down on the farm, things are not completely terrible despite the seeming lack of warm, capable bodies in Rochester.
While he isn’t considered by many to be a prospect at the age of 25, Kyle Criscuolo is showing Buffalo that he might be worthy of a look in a lineup devoid of depth scoring. Criscuolo has six points (three goals, three assists) through eight games and has often looked like the best player on the ice. Being on a two-way contract certainly also helps his cause.
Looking down the roster, a few other names jump off the sheet. C.J. Smith continues to pick up where he left off last season. After making his NHL debut following a very good season at U-Mass Lowell, Smith figured to play into the overall picture somewhere. With the insistence of prospects seeing more time in the American Hockey League, Smith appears to have taken that in stride.
Through eight games, Smith has six points (two goals, four assists). Like Criscuolo, Smith has often looked like a difference maker on the ice. With speed and his apparent on-ice smarts, Smith has even more so become a prospect to watch in the coming months.
We are keeping eyes on prospect Nicholas Baptiste as well, if nothing more than to see if he can equal last season’s successes of 25 goals in 59 games. Out of the gate this year, Baptiste was almost invisible on the ice. If you hadn’t seen his name on the scoresheet, you might not have realized he was there.
As of late though, Baptiste has picked his game up in a big way.
In his last three games, Baptiste has amassed five points (three goals, two assists) and has started looking like himself again. With the Americans playing 12 games in the month of November, a strong start to the month might lead to more opportunities elsewhere for Baptiste.
Rochester (4-4-0-0) finds themselves in fifth place in the North Division with eight points in eight games.
Buffalo (3-7-2, eight points) sits six points out of an Atlantic Division playoff position and four points out of a wild card position at the time of writing. It is indeed way too early to talk playoff positioning but a little perspective for the conversation is always welcome.
Not all is doom-and-gloom in Buffalo or Rochester. The season is young and despite the optimism being drained from many fans early, there is still enough hockey to be played where things can absolutely change.
What are your thoughts on Buffalo’s season so far?
Through October, the Sabres season has been..
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