There’s no denying that last night didn’t go as planned for the Buffalo Sabres. It was sloppy, disappointing and showed concerning signs of the same type of hockey we watched for the most part last season.
There’s a variety of reasons you can point to as to why last night unfolded as it did. At the end of the day they looked like a hockey club that has not played a lot or at all together.
Well, turns out that’s actually the case.
The Sabres added eight new faces to the opening night lineup that were not on the roster to start last season. Conor Sheary, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, and Carter Hutton all played in their first season opener with the team yesterday. If you want it, Casey Nelson was another player who wasn’t on the roster to start last season.
That’s a lot of changeover (that was needed) to undergo in one offseason. Training camp and preseason is a good way to work out some of those kinks. Unfortunately, with injuries and lineup decisions that didn’t play out.
Sheary was hurt early in training camp and didn’t return to practice until Sunday of last week. Eichel, Skinner, Berglund, Dahlin played together in three of the seven games. Thompson played with that group twice and Sobotka only played with that same group together once.
As whole the closest we saw to an opening night roster came in the second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The schedule and injuries at the end of camp prevented a full “NHL roster” from getting on the ice together one more time prior to the start of the season.
We’re going to have to accept that in the first few weeks to a month of the season some of the play may look sloppy as these players look to gel and familiarize themselves with what their teammates like to do on the ice.
Head coach Phil Housley will need to continue to shuffle his lineup over the first few games of the season to see who fits best together. Not to mention he has another new player being added to the mix in Remi Elie.
After the poor play we’ve seen over the last few years, it’s understandable that fans will want to see immediate improvement and proof that their faith in this team isn’t going to be let down again.
It’ll probably happen, but it’s going to require some patience. Don’t forget Dahlin is an 18-year-old rookie, Mittelstadt is a 19-year-old rookie, and Tage Thompson is a 20-year-old second-year player who hasn’t played a full NHL season. Combine the new players and youth on the roster you’re likely going to see some mistakes and poor hockey at times to start the season.
While turning your roster over looks great on paper, it takes some time to translate to the ice. Remember in the summer of 2016 when the Florida Panthers added Keith Yandle, Mark Pysyk, Jonathan Marchessault, James Reimer, and Jason Demers in one offseason?
That team started out winning just eight of their first 20 games. They ended the season with 103 points and in the playoffs.
In the summer of 2017 the Arizona Coyotes added Clayton Keller, Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Annti Raanta, Nick Cousins, and Jason Demers to their team looking to improve the roster. That club started the season 0-11 and won two of their first 20 games. However, they rebounded over the next 62 games by earning points in 36 of those. They went 27-26-9 after the poor start, which is roughly an 82-point pace over 82 games.
Of course, you can throw the Vegas Golden Knights into this discussion who threw together a team of players from all over the league and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’ll chalk that situation up as an anomaly in the data with almost their entire roster having career-highs in production.
The overall point here is while it’s not ideal, there’s going to be some rough patches over the next few weeks. It doesn’t mean they have to get off to a 2-8-2 start in their first 10 games, but we may see one or two more games like we saw last night over the first month of the season.
Hopefully we start to see the talent on paper show up on the ice and we don’t have to sit through another season of miserable hockey.