Last nights game against the New York Islanders was just the latest installment of an offensive downtrend for the Buffalo Sabres. After scoring just four goals in the past three games something has to give, but what exactly?
For most of the season the offense has been carried by Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. Eichel left last nights game in the first period and it is unclear how long he will be out. The Sabres aren’t built to withstand losing Eichel for any period of time frankly, and getting him back in the lineup will be key.
There are a few scenarios that could increase scoring whether it be from an internal standpoint or looking elsewhere for help.
Move Sam Reinhart back to center and Casey Mittelstadt to the wing
Mittelstadt has certainly shown some promise this season as a potential franchise cornerstone in the future for Buffalo, but at times he looks lost. Mittelstadt is still learning the pro game and moving him to the wing would allow him to be more creative offensively.
Reinhart has been having a quietly strong season with 38 points in 40 games. Moving him back to center and pairing him with Mittelstadt could give the Sabres a second line that can consistently score, something they have lacked for most of the season.
Rounding out these two lines would be Jason Pominville and Conor Sheary. Pominville showed he was more than capable of playing with Eichel and Skinner, and Sheary would add more speed to an already fast pair in Mittelstadt and Reinhart.
Make Lawrence Pilut a blue line staple
Oustide of Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres lack defensemen who are capable of creating offensively and can consistently make the first pass out of the defensive zone.
Enter Lawrence Pilut. In his short stint with Buffalo and Rochester, Pilut has shown he is capable of both carrying the puck up the ice and making effective breakout passes to get the offense moving the other way. Pilut has been scratched the past two games but putting him back in the lineup could be a jump start to the defense and a needed boost to the offense.
As an added bonus, Pilut can be placed on the second powerplay unit. Pilut would be an upgrade over Nathan Beaulieu on the Sabres second powerplay unit.
Explore trade options
The belief around the Sabres organization right now is that General Manager Jason Botterill is going to stand pat for the foreseeable future and let things play out. However, if the team continues to slip and eventually falls out of playoff positioning by the All Star break, how can he sit idly by and watch?
Making a move doesn’t have to mortgage the future, and it could be exactly what this team needs to get back on track. In his column from earlier in the week, our own Jason Moser explores some potential trade targets for the Sabres.
Make another call up from Rochester
The injury to Eichel may force this particular option, but even if Eichel doesn’t miss time making another call up from Rochester could help the Sabres offense. C.J. Smith has already been called up and was a clear upgrade over Remi Elie last night against the Islanders.
Alex Nylander seems like the most likely candidate. Sabres fans have been waiting for the former first round pick to make an impact at the NHL level and this could be the opportunity for him to do it.
With an important stretch of games coming up before the All Star break, Buffalo needs to do something. The early cushion they had built is slowly being eaten away at and they could soon find themselves falling out of the playoff race. Exploring any of these options could be the answer to the Sabres returning to their early season form.