Here’s a thought: maybe the Buffalo Sabres’ issue this season has been effort, not a lack of talent. Their past two games certainly suggest that at least. Two games may not be the biggest sample, but the evidence is still there.
The Sabres came to Calgary Monday on the heels of their most embarrassing defeat of the season, a 7-1 debacle against Dallas. Take it from a guy who was sitting in the eighth row for it, it was as bad as it sounds. The prospect of a quick bounce back was not likely against the Flames, a team that’s lived up to its name in every sense as of late, especially given Buffalo’s last victory in the Saddledome entering the game was in 2003. However, that’s exactly what happened.
The Sabres team that stepped on the ice in Calgary was not the same as the one that was booed off its own ice just two days prior. Phil Housley’s team stayed with the red-hot Flames bit-for-bit, a perfect microcosm being Scott Wilson scoring to tie it just 24 seconds after Matthew Tkachuk gave the Flames the lead.
Anchoring the shockingly impressive effort was ex-Flame Chad Johnson, who didn’t flinch against a Calgary offense that has seared as of late. It was the first time this season that the backup netminder has looked like the guy that carried the Sabres two seasons ago, and it came at a very opportune time.
The Sabres were rewarded in overtime when Jack Eichel launched a missile through Mike Smith to win it. Buffalo played with heart and hustle the entire game, something we have not seen often this year. As a result, they took down a team that has not lost a game in regulation yet in 2018, a small feat by no means.
Though a feel good win, fans were expecting the real Sabres to return on Tuesday against an Edmonton team coming off two day’s rest and three straight victories. However, that’s exactly what didn’t happen.
Riding the momentum from the previous night, Buffalo skated hard and checked hard all game once again, but this time the results were more impressive. Robin Lehner and co. blanked Connor McDavid and the Oilers 5-0, something not many teams have been able to brag. Ryan O’Reilly scored twice, Sam Reinhart added another plus two assists, and the torrid Eichel was involved in all but one of Buffalo’s goals, scoring one and adding three helpers. Lehner stopped all 33 Edmonton shots for his second zero of the season.
For the second straight game, Buffalo looked like a completely different team because they skated with a purpose, a complete 180 from the lethargic group of slow-pokes that we’ve seen for a majority of the season. You can’t call the wins flukes either because both came against teams that are eons better than the Sabres and normally (one would think at least) would have had a breeze.They won because they hustled, it’s as simple as that.
Jack Eichel has been something else over the last month and a half, even for his own standards. He has 14 points (5+9) during his seven-game point streak and has 25 in his last 16. Considering how bad the Sabres have been for most of that stretch, that is nothing short of remarkable.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart are also showing encouraging signs. Risto has 12 points in his last 11 games while Reino has six in his last five. What’s also a good sign from Sam is seeing him creating screens in front of the net again, something he has strayed from this season. It’s one of his biggest strengths and the Sabres score more often than not when he does. He needs to keep at it. ROR and Kyle Okposo are also heating up, giving the team desperately needed secondary scoring.
It could be small steps toward improvement, or just another one-hit wonder. Either way, the past two games have given Sabres fans a rare reason to smile. The playoffs are clearly lost on this team and at this point in the year, improvement is all that matters.
See what happens when you hustle?