The Buffalo Sabres have finished their first ten games of the 2016-2017 season. For some perspective, imagine a medium eight slice pizza. The Sabres are essentially only one slice into their pizza -- so there's a lot of cheesy comparisons left!
Goals scored: 23
Goals allowed: 24
Ryan O'Reilly - 8 (4G, 4A)
Kyle Okposo - 7 (4G, 3A)
Rasmus Ristolainen- 7 (0G, 7A)
MVP: Ryan O'Reilly
LVP: Derek Grant
Biggest surprise: Matt Moulson
Matt Moulson pic.twitter.com/vImXnjx13C
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) October 26, 2016
The Sabres love scoring goals in bunches. After a 4-1 loss to Montreal in the season opener, it looked like this season the Sabres were going to have yet again another goal scoring problem. Then, they responded with a six goal performance in their next game against the Oilers. Since, they haven't come close to another six goal game, and they might not for the rest of the season -- but with the injuries Buffalo suffered on offense I think they're scoring enough to win games. Okposo and Reinhart have picked up their play in Buffalo's last five games -- and will need to continue to produce or the Sabres could be in some serious trouble. Matt Moulson and Johan Larsson both have five points and have been pleasant surprises thus far.
Moulson will need to start scoring when the Sabres aren't on the power play, but he is playing so much better than he was early last season. Larsson along with Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta have picked up where they left off last year -- providing the Sabres with a very serviceable third line that can be on the ice regardless of the situation. The trio has arguably been the Sabres best line and if nothing else, has been Buffalo's most consistent.
Hey, looky there - the #Sabres scored when it really mattered. SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET THE PUCK TO THE NET? Larsson gives BUF 2-1 lead
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) November 2, 2016
It's hard to say that the defense has looked bad when you consider the Sabres have only allowed 24 goals, but they haven't looked great either. So far, they get a respectable grade with room for improvement.
Ristolainen has been flying all over the ice, but at times has been a little shaky in the Sabres end. Zach Bogosian will be out due to a knee sprain for 'weeks' according to head coach Dan Bylsma -- and that certainly doesn't help the Sabres, especially after a rough performance by Casey Nelson in his first game of the 2016-2017 season.
Ristolainen now has SEVEN assists #Sabres
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) October 29, 2016
Gorges has played exactly how you expected going into the season -- solid in his own end, but doesn't provide much offensively. Kulikov has looked like a quality top-four guy, I really like his game.
McCabe and Franson have taken a lot of heat as a pair but they've looked better during the Sabres last few games. McCabe has impressed me with his passing and has shown some nice physicality, but I'd like to see him jump in the rush more as the season continues. Franson has gotten some criticism, and while he does struggle in his own end, he has a knack for getting pucks through traffic on net.
When the season started it looked like goaltending once again was going to be a big question mark. Ten games in, it still very well could be. However, in the Sabres last five they've allowed only eight goals, and both Lehner and Nilsson seem to be finding a groove. Expect Lehner to get about seven starts in the Sabres next ten games, regardless of how he looks.
Rebound control has been his biggest bugaboo early on in this year's campaign, but during the last couple games that hasn't been as big of an issue. Both Lehner and Nilsson are streaky goalies -- but have the talent to keep the Sabres in every game and occasionally steal a win or two.
Overall Grade: B-
The first ten game stretch is surely a small sample size (only one piece of the pizza) but what the Sabres did in the first part of their schedule is what they need to continue to do. Realistically, if the Sabres can float around the .500 mark until their most talented player returns, then they'll at least be within striking distance of the playoffs. There's no denying the Sabres started the season flat -- but they bounced back under tough circumstances and deserve some credit for it.
Thursday, General Manager Tim Murray told WGR 550 that Evander Kane, who was hurt in the Sabres season opener, could possibly be back as early as next week. His return will certainly help the team -- but let's not kid ourselves: This is about survival until Jack Eichel is back on the ice and 100-percent. In that same interview, Murray said Eichel is progressing how the team expected -- but wouldn't provide a timetable for his potential return. Don't expect Eichel back in the lineup within the next ten games, but if all goes according to plan, *maybe* he'll be able to return sometime in December.
Six of the Sabres next ten games are at home, which may not be a good thing when you consider the Sabres are 1-3 at home so far this season. I do expect they'll start playing better at home and now would be the ideal time.