Final Score: 3-2 (SO) Sabres
The GLO Line has been far and away the best 5v5 line the Sabres have put out this season. This may have taken a lot of people by surprise, but when Girgensons and Larsson were paired with Berglund for a short time last season, they were one of the best lines on the Sabres in terms of xGF%. But the GLO line has been on a different level this season being on the ice for 31 shots for and only 12 Shots against. They have an insane 72.3 CF% and an incredible 79.6 xGF%. Sure, it may be a very small sample size, but this line has had a positive impact on every game they have played this season.
So, what has changed? This trio was solid last season in their time together, but was not as dominant as they are this season. Zone starts typically are not a huge factor but when you face 80% defensive zone starts on the season, it will probably impact your offensive play a bit. The “4th line” is now down to 60% defensive zone starts due to deployment changes and simply being a better possession team. Also, just having consistent linemates helps as Phil Housley simply used the “4th line” as a dumping ground for misfit players last season.
This trio just complements each other extremely well, like a finely crafted charcuterie board. Larsson brings hockey IQ and a “bulldog” mentality. Girgensons brings speed and energy with a nose for the net. Okposo may not be the same player physically, but he is still has fantastic hockey IQ and skill which pairs perfectly with speedy, aggressive linemates.
Linus Ullmark had a fantastic night in net for the Buffalo Sabres, stopping 41 of 43 shots and both shootout attempts to secure the W. Goaltending has typically been a liability for the Sabres for the past couple of seasons, but it was certainly an asset last night. He stopped a good amount a shots that had chances at being goals and his glove save on Mike Hoffman was the #8 play on the SportsCenter Top 10 this morning. This is a major “prove-it” year for a 26 year-old Ullmark who signed a 1-year deal this offseason. He struggled last season, but his first two starts this season look promising.
The Scandella-Jokiharju pairing had yet another impressive showing last night. Scandella has really cut down on the bad mistakes he used to make on the ice and has surprisingly become a positive impact player again. Adding a goal last night was just a cherry on top. Jokiharju has also been impressive, especially when you consider that he just turned 20 this past June. His stretch pass to Mittelstadt that led to a breakaway is what dreams are made out of.
The 3rd period was absolutely brutal for the Buffalo Sabres. It was painful to watch as the Sabres 2-0 lead slowly fizzled away. It seemed as if the Sabres could never possess the puck for more than a few seconds and this led to them constantly getting pinned inside of their own zone. The Sabres only had a 26.1 CF% and a 23 xGF% in the final period of play which is absolutely unacceptable. It turned what would have been a good win into a “we got lucky” win.
The shortening of the bench in the 3rd period is definitely something that I will never understand. Sure, it may make sense with a few minutes left. But for the majority of the 3rd period? It is a tactic that has not worked for the Sabres this season, yet Krueger continues to turn to it.
Rodrigues only saw one shift in the 3rd period, Mittelstadt saw two shifts, and Olofsson saw three. Dahlin may have had a rough night, but your young stud defenseman should be getting more than 4:03 TOI in the 3rd period. Shortening your bench with 14 minutes left in the 3rd period is a great way to tire out your players and let the other team back into the game.
Vladimir Sobotka is just not a fit on the 2nd line. When you have one of the best 5v5 scorers in the league in Skinner, a solid playmaker in Johansson, then you do not throw a player like Sobotka in that final forward spot. He may do some of the things that “classic” hockey guys like such as hitting and driving to the net, but he is a black hole on offense. There are just two many times where he magically turns what could be a high-scoring play into absolutely nothing and we saw plenty of examples of that in this Florida game.
Attendance is something you never usually have to worry about with the Buffalo Sabres, but 15,638 fans for a Friday night game in the beginning of the season is pretty rough. Buffalo begins the season at the bottom of the barrel in terms of attendance % with the likes of Arizona, Columbus, Florida, Carolina, and Ottawa. The Sabres drew more fans during the tank years, but the Sabres are actually good this year and have fun players to watch. It’s been nearly a decade since the team has been this promising, let’s fill up the KeyBank Center!
- The Buffalo Sabres are off to their best start since 2009-10, when they also started off 4-0-1
- Wins do not come easy against the Panthers: Sabres were 1-6-1 against them the past two seasons
- Kyle Okposo, Johan Larsson, and Zemgus Girgensons are all top 14 in the NHL in terms of xGF% through their first 5 games
Questions Moving Forward:
- Will Ralph Krueger continue to shorten the bench going forward?
- Can the GLO line keep up their high level of play?
- Will the Sabres finally get consistent goaltending this season?
Not really sure how to feel about this game for the Sabres. It is obviously great for the team that they were able to walk away with the win, albeit in a shootout, but I walk away from this game with a lot of questions moving forward. The 3rd period was absolutely horrendous and it was painful to watch the Panthers come back into the game against a lifeless Sabres team. It was a fairly even match up until the final 14 minutes of the 3rd period which coincides with when the Sabres began to shorten their bench.
In the end, the Sabres are 4-0-1 and are off to their best start this decade. Ralph Krueger may do some things that the fans disagree with, but the positives have outweighed the negatives so far and the team is finally getting results.
Statistics via Natural StatTrick