After Halloween game, November schedule is looking awfully scary for Sabres

The Sabres will spend Halloween on Monday night chasing ghosts of last season when they host the Detroit Red Wings, a team that beat them in all four meetings last season with three of the games going to overtime.

October has gone well thus far, with plenty of glimpses of how March and April went and the emergence of Rasmus Dahlin as a legitimate Norris Trophy-level defenseman. But we’ve seen this before, too: In their last four Octobers, the Sabres enter Monday with a 25-11-5 record. 

The real challenge is going to be November. And that’s been a massive problem in seasons past.

While November of 2018 featured the memorable 10-game winning streak that led to nothing, the Sabres combined to go just 9-25-7 in November of 2017, 2019 and 2021 (remember, there were no games in 2020). 

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And what’s coming up in November of 2022? Have you checked the Sabres’ schedule? They host Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then play an arduous back-to-back Friday in Carolina and Saturday in Tampa Bay.

The rest of the November home slate: Arizona, Vegas, Boston, Vancouver, St. Louis, New Jersey, Tampa Bay. On the road: Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Detroit.

And just for good measure, who is the opponent at home on Dec. 1? Defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

Down two and without three of their top six defensemen, the Sabres rallied to tie the score behind Tage Thompson’s pair of third-period goals and Victor Olofsson delivered the overtime winner for a 4-3 victory over Chicago.

We learned a few things about the Sabres in October. But there are no conclusions to be made until we see what happens in the next month.

“Definitely a tough part of the schedule coming up. We’ve got every other day until we play back to back on the road,” captain Kyle Okposo noted after Saturday’s spellbinding overtime victory over Chicago. “So we’ve got to hunker down and play some good hockey. I don’t think there’s any easy nights in this league. You look at what we did out West and we beat a couple of Cup contenders you could say (Edmonton and Calgary).

“Then we come home and lose to Montreal and have a tough game against Chicago. So if you’re not on your game in this league, you’re going to lose. There are good teams that we’re facing coming up, so we’ve got to be ready for the challenge and it’s going to be a fun grind next week for sure.”

“There are a lot of top teams coming up. but let’s not discredit the teams we just played either because it’s the NHL,” said coach Don Granato. “You’re not ready to play, you’re going to have a tough night. So I think we’re well prepared in that regard from the teams we played that they will come at you. Our biggest challenge right now is we have a very young defense.”

The Sabres have been using a roster of 14 forwards and seven defensemen and you wonder if they’re going to switch that to 13-8. They put center Riley Sheahan, who has yet to play in a game, on waivers Sunday and you wonder if another move on defense is imminent. 

“I think we’re at the point now where we’re pretty confident in our game and feel like we can go into any game and compete and win. It’s been a pleasant start for us for sure,” Kane said.

Mattias Samuelsson is out for several weeks and the Sabres are hoping Henri Jokiharju can resume skating as soon as late this week. Ilya Lyubushkin, who has been nursing an injury, couldn’t answer the bell for Saturday’s game after taking the morning skate and didn’t play. If he’s out for any length of time, that’s half of your front line defense down.

“When you had Sammy, Joki and Ilya in there, you don’t have to do a lot of teaching in between games, you don’t have to do a lot of coaching in between games,” Granato said after the Chicago win. “They’re a little bit on autopilot. Now with five younger defensemen in there, it’s a lot in between games. We’ll take this video and it’s extremely important. There’s a lot of things that we can pull from that, that we just have to get better at.”

The Sabres were not nearly hard enough on the puck in their own end at times vs. Chicago and risk getting crunched in their own end the next two weeks against the Penguins, Hurricanes, Lightning, Golden Knights and Bruins. It seems as if the status of Jokiharju and Lyubushkin will determine if General Manager Kevyn Adams has to seek outside help or will simply look within. Given the schedule ahead, the Sabres aren’t going to survive this month if all three of their injured defensemen end up with long-term ailments.

“By virtue of our age going into the third period, we need these situations to help our guys advance and learn,” Granato said. “Finding a way to win this is great today and finding a way to win is what we need to learn how to do. So a good night there, and we need to definitely progress on the back end because there’s a lot of unfamiliar guys.”

Challenge was the right idea

No one has any idea what goalie interference is anymore. When Granato challenged the Blackhawks’ first goal Saturday night, he had to be close to certain it was getting called back because you’re not going to give up a goal – and go short-handed for delay of game on an iffy challenge. Andreas Athanasiou chased a loose puck into the crease and seemed OK in doing so but clearly pushed Anderson’s glove out of the way with his stick in a move that impeded the goalie’s ability to make a save. It was hard to believe how that goal was allowed to stand.

“We can’t not challenge,” Granato explained. “We want guys to play aggressive, play assertive. As a coach, you can’t stand there and not protect your goalie and not challenge. We felt there was enough there and you leave it up to to the guys who do it every day and you live with the decision.”

The NHL War Room got Chicago’s offside challenge right in the first period, ruling Casey Mittelstadt was in the zone just before the puck. Fifteen seconds later, Victor Olofsson scored. Still say there should be a time limit. If you can’t possess the puck in, say, 10 seconds after an offside, you’re out of luck. One other quibble on that play was no replay was ever showed to fans on the arena TinkerToy, er, Jumbotron. Memo to Sabres: The paying customers can’t have an inferior experience to folks sitting on their couches.

Sabres Blackhawks Hockey

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Craig Anderson cannot stop a Chicago Blackhawks puck as Andreas Athanasiou is in the crease during the first period at the KeyBank Center on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Pens flamed out on same Western trip

Social media lost its mind when the Sabres dared to lose in Seattle on Tuesday on the final game of a four-game road trip when they had already won in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Buffalo fans who continue to confuse an 82-game hockey season with a 17-game NFL season can use this for perspective: The Penguins went 0-4 on the same trip, scoring just six goals in the four games and one apiece in Calgary, Vancouver and Seattle.

The Flying Crosbys might be in a very ornery mood here Wednesday if their home game Tuesday night against Boston goes badly. Speaking of the Bruins, old friend Linus Ullmark has started 6-0, 1.70/.945 in the Boston net, making new coach Jim Montgomery look awfully smart so far.

• When stats lie: The play by play of Saturday’s game said Mittelstadt lost the opening faceoff of overtime to Jason Dickinson and I guess that’s because the Chicago player drew the puck slightly behind him. But Dahlin immediately grabbed it with no Hawk nearby and Chicago never got it back, with the Sabres winning on Olofsson’s goal. That’s a major faceoff win in reality, no matter what the stat sheet says.

• According to the NHL, Dahlin (No. 1 in 2018) and Owen Power (No. 1 in 2021) are just the second pair of defensemen taken with the top spot in the draft to play together. The first came in 1992-93, when Rob Ramage (No. 1 overall in 1979) and Roman Hamrlik (No. 1 overall in 1992) played 50 games together with the expansion-year Tampa Bay Lightning.

• A part of the schedule I hate is the fact the Sabres and Toronto play only three times this year, just once in Buffalo. Same for Calgary and Edmonton: Saturday’s meeting was already their second and they don’t play at all after Dec. 27. The Rangers and Islanders also are only meeting three times and none after the New Year. Terrible.

Seems like a simple solution here. The league should make protected rivalries within divisions that never play three times and always play four.

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