That road trip seemed to be an important step for this team. They left for the road trip just after beating the Bruins at home, which was a physical, emotional game (remember, this was the game where Roman Josi was knocked out and sent to the IR). The Preds needed to hoist themselves up and find a way to churn out some wins without their top two defensemen, without their leading scorer, and without some other key players. They did that.
So now they have to keep doing it.
The Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are not having a very good year, but this is to be expected. The good news is that in the long run, this team has the potential to be very good. But right now, while still technically rebuilding, things are not very good.
They sit in 7th place in the Atlantic Division, tied with Tampa (ouch, Tampa) at 47 points. They have a pretty abysmal road record and aren’t much better at home. The Sabres are the 25th worst team in the league at scoring, getting only 2.37 goals per game. Their defense isn’t half bad, coming in at 15th in the league, allowing 2.67 goals per game. The key to the Sabres is to just continue to grow their young talent and hope to stock up on more young talent before the season is over.
Kyle Okposo leads the Sabres with 30 points, which is not that suprising. Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sam Reinhart are both the present and future of the Sabres. Eichel, who missed 21 games due to a high ankle sprain (boy, that could have been a LOT worse), is clocking in at 0.76 points per game and shooting 9.7%. While that might not sound like much, the dude is still only 20 years old. O’Reilly, on the other hand, is maybe under-performing on the goal scoring side of things, but is still funneling most of the offense. The real key has been Reinhart, who has 29 points (10g, 19a) in what has been a great follow up to his rookie campaign.
On defense, the Sabres have already gotten a lot of value out of Rasmus Ristolainen’s $5.4 million salary. He leads the Buffalo blueline with 28 points, 25 of which are assists. His real value is dishing out helpers on the power play. He leads all defensemen in assists on the power play with 16. Better than Erik Karlsson, Shayne Gostisbehere, Duncan Keith, Brent Burns, etc... pretty impressive.
The key to the Sabres defense has been their goaltending. Both Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson have seen action, with Lehner getting the bulk of the starts. Honestly, there’s not much of a difference between these guys. Both are Swedish, both have similar save percentage numbers, both are in their mid 20s, both are over 6’4”, and both are pending RFAs. It’s like the Buffalo Sabres are holding an 82 game long tryout to see who their long term goalie is going to be. My money is on Lehner.
The Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg is playing great and it could not have come at a better time.
A mere 17 games ago, with the Predators suffering another disappointing loss at home, this time to the New York Rangers, Forsberg just wasn’t producing the numbers we were expecting. He had 17 points, including only 3 goals, in his first 30 games. He was shooting 3.8%. Most importantly, he looked super sad and stuff.
But boy has he turned it on, especially in the goal scoring department. Over his last 17 games, he has 11 goals and 3 assists, nearly doubling his season point total in about half as many games. His shooting percentage is up to 11.5%. He also looks super happy:
The Predators, in that span, have gone 10-5-2. They’ve not only climbed back into the playoff race, they are now in sole possession of 3rd place in the Central. Granted, the Blues are only 2 points behind, but the whole demeanor of the team seems to be different. Confidence is high and players look a lot more comfortable out there.
There’s a lot to be said for guys like Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal and the boost they give this team offensively, but I think its clear that Filip Forsberg is the player that transforms this team into a playoff bubble team to a real contender. He just does so many things well.
Reasons To Watch
- The goalies, man. Here are Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros’ stats over their last five games: Rinne is 4-1-0 with a .943 save percentage, while Saros is 4-1-0 with a .956 save percentage. Wow. With those guys playing so well, the Preds are tough to beat.
- P.K. Subban has had a relatively quiet return to the ice. Against the Oilers and Wild he combined for 4 shots on goal and +3 rating. I expect his return to home ice will be fun to watch, though. Maybe even a goal?
- There is literally nothing more entertaining than Viktor Arvidsson. Watch because of him. Always.
This song was really more appropriate for Preds fans maybe after the Rangers loss I mentioned early. But incidentally, it works for Sabres fans just the same...
The Important Details
7:00 PM puck drop. TV: FS-TN, Radio: 102.5 The Game