Hot or not
Just how good can the Buffalo Sabres be this season?
@ESPN_Burnside: Yes, the New York Rangers' 6-3 thumping of the red-hot St. Louis Blues -- the Rangers' seventh straight win -- was probably the marquee match on a busy Thursday night, but let's dig a little deeper and take a look at what's happening with the Buffalo Sabres. Led by netminder Linus Ullmark's 36-save effort, the Sabres edged the Florida Panthers by a 3-2 count, the third straight win for Buffalo and its fifth in the past six outings. Cody Franson, who signed late in the offseason, is starting to fit in after a bit of a rough start and scored the Sabres' second goal, while emerging young defensive star Rasmus Ristolainen had two assists. Over the course of this six-game stretch, the Sabres, so grisly in their own end the past couple of years, have allowed just 11 goals. And remember, this fine play is happening without starting netminder Robin Lehner (lost at the start of the season), Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane. Let's not start planning the parade, or even the playoff scenarios, but the Sabres have made significant headway in a short period under head coach Dan Bylsma.
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Scotty, when Lehner went down with an injury in the first game of the season, many expected Sabres GM Tim Murray to go out and find a goalie on the trade market, whether that was Ben Scrivens, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra or someone else. Instead, Murray felt Chad Johnson could fill in for a while until Ullmark was ready for a call-up from the AHL. They couldn't rush Ullmark because he was getting his first taste of North American hockey in those first few AHL starts, having played his entire career in Sweden. He was also coming off double hip surgery in the offseason. Ullmark has answered the bell since his call-up, just as Murray hoped he would, and that's yet another sign of a promising future for the Sabres.
@ESPNJoeMac: When Franson finally signed with the Sabres in September, he said he was thrilled with the opportunity to play in Buffalo because the organization is heading in the right direction. With such a talented young nucleus and new head coach in Bylsma, there was a lot to be excited about. The fans certainly believed that too, buying every ticket for the first preseason game. Franson has started to contribute, and the team is trending up after a 2-6-0 start. This team is young enough, talented enough and believes it is better than a basement-level club. Growing pains will still surface, but the Sabres are showing progress. Too bad the old Aud is gone.
@CraigCustance: The early success in Buffalo really makes you wonder how in the world Bylsma sat on the sidelines without a job for a year. There has to be a GM or two around the league kicking himself over that, because he's done a great job turning this thing around in short order with a pretty green roster. Their possession numbers have really jumped. The team was dead last in the NHL by a wide margin last year with a Corsi For percentage of 37.5 percent, which is ridiculous. The Sabres are over 50 percent now, putting them in the top half of the league. Pierre and I were talking about the Lightning the other day and looking up their scoring-chance data, and one of the things that jumped out to me was that Buffalo was No. 2 in the league in scoring-chance plus/minus. According to their metrics, the Sabres have generated 66 more scoring chances than they've allowed. Only the Blues are better. We've seen other franchises have a hard time coming out of tank mode, but that doesn't appear to be a problem so far in Buffalo.
@DownGoesBrown: Craig's right, it's the possession numbers that really stand out here. It's hard to overstate just how awful the Sabres' numbers have looked since the 2013 lockout. For years they were off-the-charts bad. And I mean that literally: The analytics folks who make charts and graphs on this stuff had to redesign them because Buffalo was so terrible it wasn't showing up in the standard ranges. The Sabres' being a .500 team this deep into the season is a surprise, but their being a positive possession team is stunning. Yes, it's still early, but if they can stay anywhere near that range then Bylsma has to move to the front of the Jack Adams discussion.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
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