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The NHL announced their Three Stars of the Week this morning and Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel was named the third star of the week. The other two stars were John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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⭐⭐ @tjarry35 posted two shutouts to help the @penguins move into the first Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

His shutout streak (144:51 dating to Nov. 29) is the longest by a Pittsburgh goaltender since Marc-Andre Fleury (165:06 in 2014-15). #NHLStats

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⭐⭐⭐ @Jackeichel15 led the NHL with 2-5—7 in 4 GP to extend his point streak to a career-high 13 games (10-13—23).

The @BuffaloSabres captain capped the week with an assist on Sunday’s OT winner and is one of 10 players on pace for 100 points in 2019-20. #NHLStats

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Eichel scored seven points in four games last week for the Sabres to earn accolades from league. He’s currently in the middle of a 13-game point streak in which he’s picked up a total of 23 points over that stretch.

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The Sabres captain has 18 goals and 42 through 31 games this season. That puts him on pace for a career high in goals (48) and points (110). If he continues to be an impact player the way he has through the first quarter of the season and the Sabres do make it into the playoffs, it’s possible that Eichel could be in the discussion for an ever bigger award (Hart Trophy) come the end of the season.

As the Buffalo Sabres celebrate their 50th year as an NHL franchise in a city and surrounding environs rightly revered collectively as a serious “hockey town,” let’s ruminate on the marriage of music and sport.

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This phenomenon might not be unique to Buffalo, but as Sabres in-game organist Curtis Cook points out, there are clear inherent connections between sports and the arts in our local culture.

“Buffalonians certainly love their sports and the arts,” Cook said. “I’m lucky enough to be one of the people that help blend those two things together.”

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Music has been used to dramatic effect from our team’s beginnings, when an excerpt from composer Aram Khachaturian’s 1942 ballet “Gayane” became the Sabres’ clarion call as they took the ice. That excerpt, known as “Sabre Dance,” has been pumping up the heart rates of players and fans alike virtually without pause since 1970. That tradition will continue Tuesday night in KeyBank Center, as the Sabres return from a Western road trip to host the St. Louis Blues.

(The piece was placed on hiatus briefly in the early 2000s, and the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” filled the gap, but “Sabre Dance” returned in 2011, and has stayed since.)

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“There has been so much influential music throughout the 50 years of this franchise’s history,” Cook said. “Everyone knows about ‘Sabre Dance,’ which I still play on the organ at least once a game, at the beginning of a period. I think it’s a unique and diverse piece of music and it’s been associated with the team for so long that fans of every age can identify it immediately.”

Khachaturian’s piece, which was a huge radio hit in 1948, has gone on to be covered, interpreted, reinterpreted, and reassembled myriad times over the years, in virtually any genre imaginable. Everyone from Woody Herman and Liberace to composer Danny Elfman, vocalist Nina Hagen, violinist Vanessa Maye, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra has taken a swing at the high-energy piece.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, according to Cook.

“The original ‘Sabre Dance’ with full orchestration is the version that everyone knows, but a lot of people don’t realize that it has been covered by more contemporary groups over the years.

“For example, a Belgian group named the Jokers covered it, as did a group called Love Sculpture, featuring Welsh singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Edmunds in it. Both of those groups covered the song without an orchestra and with more modern instrumentation – electric guitars, electric bass, drums – and I think those versions sound awesome, too.”

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Sabres announcer Dan Dunleavy. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Sabres announcer Dan Dunleavy, a self-taught guitarist with a deep and abiding love for music, recently had a dream about “Sabre Dance.”

“I quite literally had a dream where I was playing a heavy, riff-y version of ‘Sabre Dance’ on guitar from the booth as the team takes the ice,” he laughed. “I mean, how cool would that be? Maybe someday.”

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Of course, “Sabre Dance,” as invigorating as it remains, doesn’t tell the whole story. Over the years, tunes by artists as diverse as Led Zeppelin (“The Immigrant Song”), DJ Kool (goal song “Let Me Clear My Throat”), Metallica (“Fuel”), Flo Rida (“Low (featuring T-Pain”) and the Who (“Baba O’Riley”) have blasted from the rafters of the old Aud and KeyBank Center between play.

The hometown Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days” became an anthem for the Sabres’ 2007 playoff run.

There have also been locally produced novelty theme songs, many of which have jumped several generation gaps by this point.

“Through the decades, there’s been such a connection between fans and songs like ‘We’re Gonna Win That Cup’ (written by Tommy Calandra and performed by Donna McDaniel) from the Sabres’ Stanley Cup run in ’75, the radio jingle ‘Rock ‘em Sabres,’ and the (Buffalo Chamber of Commerce-commissioned) ‘Buffalo Talkin’ Proud’ jingle of the ’80s,” Cook said.

Maria Sebastian’s remake of “We’re Gonna Win That Cup” was played frequently during the Sabres’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 1999.

“I still play a lot of these songs on the organ,” Cook said. “Every time I do, I always have people tweeting me or coming up to me at the game saying that hearing any of those songs I mentioned brought back a certain memory. I love hearing people’s stories on how they connect a memory with a certain piece of music.”

WGR 550 AM’s Chris “Bulldog” Parker. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

“I love ‘Sabre Dance’ and hope it always has some place within their presentation, even if it’s just accompanying old highlights or something like that,” WGR 550 AM’s Chris “Bulldog” Parker said. “But I think the team ought to let a different player pick the entrance song each night. Make it a part of the intro, maybe even have the player on the Jumbotron introducing the song and, if they’re comfortable enough, saying something about why they chose the song.”

Dunleavy went whole-hog on anthemic arena-rock when asked what song he’d be thrilled to hear as the team takes the ice.

“Queen’s ‘One Vision,’” Dunleavy said, citing the lyrics’ encapsulation of the Sabres fan experience. “’One goal, one fight, one true religion’ – that, for Buffalo, being their Sabres and hockey in general.

“That song represents the Sabres, for sure, but it also represents something that I truly feel is unique about Buffalo. Here, everyone is all-in on everything relating to Buffalo – whether that’s the Bills, the Sabres, the development of Main Street, what might happen as Canalside grows, what’s gonna become of the Skyway – it doesn’t matter the topic, and it doesn’t matter if we disagree.

“Having lived in Toronto and traveled to so many different cities, I can say for sure that it’s not like that everywhere. From music culture to politics to sports, even if we disagree around here, we all care.”

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) – Whether you think Jake McCabe is playing well or not, there’s one thing I can tell you: McCabe is a fiercely competitive man and he takes poor play and losing very hard.

The Sabres have eight NHL defensemen on the roster, so at different times, McCabe, Marco Scandella and Colin Miller have sat out. McCabe has sat out twice and he said, “It’s tough. We’re all competitive, especially in the back end, but I will say that everyone has handled it very well. I mean, as well as you can when you’re not in the lineup. We’ve maintained good attitudes and we’re still cheering for each other out there, so it’s been tough, but it’s one of those things that we all knew the situation was going to come to this. So we’ve all handled it really professionally.”

There are definitely things McCabe wants to improve upon in his game. He said, “By no means is it perfect. When you get scratched, it’s not a good thing, so you’re just trying to work on just being more consistent. I’m definitely not satisfied, that’s for sure.”

Watching from above, it seems like, at times, McCabe is trying to do too much. He didn’t disagree with that, “There’s a lot of pressure in this job and we have high expectations in here. I have very high expectations for myself too, so when you’re not in the lineup, you’re pressing a little bit more or you’re thinking about it, but it’s all competition. Hopefully it’ll bring the best out of us.”

The Sabres have gotten points in eight out of 10 games, going 5-2-3. That has them alone in second place in the Atlantic Division and only two points behind in the Wild Card race. McCabe said improvements have been made, “I think guys have been working at how we want to play as a team as far as being really strong defensively and try to support each other all over the ice.

“The forwards have been doing a good job of providing back pressure allowing us to have good gaps in the back end, which makes our lives a lot easier plus we’ve been doing a better job of solving pressure and getting the puck out of our end pretty quickly and killing plays. That’s all leading to some success, but we still have some areas we want to clean up as far as the [defensive] zone goes, but the last little bit it’s been promising for sure.”

Rasmus Dahlin was cleared for contact in Wednesday’s practice and worked with the No. 1 power play. That usually means that the player is coming back the next game, but Ralph Krueger said they want to see how Dahlin reacted to being bounced around a little in practice. Kruger admitted that Dahlin did look promising.

Wednesday’s lines:

Vesey – Johansson – Asplund

Girgensons – Larsson – Okposo

Olofsson – Eichel – Reinhart

Skinner – Rodrigues – Sheary (Mittelstadt)

Dahlin – Miller

Montour – Ristolainen

Scandella – Bogosian

McCabe – Jokiharju

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Linus Ullmark smiled at his stall inside the KeyBank Center dressing room Friday night and delivered a harsh self-assessment of a performance that showed the resolve and reliability needed from a No. 1 goalie.

Ullmark lamented the two third-period goals he allowed in the Buffalo Sabres’ 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He didn’t think he played well in his fourth career game against the Leafs and expressed relief that his teammates, led by Jack Eichel’s three points, created enough offense to snap a five-game skid against their rivals.

Eichel, on the other hand, gushed over Ullmark’s 25-save performance, including the back-to-back stops on William Nylander in the first period. Those glove saves on Nylander, including one on a breakaway, gave the Sabres (12-10-4) the momentum to rally from a two-goal deficit.

“Huge,” Eichel said without hesitation. “As a team I think it gets us a little momentum when your goaltender is playing like that. You’re really confident. He made so many big saves throughout the whole night and huge opportunities, too. There’s key times in the night he was making a lot of big saves for us. It’s so good to see him have success tonight and get the W.”

Ullmark, 26, has emerged as the Sabres’ No. 1 goalie over the past three weeks, recording a .905 save percentage while starting six of the past eight games. He’s made important saves to buy enough time for his teammates to find their game during a month in which Buffalo has only three regulation wins.

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The Sabres appeared destined for their sixth consecutive loss against the Leafs (12-11-4), when Nylander earned a breakaway a little over six minutes into the game. However, Ullmark made a glove save on his former teammate and made another less than two minutes later when Nylander skated down the ice for a 2 on 1.

Ullmark also made a glove save on Jake Muzzin, but he could not hold off the Leafs any longer. John Tavares scored his first of two goals when he was left wide open in the right-wing circle for a 1-0 lead with 1:06 left in the first period.

“Obviously it’s nice to make those big saves early in the catcher against (Nylander) as well, especially with our history together, but they’re such a good team,” Ullmark, who played with Nylander for MODO in the Swedish Hockey League, said. “So, even though you make four big saves in the first period they’ll have more chances coming. That’s what happened later.”
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The Leafs did not relent. Taveres got a fortuitous bounce when his shot ricocheted off the end boards and toward the front of the net. Toronto’s captain managed to poke the puck away from Ullmark and across the goal line for a 2-0 lead at 1:21 into the second period.

The Sabres’ offense finally woke up when Jeff Skinner scored his 10th goal of the season to cut the deficit to one. During the first of two failed power plays — the Sabres’ slump on the advantage is now at 1 for 35 — Ullmark made another breakaway stop, this time on Kasperi Kapanen.

Ullmark was calm in the face of chaos. He didn’t always react that way last season, when he recorded a .882 save percentage during an 11-start stretch from Feb. 15 through March 31. The difference, Ullmark said, is having played 76 games in the National Hockey League.

“A lot of things come from experience. I’m in my second year on this level and goaltending is so much about experience and routines,” he said. “Whenever you play a lot you can see a lot of situations develop and it’s easier to make a read, which is why it looks and feels like the goalie is so composed. That’s what happens when you look at guys like Carey Price or Pekka Rinne or all the elite goalies. They always look composed because they know what’s going on in front of them. They’ve seen that situation develop like 20,000 times.”

Ullmark stood tall during a second-period Leafs power play, covering enough of the short side to force Nylander to hit the post. Moments later, Eichel exited the penalty box and tied the score, 2-2, during a 2 on 1.

Casey Mittelstadt and Victor Olofsson also scored in the second period, pushing the Sabres’ lead to 4-2. They managed to improve to 11-0 this season when leading after two periods, however, defensive lapses caused coach Ralph Krueger to describe the third period as “stressful.”

Dmytro Timashov cut the Sabres’ lead to one with a shot from atop the left-wing circle with 13:10 remaining in regulation. Jimmy Vesey scored for the third time in as many games to make it 5-3, only for Kapanen to score on a backdoor pass from Nic Petan.

“It’s a tough league to go out and perform every night,” Ullmark said. “I personally didn’t think I played a very strong game today. I probably could have done a lot more for my boys to keep that third and fourth one out of the net. … Sometimes you have to say thank you for the coffee and tip your hat to the guys that scored the goal and sometimes you have to kick yourself in the butt and say that’s enough and be better.”

The Sabres’ defensive-zone coverage broke down at times during a late Leafs barrage in the third period. Auston Matthews managed to retrieve the puck in the left-wing circle with no one around him while Toronto had an extra attacker, but the center’s shot was stopped by Ullmark with 1:36 remaining.

Eichel then gave the Sabres an empty-netter insurance goal to help them take over third place in the Atlantic Division. Krueger has not named Ullmark his starting goalie and was quick to include Carter Hutton during his postgame news conference.

Ullmark is not taking this recent stretch for granted, though. He planned on meeting with goaltending coach Mike Bales on Saturday morning in Toronto to analyze what went wrong on the third-period goals against the Leafs and experience has taught him the importance of consistency.

“It’s definitely been a test for him,” Krueger said of Ullmark. “We like the way he’s growing through the experience. I think it’s one he’s ready for, and we’ll continue to work with the pair of Ullmark and Hutton, but at the moment Linus has had some responsibility. We look at his last couple of wins, he’s been tested at critical phases. We’ve left guys alone in front and he’s had to make big saves. I thought it was a special win for him tonight.”

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The Buffalo Sabres announced on Sunday morning that they have recalled forward Tage Thompson from the Rochester Americans (AHL).

Thompson, 22 years old, is being called up to Buffalo for the first time this season and rightfully so.

Heading into this season, a point was made to assist Tage Thompson in his development after a rollercoaster debut season with the Sabres.

Down on the farm this season, Thompson has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 16 games. Thompson was tasked with first-line minutes and has responded appropriately.

Thompson’s recall corresponds with the news of forward Kyle Okposo leaving Saturday night’s game with an undisclosed injury.

It is currently uncertain where Thompson will suit up but with the Sabres playing the back half of a back-to-back tonight in Chicago, Thompson’s presence in the lineup is almost certain.

In a corresponding move, the Buffalo Sabres placed forward Johan Larsson on injured reserve.

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SUNRISE, Fla. – Ralph Krueger did not take the loss Thursday night in Boston lightly.

The Buffalo Sabres coach described the 3-2 setback as “painful” and called the performance at 5 on 5 their “best of the season.” His players, meanwhile, were not interested in settling for a silver lining. This was the second consecutive game a forward failed to score and the penalty allowed a goal for a seventh consecutive game.

The Sabres’ offensive struggles have fans calling for Jack Eichel to be reunited with Jeff Skinner. Let’s start there with my latest mailbag, which features questions submitted by readers on Twitter.

@HockeyIQ716: Why hasn’t Krueger reunited Eichel and Skinner?

Lance Lysowski: There has been some revisionist history with how well that line performed last season. Sure, there’s no disputing their success offensively. The Sabres had a 51.82% shot differential at 5 on 5 and produced 53 even-strength goals with Eichel and Skinner on the ice together last season.

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However, the line was deficient defensively. The Sabres’ improved play without the puck is what separates this team from the one that finished 27th in the NHL last season.

Krueger has prioritized having at least one above-average defender on each of his forward lines this season, which makes Victor Olofsson or Jimmy Vesey a logical wing for Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

The thinking there is Olofsson or Vesey will free Eichel and Reinhart up to take more risks. It might be time to make a change, though. Reinhart has the ability to drive his own line. Krueger could pair Skinner with Eichel and have either Olofsson or Vesey at right wing.

Krueger does not sound interested in making such a change, but he’s found ways to use the two star forwards together at 5 on 5. With Eichel and Skinner on the ice together in 27:39 at 5 on 5, the Sabres have generated 11 more shot attempts than their opponents.

Rob Gregoretti: How likely is it that General Manager Jason Botterill can make a trade that helps the Sabres now and long-term since he waited until now?

Lysowski: The Sabres bolstered their blue line this offseason by adding Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju. That provided them with the depth and competition they needed during training camp. Remember, the situation on defense was so dire last season that Matt Tennyson played NHL games for this team.

Rasmus Ristolainen put the Sabres in a very difficult position by publicly expressing frustration, and let’s face it, the 25-year-old played poorly last season. Botterill wasn’t going to settle for a lesser return, and the intent was to compete this season. Selling low on Ristolainen would be counterproductive. Additionally, Marco Scandella’s trade value was quite low after how he played last season.

The Sabres have a good problem right now, and no one could have predicted they would be hit with this many injuries at once. The narrative is far different if Tage Thompson was able to contribute upon being called up from Rochester. A trade is inevitable given the salary-cap situation and the team’s need at forward.

However, trades are far more difficult to complete in November. In hindsight, the Sabres could have used another forward this offseason, but nothing materialized on the trade front after they acquired Vesey.

Matt Weiner: Is the cap for the team next year as beneficial for the Sabres as we keep hearing? How much is realistically going to change between this year and next?

Lysowski: Yes, the Sabres are projected to have more than $33 million in space next season, according to CapFriendly.com. A significant chunk of that will likely be paid to Reinhart and Brandon Montour. Additionally, the Sabres could be interested in re-signing Vesey, Conor Sheary, Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons. Casey Mittelstadt and Evan Rodrigues are also pending restricted free agents.

Cap space quickly disappears when you’re talking about potentially committing a combined $14 million to $16 million to Reinhart and Montour, plus Botterill will need to save enough room to sign Rasmus Dahlin to a long-term contract. Still, the Sabres are set up nicely to add through trades and free agency next summer.

We’ve seen how much can change in one summer. Despite the Sabres’ recent struggles, their roster is significantly deeper with Miller, Jokiharju and Marcus Johansson, all of whom were added this past offseason.

Justin Dickenson: What are your thoughts on the the Sabres’ ability to target potential players in trades? Detroit seemed to pay a low price for Robby Fabbri.

Lysowski: That hasn’t been the issue. The Sabres successfully bought low on Jokiharju and Miller, though it’s odd the latter has been a healthy scratch as of late. Additionally, Botterill somehow acquired Montour for Brendan Guhle, who has struggled to stay on the ice in Anaheim.

Botterill isn’t to blame for this recent slide, in my opinion. I know fans will never get over the Ryan O’Reilly trade, but the Sabres were going nowhere with him on the roster. Trading O’Reilly allowed them to acquire Skinner and Miller, among others. The Sabres lacked depth because of former General Manager Tim Murray’s impatience. You can’t speed up a rebuild.

Fans have every right to be losing patience. However, Botterill has done a nice job under difficult circumstances. The problem is on the ice. Aside from Eichel, the Sabres’ best players have been inconsistent from shift to shift during this recent slide. Neither Botterill nor Krueger can force them to make better decisions with the puck.

Nick Alberga: What leads you to believe that the Sabres aren’t Sabres-ing again?

Lysowski: This situation is far different than last season. The Sabres were horrible defensively during their 10-game win streak last November. You’re not seeing the same amount of odd-man rushes or defensive-zone breakdowns.

The Sabres allowed only one 5-on-5 goal during their 3-2 loss in Boston on Thursday night. Their goaltending has also been more consistent. The biggest question is how they respond to adversity. They seem to lose energy following a difficult goal against and continue to struggle with consistency.

The leadership group is stronger than years past, buoyed by the maturity of Eichel and the addition of a veteran like Johansson. Krueger also appears to be the ideal coach for this group because he has an innate ability to motivate.

The Sabres are talented and have shown they have the formula to win, yet their play is unpredictable.

Janusz Urbanski: Is Eichel the true leader of the team?

Lysowski: Absolutely. Eichel’s effort on the ice can inspire his teammates. You saw that with his decision to drop the gloves Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild. Eichel has also been the Sabres’ most consistent player, having contributed on seven consecutive goals. He’s also put in the work to improve defensively, and he’s starting to shoot the puck more.

Sure, Eichel has committed some defensive lapses, and yes, he can commit turnovers when trying to do too much. But Sabres fans have to love the way his game has evolved. Eichel is also quick to defend his teammates, and we’re not seeing some of the bad body language that popped up at times last season.

Eichel is constantly communicating and encouraging his teammates.

Scott: Do you think the Sabres would have had more success had they landed Mike Babcock instead of Dan Bylsma?

Lysowski: Yes, I do. Babcock is a tremendous coach. He would have worked wonders with the Sabres’ young core. Bylsma’s inability to communicate with players prevented them from adopting the habits that are needed at this level. The hire looked great on paper, though.

Bylsma won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and was beloved by the Penguins during his time there. However, I was told by a former Penguins player that he and his teammates grew tired of Bylsma, who seemed distracted late in his time there. Fit and timing are as important as the resume when it comes to coaching hires. Babcock would have checked all the boxes.

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BUFFALO – When the Sabres acquired Jimmy Vesey in the summer, it seemed like he could earn an opportunity to play with top center Jack Eichel.

Of course, no one thought that chance would materialize after scoring zero goals in his first 18 outings. But right now, Vesey is the reeling Sabres’ No. 1 left winger.

“Getting put up there kind of gives you a shot in the arm and a little bit of a boost,” Vesey said of his promotion beside Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

Having lost eight of their last nine games, the Sabres desperately need a boost for tonight’s contest against the Boston Bruins, the start of a three-game road trip versus Atlantic Division opponents.

That’s why Sabres coach Ralph Krueger mixed up his lines for Wednesday’s practice, promoting Vesey and moving Victor Olofsson, Eichel’s left winger most of the season, beside center Rasmus Asplund and Casey Mittelstadt.

Krueger wouldn’t commit to using the new trios tonight. Still, considering the Sabres won’t hold a morning skate in Boston, it seems likely he will try them.

The game’s location probably factored in Vesey’s promotion. He and Eichel are Boston natives who played college hockey at home.

“There is some Boston energy in the group right now that is permutating right through the whole team,” Krueger said inside KeyBank Center.

Perhaps playing at home on the No. 1 line can help ignite Vesey, who said he’s “a little bit of a homebody.”

“There’s probably no better night for me to have a big game,” he said.

Vesey scored 50 goals over his first three seasons, including 43 at even strength. In a contract year on a new team, it felt like he could surpass the 20-goal mark.

“I’m going to get out of this,” Vesey said. “I’ve been able to score, contribute at every level, and I’ve done it at this level. So (it’s) just a matter of time right now.”

A goal or two from Vesey or one of his struggling teammates might’ve gone a long way in recent weeks.

The Sabres’ offense, like the rest of their game, has completely flatlined. Their collapse over the past three or four weeks has been downright stunning.

On Oct. 22, the Sabres’ 4-3 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks improved their record to 8-1-1, giving them an NHL-best 17 points.

Their power play was lethal over that stretch, converting 12 of 39 opportunities (30.8%).

In their last 11 games, the Sabres have mustered a league-low six points, going 2-7-2. In that span, they’ve scored the league’s fewest goals (22) and the league’s fewest power-play goals (two on 29 attempts, just 6.9%).

“We just got to stay patient,” said Sabres winger Victor Olofsson, who has scored six of his seven goals on the man advantage. “I mean, it was really good in the beginning of the year. I think we got to get back to that and keep it kind of simple.

“We don’t have to make the perfect play every time. Just get pucks to the net, get some greasy ones.”

The power play has become the only place Eichel and Jeff Skinner, one of the league’s top center-wing duos last season, play together. But Skinner has mostly skated on the second line with centers Marcus Johansson or Evan Rodrigues

Remember, when Skinner signed an eight-year, $72 million contract after scoring a career-high 40 goals in 2018-19, it seemed like he would be Eichel’s personal left winger for years.

So why has Krueger kept them apart?

“We want to spread out our scoring, we want a certain mix of offense and defense on every unit,” he said.

Olofsson, Krueger said, offered Eichel’s line a two-way style early this season.

“We don’t want to burden Skins with too much of that,” Krueger said. “He’s doing a really good job without the puck … but he needs to create when he has (the) opportunity.”

Krueger liked the way Skinner, Rodrigues and Conor Sheary performed in Tuesday’s ugly 4-1 home loss to the Minnesota Wild, so he kept the line intact Wednesday.

To Krueger, Eichel and Skinner playing on the power play is their “best ice time together.”

“There’s no space where you play more together than (the) power play, so I disagree that he’s not playing with Eichel,” he said. “He’s playing with Eichel and has the privilege, predominantly, to play there on the PP. The five-on-five game is a tight one in the National Hockey League, and you need a balanced lineup to sustain success.”

Part of that balance includes shifting Mittelstadt, a center, to right wing. Mittelstadt, 20, has an 11-game point drought in which he has recorded only five shots.

“He’s trying to get in on the forecheck, trying to come back,” Krueger said. “He tracks as hard anybody on this team. So he’s doing a lot of good things, and he’s just got to bring it together and still be able to play the offense that he wants to.

“I think maybe freeing him up on the wing for a few games will be a solution.”

Olofsson and Asplund spent all of last season as linemates with Danny O’Regan on the Rochester Americans.

“It’s going to be a great line,” Asplund said.

Center Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Curtis Lazar and comprised the Sabres’ other line Wednesday.

LISTEN 7:42am: @WBFOmar & @BillHoppeNHL go #BehindTheBench – @BuffaloSabres‘ downturn reminiscent of last season. https://t.co/6CUUeO0G6P pic.twitter.com/gt38daJq4s

— WBFO (@WBFO) November 21, 2019

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BUFFALO – Forward Vladimir Sobotka underwent successful surgery on his right knee and is out indefinitely, the Sabres announced this morning.

After Sobotka, 32, was injured Nov. 8 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Stockholm, Sweden, the Sabres said he would miss four to six weeks.

However, according to the Sabres, team doctors decided surgery would be the appropriate action for the Czech’s recovery.

Sobotka was injured when star Nikita Kucherov hit him low and late in 3-2 loss to the Lightning.

Right now, the Sabres, who host the Calgary Flames tonight at KeyBank Center, have five injured forwards.

Sobotka has compiled one goal and three points in 16 games this season.

Update: Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said Sobotka’s recovery will be long-term.

“We’re really sad about it,” he said. “Sobey was an amazing leader in how we want to play here. He was an example on video over and over again of playing the right way without the puck. So we’ll tap into him to help mentor some of the younger players here as he’s injured and use his wealth of experience in that way.”

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The Buffalo Sabres announced today that the team has assigned forward Casey Mittelstadt to the Rochester Americans (AHL).

Mittelstadt has four goals and five assists in 31 games this season. The 21-year-old center has recorded 39 points (17+22) in 114 NHL games, dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season. He was Buffalo’s first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft.

The Amerks have been on a great run. Entering play on Sunday, they led the North Division and the Eastern Conference with 40 points and an 18-4-4 record. They’ve won three in a row, six of their last seven, and are 13-1-2 since Nov. 1.

Rochester’s next game is Wednesday night in Binghamton. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. They’ll be back home on Friday and Saturday with games against Binghamton and Utica at Blue Cross Arena. Visit Amerks.com for all the latest news and ticket information.

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This time, it was an Islanders’ teammate sticking up for mammoth Ross Johnston.

Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella drove the 6-5, 235 left wing, who coach Barry Trotz had on Mathew Barzal’s top line with Josh Bailey for the fifth straight game, into the side boards at 18:22 of the first period of the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime win on Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.

A shaken Johnston remained on his knees while Bailey confronted Scandella, earning a double-minor for roughing.

“I haven’t actually seen the video,” said Johnston, who leads the team with 35 penalty minutes and three fighting majors. “I’m not going to say it was a dirty hit. I just got the puck and turned. I just felt I got cranked. I’m a little stiff now.”

And Bailey’s response?

“Love it,” said Johnston, who returned in the second period and logged 9:05. “I don’t think that was the intent Barry had when he put us three together. Bails is a great teammate. Anytime somebody gets cranked, even when it’s me, he’s the first one in there.”

Johnston was not pulled by the NHL spotter to go through concussion protocol.

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TAMPA, Fla. – The lower-body injury Evan Rodrigues sustained Sunday night against the Florida Panthers will keep him out of the Buffalo Sabres’ lineup for at least one game.

Sabres coach Ralph Krueger told reporters ahead of a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Amalie Arena on Monday that Rodrigues’ injury is not thought to be “long-term” and Rodrigues will be evaluated when the team returns to Buffalo on Tuesday.

Rodrigues skated slowly off the BB&T Center ice following his 40-second shift in the first period of a 5-2 win over the Panthers. His absence forced Krueger to use defenseman Brandon Montour at forward and Casey Mittelstadt moved to center.

The Sabres recalled center Jean-Sebastien Dea with Rodrigues unavailable against the Lightning. Dea has excelled in the faceoff circle during his 18 games in Rochester and provided Krueger with another right-handed option at center.

“The dream is to have six centermen in a lineup of 12 forwards, just because of all the different options it gives you and moving people around and putting people on the wing for instance,” Krueger said. “Like, Mittelstadt’s been outstanding off the wing and then shifting back to center six minutes into a game, I thought he did a really good job of that [Sunday]. Having centermen, if it’s a tie, I’d always take the centerman from Rochester to come up.”

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Rodrigues, 26, has two assists with a minus-two rating in 14 games this season. He was a healthy scratch on nine occasions but was elevated to a top-six role with Marcus Johansson (upper body) out of the lineup. Rodrigues elevated his game over the past two weeks and was robbed of a potential third-period goal last Thursday in Boston on what he later called “arguably the save of the year” by Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

Entering Monday, Mittelstadt had started three games on the wing, a move made by Krueger to try to coax more offense from the 21-year-old. Mittelstadt shifted back to center following Rodrigues’ injury and recorded one shot on goal in 15:20 of ice time against Florida.

Johansson has missed the past seven games, and Krueger hopes the 29-year-old will be able to return to the Sabres’ lineup sometime this week. Johansson has four goals among 10 points in 17 games this season.

Dea is the fifth player recalled from Rochester this month, joining Lawrence Pilut, Rasmus Asplund, Curtis Lazar and Tage Thompson. Andrew Oglevie and Scott Wilson are the only healthy forwards with an NHL contract on the Amerks’ roster.

In addition to Rodrigues and Johansson, the Sabres are without Thompson (upper body), Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) and Kyle Okposo (concussion).

“There’s definitely a lot of depth and you’re still seeing it now with the guys that are sitting out right now,” Jeff Skinner said. “They’re for sure good enough to be playing. It still seems like we’ve got some bodies to spare, but anytime you have injuries, it opens up opportunities. I think guys have done a great job of stepping up and trying to sort of capitalize.”
Skills competition

The Sabres will host a skills challenge inside KeyBank Center for a second consecutive season on Jan. 5, the team announced Monday. The roster will split into two teams to compete in hardest shot, accuracy showdown, puck control relay, power play challenge, shootout challenge and passing challenge.

To commemorate the Sabres’ 50th anniversary, players will wear custom jerseys in recognition of the 1978 All-Star Game, which was held in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the event with all proceeds benefiting the Buffalo Sabres Foundation.

Tickets will cost the general public $10 and will be available for purchase online Dec. 3. Season ticket holders will have the opportunity to purchase tickets for $5 on Dec. 5. Doors will open for the event at 9 a.m., and an autograph session with alumni will begin at 9:30 a.m.
Taylor returns

Rochester coach Chris Taylor, who served as an interim assistant on Krueger’s staff during Don Granato’s medical leave, returned to practice with the Amerks on Monday inside Blue Cross Arena.

Taylor did not join the Sabres during the second leg of their three-game road trip, but he was unable to coach the Amerks on Saturday in Binghamton. Rochester hosts the Toronto Marlies on Friday night.

“I didn’t really know him much; I had met him a couple times in training camp, but I thought he was great,” Skinner said of Taylor. “He’s really smart. You could tell he was a smart player, just the way he thinks the game. He’s really positive, which is nice. I thought he did a great job here.”
McKee gone

Jay McKee, a former Buffalo Sabres defenseman, was dismissed as coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers on Monday. McKee was amid his fourth season as the Rangers’ head coach and led them to three consecutive playoff appearances.

Following his playing career, McKee spent one season each as an assistant coach with Niagara University, the Rochester Americans, Erie Otters and the Rangers. He played 582 games during his 10 seasons with the Sabres.
Stephens trade

There was more to the Sabres’ trade Sunday night than acquiring defenseman Matthew Spencer from Tampa Bay. Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton explained that the organization wanted to give defenseman Devante Stephens an opportunity to play in the American Hockey League.

Stephens is expected to join the Syracuse Crunch after being acquired by the Lightning. The former fifth-round draft pick had appeared in only three games for the Cincinnati Cyclones this season and his path to Rochester was blocked by a number of talented defensemen.

“The highest priority was to give him an opportunity,” Sexton said of Stephens. “He’s been a great Sabre and Amerk for us since the day we drafted him. He’s worked hard at his game, but at this stage, he hasn’t had the opportunity to play at a higher level that every player aspires to. It was really as much about giving a very loyal person an opportunity to play somewhere else.”

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What happened on Elias Lindholm’s overtime goal for Calgary that beat the Sabres, 3-2, on Wednesday night at KeyBank Center?

Rasmus Ristolainen was caught on the ice for the entire 77 seconds of overtime and pondered a change one time but couldn’t leave. He then made a futile chase for the puck behind the net but Lindholm got in front and curled it past Linus Ullmark for the game-winner.

“I wanted off the ice but didn’t think I was close to getting off,” Ristolainen said Thursday. “If I change, they might have a 2-on-1 there. I don’t want to put my teammates in a bad situation, have a bad change. I tried to battle through it and maybe get a whistle and it didn’t work out.

“When you’re tired, you make stupid plays. I guess if I was a split-second earlier, I would have caught the pass behind the net. If I was a split-second later I would have stayed in front of the net. Everything went wrong there. I thought we earned a win but it’s not always going your way.”