Despite all the attention that had been given to the Buffalo Sabres’ new leadership of general manager Jason Botterill and new head coach Phil Housley at the start of the season, much of that fanfare is gone after the Sabres have reached the midway point with a disappointing 10-23-9 record. Their 29 points is the second worst record in the NHL with just the Arizona Coyotes struggling to do worse.
The Buffalo News’ John Vogl writes his mid-season assessment and writes that despite their disappointing play this season, there are some positives, including the play of young center Jack Eichel. While many had hopes that Eichel would be putting up similar numbers to that of Connor McDavid, that hasn’t happened. However, Vogl points out that his most recent play has set him up to have career highs in goals and points (30 goals and 70 points). He could easily have found himself on a different list after he had put up just eight goals in the team’s first 32 games, but has put up seven goals in his last nine games. Evander Kane’s success is also a positive to look at, although he is likely to be traded at the deadline.
However, much of the team’s fault, Vogl writes, falls to center Sam Reinhart, who is really struggling this year. The 22-year-old is having his worst season ever, which is unacceptable for someone who was the team’s second-overall pick in 2014. He has seven goals and just six assists this year. Six of his 13 points have come on the power play, suggesting that he really disappears in 5-on-5 play. Kyle Okposo is another obvious player, who has underperformed. His numbers were acceptable a year ago, but Okposo was brought in to score goals and produce offense. Instead, Okposo has scored just six goals for 19 points and hasn’t looked like the player the team locked up to. Rasmus Ristolainen, Chad Johnson and Johan Larsson all received poor grades for their first half performance.
- NHL.com’s Michael Smith writes that after the Carolina Hurricanes consulted with doctors, they have listed winger Sebastian Aho as day-to-day with a lower-body injury after going down Saturday in a game against Boston. The 20-year-old Aho has been a key contributor for Carolina and has 13 goals and 20 assists, which would put him on pace for career-highs. They play next on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi writes that after a disappointing season a year ago, Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux is proving to the league that he is an elite center in the NHL. The 29-year-old center was coming off a season in which he tallied 14 goals and 58 points — solid, but hardly great. Yet, it looks like Giroux has found his game again as he has dominated on offense this year. He has already equalled the 14 goals he had last year and is just seven points shy of tying his points total — at mid-year. Suddenly, Giroux is on pace for a career year. “I’m not surprised at anything G does,” coach Dave Hakstol said after Giroux’s three-point performance keyed Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 win over St. Louis at the Wells Fargo Center. “You guys know the hockey player and the person a little bit. But to know the person and know the competitiveness that burns inside of him, no, I’m not surprised.”