Gameday 27 & 28: Butt Flow

With ten wins in their last fourteen games, and three in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins have done a good job in the last few weeks of erasing the memory of the seven-game losing streak that bookended the end of October and the beginning of November. It’s still a tight battle they’re facing to wrest second place in the Metropolitan Division away from the Carolina Hurricanes while fending off the New York Islanders and Rangers, but Pittsburgh has improved considerably of late.

This weekend the Penguins have a back-to-back home-and-home with the Buffalo Sabres, the last two of the three regular season contests between the two teams. The Sabres won the first game 6-3 back on November 2, and it was the last time they would win for a while, as they went on a two-week, eight-game losing streak that knocked them from four games above .500 to four games under it. Since then they’ve won four games in their last seven, not a great rate but at least they could say they’re on par in the standings with the Philadelphia Flyers, which is an apt comparison to an extent. Philadelphia isn’t that far out of the playoff picture and neither is Buffalo, but there would have to be a lot of luck for either team to advance up the standings. In broader terms both teams are amongst the youngest in the League. Also, both teams have the recent history of being poorly managed, and both teams have a lot of hope riding on their young guys to help lift them up out of the basements of their respective divisions.

Can’t EVER have too many Rasmusses, eh?

Whether that’s a possibility for either team in the near future, that remains to be seen, but while the Flyers have only been working on their rebuild properly for the last couple of years, Buffalo has seemingly been rebuilding since they lost the Stanley Cup in 1999. That’s not entirely true, of course – they went to the Conference Finals in consecutive years in 2010 and 2011 – but they’ve been out of the playoffs all together since 2012 and have made eighteen first round draft picks since 2011, including ten in the top ten, four in the top five since 2014, and two of the last four first overall picks in Rasmus Darlin and Owen Power. Only one of those guys has played long enough that we could take his superstar credentials seriously, and that’s Jack Eichel, who is no longer a Buffalo Sabre. Maybe in a couple of years that trade with Vegas will look good (in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and a couple of draft picks in the next two drafts), but so far only Tuch has worked out for them.

Big Rusty Weekend

As far as their young skaters go, things are going well somewhat, as they have five players at or around a point-per-game. It’s their goaltending that has left them hanging, with everyone still waiting for 23-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to emerge as the surefire #1 goaltender everyone has been saying he will be. In fact, with Eric Comrie out with an injury, it’s 41-year-old third stringer Craig Anderson – yup, he’s still kicking around – who has performed the best for Buffalo so far this season. Not to say he’s been great, but with a 5-4 record he’s doing the best out of the three goalies who have appeared for the Sabres, and that’s not a great sign.

Rakell loves doge = HATTY

Unlike some of their other peers who have been building a raft of prospects over the past few years, it’s not all coming to fruition for Buffalo like it ought to be by this point. For example, the New Jersey Devils have finally hit their stride and they’ve done it at the right time, just as the rest of the Metropolitan Division is in flux. In the Atlantic Division, there’s still Boston (somehow still playing very well in spite of their aging core), Toronto (fulfilling their sacred duty as the perpetual bridesmaid), and Tampa Bay (cannot trust their regular season results) at the top of the division, followed by Detroit (again, prospects catching on), Florida (typically unsure of which direction they’re going in), and Montreal (???), with Ottawa (more question marks, considering their prospects) right on Buffalo’s tail. There’s not a lot of opportunity for Buffalo to break past that group without the team stepping up as a group, and I’m not seeing any evidence that that is happening overall, just with a few guys. Maybe it’s still not the right time for the Sabres to find that next gear and move upwards, but they cannot wait forever.