*These lines are from Sunday’s practice. The Sabres did not have a morning skate on Monday.
News and Notes
The Jeff Skinner chapter could potentially be taking another turn this evening when the Sabres face the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. 155 games played in Buffalo, and all signs point to Skinner being a healthy scratch for the first time in his Sabres career. Head coach Ralph Krueger said on Sunday that he is looking for accountability and he is looking to push the right buttons with every player after the Sabres mediocre start to the season. While practice lines don’t necessarily confirm that Skinner will be scratched, Krueger and Skinner’s comments seemed to hint at that on Sunday.
Although, it is no secret that Skinner appears to have been in the doghouse all season with Krueger, it seems like Krueger has seen enough after Skinner’s lack of production to start the shortened Covid season. Skinner only has 1 point in 14 games, an assist in a shootout loss against Washington on January 22nd. However, Skinner has consistently been handed bottom-six minutes with line mates like Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan — not setting up the $9 million winger for success.
With that being said, Jeff Skinner hasn’t been abysmal off the scoresheet this season. He’s found other ways to contribute and arguably has been one of the unluckiest players in the NHL this season. Skinner is 19th in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes, which contributes to Buffalo’s success since they have such a lethal powerplay unit. Further, Skinner is top 35 in the league in ixG or individual expected goals, but he is the only player in the top 35 to have not scored so far this season.
I have a couple of questions centered around this line. How many more times are we going to have to watch Krueger roll this line out? How in the world was Jeff Skinner scratched before Kyle Okposo? The Sabres four worst forwards this season in terms of xGF% or expected goals percentage at 5 on 5 are Eakin, Reider, Okposo, and Mittelstadt. The one glaring difference between the four forwards is that Mittelstadt has posted a 31.76 xGF% in just over 17 minutes of ice time at 5 on 5 this year. Meanwhile, Eakin, Reider, and Okposo who are regularly rolled out as a line together, have all individually posted an xGF% south of 35.85 in a combined 433 minutes at 5 on 5 this season. For comparisons sake, Jeff Skinner has posted an xGF% of 57.53 in over 167 minutes at 5 on 5 this season.
Moreover, this line which has played the third most minutes at 5 on 5 for the Sabres this season was hailed as their defensive or shut down line going into the year. They have been anything but that this season. All you have to do is watch the games to see it’s not the same shut down line that featured Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson last season. Eakin and Reider had their question marks coming into this season. Both players have had a couple good performances sprinkled in between the bad ones. Kyle Okposo looks like he has lost a step and doesn’t have the same defensive capabilities that he’s had in prior seasons. He looks like he is skating around with cinderblocks on his feet. Okposo has 3 years left on his current contract with a cap hit of $6 million, and currently has zero points and a -3 plus/minus rating to go along with his subpar xGF numbers this season. Okposo is a veteran leader in the locker room, so maybe that’s why Krueger looks at his performances and production this season and turns a blind eye to it all?
Injuries and absences
The Sabres announced today that Jake McCabe will be out the remainder of the season after suffering injuries to his ACL, MCL and meniscus during Saturday’s game against the Devils. The the expected recovery time is 6-8 months. Things didn’t sound promising on Saturday, but the diagnosis is still worse than anyone hoped for. Coach Krueger was immediately concerned following McCabe awkwardly going into the corner trying to hit Nico Hischier on Saturday. The Sabres will now be without one of their best defenseman as they try to claw their way back into the race in the East Division. We wish Jake all the best in his recovery.
Buffalo will also be without Rasmus Ristolainen as he recovers from Covid-19 complications, which have been well documented. We continue to wish Risto the best.
The Sabres dropped both of their games versus the Islanders last week, so they will be hoping for a change of fortunes this time around. Buffalo was able to bring their losing streak to a stop on Saturday with their win over the Devils, but it will be important for them to keep things rolling tonight. It will be interesting to see how the lineup reacts with Skinner being scratched. The Islanders will start Semyon Varlamov in net tonight, who has been solid this season, posting a .925 save percentage and 7 wins. Hockey is a weird game, and the Sabres can’t continue to be unlucky night in and night out, right?
4-3 Sabres in OT