Wow, did we miss the “high-octane” Buffalo Sabres, or what? Through the first 33 games of the season, we saw them appear at times, like in their 6-4 win over the Ottawa Senators back in October and in quite a few of those major upsets against some of the NHL’s best - like their first win over the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.
But there was never any consistency for quite a number of reasons, with injuries being one of them. However, we also had an inkling that the Sabres were looking to shift their identity some in trying to get better without the puck - something that makes sense, but not by tossing aside the ways that nearly got them into the playoffs.
So how did that high-octane approach return last night and hopefully for good, assuming the team can stay relatively healthy? Keep reading.
How the ‘familiar’ Buffalo Sabres returned in win over Maple Leafs
1 - Shift in playing style
The Sabres, for some odd reason, thought it was an excellent idea to try and improve their game defensively at the expense of the fast-paced style that made them the third-highest scoring team in the NHL in 2022-23. Last night, we saw that style re-emerge, even if it required some risk of giving up odd-man rushes and high-danger chances.
This is an approach we will likely see the Sabres continue, and they will figure out ways to improve their defensive game without sacrificing offense. It was something they should have reverted to a month ago, but at this point, there is still time to turn this season around.
2 - The familiar top-six returned
The Sabres needed this one, and while we saw sound chemistry among a few lines at times this season, nothing beats the top-six comprising a line featuring Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Tuch on the first, and Dylan Cozens, JJ Peterka, and Jack Quinn on the second. These lines, when combined with the style of play we saw last night, further fueled that dynamic offense, and it’s something they will give you on most nights.
This season, things are even better as the third line comprising Jordan Greenway, Casey Mittelstadt, and Zach Benson also have the scoring potential of a top-six unit. With so much talent in the top-nine, it’s easy to see why the Sabres reverted to their familiar style.
3 - Sabres kept playing ‘their game’ in face of adversity
The Sabres may have won last night with little resistance, but it doesn’t mean they won outright. Toronto managed to take a 2-1 lead, forcing Buffalo into one of those “moment of truth” situations - they could either let this game go the same way it did on Tuesday night, or they could prevent the recent past from repeating itself.
By sticking to their game plan and refusing to let panic mode slip in, it kept the Blue and Gold from overthinking and it led to them retaking and building an insurmountable lead. This is the exact mentality they need to continue taking for the final four games of the calendar year and beyond.
Source: Observations: Sabres' strategic shift produces 9 goals in 'statement' win over Leafs by Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News