BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last summer, fans were stopping me all the time talking about how excited they were about the Buffalo Sabres.
We saw some of that excitement last April after Jack Eichel returned with the Vegas Golden Knights and RJ was honored in front of big crowds. As the Sabres won more in April, more people were showing up trying to see if it was real.
This summer was the most excitement I’ve felt from the fans about the Sabres since Danny Briere and Chris Drury were here.
All summer when I was on air with Adam Benigni and Julianne Pelusi, I talked about how important having a good October was going to be for this team. They needed to show fans that a 102-point pace over 28 games wasn’t a fluke and that the young talent on this team is for real and is only going to get better.
Buffalo was 6-3-0 in October and had huge wins on the road against good teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings were given credit for getting way better and passing the Sabres, but Buffalo beat both teams.
The Sabres did have a two-game losing streak in October, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In the past 10 years, two-game losing streaks became five and then 10-game streaks and then the Sabres were out of the playoff race by New Year.
Don’t bring up the standings with Don Granato because he says he pays no attention. Granato’s attention since the day he moved into the head coach's office has been today and today only. He has so much confidence in his players on and off the ice that he thinks if you win today, the results will fall right into place.
Lindy Ruff wanted his team to see the standings every single time they walked into the dressing room. Granato doesn’t want that because he thinks it detracts from living in today.
Tage Thompson went from a very slow October to hit the speed of sound. He had points on eight consecutive goals for the Sabres and was part of a team that had 45 shots or more in three straight games for the first time in team history. Thompson also did things only done by Wayne Gretzky, Gil Perreault, and Pat LaFontaine. Eichel has had a good start for Vegas, but he’s never done any of the things Thompson is doing including scoring 38 goals in a season.
Ryan O’Reilly has never done any of these things either, but on the other hand, Thompson has never led his team to win the Stanley Cup or won the Conn Smythe Trophy, but Thompson still has a long career ahead of him.
Young Jack Quinn is getting better every game. JJ Peterka has shown promise and now that Peyton Krebs is back at center, he’s playing much better.
I haven’t even gotten to Rasmus Dahlin yet. He was so good at the end of last season, yet he’s better this year. Buffalo is winning because he’s the top-scoring defenseman in the NHL with 12 points in nine games. He also leads the league in plus/minus. Dahlin and Thompson make plays that make you gasp.
Now, we’ve seen this movie so many times in the past 11 years so we absolutely have to pump the brakes. Yes, Buffalo is second in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference, and sixth in the NHL, but there are still 73 games left.
Three of their top six defensemen are injured and only one of them, Ilya Lyubushkin, is expected back soon. So far, Buffalo has gotten through that, but the easier schedule of October is over. Now they play the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning twice, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the St. Louis Blues.
These are the tests Granato loves and craves for his team and he’s going to get them in November.