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Inside the NHL: Lots of teams have losing streaks. It doesn't mean the Sabres should try tanking again

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Sabres Canucks Hockey

Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson breaks his stick on a shot against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at the KeyBank Center on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022.

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Sports Columnist

A News staffer since 1987, I'm a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, a 2013 inductee into the Buffalo Baseball HOF and the Buffalo chapter chair of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. And I insist only Chicago & New York can come close to Buffalo pizza.

Don't say it. Don't even think it. At this point, 7½ years past the darkest winter in Sabres history, there's no excuse for anyone to even give it a thought.

The Sabres have an ugly eight-game losing streak after Saturday's night's 5-2 loss in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Then they play Tuesday at Montreal. After that? Wednesday at home against red-hot St. Louis. Friday at home against New Jersey, which won Saturday at Ottawa to improve to 15-3 and extend its winning streak to 12 games. And Nov. 28 at home against Tampa Bay.

So with that 7-3 start quickly a fading memory, you're already seeing the social media chatter and getting questions from fans wondering if we're back to Tank Time.

Just stop. Right now.

Yes, the hockey world knows Connor Bedard is on the path to being The Next Connor. And that Adam Fantilli has been tearing up college hockey at Michigan and will be a massive consolation prize to a lottery loser. But it should be clear by now where tanking gets you.

Connor McDavid has won three playoff series in seven years with the Edmonton Oilers, two of them coming last spring when the Oilers got to the Western Conference final. Auston Matthews in Toronto? He's won the same number in his six years as the Sabres have – as in none. 

The Sabres stripped their organization to the studs and it got them nowhere. National media types like to say they got it wrong but show me an example of a team that got it right by tanking? You'll quickly say the 80s Penguins who landed Mario Lemieux, but that was 40 years ago when there was no draft lottery so that no longer applies.

Remember: You finish last and you're only going to have around a 20% chance at landing the No. 1 pick, meaning an 80% chance being Bad for Bedard goes for naught.

The Sabres already have a lineup filled with former first-round picks, including No. 1 overalls Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. They're going to get Mattias Samuelsson back on defense perhaps as soon as Tuesday night in Montreal. Henri Jokiharju and Ilya Lyubushkin are back from their injuries as well and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is up from Rochester to replace the injured Eric Comrie in goal.

The Sabres don't look like a playoff team but who picked them to be one before the season? Just about nobody. The objective here is to right their ship. Kevyn Adams and Don Granato both endured that 18-game losing streak in 2021 and this team isn't going down that road again.

St. Louis just dropped eight in a row. Calgary and Pittsburgh both lost seven straight. Those are veteran teams, not the youngest team in the league like Buffalo is.

"The best teams in the league sometimes go on these streaks. It happens," Buffalo center Dylan Cozens said after practice Friday. "It's a long season, there's lots of time to go on streaks and lots of time to get out of them. You see what happens to some of best teams in the league. They get out of it and they move on."

That's what the Sabres have to do here. Get out of it and move on. 

"You're going into a season where you know our roster is young and you know they have a lot of growing," Granato said. "So you're going to get these challenges with any team in an NHL season. ...  You're gonna go through ups and downs but you don't sit and think about losing a string of games."

"The teams that are winning, the teams are in the playoffs every year do the details properly," Sabres goalie Craig Anderson said Wednesday in Ottawa. "They do it all the time. Do it right, do it every time they're on the ice. The first thing that goes when you're tired is your brain and you stop thinking the game, and that's when things start to hurt you as well."

Speaking of Bedard, did you see who outplayed him in the Regina-Winnipeg game in the WHL on Thursday night? Matt Savoie, taken in the first round by the Sabres in July. Three goals and three assists in his team's 9-5 win while Bedard had a goal and two assists.

The Sabres have a bright future. There's no reason to throw another season away before we hit Thanksgiving. That's just foolishness. That's just giving up. They already tried that once. You all should know how it works.

Sabres claim Tyson Jost off waivers

The Sabres picked up some veteran depth at forward Saturday afternoon by claiming Minnesota Wild center Tyson Jost off waivers. Jost, 24, had no goals and three assists for the Wild in 12 games this season and is in the final year of a contract that carries a cap hit of $2 million. He was traded by the Colorado Avalanche to Minnesota in March, three months before the Avs won the Stanley Cup.

Rookie Jack Quinn returned to the lineup Saturday night in Toronto, but captain Kyle Okposo (lower body) remains out and has now been joined by veteran Zemgus Girgensons, who took a high hit and left Wednesday's game at Ottawa. Okposo, who missed his fourth straight game Saturday, is on injured reserve.

The Sabres had called up Riley Sheahan and Anders Bjork from Rochester but neither was effective in their brief showings, Bjork has been returned to the Amerks to make room for Jost.

Jost was Colorado's first-round pick, No. 10 overall, in the 2016 draft in KeyBank Center. He was selected two spots after the Sabres took Alexander Nylander at No. 8. He has 47 goals and 65 assists in his 354-game NHL career, with career highs of 12 goals for the Avalanche in 2017-18 and 26 points for Colorado in 2018-19.

More Sabre points

• There were multiple reasons why Wednesday's loss in Ottawa was such a disappointment. A big one was that the Senators were playing without standout defenseman Thomas Chabot, out with a concussion since last Saturday's win at Philadelphia. Without Ottawa's top defenseman and with goalie Anton Forsberg entering the game with an .899 save percentage, the Sabres managed only one goal, and even that one with a downer as it was courtesy of a power-play unit that was only 1 for 8 in the game.

• Tuesday's loss to Vancouver prevented the Sabres from winning four straight over their 1970 expansion cousins for the first time in the teams' 52-year history in the NHL. Buffalo last won three in a row over the Canucks from Jan. 15, 1998 to Feb. 28, 1999.

• Patrice Bergeron's two goals here last Saturday night pushed the Boston captain's career point total to 996 and he entered Saturday's game vs. Chicago at 997. Bergeron will become the 94th player in NHL history to compile 1,000 points. Next up is Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos at 985.

Bergeron is eighth in scoring among active players. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are ping-ponging as the active leader, with Crosby entering Saturday's play at 1,430 and Ovechkin at 1,427.

Around the boards

• Boston's Nick Foligno on the job done thus far by coach Jim Montgomery: "He's got such a passion for the game and I think he's really understood this group, I give him a ton of credit coming in and really having done his homework on the way the players are, what he needs to pull out of each and every guy.  I think he's gotten a lot from everybody in the roster. The guys stepping in feel like they can contribute as well and that's a credit to him and then our entire coaching staff."

• Montgomery on what he's learned from the Bruins veteran Brad Marchand: "There's a standard that he holds himself to, which as a coach is really nice. I was telling him the other day how much he's helping us win and he goes, 'Coach, I'm not playing good.' So it's nice to deal with players that expect a lot from themselves."

• Former Toronto standout Jack Campbell isn't cutting it in goal in Edmonton in the first year of his five-year, $25 million contract. Campbell is 6-4 with a hideous 4.27 GAA and .873 save percentage in his 10 starts, most recently a 7-2 loss in Carolina. It's even worse in the last five as Campbell is somehow 3-2 despite being at 4.80/.854.

In fact, it appears Campbell is on the verge of losing the No. 1 job to rookie Stuart Skinner, who rang up 40 saves in last week's 4-2 win at Florida before losing, 3-1, to Los Angeles on Wednesday. Skinner is only 3-4 but with hugely better numbers (2.47/.932).

As the Sabres announce their new reverse retro jerseys, check out the sweaters that have been worn by the team over the years.

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Sports Columnist

A News staffer since 1987, I'm a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, a 2013 inductee into the Buffalo Baseball HOF and the Buffalo chapter chair of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. And I insist only Chicago & New York can come close to Buffalo pizza.

Related to this story

Determined to build upon a 38-goal breakout season, Thompson has made complacency his greatest enemy during the grind of the 82-game schedule. He stays on the ice after practice to hone nuances of his job as the Sabres’ most trusted center and wants to produce more than he did during his first season playing the position in the NHL.

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