The best New York team plays in Buffalo

Editor’s Note: This story began on Saturday night, but didn’t get completed until Monday morning.

While Game Four of the World Series gets going in Los Angeles between the Dodgers and Red Sox, following a wild and crazy seven hour and 20-minute Game Three that made baseball history into the late hours this morning, the search for a good New York team to watch is on. With the Yankees not in Boston’s league away for the Fall and Winter, there aren’t many good options for sports fans who live in this town.

The Knicks have lost five straight and are 1-5 without their best player, Kristaps Porzingis. The Nets are 2-3, looking a bit more competitive. Neither NBA team is expected to make the playoffs. The plight of the local NFL teams is similar. The Giants have become a blue laughingstock despite Saquon Barkley’s best efforts with an embarrassing 1-6 record. The Jets are 3-4 and have given their fans like Hasan hope, thanks to promising rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. While it’s unlikely they’ll win nine games to have a shot at a wildcard, at least things are looking up for Gang Green.

Unless you root for the Devils like our resident New Jersey blogger, whose team snapped a losing skid by holding off the underachieving Panthers thanks to the brilliant play of the dynamic Taylor Hall line with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, it doesn’t look too promising this winter. The rebuilding Rangers are exactly who we thought they were. They enter the first of three games in California tomorrow afternoon at the struggling Kings with a 3-6-1 record. Good for last in the Metro Division. They usually give an honest effort, but the lack of talent will give Henrik Lundqvist nightmares. The Islanders went into disappointing Philadelphia and buried the Flyers 6-1 led by new captain Anders Lee’s goal and three assists. An early boo to trick or treaters with Halloween approaching. Barry Trotz’ new club is a work in progress. So, a 4-4-1 mark isn’t bad considering John Tavares left them in the dust for the hometown high scoring Leafs. They don’t have a legit number one goalie with Thomas Greiss and today’s winner, Robin Lehner mixing and matching. The defense lacks a true number one. It’ll be an uphill climb between Brooklyn and Long Island.

If there are possibly no good watches in the metropolitan area that represent New York even if Met Life Stadium is located in East Rutherford, who’s left? Not the bumbling and stumbling Bills, who are quarterback less due to Josh Allen being injured. Their reward after getting blown out by the woeful Andrew Luck Colts is a Monday night mismatch against the despised Patriots. Good luck with that. At least they ended their playoff drought last year.

However, in Western New York located at KeyBank Center, are the Buffalo Sabres. Following a in auspicious start where they couldn’t score, they’ve quietly been playing better hockey. With new captain Jack Eichel leading the way, an improved roster that includes 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin and new sniper Jeff Skinner are winning games. Currently battling the Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Sabres are 6-4-0, which puts them in a tie in points (12) with the surprising Canadiens in a tough Atlantic that features three headed monsters Toronto, Tampa and Boston.

If you assume the Leafs, Lightning and Bruins will make up three of the eight spots for the playoffs, then it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the defending champion Capitals and uber talented Penguins will definitely be the top two teams from the Metro. That leaves third place up for grabs between the Devils, Blue Jackets and improved Hurricanes. Assuming the Flyers snap out of it like last season, they should be in the mix for a wildcard. They’re underperforming in all aspects. Not only defensively or in net. They’re not scoring either. They have too much talent for that to continue.

If the Habs prove they’re for real, then the Sabres will have to compete with them and a couple of Metro clubs for the postseason. The big question is what’s going on in Florida? Maybe the ageless wonder Roberto Luongo really is that important to the Panthers’ chances. I don’t believe second-year coach Bob Boughner is in trouble yet. He did a terrific job last Spring with the team just missing at the end to the Devils.

As of this writing, those Sabres are 6-4-1 after earning a good point by rallying from two goals down in an overtime defeat to the Blue Jackets. Most encouraging is that it’s not only Eichel or Skinner doing the scoring. In fact, former postseason hero Jason Pominville has come up with some big goals for this time. The elder statesman is playing on the top line with Eichel and Skinner, who notched his team best seventh goal on Saturday.

Kyle Okposo is rounding back into form. He wasn’t quite the same when he returned in ’17-18. However, he is delivering to provide Buffalo with secondary scoring. Something that’s badly needed. That he, Pominville and Conor Sheary are getting the job done demonstrates why they’re improved.

We will continue to keep a close eye on Tage Thompson, who is the young player that came over with veteran Patrik Berglund as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade with St. Louis.

Improving team depth was crucial for this season. So too is having the teenage phenom Dahlin patrolling the blueline with Rasmus Ristolainen. Two exceptional Swedish skating defensemen who should be instrumental in the Sabres rise.

It also looks like they chose wisely by going for Carter “E.F.” Hutton, who’s provided stability in net as the number one starter. Funny enough. Former Blues teammate Jake Allen continues to struggle. Maybe Hutton is the steal Buffalo thought. If he can continue to be steady, then they’ll be in most games. Linus Ullmark has been okay so far as the backup. A late pick a few years ago, Buffalo didn’t rush him. That’s usually better with goalies for their development.

Maybe in Year Two, coach Phil Housley is a bit more confident behind the bench. It takes time and patience to see through a rebuild. Buffalo fans should be excited by the progress. They must continue to trust the process.

Before concluding this piece, former first round pick Alexander Nylander is faring better in his second pro year with Rochester. He’s got four goals and five assists in 10 games. Hopefully, he can be a part of it soon.

So, are the Sabres the best current New York team until the Yankees get going following a intriguing hot stove with Boston winning another Series? As of right now, I say yes. While we can be upset over the Red Sox latest championship, I truly think Alex Cora should send Dave Roberts a thank you card with an invitation to the parade. 😱😉

Maybe for people who live in the five boroughs, the Sabres don’t have the same appeal. However, no one can deny the obvious. Our teams stink. One Buffalo team is on the right track. They could be worth watching.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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