Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Lightning

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It was the third matchup of the season between the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning came into this game winners of the first two matchups, the most recent one coming October 17 when the Lightning beat the Sabres 2-1 in Tampa Bay.

The first period belonged to the Lightning, scoring three goals on the Sabres and out shooting Buffalo 11-8. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov all got on the scoring train in the first period to chase Linus Ullmark for the second period.

In the second, it was a different story as it was all Buffalo in the period. 19-year old rookie, Jack Eichel continues on his scoring tear at home netting his team-leading fifth of the season at the 4:21 mark of the period. But even with the team putting up 21 shots on Lightning goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Sabres only got one goal, and trailed 3-1 heading into the final period of play.

In the third, neither team got the puck to the net, combining for five shots in the period. Victor Hedman would add an empty netter with 30-seconds left in the game to give the Lightning its 4-1 win.

“We definitely shot ourselves in the foot tonight with the way we came out and played in the first period,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “It’s frustrating. When we did decide to play, it was a different game. We gave ourselves a chance, we had numerous opportunities to get ourselves back in the game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it, but that’s what happens when you’re not sharp and not ready to go from the start.”

Here are some of the key points of the game:

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      • Tampa Bay still a really good team

The 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions may not be exactly where they want to be through 15 games this season. However, the team showed that they are still very good and improve its season record to 7-6-2 on the year.

Lightning captain, Steven Stamkos continues to score for the Lightning, netting his seventh goal of the season in the first. Stamkos leads the team in goals, and is second in points (10) to defenseman, Victor Hedman with eleven.

Forward, Nikita Kucherov is having himself a nice season with the Bolts, as he scored a goal and added an assist on Tyler Johnson’s first period goal. Kucherov now has eight points on the year, which is tied with Johnson for third on the team. Kucherov is second on the team in goals with five, only trailing Stamkos.

Andrei Vasilevskiy was unbeatable in the nets tonight, stopping 29 of 30 shots that he faced. Positionally, Vasilevskiy was solid, and did not give the Sabres too many rebound opportunities around the net.

The Bolts will finish up its four game road trip on Saturday in Minnesota against the Wild. Tampa Bay will already finish its season series with Buffalo on Tuesday back home in Tampa Bay.

      • Eichel dominant at home

It is an unfortunate set of circumstances with the injury to Connor McDavid in Edmonton. A broken collarbone that could sideline him until March. But now it is Jack Eichel’s show, and boy has he continued to flash his brilliance.

With his second period goal, Eichel now has a team-high five goals this season, all of which on home ice at the First Niagara Center.

The 19-year old rookie not only leads the team in goals, but also leads the team in shots on goal with 48, and averages 18:55 of total ice-time.

Not only has Eichel been brilliant offensively, but his defensive skill this season have been just as good. Eichel has been heavily relied on in both ends of the ice. His back-checking ability has shown well, taking away many opportunities for the opposition, and has been getting more ice-time on the penalty kill.

In Thursday’s game, Eichel was on the ice for 2:10 while the Sabres were shorthanded.

Eichel just keeps getting better and better, and with more ice-time comes more confidence. It is only a matter of time until Eichel becomes one of the biggest names in the game.

  • Pulling Ullmark means nothing

 It was a rough start to this game for Sabres rookie goalie, Linus Ullmark. Ullmark was left out to dry on Tampa Bay’s first goal when Stamkos was left all alone in front of the Buffalo net-minder. Ullmark was beat cleanly on Johnson’s goal, and the third goal was off a rebound off to the side of the goal.

Ullmark gave up three goals on eleven Tampa Bay shots, but it was not entirely his fault.

“We gave a good team too many easy opportunities to score,” Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said. “They took every advantage of it. Some checking assignments, some missed plays. Stamkos has got a one-timer, and Johnson has got a look from the slot. We change on the second goal, a change on the third goal. We put a puck up and change, and gave them a great opportunity back in the other end and it was in the back of our net.”

Ullmark was pulled after the first period in favor of Chad Johnson, but it was a mercy pull to get the team riled up for the second.

“I like the way we fought in the second period, and got back into the game,” Bylsma said. “We get a goal, get a chance on the powerplay at the end of the second. We had a great look at the net a couple of times… We had opportunities to get back in the game. In the third, I don’t know how many scoring chances we were gonna get, but they did a pretty god job of eliminating [us]. I thought we were coming at them, we just weren’t able to get the opportunities we needed.”

Just remember: Ullmark has only played in seven games in North America, four of which for the Sabres. Ullmark has room to grow, and he is getting better with every game. Does this mean that Ullmark will not start on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks? Probably. But he is fun to watch, and we can only hope he shakes off this one and comes back eager to win the next one.

    • Where are you, Bogo?

The Buffalo defense could use the services of Zach Bogosian, who has yet to play this season due to injury.

Tonight, the Sabres made some mental mistakes on the ice, and really hurt the team, especially in the first period.

The pairing of Josh Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen really struggled. Ristolainen was a minus-3 and was a minus-10 Corsi, while Gorges was minus-2 and a minus-11 Corsi on the evening.

As for Mike Weber, possession-wise, he was good as he finished the night a plus-21 Corsi. Weber even got his first point of the season with an assist on Eichel’s second period goal. However, Weber is still not a good NHL defenseman. Weber took two penalties in the game, and made some bad mistakes that gave the Lightning some great scoring opportunities.

It helps when you play with a good NHL defenseman in Mark Pysyk.

The presence of Bogosian will help the Sabres, and could improve some of their mishaps on the blue line. McCabe certainly is not going back to Rochester with the way he has played. It would come down to waiving either Weber or Carlo Colaiacovo with the intention of sending them down to the American Hockey League.

My money is on Weber.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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