Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Red Wings

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The Buffalo Sabres have found themselves in a rut heading near the halfway point of the season. First, they lose both games of a home-and-home series with the Washington Capitals, then they lost a home matchup with the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve.

The Sabres powerplay has struggled, even with Buffalo breaking an 0-25 slump on the powerplay on Thursday night. At times, Buffalo tries too hard to make a perfect pass, and other times their zone entry is poor and the team cannot set up anything to make a play.

Buffalo has been putting shots on goal, 101 in the past three games, but only have three goals to show for it. Buffalo would have to find a way to put the puck in the net on Saturday afternoon against the Detroit Red Wings at the First Niagara Center.

The last time the Sabres and Red Wings met, Buffalo was dominated for the first 55-minutes of the game. Buffalo then got two quick goals from Ryan O’Reilly and Johan Larsson to go up 2-1 and win by that score.

Buffalo needed another big win to snap a three-game skid and get back on track.

In the first period, the Sabres powerplay continued to struggle as Buffalo went 0-2 and failed to register a single shot on goal while allowing the Red Wings to put a shot on goal shorthanded.

The only goal of the period came from Red Wings’ forward Brad Richards off a 2-on-1 feed from Riley Sheahan. It was Richards’ fourth goal of the season, and second goal against the Sabres this season.

Buffalo ended up with eleven shots in the period, while Detroit managed only seven.

Buffalo got into penalty problems to begin the second period, as Mike Weber and Cody Franson took time to sit in the sin-bin. The Sabres killed off Weber’s penalty, but were not so lucky on the penalty kill with Franson’s penalty.

In the dying seconds of the penalty kill, Red Wings defenseman Mike Weber put a shot on goal from the point that was deflected into the net by Riley Sheahan. It was Sheahan’s sixth goal of the season, and his second point of the afternoon.

Finally, the Sabres would strike gold on the powerplay.

After Jonathan Ericsson took a holding penalty, Jack Eichel gets the Sabres on the board with bullet to the far-side corner of the net. For Eichel, it was his 12th goal of the season, but he was not done there.

Just three minutes later, Eichel takes the puck on a breakaway, after a Red Wing defender fell down, and puts home his second goal of the game. Eichel beat Mrazek on the breakaway, banked the puck off the post, and the puck then bounced into the net off the Red Wings’ goaltender.

The Sabres and Red Wings would head into the second intermission tied 2-2, with Buffalo holding a 24-15 shot advantage in the shots column.

The Red Wings quickly regained the lead just 2:27 into the third period, as Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg buries a rebound to make it 3-2.

But the Sabres would get another opportunity on the powerplay, and this time it was Buffalo’s other second overall pick in 2014, Sam Reinhart with the equalizer.  Rasmus Ristolainen took a shot from the point, and Reinhart tried to put home the rebound. The Red Wings attempted to clear the puck out, but it went off a defender and the puck trickled back all the way into the net. For Reinhart, it was his ninth goal of the season, and first goal since December 7 against the Vancouver Canucks.

But the Sabres would fall behind late again, and this one was a dagger. Red Wings’ forward, Tomas Tatar entered the Sabres zone and ripped a shot past Chad Johnson from the high-slot with just 2:50 left in the game. This came just about 30-seconds after Evander Kane nearly put Buffalo ahead 4-3, but his shot hit the post.

Buffalo would get one more golden opportunity with a Zach Bogosian breakaway. Eichel set up the play by slowing it down to allow a play to develop. He hit Bogosian streaking with a burst of speed through the middle, and he hit a hole for a chance to go all alone in on Mrzaek. Bogosian tried to put the puck through the five-hole, but Mrazek stayed with him to make the save.

Mrazek would make 32 saves on 35 Buffalo shots faced, and would hand Buffalo its fourth straight loss.

Now, time for the quick hits!

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    • JACK… EICHEL

The 19-year old rookie has been on fire over the past seven games.

With Eichel’s two goals on Saturday, Eichel has four goals and seven assists over that span. Eichel also now has points in six of his last seven games, after going on a career-high five game pointless drought before this latest streak.

Eichel also did something impressive in this recent hot stretch:

That was after he had scored his second goal of the game.

Also with his recent stretch, Eichel has found himself in the top-five in rookie scoring. Eichel now has 13 goals and 12 assists, which is good for 23 points on the season. Eichel sits just two points behind fellow American, Dylan Larkin for third, and eleven points behind Chicago Blackhawks’ rookie, Artemi Panarin for the league’s best total.

Eichel seems to have found an extra step in his game since his impressive performance against the Bruins on December 26. If Eichel continues to keep up the pace, maybe he can make a strong case for the Calder Trophy as the National Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year, and maybe help the Sabres rebound from this latest slump.

Here’s another look at Eichel’s second goal of the game.

    • Top powerplay unit – Good; Second powerplay unit – Ugly

There is no arguing that Buffalo’s powerplay has been a train wreck over the past few games. Buffalo managed to score its first powerplay goal in seven games on Thursday night against the Islanders.

On Saturday, Buffalo managed to get two powerplay goals all thanks to their top unit of Eichel, Reinhart, Ristolainen, Ryan O’Reilly, and Jamie McGinn. The top unit also accounted for a majority of the opportunities on the powerplay throughout the game.

The Sabres’ second unit of Evander Kane, Cody Franson, Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, and Johan Larsson needs a lot of work. With the exception of one powerplay in the second period, the second unit was sloppy with the puck movement, and failed to generate any quality chances on the man-advantage.

It was great to finally see the powerplay come alive once again, however head coach Dan Bylsma needs to figure out what to do with the second powerplay unit, and fast. While it would be great to have the top unit stay on the ice for the full two minutes, guys get tired.

    • Losing streaks continue

While the Sabres current losing streak hits four games, there is another streak that lives on for another day.

Buffalo has not won a hockey game in the month of January since January 30, 2014. Buffalo has not even registered a point in a single game since that day nearly two years ago. That means Buffalo has lost the past 13 games in regulation in the month of January.

But that streak will not continue for long, right? Certainly hope not.

    • When does Mark Pysyk come back?

It is a great sign to see Mark Pysyk back on the ice practicing with the team after suffering a cracked bone in his foot a while back. However, the Sabres are going to need him back very soon.

It was a rough game for Mike Weber, in particular. It started early for Weber as he miss-played a two-on-one in the first period which resulted in Richards’ goal. Weber gave Sheahan way too much space to be able to make the pass, and he committed way too early to the pass.

Weber finished the night with a penalty, two hits, three blocked shots, two giveaways and a minus-1 rating in 13:28 of total ice-time. Weber has played relatively well over the past few games, but today was certainly a struggle for him.

Many people would much rather have Mark Pysyk on the ice at any time over a guy like Mike Weber. And with every defender healthy, the Sabres will probably have to put someone on waivers to go to Rochester, or send Jake McCabe back to Rochester without waivers. But in any event, we hope to see you back on the ice soon, Mark.

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    • World Junior Hockey Championship and Sabres is a hectic mix

It is not fair that the IIHF scheduled the United States’ quarterfinal matchup with the Czech Republic at the same time as the Sabres game. It also was not fair that the Canada-Finland game continued on into the 1 p.m. hour.

Three games at one time is killer.

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At the World Junior Championships, Finland beat Canada 6-5 in a crazy, back and forth game that resulted in Canada being sent packing from the tournament.

Finland’s top line of Jesse Puljujärvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine were dominant once again, accounting for three of Finland’s goals, and all three registered three more points in the tournament. Puljujärvi and Laine are both eligible for the 2016 National Hockey League’s Entry Level Draft, and both are expected to go in the top-5 of the Draft.

As for the United States, they coasted to a 7-0 win over the Czech Republic to advance to the semifinals.

Another top prospect in the 2016 NHL Draft, Auston Matthews lit the lamp three times against the Czech Republic. Matthews could be the consensus top pick in the 2016 Draft, which will be in Buffalo on June 24 and June 25 at the First Niagara Center.

Also, Sabres prospect Will Borgen had an assist on one of Matthews’ three goals in the win.

Team USA will face Russia in the semifinals on Monday, while Finland will face Sweden.

Luckily, the Sabres played its worst hockey in the first 30-minutes of the game. Finland and Canada ended during the first period, and the United States and Czech Republic game was in hand in the second period. That allowed a good chance for many to watch Eichel light the lamp and the Sabres attempt its comeback against Detroit.

Almost a perfect day of hockey.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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