Quick Hits: Sabres at Blackhawks

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The Sabres rode a league-high five-game losing streak into the United Center in Chicago on Friday night. One of the hardest teams to break a losing streak against is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks were 22 points better than the Sabres, and won the only matchup between these two teams in Buffalo back on December 19th.

The first period was just like how the entire Sabres season has gone so far. Buffalo played to par of their opponent, but were unable to capitalize on scoring chances and found themselves behind. The Sabres equaled the Blackhawks in scoring chances with seven, but fell behind 1-0.

Chad Johnson made several great saves in the first period, but was beaten on a gorgeous tick-tack-toe play by the Blackhawks, ending in a Niklas Hjalmarsson goal.

Johnson kept the Sabres within a goal, stopping Artem Anisimov on a breakaway immediately after the goal. Johnson keeping the Sabres in the game was the story for most of the first, second, and third periods.

The second period is where the Blackhawks began to take control of the game. Between the second and third periods, the Sabres were out-shot by a total of 34-18. One main difference in the two teams was passing. Chicago always knows where their teammates are before even looking, and they make crisp passes right on the tape every time. The Sabres do sometimes, but often need to find their teammates and then rush passes.

Johnson turned aside all 19 shots he faced in the second period. The Sabres entered the final period still down 1-0.

Buffalo took a penalty at the 14:30 mark of the third, as Josh Gorges was sent to the box for interference. Ristolainen was lucky to not get a penalty as he threw at least three punches in the scrum after the whistle. Perhaps the Blackhawks were getting nervous when Patrick Kane was on the bottom of a pile of five or six players.

The Sabres successfully killed off the penalty to keep it a one-goal game. Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane made it very difficult for the Blackhawks to enter the zone cleanly and they never really got set up.

With just 8:23 to go in the third period, who else but Ryan O’Reilly tied the game off a great set up by Jamie McGinn from behind the net. It was O’Reilly’s 17th goal of the season, tying his goal total from last season with the Colorado Avalanche. McGinn got his 19th point of the season which puts him on a pace to break his own career point total of 38 in a season.

Chad Johnson kept the game tied immediately after the O’Reilly goal. Hossa and Toews roared down with a 2-on-1, and Johnson made the save and provided no rebound off a Hossa wrist shot. It was important for Johnson to not let up a rebound because Toews was driving the net and was waiting for the puck to drop.

With five minutes left to play, Philip Danault made a nice play to cut to the outside and beat Chad Johnson on the short side. The Sabres got caught in a bad line change and forced Ristolainen to give up the left side  of the ice. Johnson is mostly to blame from the Sabres for the goal, as he went down way to early and gave up the top of the net. Danault was the Blackhawks’ first round pick in 2011, and it was his first National Hockey League goal.

Jonathan Toews finished the game off with an empty net goal in the final seconds to make it 3-1.

Now the quick hits:

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    • Panarin goes diving

Rasmus Ristolainen never even got his stick tied up in Artemi Panarin’s feet, yet he was called for interference? Give me a break.

To the referees’ credit, the right call was made to assess Panarin a diving / embellishment penalty. Panarin clearly was trying to draw a penalty, so why did Ristolainen also get one?

Hey, Panarin…

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Expect to be getting some nice mail from the NHL in the coming days…

    • Reinhart and Eichel play on the same line

Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel have not played on the same line for significant amounts of time this season. Tonight they were playing together with Zemgus Girgensons.

Eichel has played with four other wingers more than Reinhart. The two are going to be together for a long time on the same team, so if Reinhart is to stay on the wing, Dan Bylsma better let them get comfortable with each other.

    • Sabres on pace for 68 points
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We’re at the exact mid-point of the Sabres’ season, and they have just 34 points. The team is on a league-high six-game losing streak, in 29th place, and sit just 1 point out of dead last.

Last year at this time, the Sabres had 31 points, were 28th in the league, and were 3 points out of last place.

There’s no doubt the team is better, but the league, as a whole, is much better. There are not three or four teams that have rosters that look like American Hockey League teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes are two teams that were thought to be at the bottom, and both have overachieved this season.

68 points would be 24 points out of the playoffs, which is, at least, a small improvement from last season.

    • Lehner and Pysyk playing in Rochester

Robin Lehner and Mark Pysyk played on conditioning stints for the Rochester Americans against the Hershey Bears on Friday night.

Lehner made 24 saves on 28 shots faced, and got the 5-4 win. All four goals against him were, perhaps, unlucky and not all on him. Lehner is expected to start one of the next two games for the Amerks, and then a decision will be made on his being available to Dan Bylsma.

Pysyk said that he was nervous to play on his injury at first, but was fine as he worked through the game. Pysyk will play the last two games of the Amerks three-game weekend, and should really help the Sabres upon his return.

Written by Joe DiBiase

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