Quick Hits: Sabres at Wild

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After snapping a season-long six-game losing streak on Sunday afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres were in Minnesota on Tuesday to close out a three-game road trip against the Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

After a strong performance in net, Linus Ullmark would get the start in goal. Tuesday’s start in goal could be Ullmark’s last start in goal as Robin Lehner is expected to be recalled later this week and play in one of Buffalo’s next two games against the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins.

Tuesday was the chance to see defenseman, Mark Pysyk return to the lineup for the first time since mid-November with a cracked bone in his foot. However, Pysyk was a healthy scratch after being recalled on Monday from his conditioning stint with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League.

As for Jake McCabe, he left Sunday’s game early with a lower-body injury, but was back on the blue line on a pairing with Zach Bogosian.

In the first period, the Sabres were able to carry their momentum on Sunday’s win into Minnesota. Buffalo put up some good energy early in the period, and had a couple of quality chances on Wild goalie, Devan Dubnyk.

At about the halfway point of the period, the Sabres got ahead first with Jamie McGinn burying an Evander Kane rebound. It was McGinn’s ninth goal of the season, and his first goal since December 26 against the Bruins.

Buffalo would extend its lead to 2-0 at the 17:30 mark of the first period with a goal from Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen’s first shot on goal was blocked, but got a second opportunity and it found its way into the net through a screen. Marcus Foligno was in front for the screen, and it appeared as though he got a stick on it to deflect it, but Ristolainen was credited with the goal.

Just 20-seconds later, the Sabres made it 3-0. Brian Gionta deflected a high shot from Josh Gorges into the net  after the Wild failed to clear the puck out of the zone. Officials would review the play to see if Gionta’s stick was above the crossbar, but it was deemed a good goal.

Buffalo went into the first intermission with the three-goal advantage, and out-shot the Wild, 11-10.

On to the second period, the Wild came out looking much better than they did in the first as they controlled the pace of play for a majority of the period.

Former Sabres forward, Thomas Vanek would take a goaltender interference penalty to give Buffalo the powerplay. However, it did not matter for the Wild as they picked up a shorthanded goal courtesy of Ryan Suter. Suter made a really nice play to move the puck out of the zone himself, got a return feed from Erik Haula, and took the puck to the net. Before he swung around behind the net, Suter put a backhander on Ullmark that jumped in the air off of Ullmark’s paddle. The puck would come back down, bounce off of Ullmark’s leg and into the back of the net. Jack Eichel had a chance to play the puck away from the net, but he whiffed on the swipe.

For the Sabres, it was only the second shorthanded goal against all season, and first since October 24 against the New Jersey Devils. At this point of the season last year, the Sabres had given up six shorthanded goals against.

Buffalo would hold onto the 3-1 lead at the end of the second, but the Sabres would be out-shot in the period, 14-5.

The Sabres would tighten things up in the third period, and not give the Wild too many quality chances to put the puck in the net. Buffalo held the Wild to just six shots in the third period, while registering seven of their own.

Thomas Vanek would add a late goal to make it a one goal game, but Ullmark would stop 28 shots on his way to his second consecutive win. More importantly, the Sabres claim four of a possible six points on this three game road trip against the Central Division.

Now, the quick hits!

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    • Why no Pysyk?

Mark Pysyk was recalled by the Sabres on Monday, and most thought that he would make his return to the lineup on Tuesday. However, that was not the case.

Jake McCabe has left Sunday’s game against the Jets early with a lower-body injury, but Dan Bylsma said that his injury felt better at practice on Monday. In the pre-game skate on Tuesday, McCabe was healthy enough to play and he would remain in the lineup.

But Pysyk would end up being the healthy scratch, and his return would have to wait.

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Sure, the lineup that got the win against the Jets on Sunday was good and Bylsma wanted to reward everyone with another game. However, Pysyk would have been a better option than a couple of players that did play.

Yes, Mike Weber has been playing relatively well for the Sabres, but is he a better skater or puck possession player than Pysyk? Absolutely not. Plus, the Weber pairing with Cody Franson, at times, looked very sloppy on Tuesday night.

Also, McCabe did not look quite himself on the ice throughout the game. Even though McCabe did play 20:17 of total ice-time, he did not skate as well as he normally does, and he looked hesitant to make physical contact on some plays.

Maybe Pysyk will return to the blue line on Friday night when the Sabres host the Capitals at the First Niagara Center. If so, it will be a great sight to see number-3 back on the ice.

    • Foligno-Larsson-Gionta continues to roll

This new line for the Sabres has been rolling for the past two games.

On Sunday, Johan Larsson stayed on the ice to chase after a dump in and found Sam Reinhart coming off the bench for Buffalo’s first goal. Then in the third period, it was Marcus Foligno putting home a juicy rebound off a Brian Gionta shot that put Buffalo ahead for good.

On Tuesday, this line comes up big again with two huge second period goals. Gionta was the guy who took the faceoff to get the puck back to Ristolainen for his eighth goal of the season. And seconds later, Foligno kept the puck in at the point, and eventually Gionta batted in a shot from Gorges to give Buffalo the 3-1 lead.

All night long, the line looked physical, fast, and seemed to out play any Minnesota line they faced.

And before this line was made, all three players were struggling or under-achieving all season long. Maybe now, if this line sticks together with Bylsma loving to shuffle lines consistently, all three guys can get back to themselves and play some better hockey to finish out the season.

    • We over Vanek and Pominville yet?

Yes. At least everyone should be.

As much as we loved them in Buffalo, their time had come and gone and it was time to move on. Remember the Pominville trade with the Wild back in 2013? Well here is what has come of that trade so far:

Without the Pominville trade, the Sabres would not have Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. Also, Vaclav Karabacek may still develop into a nice prospect for the Sabres down the road. He is currently playing with the Mocton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Oh yeah, and Johan Larsson has been playing better lately.

Even the Thomas Vanek trade has worked out pretty nicely for the Sabres just a couple of years later:

Brendan Guhle is having a good season with the Prince Albert Raiders in the Western Hockey League, and could have a nice future with the Sabres in the next few years. Buffalo also was able to acquire Lehner and Legwand with the first rounder we acquired from the Islanders. Josh Gorges has also been a nice addition, playing on a defensive pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen.

While it is fun to see these guys play the Sabres once again, the assets we got to set us up for the future is much more worth it.

    • Ullmark to Rochester?

The Sabres’ next game will not be until Friday night against the Capitals, and then on Saturday against the Bruins. Robin Lehner is expected to start for the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night against the Albany Devils, and if he is healthy he could be recalled by the Sabres as soon as Thursday.

After another very strong performance in net for Ullmark, it seems disappointing to see the kid get sent back to Rochester like this, but it will only be for the best. With Ullmark going to Rochester, he can work on perfecting his game and becoming a better North American goalie in a league that plays at a much different pace than the NHL.

Just remember, Ullmark had just two games with the Americans before coming up to the Sabres to split time in net with Chad Johnson. His other professional experience was in Sweden with MODO Hockey and on the bigger ice surface.

For Ullmark to go 7-10-2 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .915 save-percentage in 19 games played, that is pretty darn impressive under the circumstances.

Now, it is off to Rochester to perfect his game and help bring some stability to the Amerks net. With Ullmark coming back to Rochester, that means that the Amerks will either keep three goalies in the depth chart, or send either Nathan Lieuwen or Andrey Makarov to ECHL Elmira.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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