Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Flames

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After a loss to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night at the First Niagara Center, the Buffalo Sabres would host Alberta’s other team in the Calgary Flames  on Thursday.

This was the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams with the Flames winning the first game in Calgary on December 10. The last game played between the Flames and Sabres at the First Niagara Center was December 11, 2014 when Buffalo got a late goal from Matt Moulson to beat the Flames, 4-3.

On Wednesday, Sabres forward Jack Eichel was named to the North American team for the World Cup of Hockey in Spetember, while defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen will play for his native country of Finland in the tournament. On the Calgary side, forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were named to the North American team, while forward Michael Frolik will represent the Czech Republic.

Both Buffalo and Calgary have struggled coming into Thursday’s game. Buffalo has been shutout in two of the past four games, and have only put up four goals in that span. For Calgary, they came in to Thursday’s game losers of six straight games, and losers of nine of ten games.

Robin Lehner would get back in the nets for Buffalo for his second straight start, while Jonas Hiller would be in net for the Flames.

The Sabres would finally get some pucks to the back of the net by scoring six goals on the Flames. Buffalo would beat Calgary 6-3 on home-ice, and hand the Flames its seventh straight loss.

The first period was a strong defensive effort for the Sabres, as they held the Flames to zero shots for the first 17 minutes of the game. Buffalo also held the Flames to no shots while at even strength.

However, the Sabres continued to struggle on the powerplay, going 0-for-3 in the period on the mad advantage while registering three shots.

The game would go into the second period scoreless with the shots in favor of the Sabres, 8-4, and the scoring chances also in favor of Buffalo, 19-14.

Calgary would find the back of the first just 3:18 into the second period. Mikael Backlund would net his 12th goal of the season after a loose puck in front of the net came free, and Backlund put it over the shoulder of Lehner. Lehner was trying to find the puck in front, and had no knowledge of where the puck was when the goal was scored.

The Flames took over the pace of play for the next five minutes of play, until the 10:27 mark of the period.

The Sabres’ second line of Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, and Brian Gionta would put up a good shift and put up a couple of quality scoring chances. After Marcus Foligno missed a golden opportunity in front of the net, Gionta would find Ristolainen coming in from the point. Ristolainen would rip a shot through the five-hole of Hiller for his ninth goal of the season. It was also Ristolainen’s fourth goal of the year against the Flames, and his first goal in 21 games.

Four minutes later, Nicolas Deslauriers took an interference penalty and gave the Flames a chance to retake the lead on the powerplay.

However, the Sabres would take a 2-1 lead while shorthanded thanks to a beautiful individual effort from Foligno. Foligno brought the puck into the Flames zone, and turned defenseman T.J. Brodie inside-out with a nice move to get to the net. Foligno then “wristered” a shot blocker-side of Hiller for his eighth goal of the season.

Just 15-seconds later, the Flames would come right back to notch a powerplay goal to tie the game. Dougie Hamilton would rip a shot short-side, top-shelf on Lehner to get the game evened up on his tenth goal of the season.

Just a minute and two-seconds later, the Flames fail to clear their zone, and Zach Bogosian finds Deslauriers and he rips a shot to the top of the net for his fifth goal of the season. For Deslauriers, it was also his first goal since October 30 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The period would end with the Sabres on top of the scoreboard, but the Flames would have the majority of the scoring chances with 24 chances to Buffalo’s 21. However, the Sabres would still lead in the overall shot department, 22-20.

Just 3:56 into the third period, the Flames would tie the game once again as Sean Monahan put in his own rebound on the doorstep for his 21st goal of the season.

Later on, it was Johan Larsson with no one around him in front of Hiller gets a pass from Gionta, and he would roof a backhander over the Flames netminder. Larsson would score his fourth goal of the season to put Buffalo up 4-3 with 10:29 to go in the third.

Coming into Thursday’s game, two of Larsson’s three goals this season were game-winning goals. By the end of the night, it would be his third game-winning goal of the season.

Less than a minute later, the Flames would take its seventh and eighth penalties of the game, and would give the Sabres a 5-on-3 man advantage for a minute and thirty-seconds.

After the first powerplay had expired, Eichel took the puck back to the point and ripped a shot towards the net. His shot would find its way through a crowd, and Eichel would get credit for his 18th goal of the season.

Evander Kane would add an empty net goal to for his 18th goal of the season to complete the 6-3 win over the Flames.

Now, time for the quick hits!

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    • Powerplay FINALLY comes through

The Sabres looked ugly on the powerplay throughout most of the game. The Sabres managed to throw nine shots on goal on the mad-advantage, but it was the last shot that finally found its way through to the back of the net.

“We had our opportunities in this game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said following the win. “We had the 5-on-3, and our powerplay has been struggling. It’s a smart shot,. it’s a quality shot, there’s a screen and the goalie doesn’t see it. To have that one go in and find its way to the top corner was certainly a sigh of relief for all of us, for Jack, and the powerplay.”

It was Buffalo’s first powerplay goal since February 21 when Zach Bogosian scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Hockey Day in America. Before Thursday’s goal, the Sabres had gone 0-of-18 on the powerplay.

Even with this dreadful run on the powerplay, the Sabres are still at 19.2-percent on the man-advantage which is good for 12th in the National Hockey League.

Good to finally see the powerplay get a goal, but it has mostly been the top powerplay unit getting the goals. The second unit still looks like a flaming bag of dog poo on a doorstep.

    • Foligno-Larsson-Gionta working well together

All three players on this line had an extremely rough start to the 2015-16 season. Lately, however, this line could be one of the best lines the Sabres have had all season.

It all starts with Marcus Foligno, who could be playing his best hockey since he came into the league at the end of the 2011-12 season. On the night, Foligno had a goal and two assists in 15:34 of total ice-time. He was skating hard, and was playing at the rate that is expected out of him on a nightly basis.

“You have to make plays out there, you have to be creative to set up plays,” Foligno said following the win. “It’s such a tight game now-a-days that a sick pass is going to beat someone. You have to be confident too. I think we’re slowly gaining confidence where we get over the blue line, we have out head up and we’re making passes instead of dumping it in all the time and chasing. We had some great, creative plays tonight, and it obviously got us more goals.”

Foligno’s second period goal is very much worthy of a top-10 candidate on Sportscenter on ESPN. It woke the First Niagara Center up, and set the tone for the rest of the game for the Sabres.

“I told him to never do that again,” Bylsma joked. “It was obviously a great move, it got its way through, and the shot even [better]. The scouting report would be out now on Marcus as high-glove, or high-stick side today. High in the right corner of the net is where he’s going.”

As for Larsson, his third period goal was the answer as it stood for the game-winning goal. He finished the game with a goal on two shots in 15:46 of total ice-time.

As for Brian Gionta, he had two assists on the night, helping set up Ristolainen’s goal and Larsson’s goal.

“I think we’ve played for a long time now. We know each other, and know what we have to do out there,” Larsson said. “We gotta shut down their best line and take pride in that. Obviously we want to score, you want to play [in the offensive end]. We had a little bump [in the road last game], so we wanted to get back [tonight] and play good.”

    • Eichel and Reinhart working some magic

There is no doubt that Eichel has had an impressive rookie season in Buffalo, but unfortunately it probably will not be enough to get him the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.

On Thursday, Eichel had one of his best games in a while, and played well centering a line with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart.

Eichel finished the night with his powerplay goal in the third period, seven shots, and was 67-percent on his faceoffs in 23:02 of total ice-time. His 23 minutes of ice-time is a new career high for the 19-year old.

As for Reinhart, he was dishing some sweet passes all throughout the game on Thursday. He made a beautiful pass to Eichel in the second period, which gave Eichel a chance on a wrap-around but he hit the side of the net.

Reinhart had two shots on goal in 22:54 of total ice-time, but has looked like he has fit in with Eichel on the right side over the past two games. His hard work with Ryan O’Reilly has looked like it has been paying off for the 20-year old rookie.

Until O’Reilly comes back from his lower-body injury, watching Jack and Samson work their magic on the ice will be fun. Get your popcorn ready!

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    • North America should be fun to watch at World Cup of Hockey

While the Flames may have not gotten the results they wanted, they do have some talented young kids on its roster.

Eichel, Gaudreau, and Monahan are going to be a treat to see play on the North America team at the World Cup of Hockey in September. The three combined have accounted for 64 goals and 151 points in 191 games played this season.

The three of them may not be alone, as there are still some roster spots to be selected for the North America roster. A couple of names that could be up for consideration are Buffalo’s Reinhart and Calgary’s Sam Bennett.

Reinhart is tied with Eichel and Kane for the team-lead in goals with 18, and has put up 29 points in 62 games this season. Bennett has scored 15 goals and posted 31 points in 63 games played in Calgary.

While Gaudreau and Monahan came out on the short end of the stick on Thursday, both players were electric throughout the game, and showed how great they could be when they reach their ceiling in the NHL. Along with Eichel, and maybe Reinhart and / or Bennett, the North America squad could make some noise at the tournemant.

Plus, their jerseys are some of the nicest jerseys in the tournament!

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Written by Brayton Wilson

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