Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Wild

Sabres-Wild

It was another matinee game for the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday at the First Niagara Center. This time, Buffalo welcomed back Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville to town as the Wild made its only visit of the season.

The Wild came in riding a three-game winning streak, and winners of seven of the past 10 games under new head coach, John Torchetti. Buffalo was coming off of a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night after only scoring four goals in the four games prior.

It was Robin Lehner back in the net for Buffalo, while Devan Dubnyk was back between the pipes for the Wild.

The Wild came out flying in the first period, and were throwing the puck on net from everywhere.

That strategy got the Wild its first goal of the game at the 2:16 mark of the period as newcomer David Jones put a shot towards the left side post on Lehner. The shot would bounce off the side of the net, off of the skate of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, and in behind Lehner in the net. It was Jones’ 10th goal of the season and his first goal as a member of the Wild.

The Sabres looked very sluggish in the first period, as they had some issues moving the puck down the ice and connecting on passes. Evander Kane came close to tying the hockey game after a nice play by Jack Eichel to feed him the puck on a 2-on-1, but his tap-in chance went wide of the net.

The Wild would continue to pepper Lehner with shots throughout the period, and would come out of the period with the 10-4 lead in shots, and lead in shot attempts with 20 to Buffalo’s eleven.

The second period would start out the same way with the Wild holding the momentum, but yet not registering any shots on goal.

About four and a half minutes into the period, Wild forward Nino Niederreiter clipped Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe with a high stick, and got a four-minute penalty.

On the powerplay, the Sabres took advantage as they get tie the game just 52-seconds into the mad-advantage. Johan Larsson was camped in front of the net, and buried a rebound off a point shot from Ristolainen. It was Larsson’s fifth goal of the season, and second goal in as many games.

With Buffalo scoring that early in to the powerplay, the team still had an extra two-minutes at 5-on-4.

On the second powerplay chance, Buffalo took the lead thanks to the dynamic duo of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Reinhart got pass from Cal O’Reilly to the right side of the net of Dubnyk. Reinhart got Dubnyk sliding a bit too far to the right, and he fed a pass across-ice to Eichel all alone. Eichel had time, and put home his 19th goal of the season and his 44th point of his rookie campaign.

Buffalo would carry the momentum for the rest of the period, and would not give Minnesota many opportunities in the period. Buffalo led the period in shots, 13-5, and took control of the shot total in the game with 17 over the Wild’s 15 shots.

The Sabres would go into more of a defensive mode in the third period while still putting up the pressure on the Wild to keep them on their toes.

With 6:15 left to go in the game, Josh Gorges takes a tripping penalty to give the Wild a chance to tie the game on the powerplay. 34-seconds into the powerplay, Matthew Dumba would find Mikko Koivu all alone in the faceoff circle, and he one-times a shot past Lehner to even the score. It was Koivu’s 15th goal of the season.

The Sabres and Wild would then go back and forth until the end of regulation, and into the overtime period.

In overtime, Kane had a couple of golden opportunities to give Buffalo the win, but he missed the net once, and was stopped a couple of other times by Dubnyk.

65-minutes of hockey was not enough to determine a winner, so the contest would end up going to a shootout. After Jack Eichel scored in the opening round of the shootout, Charlie Coyle would respond with a goal in round two to tie the shootout. The shootout would extend to the fourth round where Pominville netted the game-winning goal against his former team to give the Wild a much-needed two points.

Now, the quick hits:

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    • Powerplay on fire?

While the powerplay went just 1-for-8 on Thursday night against Calgary, the Sabres went a perfect 2-for-2 on the powerplay on Saturday. The Sabres also now have three straight powerplay goals dating back to Thursday’s game.

“Our powerplay has been struggling lately, so it was nice to get two goals on a four-minute powerplay and take advantage of it,” Eichel said after the loss.

Call it whatever, but to get three straight powerplay goals is impressive since Buffalo could not score on their previous 18 attempts.

Not having Ryan O’Reilly on the powerplay certainly hurts, and the second powerplay still looks like a pile of garbage. But, maybe the powerplay can pick up some momentum with its performance on Saturday.

    • Future is bright

The duo of Eichel and Reinhart were at it again on Saturday afternoon, as the rookies combine to score a beautiful powerplay goal to put the Sabres ahead in the second period.

“I don’t think we were, to be honest, very good with each other at the start of the year, but I think we’ve been able to find some chemistry as of late and get that much more comfortable with each other at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay,” Reinhart said following the loss. “Obviously he’s an easy guy to play with, and we hope to keep that going.”

The two young guns have been put up some significant numbers this season in their rookie years.

Something that it came on the day when Vanek and Pominville return to Buffalo, right?

Eichel finished the night with a goal and an assist, three shots, a penalty, and was 53-percent on his faceoffs in 21:17 of total ice-time.

Eichel now leads the Sabres in goals with 19 on the season, and now is just five points away from tying Ryan O’Reilly for the team lead in points.

More importantly, Eichel is now second in the National Hockey League in rookie scoring behind Chicago Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin, who has 59 points this season. Eichel is now also tied with fellow American, Dylan Larkin for second in the NHL for rookie goal scoring. However, both are still behind Panarin, who has 24 goals this season. 

As for Reinhart, he now has 30 points on the season, which is still 10th in the NHL for scoring. Reinhart also remains third on the Sabres in scoring this season. He finished the afternoon with his lone assist and two shots on goal in 19:35 of total ice-time.

To think that both rookies would be in the top-three of scoring on the team this season is impressive. And to see how well Reinhart and Eichel have been able to play since they were put together is great to see. We can only hope now that both can continue to play hot and that both can continue to carry the offense with O’Reilly away from action.

    • Shootout? Not again…

The Sabres’ woes in the shootout continue as they lose its sixth shootout this season. Since winning the first shootout of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 21, Buffalo has not managed to win one shootout since.

Before Saturday’s game, the Sabres had not even scored in the shootout since its win over Toronto. That all changed thanks to Eichel.

Only three Sabres players have scored this season, all one goal, and they are Eichel, Matt Moulson, and Tyler Ennis. The Sabres are now 3-of-23 in shootout attempts this season, and that is down right disgusting.

Buffalo has to catch a break eventually, right? Well Saturday would have been its chance as the Wild came into Saturday 0-and-2 in shootouts.

After Eichel’s goal in the shootout, Reinhart nearly put Buffalo back up on top with a goal in the third round, but the puck went off the post after going through Dubnyk.

“I saw Sam’s play and I kind of thought it was in,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I thought it went through [Dubnyk’s] legs and was going in. I was a little bit shocked to see it hit the post and not find it’s way [in the back of the net].”

While the Sabres are not as bad as the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils, who went 0-for-13 on the year, whenever 65-minutes is not enough for the game, we begin to dread what will happen in the shootout. Just hope that the Sabres do not find themselves in another shootout in the final 16 games of the season.

    • Kane can’t catch a break

Evander Kane had a rough day for the Sabres on Saturday afternoon, as he had many quality chances to score, but could not find the back of the net.

In 21:54 of total ice-time, Kane had five shots on goal, he missed the net on five shots, had four hits, and won all six of his face-offs taken.

Come On!

While the the bottom six of the Sabres forwards did not do much to produce on Saturday, Kane feels responsible for capitalizing on his opportunities when they were there for him.

“I take responsibility for us not winning that game,” Kane said. “I’m counted on to produce and score when I get those type of opportunities, and I definitely didn’t do that tonight. There’s really no excuse for that.”

“I was trying to see if [Dubnyk’s] out or if he’s in the net, and I was trying to hit spaces. I didn’t do that. I had chances in the first period and the third period to extend the lead, to win the game in overtime. I didn’t step up.”

Evander Kane leads the Sabres with 228 shots on goal in 55 games played this season, but has only scored on 7.9-percent of the shots he has taken. Not great numbers, but not the worst numbers. Kane needs to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net on a more consistent basis, and not by just scoring empty-net goals as well.

Most in Buffalo have confidence that Kane will be able to break out of his slump and start finding the back of the net.

    • Winnable games to come?

The Sabres are about to hit a part of its schedule that could be favorable for some wins.

On Monday, the Sabres go to Toronto to play the last place Maple Leafs before heading back home on Tuesday for a meeting with the New York Rangers.

After that, the Sabres play seven straight games against teams out of the playoff picture. Twice against the Carolina Hurricanes, twice against the Montréal Canadiens, and once against the Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, and again against Toronto.

Let's Go

Written by Brayton Wilson

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