Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Jets

Sabres-Jets

Back on January 10, Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian made their return to Winnipeg, Manitoba to play in front of their former home crowd as members of the Buffalo Sabres. Kane and Bogosian were part of a trade with the Jets that sent Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, and a first round pick to Winnipeg.

On Saturday afternoon in Buffalo, it was Stafford’s turn to return to Buffalo and play in front of his former home crowd at the First Niagara Center.

Stafford has had a nice bounce-back season with the Jets, as he has scored 20 goals and registered 35 points in 70 games. Stafford had been part of the Sabres organization since 2004 when he was drafted by the team in the first round of the National Hockey League Entry-Level Draft.

As for Myers, he would have to wait to make his return as he missed Saturday’s tilt after season-ending knee surgery earlier in the week.

Armia was the only other Jets player making his return to face his former team, though Armia had just appeared in one career game with the Sabres last season. So far this season in Winnipeg, Armia has four goals and eight points in 35 games played. Armia would start the game playing on a line with Stafford and Alexander Burmistrov.

For Buffalo, the team would have two new signees making their NHL debuts on Saturday night.

On Monday, the Sabres signed prospect Hudson Fasching to his first pro-contract after his collegiate season at the University of Minnesota had come to an end.

Fasching was acquired by the Sabres at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline when general manager Tim Murray sent defenseman Brayden McNabb and a couple of draft picks to the Los Angeles Kings for Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers. Fasching had spent the past three years at Minnesota playing with the Golden Gophers, where he put up 94 career points in 115 games.

This past season, Fasching was a leader on the Golden Gophers squad, and put up 20 goals and 38 points in 37 games. His season came to an end when Minnesota was beat by the University of Michigan Wolverines in the Big 10 Championship Game last week Saturday.

Fasching would start the game playing on a line with Matt Moulson and David Legwand.

The other newest signee making his debut on Saturday was defenseman Casey Nelson out of Minnesota State University.

The Sabres signed Nelson to an entry-level contract as a free agent after he decided to for-go his senior season with the Mavericks. Nelson did not really begin to develop his game until his sophomore season with the Mavericks, where he put up 33 points in 40 games. Nelson registered 22 points in 40 games this season with Minnesota State, and finished his collegiate career with 60 points in 99 games played.

Nelson would start the game playing on the right side of a pairing with Mark Pysyk.

It was Chad Johnson that would get the start in goal for the Sabres for a fourth straight game. For the Jets, it would be Michael Hutchinson in net after Ondrej Pavelec had gotten Winnipeg a 4-1 win over the Kings on Thursday night on home ice.

After a quick start from the Sabres, the Jets took some wind out of the sails with a great individual effort from Nikolaj Ehlers. He took a bank-pass off the boards and raced around Jake McCabe to the net. Ehlers then put a shot past the blocker-side of Johnson for his 14th goal of the season.

Less than a minute later, the Jets would add on to its lead thanks to a goal from Andrew Copp. Copp took the puck and drove around Mark Pysyk on his way to the net. Copp was stopped on his initial chance, but the puck would somehow find its way into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the season. The goal would be reviewed for a kick, and it would be challenged for goalie interference by Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma, but the goal would stand.

However, the Sabres would respond about three minutes later with Fasching scoring his first career goal in the NHL. Fasching took the puck to the outside and out-muscled Jacob Trouba to the net. Fasching then cut in front and slid the puck past the left leg of Hutchinson to cut the deficit to one. Nelson also was a beneficiary of the Fasching goal as he notched his first career NHL point with the secondary assist.

The period would end with the Jets holding on to the 2-1 lead, but the Sabres out-shot Winnipeg by a total of 10-5 and out-chanced the Jets, 22-12.

It was a very uneventful second period for the Sabres and Jets. Both teams would get their chances on the powerplay in the second period, but neither team could find the back of the net. The period would end with the Sabres out-shooting the Jets once again, 10-9, and putting up more scoring chances with 20 over Winnipeg’s 15.

The Sabres would get the game tied up at two just 1:23 into the third period thanks to Sam Reinhart. Off a faceoff in the Winnipeg zone, Zemgus Girgensons would fire a shot off the goal post that would come right out in front of the net. Reinhart was there with a wide-open net to bury the loose change for his 21st goal of the season.

Less than three minutes later, Reinhart was at it again, this time from the neutral zone. Reinhart stripped the puck off the stick of Burmistrov, and would put a spin-around outlet pass to Jack Eichel. Eichel got a step on defenseman Mark Stuart and gained enough space for a shot. Eichel would rip the shot far-side on Hutchinson to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead, and his team-leading 23rd goal of the season.

The Sabres would go on the defensive from there on out, limiting the Jets to just 20 shots in the game overall. Chad Johnson would turn away the final 16 shots faced after giving up the two early goals to help lift the Sabres over the Jets by the final of 3-2.

Let’s fire up the quick hits!

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    • Stafford and Myers get tribute

During the first commercial break in the first period, the Sabres played a video tribute saluting both Stafford and Myers for their time here in Buffalo.

While both players may not have had much of an impact for the team’s success, they were fan favorites in the community.

Stafford spent nearly nine seasons in Buffalo where he put up 145 goals and 322 points in 563 career games in the Buffalo blue and gold.

As for Myers, he spent nearly six seasons in Buffalo and registered 151 points in 365 games. Myers was Buffalo’s first round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, where he was selected 12th overall out of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.

You can re-watch the tribute video here:

    • Fasching scores 1st NHL goal

It did not take long for Fasching to make his presence known with the Buffalo fanbase.

To fight off a tough defenseman in Trouba to take the puck to the net is an incredible feat for a 20-year old making his NHL debut is incredible. 

Fasching was estatic in the locker room after the game, with a big smile on his face and answering questions a mile a minute.

“It’s really exciting. It’s kind of a dream come true,” Fasching said. “I was talking to my buddies and parents and said, ‘If I score in my first game , I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m gonna be blacked out on adrenaline and just so excited.’ That was almost the case. I was just so excited out there, and it’s a really happy moment for me.”

Of the three goal scorers in the game, Fasching was the oldest to score a goal of Reinhart and Eichel. Although, he is only older than Reinhart by a just few months. However, the experience of playing with Eichel and Reinhart was worth it for the youngster.

“It was really cool,” Fasching said. “I was kind of thinking of that just as the game ended there. We have a lot of young guys out there. [Eichel and Reinhart are] two of the guys I know a little bit better than most just because I played with them played against them at prospect camp. It was cool to be part of that and really cool to be part of this game.”

In the third period, Fasching moved up from the fourth line with Moulson and Legwand up to the top line with Kane and Ryan O’Reilly.

“It definitely was not expected. I sat on the bench, and coach kept tapping me and I was like, ‘Am I in the way or something?’ And he was like, ‘No, you’re out there.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m going.’ They’re fantastic players. It was incredible to play with them.  They make it easy for me. I try to make on little play and get them the puck as best as I can. It was my goal playing out there with them.”

Fasching would finish the afternoon with his goal, two shots, and a plus-1 rating in 12:02 of total ice-time.

With seven games left in the season, Fasching could get more time with Kane and O’Reilly on the top-unit as he continues to get his feet wet in the young season.  Hopefully we get to see Fasching net many more goals in his NHL career.

    • Nelson registers 1st NHL point

Not too many people knew much about Nelson when the Sabres broke the news of his signing on Tuesday. The 23-year old defenseman from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin decided to skip his senior year of school to try to play professional hockey. While the kid may not be bulky, he can skate and he is a smart player with the puck.

The kid did not disappoint in his first career NHL game.

Nelson showed that he keep up with the pace of the NHL, and be a good puck-moving defenseman along the blue line. For Nelson, he was blown away by the difference between the NHL and college hockey.

“It’s crazy. It’s nothing like college,” Nelson said following the win. “It’s a heck of an atmosphere, way bigger, and the guys have taken us in well here and made us feel comfortable.”

“It was an unbelievable experience, never gonna forget it. The guys were telling me that you don’t have a lot in-between, and it will the first one you remember and the last one you’ll remember… I just tried to calm myself down during the National Anthems, got the nerves out right away, and then I settled in a little bit.”

Nelson finished his first game with his lone assist, one shot, a hit and a blocked shot in 16:33 of total ice-time. Nelson was even getting some tome to play on the powerplay in the second period.

Like Fasching, Nelson is likely to get some more ice-time with just seven games left in the season. Nelson will look to make every game count as he looks to embark on his NHL career.

    • Samson Jack and Samson light the lamp

The dynamic duo of Eichel and Reinhart continues to light up the score board as of late, as they both find the back of the net once again.

Reinhart’s goal gave him his 21st goal of the season to tie the game early in the third period, and set the pace for the rest of the game.

Samson would be at it again just minutes later as he made a nice play to strip Burmistrov off the puck right in front of the Buffalo bench. Then, with his incredible hockey I.Q., Reinhart finds Eichel with a beautiful pass to move into the Winnipeg zone.

From there, Eichel turned on the boosters and beat Stuart to some open space. Eichel  would then rip a lazer past the blocker of Hutchinson to put the Sabres up for good.

Eichel notched his 23rd goal of his rookie campaign, and gave him 50 points on the year.

With his 50th point, Eichel becomes the first Sabres rookie in franchise history to score 50 points in a season since Derek Plante did it in the 1993-94 season. In addition, Eichel is the youngest Sabres rookie to hit the 50 point mark since Hall of Famer, Phil Housley did it in the 1982-83 season.

As for Reinhart, he added an assist to Eichel’s go-ahead goal to put him at 39 points on the season.

In the rookie scoring race, Eichel is still quite a ways away from Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin with 64 points, but he now sits just two goals behind Panarin for the league-lead in goals for rookies. Reinhart is now alone in seventh place in rookie scoring, just one point behind Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We talked about out leadership and our leaders before the game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “Since the break, I think Sam is leading us in points and Jack is leading us in goals. I don’t really look at them as rookies or young players anymore. they’re players that are stepping up for our team and leading out team in a lot of ways. They were tonight.”

The goal for the final seven games this year is just to build upon what they have already done, and then focus on improving on those totals for next season.

Just imagine the possibilities of how much better Eichel and Reinhart will be next season with a full season under their belt, and maybe having some more offensive weapons come along during the offseason…

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    • Kane and Bogo – 2; Stafford, Myers, Armia – 0

So… We won the trade?

While it may be too early to tell who won the trade between the Sabres and Jets, Buffalo comes away this season with the season sweep of the Jets.

Kane, who faced the worst from Winnipeg fans, was very good in both games played against his former team, even if he only accounted for just one point. Kane did have eight total shots on goal along with eight hits while averaging 20:18 of total ice-time.

Even Bogosian played well over the course of the two games played. He did not register anything on the score sheet, but he put up five shots on goal, and registered five hits in 22:47 of average ice-time.

On the Winnipeg side, Stafford was able to put up the only point of the three former Sabres to play. Stafford had a total of five shots on goal, three hits, and was a minus-2 in 19:32 of average ice-time.

The only other player to play in two games this season against the Sabres was Armia. He was relatively quiet in both games with just three hits and a minus-2 rating in 9:52 of total average ice-time.

Myers put up five shots on goal, took a penalty, and had a hit in 22:49 of total ice-time in his only game against Buffalo this season.

Right now, Buffalo is sitting pretty nice with Kane and Bogosian. There is no reason to believe, at this point, that the Sabres did not come away from this deal as happy campers.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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