It was the final home game of the season on Friday night for the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo was looking to win its fourth straight game, and a chance to get to the .500 mark in the standings. The Sabres were also looking to complete the season sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets on home-ice.
The last time both teams met was back on February 19, when Robin Lehner stopped all 38 shots he faced in a 4-0 drubbing of the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Former Sabre Jamie McGinn had two goals in the win, while David Legwand and Samson Reinhart netted the other two goals.
On Friday, it was a trio of National Hockey League debut for the Sabres, as forwards Evan Rodrigues and Cole Schneider, and goaltender Jason Kasdorf would all get their first taste of the pro game.
For Schneider, he would be the second Buffalo-born player to make his debut with the Sabres this season. The Williamsville native was acquired by the Sabres before the NHL Trade Deadline from the Ottawa Senators organization. The other Buffalo-born player who made his debut with the Sabres this season was Justin Bailey.
Kasdorf would get the start over Chad Johnson in net, as Johnson had gotten the past nine starts in goal, going 6-2-1 in that stretch with a .925 save-percentage and a 2.21 goals-against average.
The Sabres would come out flying in the opening minutes with some good quality chances, but could not come up with any goals on the scoreboard.
The Blue Jackets would get their quality chances later on in the period, and were able to get a couple of chances on the powerplay.
With 1:15 left in the first period, Matt Calvert ripped a shot off the post on the far-side of the net on the powerplay to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead. For Calvert, it was his tenth goal of the year off a boarding penalty from Nicolas Deslauriers taken just 20-seconds beforehand.
The Sabres would end the period down 1-0, and they would end up getting out-shot 14-8, but were not totally out-chanced in the period as Columbus had 23 shot attempts to Buffalo’s 22.
The Blue Jackets went on a penalty frenzy in the second period, going to the penalty box on four separate occasions. The Sabres would not convert on the first three attempts on the man-advantage, but Buffalo would get its best chance on a 5-on-3 opportunity.
On the 5-on-3 chance for the Sabres, Jack Eichel and Reinhart combine once again for Reinhart’s 23rd goal of the season. Eichel put a slap-pass on goal from just outside the faceoff circle. Reinhart got his stick on it to re-direct the puck past Joonas Korpisalo to tie the game.
After Buffalo’s goal, Columbus responded just 1:39 later as Nick Foligno converts to make it a 2-1 game. A clearing attempt from Josh Gorges hit the leg of Josh Anderson, and bounced around for a bit until Boone Jenner found his teammate with space. Foligno then rifled a shot top-shelf on Kasdorf for his 12th goal of the year.
A little over a minute later, the Blue Jackets would extend its lead to 3-1 with a goal from Dalton Prout. The Sabres would breakdown in the offensive zone, which led to a 3-on-1 chance for the Blue Jackets. William Karlsson left a drop pass to Prout, who joined the rush, and he put a high shot past the glove hand of Kasdorf for his third goal of the year.
The period would end with the Sabres down by two, however the team out-shot the Blue Jackets early and heavily. At one point, the shots were 9-0 in Buffalo’s favor with the shot attempts also favoring the Sabres, 12-1. Buffalo would end up with 18 total shots to Columbus’ six, and would put up 27 scoring chances in the period.
Columbus would extend its lead to a three-goal advantage thanks to Brandon Saad. The play started with Kasdorf losing the puck in behind his net, which sent him scrambling in the crease. The Blue Jackets would move the puck around to get Kasdorf moving more, and finally Alexander Wennberg set up Saad for his 30th goal of the season.
The Blue Jackets would shut down the Buffalo offense from there, while Korpisalo would stop 34 of 35 shots faced to help the Blue Jackets get the 4-1 win.
For the Sabres, they will have to wait until next season to try and pass the .500 mark, which has been so distant for them over the past few years of misery.
Now, time for the quick hits.
- Team Honors
Before the game, the Sabres handed out its annual awards that was voted on by the team.
The first award handed out was the Foundation Man of the Year Award, which was awarded to Marcus Foligno. In 74 games this season, Foligno has 10 goals and 23 points, but has really turned up the pace of play in the second half of the season on a line with Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta.
Up next was the Unsung Hero Award, which was awarded to Chad Johnson for his stellar play in net as relief throughout the season for the Sabres. Johnson has put up career stats this season with a 22-16-4 record, a 2.36 goals-against average, a .920 save-percentage, and a shutout in his first full season as a Sabre.
As for the Rookie of the Year Award, it was a no-brainer giving this award to rookie stud, Jack Eichel. Eichel has been phenomenal in his first season, scoring 24 goals while posting 55 points, which is second in the entire NHL among rookies. The second overall pick from this past year’s draft has just only given the fans of Buffalo a glimpse of what he could mean to this organization for years to come.
Finally, the team voted Ryan O’Reilly as the Sabres’ Most Valuable Player this season. No surprise here. O’Reilly leads the Sabres in scoring this year with 59 points, and has become the leader in the Sabres locker room, and also on the ice. O’Reilly will be a key piece to the puzzle for the Sabres, especially after signing his new seven-year contract this past offseason.
- How did the rookies fare?
It probably was not the night that Cole Schneider, Evan Rodrigues and Jason Kasdorf imagined for their first game in the NHL.
In goal, Kasdorf played alright, but was tested throughout the evening by a challenging Blue Jackets team. Kasdorf would stop 26 of the 30 shots he faced on the evening, but even said after the game that he was having some difficulty in the net.
“I think the biggest thing is to continue to get used to the speed of shots, the speed of the release,” Kasdorf said following the loss. “I thought there was a couple of shots that I would normally have, but if I would have been a little bit quicker there would have been two goals I could’ve had back.”
In his debut playing for his hometown team, Schneider was shaky at first as he started the game. He looked to have feet made of Jell-O in his first few shifts, but he settled down in the second and third periods and looked much more comfortable. On the night, Schneider had two shots on goal and a hit in 12:54 of total ice-time.
As for Rodrigues, he came out flying in his first few shift and did not stop from there. Rodrigues came out with a chip on his shoulder, and was playing as if he had already played in a few NHL games. Rodrigues finished Friday’s game with a team-high five shots on goal and two hits in 10:10 of total ice-time.
“I thought they both looked pretty good,” Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Cole looked comfortable with the pace and making plays. He made a couple of good plays, had a couple of opportunities around the net. As for Evan, we talk a little bit about what he did in training camp to turn eyes and be a hound on pucks and be tenacious. I thought he was every bit of that tonight.”
- Bogosian injured
Zach Bogosian took a hit from Brandon Saad in the first period, which left him shaken up with a lower-body injury. The Sabres had originally reported in the second period that Bogosian may return to action, but he did not come back to play. Bogosian ended up just playing 3:31 of total ice-time.
After the game, Bylsma confirmed Bogosian’s lower-body injury, and said that he will not play on Saturday night. With Bogosian’s season now over, he finished his first full season with the Sabres with seven goals and 24 points while averaging 22:20 of total ice-time.
After a slow start to his season with injury, Bogosian turned up the pace of his play in the final 40 games he played this season. Bogosian will now take the offseason to get healthy, and train to be an even better player than he was in 2015-16.
D.J. Bogo will be back next season, and it should be fun to see him back on the blue line.
- Jack to Samson will never get old
Get used to it Buffalo, because it may be the next greatest combination since peanut butter and jelly. (I suck at jokes)
Jack Eichel and Samson Reinhart are extremely fun to watch on the ice, especially when they take to the rink on the same shift.
In the second period on the powerplay, Eichel took a slap-pass to the net and Reinhart made a nice re-direct for his 23rd goal of the year.
With that goal, Reinhart now moves into a tie for third in the NHL for rookie goal scorers with Detroit Red Wings forward, Dylan Larkin. Not sure if many people had Reinhart pegged for 20-plus goals in his rookie season with the Sabres, especially since we thought he would spend half the season developing in Rochester.
Eichel’s assist gives him 55 points on the season, which is now three points ahead of Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi, who has 52 points. While Eichel still trails Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin in goals and assists, Eichel has put himself in worthy consideration for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Let us hope that Rick Jeanneret or Dan Dunleavy are coming up with some catchy phrase for their combination, because we will be seeing them together for many years to come.
- It all ends Saturday
It is okay, Ben Affleck. We are all sad that the Sabres season comes to an end on Saturday night.
For the Sabres, it will not be a season where they finish at or above the .500 mark, but what a change from the past two seasons. Just 52 points in 2013-14, and 54 points last season, and this year Buffalo could still end up with 81 points with a win on Saturday. Incredible for a team that features only a handful of players who have stuck it out through the past two or three seasons in Buffalo.
So, where will the Sabres finish season come the end of Saturday’s action?
With a win, the Sabres could select eighth or ninth in the 2016 NHL Draft. If the Canadiens win or lose in overtime or a shootout, the Sabres will select with the eighth pick. If Montréal loses, Buffalo could jump the Canadiens and select with the ninth pick.
With a loss, the Sabres will select with either the seventh pick or the eighth pick. If the Arizona Coyotes win or lose in overtime or a shootout, the Sabres will select seventh. If the Coyotes lose, Buffalo will select eighth.
Another sad aspect with the season ending on Saturday is that there will be no more Eichel or Reinhart on the ice. Well, that is until at least the World Cup of Hockey in September.