Quick Hits: Sabres vs. Panthers

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For the first time in the young 2016-17 NHL season, Buffalo Sabres fans at the KeyBank Center were treated to some firsts – first home goal, first home victory and first home shutout. What a day for Sabres fans.

Despite previous poor home performances, the Buffalo Sabres came out in the first period ready to play. Most notably, the Foligno/Gionta/Larsson line.

From the opening faceoff, this line worked wonders against the Florida Panthers. Pressure in Florida’s zone was consistent throughout the opening period.

For the Sabres, the constant pressure in Florida’s zone led to an early goal.

Just 7:47 into the period, Brian Gionta unleashed an improbable, no-look pass while begin checked behind the net. Gionta’s ability to get the puck up to Larsson provided a golden opportunity.

Johan Larsson then unleased an absolute snipe shot from in tight, over Roberto Luongo’s left shoulder and into the net. Larsson’s first goal of the season opened up the game’s scoring. Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno were credited with assists.

Buffalo came out in the second period looking to build off of their first period success, while Florida got themselves into the game.

The Sabres were able to capitalize on an early power-play opportunity, following a poor Florida penalty.

A Rasmus Ristolainen shot, tipped by Sam Reinhart, created a big rebound. That rebound deflected right to the backhand of Kyle Okposo, who put the puck home with no hesitation.

Okposo’s second goal of the season, at 5:57 of the second period, pushed the Sabres lead to 2-0. Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen were credited with assists.

Buffalo’s second period pressure ended right after Okposo’s goal. Florida seemed to wake up and started applying a large amount of pressure on the Sabres. Shot attempts leveled out for Buffalo, as Florida’s attempts took a jump.

Fortunately for the Sabres, the period would end before Florida could do any damage. Buffalo would head into the third period with a 2-0 lead, despite being outshot 20-19.

Buffalo continued their early season trend of backing up the bus in the third period, but this time the results were markedly different.

Florida turned up the heat in Buffalo’s defensive zone, which led to a decreased quality of Sabres play. As most of the game went, the Sabres defense took part in the bend-but-don’t-break exercise.

Buffalo did make good on one of their better opportunities of the third. Following a penalty earned by Rasmus Ristolainen, Jaromir Jagr caught for hooking, Sam Reinhart went to work.

In what might go down as the strangest goal of his young career, Sam Reinhart stationed himself behind Roberto Luongo and set himself up for a pass back out front.

Reinhart went to center the pass, but instead banked the puck off of ex-Sabres fan favorite Mark Pysyk and past Luongo. Reinhart’s first goal of the season, at 8:48 of the third, pushed the Sabres to a 3-0 lead.

Following the game, Marcus Foligno chimed in on the goal. “How much did you pay Pysyk?”, Foligno asked. Reinhart responded, “paying with dinner”. The locker room was noticeably loose following the first home win of the season.

With this win, the Buffalo Sabres record moves to 2-3-2, with 6 points. There is a quick turnaround for the Sabres, who return to the ice on Sunday afternoon. Buffalo heads north to Winnipeg to take on the Jets at the MTS Centre, with puck drop shortly after 3 PM. The game can be seen locally on MSG.

Now, we move to the quick hits!

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      • Isn’t Ristolainen supposed to be bad?

The red-headed stepchild of the analytics community continues to put up points.

Yes, I understand his fancy stats are not pretty but here is where I begin to draw the line. You can’t rely on the “just watch the game” old time hockey people and you can’t rely on the fancy stats people directly. You need to find a comfortable line in the middle of the spectrum.

I am OK right now with Ristolainen being poor with the analytics community, while he puts points on the board. We know where Ristolainen is headed, because he is currently anchored down by Josh Gorges.

As another writer said to me today, “Ristolainen isn’t going to be Paul Coffey, but he isn’t the worst player ever.”

Preach, brother.

    • The Nilsson Wall

Anders Nilsson had his best start with the Buffalo Sabres this afternoon, when he turned in a 33 save shutout. Not only his first shutout with the Sabres but personally, it goes in the books as Nilsson’s first shutout since March 4, 2012.

Nilsson came to Buffalo on shaky ground, due to past performances in other cities, but he has shown to have some talent since arriving in Buffalo.

After today’s performance, Nilsson’s stats look real fancy: 3 starts, 1-1-1 record, .937 save percentage and a 1.96 goals allowed-per-game average.

      • Waiting on the word.

Post game, head coach Dan Bylsma dropped a nugget of information that forward Nicolas Deslauriers had been injured late in the 3rd period of today’s game.

When pressed, Bylsma said that a recall was likely if it was deemed that Deslauriers could not go.

As of this writing, the Rochester Americans are in St. John’s, so we will not know the recall for a few more hours.

    • Tweet of the Game

Rasmus Ristolainen, you are grounded.

Written by Ryan Wolfe

Ryan Wolfe is the founder and editor-in-chief of BLTD Sports. He can be heard on the BLTD Podcast. Ryan's writing is also featured over at TheHockeyWriters.com.

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