Friday, September 20, 2013

Johan Larsson breaks out vs. Carolina, making a strong case to stick with Sabres

It doesn't matter who his linemates are, Buffalo Sabres forward Johan Larsson just keeps doing his thing.

The gritty two-way center plied his trade as a solid defender and faceoff man for the first two Sabres preseason games. But he made some plays and did some subtle things that went noticed while keeping rookie mistakes to a minimum.

In the first preseason game of the year at Montreal, Larsson had Zemgus Girgensons on the left wing and Drew Stafford on his right.

Larsson and Girgensons played together for Rochester late last season and into the playoffs. The chemistry between the two is impeccable as witnessed by Girgensons three goals in three Amerks playoff games. Larsson had an assist on all three.

That chemistry was not lost on Sabres head coach Ron Rolston.

Although Larsson failed to hit the scoresheet, he logged over 18 mins of ice time which included 3:57 on the powerplay and 2:53 on the penalty kill.

Girgensons first of two goals was shorthanded as Larsson spooked a Canadian into whiffing on the puck at the Sabres blueline.

Game 2 saw the Sabres head south to the Buckeye state for a game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This time Larsson was centering Tyler Ennis and rookie Joel Armia.

Once again, it was a largely unhearlded performance in a 3-1 Sabres victory.

Brian Duff of laid out the scenario, " Larsson went from centering Girgensons and Drew Stafford in Montreal, to being a middle man for Tyler Ennis and Joel Armia, the latter of whom was playing in his first NHL preseason game.

The line produced 13 of the Sabres’ 49 shots that were either on goal, blocked or went wide. Larsson - as per usual - welcomed confrontations in the opposition’s crease and it was there where he had a goal called back for allegedly gloving it in."

Those "confrontations in the opposition's crease" finally got him on the scoresheet last night vs. Carolina.

In a 5-2 victory for the Sabres, Larsson--who had Ville Leino and Corey Tropp on the wings--had two goals in 15:44 of ice time.

Both of his goals were tip-ins from the crease on Brayden McNabb shots.

Of note, the second goal was originally credited to McNabb who blasted a wicked shot from the point that rebounded out of the net about 15 feet. After review, Larsson was credited for tipping the puck.

Larsson captained Sweden's
2012 World Jr. team
to the gold medal.
And in typical fashion, Larsson's play was somewhat unheralded. Despite his three point effort, he was named the game's third star behind McNabb and Armia.

Maybe the fans don't notice what he brings to the ice. Maybe WGR's Matthew Coller doesn't think Larsson has enough to make the team out of camp. But Duff, through the tweet of an "old media friend" sees Larsson a bit differently.

Tweeted his friend of Larsson, "He’s got solid 10-year pro written all over him."

Duff follows by emphatically writing, "Thank goodness I’m not the only one talking about this guy in glowing terms!" (agreed)

He also points out that Larsson has been making adjustments from game to game and is progressing very well.

In fact, only three youngins have played in all three preseason games thus far--Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko and Rasmus Ristolainen.

Grigorenko has had uneven performances. He, like Larsson, has had different linemates all three games, but unlike Larsson, is still searching.

After two strong games, Ristolainen took a step back in last night's performance. That could probably be attributed to lack of proper game-to-game management at the North American pro level.

Ristolainen's talent and poise are unquestioned, but there are tricks of the trade that separate an NHL pro from a rookie, among them, managing game-to-game performance on a consistent level.

Larsson's career has been progressing since 2010-11, his first year in the Swedish Elite League. He spent two year there before coming over and playing 62 games last season for the Houston Aeros, Minnesota's AHL affiliate, and got a taste of the NHL playing one game for the Wild.

He finished the season with the Rochester Americans (7 games) after being a part of the Jason Pominville trade. Sabres GM Darcy Regier was said to have insisted Larsson be a part of the trade.

It's been a step-by-step process for Larsson as he makes his climb towards a permanent place in the NHL.

Step-by-step he's been getting himself noticed this preseason, and it would seem as if his spot on the team as the Sabres' third-line center is his to lose.

Said Rolston after the game last night, "[Larsson] was arguably our best forward on the ice last night.For him we're just going to seem him continue to grow here. I think he's getting more comfortable."

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