Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sabres youngins get schooled in Detroit

Reprinted with permission from

You don't tug on Superman's cape,
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off of the ol' Lone Ranger...

If singer-songwriter Jim Croce was still alive and a Buffalo Sabres hockey fan he might have added, don't be stupid enough to put the Detroit Red Wings on the powerplay.

The Buffalo Sabres really helped the Wings out last night by putting the NHL's 7th best powerplay unit on the ice six times. And despite allowing a short-handed goal to the Sabres' Andre Benoit (his first of the season,) Detroit would score four goals with the man advantage en route to a 6-3 shellacking of Buffalo. It was a performance which vaulted their powerplay into fourth place in the league.

Buffalo's collapse with just over 22 minutes to play in regulation helped Detroit get out of a rut as the Wings were winless in their previous six games (0-2-4.) The six goals they scored were the most all season and matched the total number of goals they'd scored during the winless streak.

For a while last night, a very young Sabres lineup looked like they could hang with the Wings. Despite icing four rookies--Nikita Zadorov, Nick Deslauriers, Tim Schaller, Joel Armia--and six first or second year players--Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brian Flynn, Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson, Mark Pysyk--they nearly left the second period with a 3-1 lead.

Ted Nolan's team skated hard and played a pretty sound game through the first half of the game. Although they would give up a powerplay goal to the 7th best unit in the league, the Sabres would counter that with a shorthanded goal by Andre Benoit on Detroit's second powerplay of the game. But somewhere along the line late in the second period, the Sabres started running out of gas and Wings coach Mike Babcock was right on it.

At that point Detroit did what all great teams do, put the pressure on late in the period. With his team down 3-1, Danny DeKeyser capitalized on a rookie mistake by Grigorenko when he failed to get the puck out of the zone. A heavy Detroit forecheck yielded the turnover and DeKeyser wristed a weak goal past Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth with just over 2 minutes to go in the second period. They nearly tied it with 0.7 seconds left but Ristolainen cleared the puck from the Sabres goal-line.

That goal was set up a few minutes earlier by a self-described "stupid" penalty by Deslauriers. Even though the wings didn't score on the ensuing powerplay, Nolan was none too pleased with the rookie's foolishness. "Stupid is a good word for it," said a clearly agitated Nolan. "You play a good team like Detroit, you have the lead, you want to play a smart, intelligent game and then we take a bad penalty that woke them up a little bit and the rest is history."

The Wings applied the pressure from then on and would proceed to finish off the Sabres with four goals in the third period, the last three coming on the powerplay.

Leave it to Detroit's "awakened" leaders, captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, to begin the assault. Early in the third period, Zetterberg and Datsyuk played a nifty little game of 2-on-5 which resulted in Zetterberg's blast from the high slot to tie the score.

And the implosion began.

Detroit amped up the pressure forcing Flynn into a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. Tomas Tatar would make it 4-3 on that powerplay.

Just over a minute later, Larsson chopped Zetterberg's stick in half with a slash and Johan Franzen would make it 5-3 with that man advantage.

Late in the game, Andrej Meszaros got nailed with a holding call and 34 seconds later Tatar made it 6-3.

For a period and a half the future of the blue and gold looked very bright. All of the youngins played extremely well and some vets who'd been struggling looked even better, especially Cody Hodgson who showed an extra gear on the Chris Stewart goal that no one had seen before. Benoit's goal was pure determination as he and Flynn went up ice on after a Patrick Kaleta shot block.

But it all fell apart after that leaving Nolan with a bad taste in his mouth. "They scored four powerplay goals," said the coach. And he said of his players foolishness, "One guy's tackling a guy, One guy's hitting somebody when the whistle's been blown on an icing. One guy's slashing the stick out of a guy's hand for no reason.

"Those were all penalties that were not very good penalties. When you take bad penalties against a good team, they'll make you pay."

Much was made about the debut of Armia and like the team itself he looked like he could hang with the Wings. He did not look out of place at all during the first couple of periods, but his youth and conditioning came into play early in the third period with the Sabres still up 3-2.

Armia grabbed the puck at the Sabres blueline and started a 3-on-1 the other way. Even though it was early in his shift he didn't seem to have the jump he had earlier in the game and as a rookie playing in his first NHL game, he underestimated the speed of NHL'ers. Armia was caught at the Wings blueline by Adam Clendening which thwarted an opportunity for the Sabres to stretch their lead to 4-1.

Even with that, Armia is a very intriguing prospect with size, speed and hands. Can't wait to see him with the big club next year. Maybe even sooner.

The youngins as a group didn't have the best of games and Nolan let it be known afterwards. "You get opportunities (as a young player.) The American [Hockey] League guys came up from Rochester and get a chance. You don't hope to do OK. You gotta give something more, especially when we're depleted the way we are. They didn't play like they wanted to stay here."


Then again, the Red Wings are a real good team. Sabres' analyst Brian Duff unearthed a gem of a stat through the work of Sabres media-man Ian Ott. The Sabres hadn't held the lead in Detroit since 2009.

Perhaps as this team grows over the course of the next few years, not only will they be able to get the lead, but they'll be smart enough to do the things necessary to hold it.

It's a learning experience and hopefully the players learned valuable lessons.

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