heading up ice with the puck on his stick...
Speed is speed, whether it's preseason or not and when Sabres rookie phenom Jack Eichel jumps on a puck it's 1st gear to overdrive. Last night Eichel took a chip pass from Nic Deslauriers, blazed through the neutral zone and with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Connor Brown in hot pursuit, yet still two strides behind, he proceeded to snap a quick wrister past goalie Jonathan Bernier.
Said Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma of the play."D-Lo (Deslauriers) makes a great positional play by being there in the slot and intercepting the pass. In about a half a second it was clear it was going to be a breakaway. [Eichel] took off and beat the guy (Brown) almost by the blue line and had three-quarters of the rink for a breakaway. It turns into another [short handed goal] for us."
It was the fifth game in a row that Buffalo has scored a shorthanded goal. Attacking while being a man down is not something that's being taught and/or preached by the coaching staff, it's simply a matter of instinct and finish on the part of the players on the ice. Bylsma shook his head in wonderment while explaining.
"I have never, ever, ever been a part of a mentality of [looking for the shorthanded goal]," said Bylsma. "It would be one thing if we talked about scoring a shorthanded goal or we're looking for opportunities, which just hasn't been the case. Again, it's not something we're trying to do, or looking for opportunities we're looking to exploit, it's just that they've come and you've got a skill player, a speed player like Jack out there and it's turned into two [shorties] for us."
It was quite the treat for the home crowd as an announced crowd of 17,357 got the opportunity to see Eichel in the Blue and Gold for the first time this preseason. There were other treats as well for Sabres fans.
The Sabres shut out the rival Maple Leafs 4-0, which is always good and beat them for the second time this preseason. Behind the bench in Toronto is none other than former Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock who spurned the Sabres to take the head coaching job in Toronto. He saw a display of young talent in Buffalo's Mark Pysyk and Sam Reinhart as they propelled the Sabres to a 6-4 victory at "the Center of the Hockey Universe."
Eichel wasn't on the ice that game, but he sure was for this one. Buffalo's scoring prowess had Bylsma shaking his head in disbelief, while Babcock was left to shake his head at what looks like a harbinger of things to come. It looks as if it'll be a long, tear-down season for the Leafs with the future being built upon draft picks and young players. Having been through this the past two-plus seasons, it's something that shouldn't be wished upon any franchise. But, hey, it's the Leafs. Good luck.
Bylsma had mentioned pregame that he was looking to ease returning defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen back into the lineup by playing him 18-20 minutes or so. The 20 yr. old Ristolainen who will be entering his third NHL season has been out with an injury and it was the first time Bylsma had the opportunity to see him in live action. "To get Risto back and playing," said Bylsma with a cat who at the canary-type chuckle, "he's an NHL player, clearly an NHL player. He made some mistakes and you could see there were times where [he was a bit behind] but he's clearly an NHL player back there which was big for us.We need him back there and it was evident tonight "
Ristolainen played a game-high 23:32 minutes last night because Buffalo was down to five defensemen after 18 yr. old rookie d-man Brendan Guhle got smoked by Toronto's Dion Phaneuf at the Buffalo blueline in the second period.
Guhle would leave the game and not return. Bylsma didn't get into the hit nor would not speculate on the injury, but called it a lesson to be learned for the young defenseman. "He's gonna learn," said Bylsma of Guhle. "I don't think he saw the possibility of a hit and it came on him pretty quickly. It definitely should be a learning experience.
"It wasn't prudent to put him back on the ice (after the hit,) didn't need to put him back on the ice. So, we didn't. It was precautionary, for sure."
One would be remiss to not mention the first star of the game, Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues who scored two of Buffalo's four goals.
Rodrigues had a great development camp but "not a great [scrimmage]," according to Bylsma "At that time I wondered," said the coach, "can he show his skill on the inside, can he do it in the middle of the rink? He's been impressive. "
This kid has impressed with his compete and his determination and how he plays. Tonight it wasn't so much his skill that got him the two goals as it was his determination. He stuck on pucks won some [battles] and it got him two opportunities and two goals tonight. It's tough to score in this league and he's been able to do it."
And, finally, goaltender Robin Lehner, who's been a bit of a lightening rod for controversy since GM Tim Murray gave up the 21st pick in the draft to acquire him from the Ottawa Senators looked much better in net. He got the shutout courtesy of some misses on Toronto's part, but looks like he's beginning to make some solid progress as he recovers from a concussion suffered in February.
Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com