Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
I can't remember the last time the Buffalo Sabres scored three powerplay goals in a game. In fact, it's been a rarity for them to score two in a game and over the last two seasons, when the team was challenging the modern mark for goal-scoring futility, the team scored only 30 powerplay goals last season and 36 the year before.
Today against the Columbus Blue Jackets the Sabres went on the powerplay seven times, scored three powerplay goals and eventually came away with a 4-2 victory in front of an announced First Niagara Center Crowd of 18,075. This was the second matinee in a row for the Sabres and the third of three home games to open up their 2015-16 season.
Three Sabres--Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Moulson--all scored their first goals of the year on the powerplay. Ristolainen on a shot from the point with Sam Reinhart providing the screen, O'Reilly on a no-look feed from Moulson, and Moulson himself who was the beneficiary of a strong forecheck and good work from O'Reilly.
The Blue Jackets who fell to 0-3 on the season took seven minor penalties in the game with four of them taken after the Sabres found overdrive. In a sure sign of a team trying to keep up, Columbus began a parade to the box with a hooking penalty from Jackets captain Nick Foligno a the :46-mark of the second period then had three straight tripping calls that over the course of the next 24 minutes.
After years of futility it was good to see powerplay units who looked like they knew what they were doing. Save for some ill-advised one-on-three entries by Tyler Ennis, a player who needs to shake those Derek Roy-like tendencies, Buffalo's entries into the Jackets zone were solid for the most part. Even when they had trouble they outworked Columbus to the point where they were in control. Those entries backed off the defense, they created space, something that hasn't been seen in years, and their passing was very good to excellent. Who would've thought that these things might lead to success?
WGR's Paul Hamilton made a point of acknowledging in his post-game remarks that the team practices the powerplay continually, "almost daily, if not daily," remarked Hamilton which is a far cry from previous seasons where very little attention was paid to the man advantage. "[Assistant coach] Dan Barr is constantly talking to them," said Hamilton, "[head coach] Dan Bylsma's constantly coaching them. They're working on a lot of things they don't like to do it the way they want to."
The Sabres were held to one goal in each of the first two games, both losses, and getting those second and third powerplay goals--both of which put Buffalo up by two--were pretty important. Bylsma liked what the team had done from the get-go with the man advantage and the momentum they gained from it, "Just the mentality we went out on the ice with and how we shot the puck," said Bylsma post-game. "We generated a lot of momentum, a lot of action with our shot mentality even though we didn't score."
Bylsma was asked if it was an in-game adjustment he made after the team managed only two shotes on their first two powerplays. "We didn't make adjustments, we just did it right. So if our adjustment was doing it right, yes it was [an adjustment.]"
The Sabres speed was really evident from the second period on. Evander Kane was a beast, effortlessly flying about the ice as was Zemgus Girgensons, who Bylsma switched back to center. Girgensons, who has been moved all over the place but always plays a strong 200' x 85' game, powered a line that had O'Reilly on one side (after he was switched to wing from center) and Ennis on the other.
"I think Zemgus, played his best game in preseason at center," said Bylsma of the Girgensons, "I thought that again [tonight] that it was probably his best game. He's carrying the puck through the middle of the ice, played hard all over the ice. Played hard down low. Then we got out of there (the defensive zone) with his speed and carrying the puck through the middle of the ice.
"I thought that line was significantly better that they were in game two because of [Girgensons] being at center. At the end of the game, Ennis had his best game. [O'Reilly] had his best game."
There was still plenty to work on from both a team and individual standpoint. Although the Sabres did score three powerplay goals they gave up two powerplay goals to Columbus on only three opportunities as the defense had trouble with the Blue Jackets crashing the crease. Individually, defenseman Cody Franson looked to be perpetually behind the play, forward David Legwand looked every bit his 35 yrs. of age and rookie Sam Reinhart looked lost on the first two poweplays. Reinhart never saw the man advantage again after misfiring on three passes in the Columbus zone which lead to the Blue Jackets clearing the puck.
Props to Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe who celebrated his 22nd birthday with a call-up from Rochester. He was paired with Mark Pysyk through most of the game and really never looked out of place, even after taking a stick to the mouth.
The Sabres scored only one even-strength goal on the night and it was a doozy. Eighteen yr. old Jack Eichel dropped jaws and got a particularly enthusiastic "Yik-el," twice from Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret on a play that was just epic.
Eichel's speed on the rush has been well documented, but his quickness has been underrated. That was until his goal this afternoon.
Jamie McGinn hit the neutral zone and flung a pass that was out of Eichel's reach, or so we thought. With an extra quick stride and a long reach he corralled the puck at the right faceoff dot. He peels back and throws it to the slot but it deflects towards the blueline. Eichel sprints to the puck and beats out Boone Jenner leaving him stunned. Eichel kept the puck in the zone and headed down the boards while Blue Jackets scrambled for position. Unfortunately for them they left him all alone and he released a shot that hit a dime, top-shelf, far-side when there didn't look to be anything there.
(thx to SomeHockyVids for the video)
Really, there isn't much more to say.