Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Or shall we say, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a young man as he's still only 21 yrs. old. The Turku, Finland native is still a pup by chronological age standards but on the ice he has the presence of an aged veteran.
Last night against the Calgary Flames, Ristolainen pulled off the natural hat trick in the Sabres 4-3 loss at the Saddledome. The natural hatty was the first of his career and was almost enough to lead the team to a come from behind victory.
Buffalo was down 2-0 headed into the third period and frustrated all game by a tight-checking Flames team before consecutive penalties by Calgary's Sam Bennett allowed the Sabres to get back into the game on the powerplay. With just 2:27 gone in the third Ristolainen got the Sabres on the board with a sneaky rocket of a shot off of a feed from Sam Reinhart. The shot went top-shelf, glove-side through a maze of players that included Jamie McGinn and captain Brian Gionta screening Flames goalie Jonas Hiller.
Just over two minutes later with Bennett in the box again, Ryan O'Reilly won the ensuing draw clean and got it back to Ristolainen at the point. Ristolainen slowly drifted to the slot and sent a wrister that beat Hiller low, blocker side. Just like that the score was 2-2 and the Sabres were back in it.
Calgary's Sean Monahan, who was drafted sixth overall, two slots ahead of Ristolainen at the 2013 NHL Draft, would put the Flames up once again but Ristolainen would counter. Matt Moulson sent a shot that ricocheted off the wall behind the net clear to the other side. Ristolainen gathered the puck and along the wall behind the net. After circling around he sent a shot to the crease from a sharp angle that would find the back of the net off of Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman.
Sabres PR would give us a checklist of what Ristolainen's hat trick meant in Sabres history:
--Only five Sabres defenseman have recorded hat tricks: Phil Housley (2), Jerry Korab, Jim Schoenfeld, John VanBoxmeer, and Hanuu Virta
--He was the first Sabres d-man to score a hat trick since Housley (recently inducted into the Hall of Fame) during the 1987-88 season.
--The only other Buffalo d-man to record a hat trick in one period was Korab on November 11, 1978
--And from Elias Sports, Ristolainen is the first Sabre since Thomas Vanek on Jan. 13, 2013 to record the trick and the first d-man since Al MacInnis (10/12/1998) to do so in one period
Looking at the list above, what Ristolainen accomplished last night was special, and he confirmed that to the gathered media. "Yeah, [it's] special," he told them. "It doesn't happen often, to me, so I'll take it. But we really need to win and we gotta find a way to get it together here."
It was the Buffalo's third loss in a row on this three-game West Coast swing. The first two weren't nearly as close as the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks beat them by a combined 9-4 score. Nothing seemed to click those first two games and nothing seemed to click for the Sabres through the first two periods last night. And that included allowing two goals in the second, one of them with less than eight seconds left in the period.
"The boys weren't too happy," said Ristolainen of the locker room during the second intermission, "that's not the way we should play the game. The second period was awful. It's not always pretty but we've got to work, work hard."
It wasn't all unicorns, rainbows and juju's for Ristolainen last night, however. He finished the game with a minus-2 rating as he was on the ice for three of Calgary's four goals, including the game-winner. That would be the 21 yr. old youth in him. But for a player who logs a team-high 24:13 ATOI, top-20 in the league amongst defenseman, miscues and breakdowns will happen.
Regardless of the loss and the minus-stat, Buffalo fans gotta be pretty excited about the offensive explosion we saw from Ristolainen last night as he was a bad man.
Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma finally gave Ristolainen some time on the first powerplay unit during this trip. It started in Vancouver then Bylsma made the change during their break between the 'Nucks and Flames games. For the first time this season, Bylsma had two defensemen on one of his powerplay units. He moved Ristolainen up and Cody Franson from the first unit to the second, pairing him with fellow d-man Zach Bogosian at the point.
Unlike Franson, Ristolainen has shown the propensity to consistently get shots through, as evidenced last night on his first powerplay goal. He saw the lane and was able to send it home, something Franson had not been able to do through 29 games thus far.