Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Buffalo Sabres fans have seen rookie center Jack Eichel's wrist shot, which is top-notch. Late in a 5-on-3 powerplay last night against the Arizona Coyotes, Eichel unleashed the fury of his slapshot as Rasmus Ristolainen sent a cross-ice pass right in his wheel-house. In channeling Alexader Ovechkin and his patented one-timer, Eichel's composite stick bent like a fly-rod with a lunker on it as he blistered home his 14th goal of the season.
Eichel was named the game's first star as he finished with a goal and an assist.
The Sabres, who had just defeated the league-leading Washington Capitals two days before, rode a wave of confidence and played a fast game against the 'Yotes en route to a 2-1 victory. Buffalo has now won four of five and are on a three-game road win-streak and they seemed to have found a pretty good winning formula.
Chad Johnson got the start in net for the Sabres on the heels of that impressive 4-1 victory over the Caps. Starter Robin Lehner may have been scheduled prior to the Washington game, but when you shut down the Capitals like "Johnny" did in stopping 33 of 34 shots, it was a performance worthy of another start.
Special team once again were key in this one as the Sabres rendered one of the hottest powerplays in the league useless. The Coyotes, who had been buzzing along at a 31.8% conversion rate since December 26th (2nd in the league during that time) went 0/5 on the powerplay last night, including a four-minute double-minor courtesy of Jake McCabe drawing blood on a high-stick early in the first period. The Sabres also killed five powerplays in the victory against Washington, a team that boasts a ton of firepower lead by Ovechkin and were ranked 2nd in the NHL.
Buffalo has not allowed a powerplay goal in their last four games and have killed off 17 of 19 (89%) since the start of the calendar year. In their last five games they've allowed only one goal on 15 opportunities against (93%) in posting 4-1-0 record.
Conversely, their powerplay has been rolling along at a 26% clip since the beginning of 2016, scoring goals in five of eight games. Last night they went 2/3 as they took advantage of an Arizona penalty kill that had allowed 35 goals-against shorthanded (2nd most in the league behind Winnipeg's 38) and was ranked 27th in the league at 77.3% coming into the game.
The Sabres frustrated the Coyotes throughout and things really started to boil after Eichel set up Jamie McGinn for their second tally on the powerplay. Although Arizona would pull to within one on a goal Johnson would probably like to have back, and even though they finally broke a scoreless drought that lasted over 130 minutes, as the game wore on and they couldn't break through for another one and things would get heated.
Arizona rookied Anthony Duclair who endured his fair share of hits from the Sabres throughout the game, got into a minor jousting match on a faceoff in the Buffalo zone with Sabres d-man Zach Bogosian. The two would have words before Duclair moved to the opposite side. Things would continue to fester as the 'Yotes applied heavy pressure in an effort to tie the score.
Coyotes' captain Shane Doan would also show some frustration in the corner as he laid his stick on a prone Ryan O'Reilly with just about a minute to go. O'Reilly was on the ice trying to eat the puck with under :30 seconds to go and Doan wasn't too fond of that. Ristolainen didn't appreciate what Doan was doing to his teammate and gave him a couple of whacks. Bogosian got between the two and the play ended.
After the horn sounded, Doan wanted a piece of Ristolainen who was tangled up with Antoine Vermette. The 39 yr. old veteran of 20-plus NHL seasons got a facewash in on Ristolainen and like a polarized attraction to a magnetic core, both sides entered the fray. For some unknown reason, Duclair, the youngest player on the 'Yotes roster proceeded to antagonize Bogosian, something the Sabres d-man didn't take kindly to. With Bogosian smacking Duclair, and a mass of bodies around them Ristolainen peeled off Arizona's Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the two went to the corner.
Ristolainen, who's not known as a fighter but has been playing with a serious edge lately, went at it with the 6'2" 200 lb. Ekman-Larsson and the two exchanged pleasantries, as well as a fist or two, before Doan, who had been watching the struggle in earnest jumped in on Ristolainen.
In the end Bogosian received a game-misconduct and 17 minutes in penalties, Doan a misconduct and 12 minutes total, Ristolainen a 10-minute misconduct, Ekman-Larsson and Vermette both had 10-minute misconduct penalties and Duclair got two minute for roughing.
It was a pack-mentality from both sides and something that the Sabres should be able to rally around. Defenseman Mike Weber, who played another outstanding game especially on the penalty kill, was asked if something like what happened at the end is something that will help bring the team together. Weber told the gathered media post-game (via WGR550), "Yeah, for sure. It's something that's not been lacking in this locker room. We're an extremely tight group. We've already had some laughs and chuckles about it.
The grizzly vet who's had his fair share of fights throughout his career called it some "old-school hockey" and he likes that it's still in the game.
Buffalo travelled to Colorado where they'll have a practice today before their 10:00pm EST game against the Avalanche tomorrow.
A couple of quick notes.
Bogosian has been seeing top-pairing minutes alongside Ristolainen since d-man Josh Gorges went down with an injury. Mark Pysyk came back and has been eased into the lineup playing third-paireng minutes.
Ristolainen, as usual lead the team in ice-time last night with 30:15 while Bogosian was second with 26:16. The duo finished a combined minus-one. Versus the Washington Capitals Risto skated 27:27, Bogosian 21:29 and the duo was a plus-4.
Weber lead the Sabres in PK-time last night with 6:17. Ristolainen was right behind him at 6:15. In the game against Washington Weber had 5:30 on the penalty kill while Ristolainen logged 6:00.
The Sabres outscored Arizona and Washington by a combined 6-2 and held both teams scoreless on 10 powerplay opportunities.