Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two more off the schneid. Casey Nelson continues to impress.

Reprinted with permission from

When forward Zemgus Girgensons finally lit the lamp in Detroit on Monday, thus ending a 23-game drought, surprisingly it wasn't the longest goal-less streak on the team at the time. That dubious distinction belonged to the team's leading scorer, Ryan O'Reilly.

O'Reilly finally poked one home last night in the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Short-handed, no less. With the Sabres up 1-0 and Josh Gorges in the box for holding, O'Reilly battled two Pens along the boards and got the puck to David Legwand in open space inside Pittsburgh's blueline. Legwand's backhander squeaked through and trickled to the goal line before a Pens player saved it from going over the line. But the puck hit another Penguins player and lay there in the crease. O'Reilly smacked it home for his first goal in 24 games.

The first period was rather kind to those who hadn't scored in long time. The much maligned Matt Moulson, who's five goals on the season were far below expectations, opened the scoring for Buffalo on the powerplay. In the past, Moulson was a fixture in and around the crease and with a quick stick and accurate shot he was able to net three consecutive 30-goal seasons with the NY Islanders as well as solid production while with the Sabres during the past two bottom-feeding seasons. But this year, not so much. Moulson's goal ended an 18-game drought for him.

Maybe we can add rookie defenseman Jake McCabe into that grouping as he scored his first goal since December 17, 2015, a span of 41 games. His fourth goal of the season was sweet as he snuck in from the weak side, took a cross ice pass from O'Reilly then slipped a backhander home for his fourth of the season. McCabe loves sneaking in like that and he's done so on many occasions this season, but the puck has either failed to get to him or he just didn't have enough to pot one.

Going back to Girgensons goal with three minutes left in the game, in a matter of 17:05, three Buffalo Sabres forwards who had gone a combined 65 games with out a goal all finally got off the schneid. Too bad that the Sabres were only able to get one point in those two games.


Speaking of points, with two assists last night, rookie defenseman Casey Nelson is the first Sabres player to record points in his first three games since Calle Johansson did so back in 1987-88.

Nelson, who had signed only last week, snagged himself two secondary assists last night, both of them on the powerplay. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma gave Nelson 14:05 of ice-time including 2:29 at the point on the powerplay and the 23 yr. old product of Minnesota State has responded very well to the responsibilities given him. "The biggest thing, and it’s real noticeable," Bylsma told Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News, "is his heads-up play, his head-up ability to play with the puck and make plays with the puck. That’s a unique ability to see from a kid who’s just stepping in the lineup.”

At 6'2" 182 pounds, Nelson still needs to add some bulk but considering how quickly he's adapted to the NHL game, you'd have thought he's been in the NHL longer than three games. “I’ve got to put some weight on here in the offseason," he told Vogl after the game, "but I’m going to soak it all in now and learn the best I can. It’s all new and everything’s different. All the guys are awesome, though. It feels like I’ve been here all year. They’ve just taken me in and given me challenges. Overall, it’s exciting."


It was a fun game to watch last night, especially with the Sabres up 3-0 heading into the first intermission. And even after Pittsburgh surged ahead with four unanswered second period goals, two of them shorthanded on the same powerplay late in the period, I never got the feeling the Sabres were out of the game.

Sure enough, Zach Bogosian potted his seventh of the season on the powerplay just over two minutes into the final frame. It was a nail-biter at times as the Penguins continued to get shots on goal but the Sabres went stride-for-stride with them in the third period as well as the five minute overtime session. After being outshot by 32-13 in the first two periods, Buffalo outshot Pittsburgh 17-14 in the third and overtime combined.

Of note is that Buffalo played consecutive road games against two teams in playoff mode. In Detroit on Monday they faced a Red Wings team who hadn't missed the playoffs in 24 years but were on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Pittsburgh went through a mid-season coaching change and had a red-hot 8-2 record heading into last night's game. They ain't Carolina and Winnipeg.

As a team Buffalo was overwhelmed at various points in both games, yet in both occasions they managed to put a scare in the opposition. Which is a good thing. Although they weren't afforded the opportunity to open things up against a swarming, puck-possession team like Detroit, there was plenty of ice in Pittsburgh and it made for an exciting game to watch, despite the loss.

And for those following the standings, the Sabres remained in 23rd place with a 6.5% chance of winning the NHL draft lottery for first overall pick.

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