Sunday, April 10, 2016

.500 goes "poof!" as Blue Jackets topple Sabres in Buffalo's home finale

Reprinted with permission from

Despite differing opinions of what constitutes a .500 team, the Buffalo Sabres were using points-percentage as a benchmark. With two games remaining, two wins would equate to 83 of a possible 164 points for Buffalo thus surpassing that mark. For a team on the rise and coming from the depths of a 54 point season, it's an important focus for them.

Sabres GM Tim "I Get That" Murray was on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog yesterday evening and clarified that although there were differing opinions of just what .500 means, in the players minds hitting or surpassing 82 points on the season was a goal to shoot for. "When our players look at it, they say 'Let's get to the .500-mark," Murray explained to the hosts. "We believe what we believe."

Murray also revealed there were some grumblings in the dressing room with the announcement that rookie Jason Kasdorf would get the start, which was nothing against Kasdorf. With their focus upon winning the final two games thus hitting a magical mark for the team, they felt that Chad Johnson would give them the best opportunity. "[Johnson's] on a great roll and they believe we're one game away from .500," said Murray. "And I don't blame them for that.

"That's great. We're missing the playoffs, we have two games left and they're still grumbling. That's the mindset we're trying to get to and I would never complain about that.

Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma passed on that Paul Gaustad-like "Don't-step-on-the-logo!" moment from the players and opted not only to start Kasdorf in net, but to also give two other players their first taste of the NHL as Evan Rodrigues and Williamsville native, Cole Schneider hit NHL ice for the first time. Both, Murray said "deserved to play a game or two on merit."

Too bad it wasn't a better ending for the trio.

During last night's 4-1 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Sabres came out strong but couldn't get one past rookie Joonas Korpisalo. A couple of penalties put Buffalo on the defensive and they got bit late in the first period after Nicolas Deslauriers went to the box for boarding. With 1:18 left in the period, Columbus forward Matt Calvert dinged one in off the post to Kasdorf's far side to break a scoreless tie. Although it was a great shot, one got the sense that the four Buffalo players on the kill felt that Calvert's angle was covered as they moved towards the slot to defend against the pass.

A parade of Jackets to the penalty box in the second period finally yielded a goal for Buffalo as Sam "The Forgotten One" Reinhart tipped in a beauty off a slap-pass from fellow rookie Jack Eichel to tie the game at 1-1. The goal was Reinhart's 23rd on the year, tying him with Eichel for the team lead. But that was short-lived as Columbus went back on top just 1:39 later.

Sabres d-man Josh Gorges got steam-rolled by Josh Anderson along the half-wall in the Buffalo zone and coughed up the puck. Boone Jenner jumped on the loose puck and sent a diving cross-ice pass to Nick Foligno who blasted it past a sprawling Kasdorf and just like that the Sabres were down by a goal again. It was the second time that a Sabres d-man got leveled in their own zone. Zach Bogosian got caught in no-man's land with Brandon Saad barreling in on him. The two collided with Bogosian getting the worst of it and he would leave the game never to return. Bylsma said that Bogosian would not be playing tonight in the season finale at Brooklyn against the NY Islanders.

Dalton Prout would score his third of the season off of a 3-on-2 break to make it 3-1 and Saad would finish the scoring by pumping in his 30th of the season as the Jackets skated away from the F'N Center with the victory.

Kasdorf admittedly said he could have been better and would like to have had a couple of those goals back. He also stated the obvious while saying that he wasn't accustomed to the speed with which NHL players get off their shot and the velocity on them.

But that's what this game was all about, allowing three young players to get a good feel the game at the NHL-level. Kasdorf had a one-and-done in net and will have the entire off-season to work on readying himself for a probable season in the AHL or even the ECHL dependent upon his progress and who the other goalies are. For Schneider the one game last night was a reward for amassing 203 points in 278 AHL games without an opportunity to skate on NHL ice. That his first NHL game was for his hometown Sabres was icing on the cake.

And for Rodrigues, Murray said that while watching him the first half of the season he was left to wonder whether the winger would ever earn a ticket to Buffalo. But "he got his act together in the second half," Murray told the GR boys, "[He] understood that the American [Hockey League] is better than college hockey and that you have to become a man. He bought in and embraced it the second half."

Rodrigues had himself a real good game last night and may have earned himself one more look. He skated well and was all-in whenever he was on the ice and never really looked out of place. In this bloggers eyes, he may have earned himself a shot to play with Eichel once again. The two tore it up at Boston University last season and perhaps it would make for a nice end to the season to have the free agent Rodrigues skate with two second-overall picks in Eichel and Reinhart.

The Sabres have one more game to play and it's on the road where they're 18-17-5 and cannot fall below .500 as the visitor. All talk of .500 can be put to rest until next season where hopefully they'll be talking about having more wins than regulation, overtime and shootout losses combined. It's a goal worth shooting for and one that if reached, will put them on the precipice of their first playoff appearance in five seasons.

All that said, with the home portion of the schedule complete, we're left with one truism:  in 41 games played at First Niagara Center, the hometown fans watched their team head to center ice for a fan-salute only 16 times. In the other 25 games, the visiting team left victorious.

But within that truism is the knowledge that the team has come a long way and is on the rise with burgeoning young talent and room for more to be added if/when available.

And that's a good thing.

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