Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Of May snow, Jake McCabe, and phenoms at the point on the PP

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

Yeah, it snowed today. Whoopdeedoo. So we got ourselves some frozen precipitation that disappeared instantly as it had no chance of sticking to a very warm surface that is the earth in mid-May.

I’d gladly take a series of damp, cool days in May—complete with a mid-month snow shower—if it meant that we could have a winter like we just had. And as I sat inside today watching the weather for a bit, I thought to myself how great it was to get a ride in on my motorcycle in every month of the year and how awesome it was to be barbequing December through March.

Yeah, it snowed today, but so what? Winter was easy and Summer’s right around the corner.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe scored his first goal at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Russia today. In typical fashion, McCabe came in from the weak side and deposited a rocket of a cross-ice pass from former Sabres prospect JT Compher. McCabe's stats thus far in the tournament:  4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, +2.
McCabe's been used in a shutdown/defensive role for USA head coach John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils and unfortunately the 22 yr. old Wisconsin native was on the ice for two of Germany's three goals in Team USA's 3-2 loss today.
On the first one McCabe effectively pinned his man, Patrik Hager, behind the USA net during a penalty kill but the puck squirted away far-side. Germany's Daryl Boyle took a feed in the slot and blasted a shot that was stopped by US goalie, Mike Condon. The rebound was deflected off of former Sabres draft pick Felix "I Know Nuthink!" Schutz and was headed towards the goal line before McCabe's man, Hager finished it off.
On the game-winner with a mere :33 remaining in regulation, the Americans lost a draw in their own zone and the puck went to the point . Germany's Korbinian Holzer (ANA,) he of zero goals at the NHL and AHL levels over the past two seasons, lofted a seeing-eye wrister to the net while McCabe was battling with Marcus Kink, effectively screening Condon as the long, slow wrist shot went by.
In addition to McCabe, Compher and Schutz the Sabres had connections with a few other players on the ice. Hudson Fasching skated for Team USA while Christian "The Hoff" Ehrhoff was on Germany's top d-pairing given the task of defending against Auston Matthews whenever he was on the ice. Ehrhoff scored the team's second goal of the game (assisted by Schutz.) Also skating for Germany was Phillip "Gogs" Gogulla a Buffalo 2nd-rounder (48th overall) from the Sabres 2005 draft class. Of note, no player from Gogulla's 2005 class or Schutz's 2006 class are currently with the Sabres organization.

Team USA's powerplay was the culprit in this game, along with Team Germany goalie, Thomas Greiss (NYI.)
Greiss, a former 2004 draft pick (94th, SJS) was playing in his third game for Germany after a strong performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was exceptional in net, especially in helping the Gemrans kill off three USA powerplays in the first period to allow his team to go into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
The Americans for their part really helped Germany early on as they stayed on the perimeter with the man advantage. It wasn't until a late first period powerplay that Team USA began to figure it out. They began the second period with the man advantage and Matthews walked into the circle to deposit a world-class wrister which would knot the game at 2-2. Although Team USA would figure out how to work the powerplay, they could not get another one past Greiss on three other second period powerplays.
Part of Team USA's figuring out of the powerplay had Matthews on the point. Hynes had been using his own Devil's defenseman David Warsofsky on the point with Noah Hannifan (CAR) and Brady Skjei (NYR) but despite their inflated goal totals (while playing inferior opponents) the results were inconsistent at best.
With Matthews now on the point (along with Warsofsky) the ice opened up and unlike the sketchy, sometimes fumbling work of Hannifan at the bluline, puck possession and puck movement increased noticeably inside the attacking zone.
Which begs the question in Buffalo. The Sabres are said to be interested in acquiring a powerplay quarterback to man the point along with Rasmus Ristolainen on the first unit. But with so much talent on the Sabres up-front, is said d-man worth reaching for either at the draft, via trade or even in free agency?
Or maybe we should decide whether or not defining a powerplay quarterback requires that the word 'defenseman' be an integral and absolute part of said definition.
Jack Eichel is the most talented player on the Sabres and he's an integral part of the first powerplay unit. He invariably has the defense backing off whenever he has the puck no matter where he is in the attacking zone. The big debate this past season was whether Eichel was more effective on the left half-wall or right half-wall but either way, he will inevitably be the best player in whatever position he's in, save for the front of the net which would be a total waste of his abilities.
And that includes the point on the powerplay.
Eichel has the vision to find the open man or find open ice and the mental wherewithal to not panic when the opposition presses. And should things break down and head the other way, there's no faster skater in Buffalo, or maybe the league for that matter, who can get back quicker to break up a shorthanded rush.
Although I'm in agreement that on the half-wall to the right of the goaltender is Eichel's best spot, there should be no reason for Sabres management to reach for a powerplay quarterback defenseman anytime soon. If proof is needed that the team's best player can make it work from the point, Hynes and Team USA may provide that with Matthews in control at the left point on the powerplay.


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