Monday, October 3, 2016

Sabres begin back-to-back against Toronto tonight, plus other notes

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It's been just over three years, and a whole lot of losing in between, since the infamous John Scott/Phil Kessel incident at Air Canada Center in Toronto. After Toronto's Jamie Devane pummeled Buffalo's Corey Tropp in a scrap, the two teams lined up for a faceoff at center ice and the 6'8" Scott found himself next to 6' Kessel with the Sabres in retribution-mode. Words were exchanged, the puck was dropped, Scott went after Kessel and Kessel started hacking at Scott's ankles with his stick.

Since then Kessel was traded by Toronto to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015 and won the Stanley Cup with his new team a year later. Scott bounced from the Sabres to the San Jose Sharks, to the Arizona Coyotes. Scott won the NHL All-Star fan vote and seemingly at the behest of the league was shipped by the 'Yotes to the Montreal Canadiens where they sent him to the minors so he couldn't be a part of the All-Star Game. Scott would not only play in the game but was named MVP and had the pleasure of receiving a check from the league (to it's embarrassment.) He went home with a new Honda Pilot, $90,000 as being part of the winning team and was with his wife when she gave birth to twins less than a week later.

As for the teams, the Sabres were a mess during that 2013-14 season and plummeted to the bottom of the league two years running for a complete rebuild. The Leafs would follow suit two years later punctuated by the trade of Kessel. Now both teams are armed with a bevy of youngsters and are about to make their climb up the standings.

Tonight the two teams kick off a back-to-back preseason set with a game in St. Catherines, Ontario where Toronto will be the home team before they head east to the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo.

Although we won't have a Jack Eichel vs. Auston Matthews story line tonight as the two re-acclimated themselves to the NHL after a stint with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey, the brothers Nylander--Alexander for Buffalo and the elder William for Toronto--should pique one's interest. Alexander was the eighth-overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft while William was selected eighth overall in 2014.

Buffalo's Alexander Nylander was a part of the game day skate for the Sabres and looks to be in the lineup, according to Buffalo Sabres PR. According to Sabres twitter he was on a line with Derek Grant at center and Evander Kane on the other wing. The rest of the lines were:

Marcus Foligno - Johan Larsson - Kyle Okposo
Matt  Moulson - Cal O'Reilly - Hudson Fasching
William Carrier - Daniel Catenacci - Cory Schneider

On defense:
Josh Gorges - Zach Bogosian
Brendan Guhle/Mac Bennett - Cody Franson
Justin Falk - Eric Burgdoerfer's Jourdon LaBarber tweeted that goalie Anders Nilsson was first off the ice and will likely get the start with Jason Kasdorf as the backup.

Of note:

--Nylander is on the wing with Derek Grant, who's been a big surprise at camp thus far. Grant played the role of second-line center in Tuesday's 3-2 OT win vs. Ottawa and had a hand in all three goals scoring the game-tying goal with just over four minutes in regulation then setting up Jake McCabe for the game-winner in OT. The 6'3" 190 lb Abbotsford, British Columbia native has been bouncing around the minor for years producing solid numbers but has yet to score an NHL goal in 40 games. There's a spot on the Sabres roster and he's making a hard push for it.

--McCabe takes the night off after having a promising game against the Senators. He was in a top-pairing role with Burgdoerfer and played over 22 minutes including 3:05 on the powerplay. McCabe finished with three shots on goal and was a plus-1 on the night.

--Nicolas Baptiste is continuing to have a strong camp as he scored Buffalo's first goal when Grant fed him a layup then returned the favor with a cross-crease pass to Grant for the game-tying goal. The 6'1" 201 lb. Baptiste has shown flashes of speed while showing off his scoring prowess and is looking to smooth out some erratic play that's still haunting him.

--Sabres fans have been leery of goalie Anders Nilsson ever since GM Tim Murray sent a fifth-rounder to St. Louis for him back in July. Nilsson is a big body (6'5" 229 lbs.) and has been a huge presence in net so far in camp. He pitched a shutout over two games and 30 minutes of hockey during team scrimmages and stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced against the Minnesota Wild in the Sabres preseason opener on Monday.

--Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo's top center is in Toronto with Team Canada as they look to finish off Team Europe tonight. Canada won the opener of the best-of-three series. Buffalo's Eichel and Dmitry Kulikov returned to the Sabres this week after their respective WCH teams were eliminated from the tournament but won't see action tonight.

--And for those who are wondering what's up with unsigned restricted free agent Rasmus Ristolainen, LaBarber reports that Risto had asked for permission to skate with the club and permission was granted. It's a good sign and hopefully both sides can get his contract finished so they can get on with the 2016-17 season. In an email to the Buffalo News Mike Liut, who represents Ristolainen said, "Everyone knows how dedicated he is to his training, and he wanted to continue to build on the gains he made this summer. He skipped the World Championship so he would have a full 16-week training session leading up to the World Cup, so he's more prepared than ever and wants to keep it that way.

"In the end, this made sense to him, at least in the short term."

Time to get it done.

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