Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Undisciplined Flames key to Sabres 2nd victory in a row

The Calgary Flames came into Buffalo's KeyBank Center having played a lot of hockey as of late. The game against the Sabres was their fifth in seven days and the second of a road back-to-back. Calgary was in Detroit last night and came away with tough 3-2 win against the Red Wings.

One thing the Flames were intent upon doing on the second of a back-to-back, especially roadies, was playing a tight defensive game while using their speed to jump on any opportunity the Sabres may offer them. Sure enough, just over five minutes into the game the Sabres completely botched a 4-on-2 as Johan Larsson made one too many and defenseman Cody Franson waited too long to shoot and had his shot blocked. Up-ice went the Flames in a 4-on-2 the other way and Michael Frolik fed a cross-ice pass to Mikael Backlund for a 1-0 lead.

All was going well until the bottom fell out in a series of penalties that saw three Flames in the box, two of them simultaneously for two minute minors.

It began with Buffalo's Johan Larsson ticking people of like he does when he's on his game.

About half-way through the second period, a scrum after the whistle sent Larsson to the box for slashing and the Flames' Hunter Shinkaruk off for roughing against Larsson who had poked the puck into the net as the play was being blown dead. With the teams skating 4-on-4 Calgary's Troy Brouwer was caught slashing Evnader Kane and during the delayed penalty Dougie Hamilton tripped Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen. The result was a 4-on-3 powerplay for the Sabres for :40 seconds of the off-setting Larsson/Shinkaruk penalties. When those expired the Sabres had a 5-on-3 for 1:20.

The Sabres would convert as Sam Reinhart fed Kyle Okposo who was all alone in the slot for his sixth of the season and the game was tied 1-1 with :36 seconds left in the 2-man advantage. The play was set up when Cal O'Reilly took the Flames blueline and got the puck to Ristolainen who found Reinhart to the right of Calgary goalie Brian Elliot.

Buffalo still had 1:16 of powerplay time and they converted as Larsson tipped a Kane shot five-hole to put the Sabres up 2-1 just :36 seconds after the Okposo goal. That's right, in :36 seconds the Sabres were able to do something they hadn't done in the three previous games and five out of the prior six--score more than one goal.

And they weren't done either as Calgary's parade to the penalty box continued.

Just :53 seconds after the Larsson goal the Sabres found themselves on the powerplay again as Brouwer interfered with Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons. Twelve seconds into the man-advantage Matt Moulson took a feed from Okposo and went top-shelf putting the Sabres up 3-1.

In a span of 1:41 the Sabres did something they hadn't done since October 30--score three goals in a game. It was just what the doctor ordered for a goal-starved team who also has had plenty of trouble at home. "The power play goals were huge for us," head coach Dan Bylsma told the gathered media post-game. "[They] let us put our most talented players on the ice and gave our team a level of comfort."

The Sabres ended up with six poweplays to none for Calgary before they were finally whistled late in the second period when Josh rookie William Carrier went off for roughing. Gorges would get the gate for cross-checking 1:23 later and the Sabres would be short two men and they would finish the period down a man.

Calgary got some life as Matthew Tkachuk scored his fifth of the season just after the Gorges penalty expired in the third but Marcus Foligno would answer with his fourth less than two minutes later for the 4-2 final score.

It was only the second time all season that the Sabers scored more than three goals.

The Calgary Flames gift-wrapped this one to the Sabres. After giving up the opening goal Bylsma said the team was gripping their sticks pretty tight. "We had a number of plays mishandled," he told the gathered media post-game. "We got the powerplay opportunities and it was a great chance for us to get some goal-scorers and get some guys that we needed to on the board."

Okposo, who got the ball rolling sounded happy and relieved after the game. "It was nice to get off the schneid a little bit for everybody," he said. "After we got that second goal, it was a big goal from our second powerplay unit."

Oddly enough, one of the players instrumental in Okposo's first goal was Ristolainen.

Buffalo's top d-man was struggling on the powerplay which included another bout with breaking his stick on a one-timer. During an early second period powerplay for the Sabres, Bylsma had Ristolainen on the bench which really didn't sit too well with the d-man. TV analysts had the coach and defenseman having words on the bench shortly thereafter.

Ristolainen would gather his senses and was a force out there the rest of the game. He drew the tripping call on the delayed penalty, calmly took the feed from O'Reilly and sent a quick tape-to-tape pass to Reinhart who fed Okposo. Ristolainen was his usual minute-eating self with a team-high 24:57 of ice-time, the assist and an even plus/minus rating.

Although the defensemen have only one goal to their collective name thus far this season, they are contributing with assists and call-up Taylor Fedun is showing how it's done while also showing some defensive acumen and finished with an even rating in 17:15 of ice-time (3:15 on the powerplay.) Fedun had two assists last night, giving him four assists in three games for the club. "We hoped he could show the poise and the puck-play on the powerplay, which he has" said Bylsma of Fedun, "but he's shown that he could defend and battle. He battled it out hard tonight on the defensive side of the puck.

"That may be a bit of a surprise for me."

For the Sabres, they're one game away from the .500-point mark as the two-game winning streak they're on raises their record to 7-8-4. But probably more importantly it should give them a boost of confidence as they finish a season-long four-game homestand against a struggling Red Wings club on Wednesday. Detroit is on a four-game losing streak, are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and now find themselves at the bottom of the Atlantic Division one game behind the Sabres.

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