Wednesday, December 7, 2016

No time to sulk with McDavid in town. Eichel looks good to go.

Published by, 12-06-2016

Chalk up another lost point in Washington last night. Buffalo went into the third period against the Washington Capitals with a hard-earned 2-1 lead but couldn't hang on as the Caps put the pressure on for most of the period. Washington's forecheck kept Buffalo hemmed in their own zone for minutes at a time and as often happens, the team on the defensive takes a penalty and gives up a goal.

And so it went for the Sabres last night.

The Caps were buzzing the Sabres zone for an extended length of time and Evander Kane was called for hooking at 13:37 of the third period and five seconds later, Washington's Marcus Johansson tipped the puck past Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner for the game-tying goal. Although the new wave of analytics place little emphasis on faceoffs and special teams, this was a case where both proved to be extremely important as the Caps won the draw on the powerplay and just like that the puck was in the back of the Sabres net.

Redemption was in the offing for the Sabres both in regulation with a powerplay of their own and in overtime where they boggled a 2-on-1 and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen whiffed from in the slot on a feed from Ryan O'Reilly. In a matter of about 10 minutes we saw the difference between a veteran team like the Caps and a young, inconsistent Sabres team. Simply put, when given opportunities, Washington capitalized and Buffalo didn't.

That said, I liked the Sabres team I saw last night...for most of the game anyway.

The Sabres were skating hard and fast for the first two periods and were barreling towards the net after the puck. Multiple shemozzles lead to the puck being in the Capitals crease--with one laying on the goal line before it was covered up--and the Sabres getting multiple chances that lead to one disallowed goal and Kyle Okposo's eighth goal of the season that put Buffalo up 2-1.

The Sabres haven't looked this hungry in a long time. They were enduring face washes and headlocks, grappling and tackling all in an effort to get the puck over the goal line. At one point with the puck in the crease, all five Sabres skaters were near the crease, locked in on the puck.

Buffalo skated and hit and scored on a 50' tic-tac-toe from Ristolainen to Derek Grant to Zemgus Girgensons who scored his second goal of the season on a breakaway. Girgensons hadn't lit the lamp since October 18th and when he got the puck at center ice, it looked as if he would not be denied. Props to Ristolainen who got the puck quickly to Grant at center ice and to Grant who sent a long, hard touch pass to a streaking Girgensons.

As much as one might like to use injuries as an excuse, the Sabres should have won that game last night. They caught the Caps on an average night and were given opportunities to win but couldn't get it done.

Some quick notes from the game:

--Twenty-seven yr. old Sabres defenseman Eric Burgdoerfer finally made it to the NHL and played a very good game. Save for one mistake where he lost his man in the slot on the Capitals first goal. For a newbie it happens, but he recovered pretty well and finished the game playing just over 10 minutes.

--Sam Reinhart, on the other hand, is in his second full season and leaving his man wide open in overtime is inexcusable. Not sure what he was thinking there. He's also lucky that Marcus Johansson scored on that slapshot. With the way Reinhart lamely went down to block the shot the whole side of his body was in a prone position.

--Speaking of Reinhart, the kid's been just a little off lately. Something's amiss as his passes are just a touch off and he hasn't been the net front presence he's been in the past, even with the return of Jack Eichel from injury. His stats are there with a goal and three assists since Eichel's return, and he's made a nice play or two, but he's not as locked in as he's been in the past. It's probably nothing more than a consistency issue which is typical of a young player in his sophomore season.

--That goal by Girgensons was a doozy and he might have had played his best game all season. Girgensons has dropped all the way down to the fourth line and it was looking like he was headed to the pressbox. One thing that should be noted, however. Although he hasn't been scoring, Girgensons has been solid in his own zone as he's been on the ice for only one goal against in the last 10 games.

--Nineteen yr. old defenseman Brendan Guhle has been impressive in his first two NHL games. In his first game against Boston his jump had him in the offense while last night his quick feet, positioning and stickwork was impressive against the Capitals. He even stymied a barreling Alexander Ovechkin a couple of times one-on-one. Which is no small feat. Head coach Dan Bylsma was on WGR550 today telling the hosts that it's up to a young player to force the big club to keep him. Guhle's on emergency recall and odds are he won't stick, but he's sure making a strong case for the maximum allowable games.

--Defenseman Jake McCabe has had his minutes ramped up since the move to the top pairing after the Josh Gorges injury and the kid is taking the bull by the horns. Every chance he gets McCabe is grabbing the puck and skating it up ice while also pinching in deep in the offensive zone. He's quick to the puck and has a ton of confidence right now. He and Ristolainen have been workhorses on the back end and seem to be getting a pretty good feel for each other. Methinks McCabe doesn't want to leave the top-pairing.


On tonight's matchup between Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers:

--The Oilers are in the midst of a tough stretch where they play six games in nine days. Edmonton started out with a back to back over the weekend (with both games going past regulation) before travelling to Buffalo yesterday while the Sabres were in Washington. Buffalo is the first of a three-game eastern road swing that will culminate with at back-to-back at Philadelphia and at Minnesota beginning Thursday. They'll travel back to Edmonton to take on Winnipeg on Sunday and Columbus next Tuesday.

--This will be the second matchup between McDavid and Buffalo's Jack Eichel. Edmonton won the first one last season 2-1 in overtime with McDavid scoring both Oilers' goals. Buffalo was without Eichel in October when they smoked the Oilers in Edmonton, 6-2.

--It's a different scenario this time around as McDavid is quoted as saying about the matchup. From Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, "We were just flat. It was a game we obviously didn't have it and they were well-rested and ready to go," McDavid said today in recalling the first meeting. "Kind of a different story here. They played last night, traveled and everything like that while we were here in bed early and ready to go."

--Harrington points out that McDavid, the league leader in points (34) and assists (23,) has been held off the scoresheet for the past two games and that he's never gone three games without a point.

--Where this all leads is to be determined but we do know that Buffalo goalie Anders Nilsson, who's getting the start tonight, and his d-corps features two players--Guhle and Burgdoerfer--who have played a grand total of three NHL games.

--Sabres fans held their collective breath yesterday as Eichel was checked awkwardly into the boards and was shown on the bench writhing in pain. According to reports he tweak his high ankle sprain but looks to be good to go tonight. “I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel told the gathered media after a team meeting this morning. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”

--McDavid and Eichel played for Team North America this fall in the World Cup of Hockey.

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