Published by hockeybuzz.com, 1-5-2017
For Team USA and Buffalo Sabres fans, it was about as bad as it gets yesterday as the Americans got swamped 4-2 in their IIHF World Junior Championships semi-final game versus Team Sweden, and in the main bought, the Sabres got smoked by the Minnesota Wild 6-2. And in both instances it wasn't as close as the score indicated.
After a lackluster performance by both teams in the first period Team Sweden seemed to find their legs with a powerplay goal with 6:30 left in the second. It was one of four penalties Team USA took through the first two periods. The Swedes would add to their lead early in the third then had to kill a penalty less than a minute later.
No worries, Team USA would pull of a perfect imitation of an early season Sabres game (at the NY Islanders) and proceed to give up two shorthanded goals on the same powerplay. At 4-0 with just over 11 minutes to play in the third period, the game was over.
The U.S. had a golden opportunity to tie the game late in the first period after Sweden got caught on a poor line change. Casey Mittelstadt lead a 3-on-0 break with less than a minute to play in the period but was stifled by Swedish goalie Filip Gustavsson, a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 55th-overall.) And to add insult to injury, USA's Kieffer Bellows (2016, 9th, NYI) was called for goalie interference.
Mittelstadt, who's tied for the tournament lead with 10 points (4+6) told the gathered media post-game, "To be honest I didn't even really know it was a 3-on-0. Someone was yelling 'Go' so I just kind of went and I didn't finish there and that's what it comes down to."
Gustavsson said he was focused solely on Mittelstadt the whole time. "It was more like calling his bluff there that he wasn't going to pass or give it to someone else," he said.
Team USA takes on Team Czech today at 4pm in the bronze medal game. As the defending champs, the Americans could be setup for another let down playing in the consolation game, but if they want to medal, they'll need to be on their game.
Although the Czechs got bombed 7-2 to Team Canada, they're hell-bent on bringing home a medal. Winger Filip Zadina, who scored both Czech goals last night and considered a top-five prospect in this year's draft, had this to say via ESPN's Chris Peters twitter feed, "I was glad to play well, but I’m so sad because we lost. My goals mean nothing. We will do anything tomorrow, we will die on the ice to bring a medal back to Czech Republic."
Zadina's seven goals is tied for the tournament lead with Bellows and Canada's Drake Batherson (2017, 121st, OTT,) who had the hat trick for Canada last night.
All is not lost for Sabres fans as Team Sweden has two Buffalo prospects going for gold today.
Forward Marcus Davidsson (2017, 37th) has been solid in his fourth-line support role for Sweden and continued last night breaking up an American rush at the blueline and feeding his team mate for Sweden's fourth goal. Davidsson has a goal and two assists and is a plus-1 for the tournament.
Buffalo's first round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Alexander Nylander (8th-overall,) continued to put up points with the primary assist on Sweden's first goal of the game last night. With Sweden on the powerplay, Nylander grabbed the puck on the right half-wall and sent a sharp, cross-ice pass to Elias Pettersson (2017, 5th, VAN) who ripped it home.
Nylander is tied for 10th in the tournament in scoring with seven points on one goal and six assists.
Lest we forget him, Buffalo d-prospect Vojtech Budik (2016, 130th) is also on the Czech team fighting Team USA for the bronze medal. Although he and his fellow countrymen were run over by a dominant Canadian team, the 6'1" 193 lb. Budik enters today's final matchup with five assists and a plus-3 rating. Despite the route, Budik had an assist an even rating in 16:17 of ice-time against Team Canada last night.
If you thought a 4-0 deficit was a bummer last night, the Buffalo Sabres were down 6-0 at the Minnesota Wild before they scored two meaningless goals in the third period.
To say it was ugly would be an understatement. Minnesota jumped on the Sabres early with two goals in the first 2:15 of play. They added another goal on a five-minute powerplay in the first period then added three more in the second period. Sam Reinhart scored early in the third period and Evander Kane scored with 1:01 left for the 6-2 final score.
For all the talk that there would be no post-Winter Classic hangover, it's exactly what happened. to put it in perspective, if Team USA was a half-step behind Team Sweden at the WJC, the Sabres were a full step behind the Wild. They couldn't fight out of a wet paper bag early on last night and if there was any hope of a comeback after quickly falling behind 2-0, the five-minute major and game-misconduct handed out to Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at the 10:16 mark of the first period pretty much shattered any hopes of that.
Ristolainen got his shoulder high on a check to Miko Koivu at the Sabres blueline. Initially the refs called a two-minute interference penalty but after a conference, and maybe because Koivu was bleeding rather profusely around his mouth, the major and game-misconduct was assessed.
Sabres bench-boss Phil Housley did his best to distribute the minutes amongst his rear-guard but when Zach Bogosian is over 25 minutes of ice-time, Nathan Beaulieu's over 20 minutes and Justin Falk is logging 19:55, it doesn't make for the best of situations.
No word yet on any further disciplinary action against Ristolainen, so it looks like he'll be in the lineup tonight.
The Sabres head into Winnipeg to face the Jets tonight for their 41st game, or the halfway point of the season. Buffalo's 10 wins are tied with Arizona for the fewest in the league and their 29 points is only four more than the last place Coyotes. An abysmal October and November lead to a December of hope where they played much better but could only win one of five overtime games leading to a 4-5-4 record for the month.
Buffalo continued on with that theme on January 1, 2018 as the lost in overtime to the NY Rangers in the Winter Classic, but last night's debacle sent them back to their woes of earlier in the season. The Sabres haven't been trounced this bad since back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins December 1 and 2. They had a dog of a game against the Carolina Hurricanes just prior to the Christmas break, but at worst trailed by three goals en route to a 4-2 defeat.
The Sabres beat Winnipeg last season in both meetings, 3-1 in Winnipeg on October 30 and 4-3 at home last January 7 and are on a four-game win streak vs. the Jets. However, according to Sabres PR, Buffalo is only 5-5-0 in their last 10 vs. Winnipeg, 3-6-1 on the road and they're facing a Jets team that has only one regulation loss in their last eight games (5-2-1) and are 14-3-1 on the season.
A couple of quick notes, Reinhart's goal vs. the Wild was his second in as many games while Kane' goal was his first in five games and tied him with Jack Eichel atop the Sabres leaderboard with 35 points (16+19)
Also of note, defenseman Taylor Fedun is healthy again and was sent to Rochester. Fedun began the season in Rochester and played seven games in Buffalo before being felled by a lower-body injury. He returns to an Amerks team that's only two points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Marlies.