Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-9-2018
Well, this edition of the Buffalo Sabres finally did it. After losing the first four games (0-3-1) of their five-game homestand, the Sabres 4-3 win over the NY Islanders finally got them to 1000 home wins for the franchise. And they did so while wearing their 2018 Winter Classic sweaters, which brings us to our first note on last night's game.
While growing up as a kid, the home team always wore white, for me it was like the good cowboy wore the white hat while the bad cowboy wore black. Simple enough. But the NHL got a stick up their butt and changed it. Why they did it is up for debate, as some think it had to do with finances and/or the use of a third sweater at home. Personally I never liked the idea, but the NHL stuck with it and beginning in 2003-04 the home team wore the dark sweaters.
Last night the Sabres thread here was full of comments in favor of the Sabres making the white Winter Classic their home sweater, and I couldn't agree more. In order to do that, the NHL would need to change their tune concerning the home colors. It's the opinion here that they never should have switched and I'd hazard to guess that a large majority of fans feel they should switch back.
Perhaps it's time.
From the game:
--Sam Reinhart's roll continued last night as he had a 1-goal, 2-assist stat-line for his second multi-point night in a row. For some reason the light went on this calendar year and after an extremely poor 2017 portion of the season (5+6 in 39 games,) Reinhart has scored 15 points (6+9) in 15 games since the beginning of 2018. You could say it's mainly because he's on Jack Eichel's line, which is true, although Reinhart had been there before and didn't get the job done. We might also point to a powerplay that looks like it's back to their No.1 form from last season, and no doubt he's contributed there (3+4) which also helps his stats. But somewhere along the line Reinhart got a kick in the ass and he's playing his best hockey of the season. Perhaps he realizes that it's a contract year and as a restricted free agent, he has no real say in what his next contract will be.
--How many times have we heard recent Sabres coaches say that they need to pare back defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen's ice-time? Often, and present coach Phil Housley said it again before last night's game while indicating that Ristolainen, ideally, should be in the 23-24 minute range. Ristolainen, in part because of a weak performance the previous game, was dropped down to the second pairing last night, yet when it came down to it, Ristolainen skated a game-high 27:37 and a game-high 21:30 at even strength. In the third period he skated nine shifts for a total of 10:39 most of it (8:33) at even strength. Just sayin'.
--Defenseman Casey Nelson played a solid game on the top pairing with 21:47 of ice-time, a secondary assist on Eichel's game-opening goal and he finished with an even rating. The 25 yr. old has made great strides in his development since being signed as a free agent in 2015. Nelson and Scandella had the difficult task of manning up against the Islanders John Tavares for much of the game and did a standup job. Said Housley to the gathered media post game about Nelson, "I thought he was one of our better defensemen. He kept the game simple. There's nothing flashy about his game but he get's the job done."
--Housley changed up his lines for yesterday putting forward Evan Rodrigues with Eichel and Reinhart, and boy did that line look good. The trio combined for three goals, four assists and were a combined plus-5. With his goal and assist, Rodrigues increased his career totals to eight goals and nine assists in 57 NHL games. A free agent signee out of Boston University had tore up the NCAA along with fellow Terrier Eichel in 2014-15 and many had wondered how long it would take for a coach to put them on the same line. Although it has happened in the past, it will be interesting to see if they can build upon what they were able to accomplish last night.
--Housley is a rookie coach and he's made many questionable decisions with the lineup and the powerplay as well as in-game decisions this season, something that hasn't helped this 15-29-10 team. His early preference of forcing Reinhart to play center when he clearly was ineffective there probably set the player and the team back. Rodrigues is another forward he (along with, possibly, GM Jason Botterill) tried to force into a center's role. Rodrigues had played, and succeeded at, center in Rochester but was having a difficult time in Buffalo. Reinhart and Rodrigues had separately played on Eichel's wing before bringing a different skill-set to the line and both have shown the ability to play off of Eichel. Which is a good thing.
--Speaking of the franchise center, No. 15 had a two-point night last night. He scored the opener and sent a bank-shot off the back wall on a designed play to get the secondary assist on the game-winner. After a four-game scoring lull, Eichel has managed four points in his last two games (2+2) bringing his season total to 22 goals and 31 assists in 54 games. His 53 points tie him for 18th in the league while his 19 even-strength goals tie him for ninth. Too bad the Sabres powerplay was so atrocious for the first half of the season.
--There's a movement in Sabreland that wants to see Eichel as "Captain Jack," and he definitely looks as if he's ready to take over as team captain. From the moment he was drafted as the face of the franchise, it was going to be his team. What we've seen from him lately on the ice and what we've heard from him in interviews, is sure seems like he's matured to the point where that 'C' should be sewn on his sweater and it will happen next season. I just wish it was the Winter Classic home white sweater beginning next season.