Sabres Heading Down South After Memorable Home Win
Last night’s 6-3 home win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home was perhaps the most fun game of this young season, although with the Sabres now sporting a clean 7-3-0 record, it seems likely fans will be treated to some more "best game" candidates as the campaign progresses.
Don Granato’s squad played two fairly mediocre periods in the first and second (with the exception of the last five-or-so minutes of the middle frame) as they consistently struggled to complete passes which could have led to quality scoring chances. There would have been some beautiful opportunities for two-on-ones for the Sabres if they were able to hit a pass or two, but it was the Penguins who capitalized on the odd-man rushes in the first two periods, and as a result, the visitors led 3-1 in the early going of the final frame.
From there though, the Penguins stalled out and the Sabres found a higher gear with five straight goals to send the Penguins home a very frustrated bunch. Tage Thompson continued his red-hot rampage with two more points last night and he now has 11 points in the past three games. Owen Power played perhaps his finest game of the year and contributed his first true highlight-reel play of the season as he faked an enormous clapper and then sauced a brilliant cross-ice feed to Victor Olofsson who had the entire net to shoot at.
After Tuch pulled the Sabres ahead 4-3, Zemgus Girgensons grabbed his lunch pail and raced down the ice to negate an icing while Evgeni Malkin’s controller died and he unfortunately coasted hopelessly toward the corner. Kyle Okposo potted the empty netter opportunity generated by Girgensons’s hard work and that seemed to really rankle the Penguins who have now lost six straight.
Mike Sullivan, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, looked especially angry and proceeded to have a meltdown on the bench after that empty net goal – although not one directed at his players. He took umbrage with a Sabres fan pounding the glass behind him as Penguins and Sabres players were skirmishing in front of the Penguins bench during the final seconds of the game, and as a result, he turned around and started yelling at the fan.
The nonsense didn’t stop there however, as Pittsburgh defenseman Pierre-Oliver Joseph decided to take a slap shot at Lawrence Pilut as time expired because he was mad. More like PO’d Joseph amirite. Sorry. The Sabres have been absolutely dominated by the Penguins in recent years, and the visiting veteran team likely assumed that the Sabres would fold after Jake Guentzel pulled the ‘Burgh up by two early in the third. That didn’t happen.
Next up for the Sabres and a large contingent of their moms will be a jaunt to Raleigh, North Carolina and a visit to the home of the Carolina Hurricanes who have been every bit as advertised to this point with a 6-2-1 record.
Martin Necas is pacing the team with 13 points in 9 games while Sebastian Aho the Greater (not to be confused with the Islanders’ Sebastian Aho the Lesser) is third in scoring with 10 points in 9 games. Between the two is the man taken one pick after Rasmus Dahlin in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft – Andrei Svechnikov – who has 8 goals in 9 games this year.
The Hurricanes are a fast, skilled and deep team that figures to make some noise deep into the post-season come springtime. The good news for the Sabres is that the Hurricanes are in action tonight against a suddenly surging Tampa Bay Lightning, so there exists a possibility that the Hurricanes will need to expend a lot of energy tonight and may be slightly fatigued tomorrow.
The potential bad news for the blue-and-gold is that Freddy Andersen, Carolina’s starting goaltender, will be between the pipes tonight against the Bolts while the Sabres figure to get back-up goaltender Antti Raanta tomorrow night. While this sounds good on the surface, Andersen has struggled somewhat in six games this season with his .896 sv% and a. GSAx (Goals Saved Aboved Expected) of -1.39. Raanta’s numbers look considerably better in both the classic stat and fancy stat categories. So, while the Sabres will get the quote-unquote backup goaltender, in this case, that may not be a good thing.
At the other end of the ice tomorrow, it figures to be Craig Anderson’s turn in net, although this is pure conjecture and is not based on anything other than a hunch. With back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, the Sabres could really go in any direction they want, but the goalies will likely split.
That brings us to Saturday night’s 7 pm game against the ever-dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts started the season slowly but have since won three straight and they now sport a respectable 6-4-0 record in an Eastern Conference that is suddenly shaping up to be a battle royale.
The Lightning are only one season removed from back-to-back championships and are by no means cooked and heading for a rebuild. Still, they have lost a few somewhat notable names from those Stanley Cup teams in Ondrej Palat, Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde, among others. It’s fair to wonder if perhaps they’ve finally reached their best-by date, even if they still have incredible players like Hedman, Kucherov, Stamkos, and of course, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Speaking of Vasilevskiy, it appears he’s going to go between the pipes tonight against the Hurricanes, and Tampa will then have a rest day on Friday before playing the Sabres on Saturday, so it’s possible that he could play against Buffalo this weekend. If not, it’ll be 37-year-old Brian Elliott who no doubt would be the preferable option.
How the Sabres fare on the road against these two quality teams will continue to show Sabres fans what this team is all about.