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Sabres Top Lightning, Panthers Tonight

February 24, 2023, 5:20 PM ET [2381 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Talk about an unlikely overtime hero.

Ilya Lyubushkin's first goal as a Sabre and fourth goal in 253 career games propelled the Sabres past the Lightning 6-5 last night. Forward Tage Thompson recorded his fourth hat trick of the season while Jeff Skinner added a pair of beautiful assists.

Much of the talk surrounding the game revolved around the bad officiating fans saw last night, perhaps most comically evidenced by Henri Jokiharju, who was assessed a potentially game-altering, 2-minute delay of game penalty for tipping a puck out of the air and out of play. It was a wacky, tacky call that required review because the NHL loves pedantic, drawn-out reviews.

That play came after Erik Cernak delivered a flying elbow to Kyle Okposo with zero consequences from the referees watching on, although Cernak will have a hearing with the Department of Player Safety today. Will he be suspended? Who knows! The results of these hearing seemingly depend on the DPS's mood that day, whether George Parros had to skip lunch, and if Mercury is in retrograde. That is to say, these rulings are often arbitrary and they're nearly impossible to predict.

Anyway, back to the refereeing from last night: Even Lyubushkin's game-winner was controversial as it appeared that he may have hooked Steven Stamkos which led to his breakaway opportunity. It also looked like Stamkos may have held Lyubushkin's stick in an effort to draw a penalty. Either way, the refs just decided they were done calling penalties.

Eric Comrie's goaltending performance continues to be a major concern after last night's .878 save percentage performance. Most of the goals, and specifically Stamkos's goal, illustrate the problems with Comrie's 6'1" frame. Stamkos rushed into the zone and wired a high wrister past Comrie's glove as the Sabres goaltender established a butterfly stance on his knees. It's not fair to call this a bad goal, per se, it's just indicative of the technical limitations that Comrie's body poses as a small-ish NHL goaltender. This is true too of the wild slapper Victor Hedman fired over Comrie's blocker in the second period while, again, Comrie was down in the butterfly.

The Canadian netminder is positional rather than athletic, and even when he hits his marks, there will be room available for a shooter due to his stature. He doesn't have the reactionary athleticism to compensate for his physical limitations, which means these kinds of goals are likely to continue. This is just who he is.

Tonight it will probably be Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in net, who himself is coming off a rough outing that saw him get pulled after four goals against Toronto earlier this week. UPL has the opposite problem from Comrie in that he has the elite physical tools at 6'5" to be a top NHL goaltender, and he's decently athletic, but his puck tracking and positioning is sloppy.

Still, as they say, "you can't teach height," and UPL has that. The rest of his issues will need to be addressed by the coaching staff if he has any hope of unlocking the potential that he has based on his size. The Sabres say their plan right now is to ride the hot hand which is pretty hard to do when all three of their goalies are ice cold.

Tonight would be a great night for UPL to start getting hot, as the Sabres could potentially end the night in a playoff spot with a win over the Panthers in Sunrise. The Panthers are still chugging along in fits and starts with a 6-4-0 record in their last 10. Forward Anthony Duclair, who had Achilles surgery in the offseason following his breakout 58 point season last year, will make his season debut tonight against Buffalo.

Puck drop is at 7 pm and can be found locally on MSG
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