This is how we do it
The Sabres five-game losing streak is over. Or if you may, their winless streak is over as Buffalo managed a loser-point in two of those losses. Getting back in the win column was huge for the team especially while playing the type of up-tempo, Corsi-heavy game head coach Phil Housley prefers. Housley's charges got up and down the ice and pumped a total of 47 shots on goal against Los Angeles to the Kings' 27 shots. Overall the Sabres sent 74 shots at Kings rookie goaltender Calvin Petersen while Los Angeles managed a total of 48 against Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark.
A rather cold Sabres powerplay also came through for them as they went 2 for 8 in the game on a total of 11:33 of powerplay time. Having the Rasmi--Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin--at the point really helped as Ristolainen was at the top of a 1-3-1 set-up with Jack Eichel on the left half-wall and Dahlin on the right. Eichel and Dahlin peppered the Kings with shots, which was a good sign even if it was against the league's 29th-ranked penalty kill, with Eichel finally breaking through. Buffalo's other powerplay goal came in overtime as Jeff Skinner poked home a puck in the crease for his 21st goal of the season.
Ristolainen picked up the primary assist on both of those goals.
The Latvian Locomotive was rolling
Zemgus Girgensons is Buffalo's longest continually tenured player. Since he came to the NHL as a 19 yr. old in 2013-14 he's playing for his fourth coach and third general manager and has been a part of a dismal five-year stretch where the Sabres spent two years in the tank, had one promising season, regressed then hit the bottom again. He was on the top line of a talent-bereft '13-'14 club where he scored 15 goals in 61 games and looked as if he'd not only be a top-nine player, but also showed a lot of leadership qualities.
Over the past few seasons coming out of the tank, Girgensons has struggled mightily as he's been moved up and down the lineup to the point where he may have played every forward position over the past five years. This year he's been placed in a checking role and has excelled no matter who his linemates are. Why he was in the pressbox for the Philadelphia game is puzzling but he came back to the lineup last night and had a helluva game that includes schooling 2016 Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Drew Doughty with this beaut:
In the third period with the Sabres down a goal he raced into the LA zone to nullify an icing call, helped establish o-zone possession and went to the front of the net while his team mates worked the puck. Linemate Johan Larsson would tie the score seconds later and although he didn't get an assist on paper, he made the play possible.
It's shame that those in charge of the game's three stars couldn't put Girgensons in at least that third slot. The Three Stars is pretty much a sham anyway in that glamour goals and/or homerism and/or a popularity contest usually rules the roost, but that was a helluva game by Girgensons and they should have acknowledged him.
Ristolainen has been a beast
Housley has found a nice mix in Buffalo's top-three on defense with Dahlin and Zach Bogosian on one pair and Ristolainen anchoring another where he's seen different partners as of late due to injury. Most recently "Risto" is being paired with rookie Lawrence Pilut who got the call from Rochester with both Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella out.
Ristolainen has also been with the Sabres a long time dating back to 2013-14 where he split time between Buffalo and Rochester. Through the years he's been the butt of analytics jokes as his advanced stats have been about where his team has been, in the toilet. But he's also been a workhorse for the club and has really been doing some heavy lifting in the defensive zone which has curtailed his offensive acumen. As of late, that's changed.
Beginning with his sick goal where he burned San Jose Sharks 2017 Norris-winning defenseman Brent Burns with a goal-of-the-month nominee, the Ristolainen we've seen on the ice is the player he was drafted eighth-overall for. Going back a little further, his size, speed, skill and some great set-up work has translated into a three game point-streak (five assists) and 11 points (1+10) in his last 11 games. Maybe more importantly, Risto is a plus-4 in those 11 games while playing under 23 minutes just once. Last night he logged a team-high 31:08 minutes of ice-time.
Speaking of beasts, Captain Jack has been on fire
Sabres captain Jack Eichel has been playing great hockey all season long as he's been setting up his team mates while playing a 200' game. However, he was having trouble lighting the lamp.
Heading into the Toronto game a week ago Tuesday, Eichel had only five goals on the season and was carrying a paltry 4.3 shooting percentage. Over the course of his present three-game goal streak he's now doubled that production to 10 goals and seems to have rediscovered not only his shot, but his desire to unleash it. Over the past three games he's sent 23 shots on goal, scored on five of them (21.7%) and has seen his overall shooting percentage go up to 7.2%.
Eichel's career shooting percentage through three-plus seasons is 9.5%.
Props to the Kings for playing with only four d-men
For much of the game last night the LA Kings played with only four defensemen as Doughty went out in the first period with what might have been a hand injury and Dion Phaneuf went out in the second period.
Phaneuf's injury was an interesting one as he tried to line up Buffalo's Evan Rodrigues along the boards for a hit but almost completely missed as Rodrigues avoided him at the last second. Phaneuf went crashing into the board and fell hard to the ice but he did come back for his next shift. However, he was not seen after that.
The Kings are in the midst of a road-trip and were playing the second game of a back-to-back. No one knows what might have occurred had one or both d-men played the entire game but you've got to give them a lot of credit.
The energy is back in Buffalo
Gotta love the crowd at KeyBank Center. There's electricity in the air and the hometown team is feeding off of it. As of today the Sabres 10-3-2 home record is one of the better ones in the league with their 22 points reaching top-10 status and they're looking good in the process. Sure there have been a few clunkers but such is the ebb and flow of the game sometimes.
There's a sense of anticipation with every rush up ice at KBC and a huge roar when they score. Sabres fans deserve this. It's great to see them invested in their team once again and it's also great to see the team give them something to cheer about.
Boy, can that kid skate. That is all on him...for now.