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Veterans Key In Bounce-Back Performance

January 14, 2022, 12:01 PM ET [837 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Sabres entered last night’s game against the Nashville Predators on a six-game losing streak, having won only three of their last 20 games, and with Aaron Dell in net, it didn’t look likely that they’d get a win. Don Granato’s squad did manage to pull out a 4-1 win though, largely on the backs of their veteran players.

The quality of the victory shouldn’t be overstated. The Sabres were outshot, below 50% on faceoffs, and their team corsi-for was 42% which means the Predators controlled the offensive chances by a little bit. It certainly wasn’t a perfect game. What they did get was solid play from their veteran players who have been out of the lineup due to covid and injuries.

While Alex Tuch and Dylan Cozens combined for numerous scoring opportunities in the first that didn’t result in any points, they managed to control play far better than the other lines. Tuch was especially strong on the forecheck despite having not played for the better part of two weeks due to Covid. Fans got a taste of what Tuch can bring to the team in terms of physicality and offensive play generation as well a quality speed component that the team has periodically lacked as they’ve dealt with injuries and Covid over the past few weeks. He finished the night with a +1 rating, 2 hits, an assist on Skinner’s second goal of the night and a solid 52% corsi-for rating while playing 19:34 which led all forwards in ice time.

He had a very strong game.

Likewise, Jeff Skinner got off the mat and onto the scoresheet in this game. Yes, he took two penalties that jeopardized the team’s 1-0 lead, but he also showed why it’s worth giving him more than third-line minutes as he potted two goals. The first was the kind of goal that you want to see a goalscorer score; he was circling the net looking for open space to receive a pass, but he stayed close enough to the net to soak up any rebounds, which is exactly what happened. The second goal was an absolute beauty. Tuch fed Skinner an outlet pass at center ice and Skinner corralled it while executing a spinorama to shield the rubber from two defending Predators and bought himself a partial breakaway. Skinner wired a wrister far-side low blocker that cleanly beat Predators goaltender Juuse Saros.

It was a solid performance by Skinner.

Much-maligned goaltender Aaron Dell – the Sabres’ 5th-string goaltender – had a beauty of a game as well. He finished the game with 29 saves on 30 shots for a .967 save percentage. He looked dialed in from the beginning and he was involved in the play all night. Dell also got involved in the physical side of things as he took an interference penalty near the end of the second period.



Is that a penalty? Probably because Aaron Dell decided to stop playing the puck when he saw the opposing forward charging toward him. That play almost certainly wouldn’t be called as an infraction if he were a forward, though. That would be considered a counter-check as the forward shields himself and the puck from an opposing player. Either way, it was smart for Dell to lean into the contact rather than turtle and try to avoid the hit because that’s often when players get hurt. One more injury to a goalie and Marty Biron is going to be between the pipes.
That was undoubtedly the best game fans have seen from Dell.

Lastly, the play of Kyle Okposo should be mentioned. While the underlying Corsi numbers were pretty brutal for him, he did pick up a couple of assists last night. He, like Tuch, has been out since January 1st due to Covid and there was no way of knowing what condition he might come back in. With those two assists, Okposo leapfrogged Rasmus Dahlin for the team lead in points with 23 while playing in 2 fewer games. The team undoubtedly plays better when they have their de facto captain on the ice.

Those four veteran players all add something different in terms of individual play, but perhaps more importantly, those kinds of performances provide a backbone for the younger players to work off. It makes it much easier for Casey Mittelstadt and Peyton Krebs to plug into the lineup when the team has multiple pieces clicking at a higher level, rather than throwing them out there and saying “here ya go, good luck.”

That performance was a solid response game from the Sabres veteran leadership who had to sit and watch their teammates get stomped by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Was it perfect? No, but it was a step in the right direction.
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