Sabres hold off late Columbus surge for 3-1 win
After an intense practice yesterday that featured an injury and an altercation, the Sabres came out ready to go versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. They didn’t dominate by any means, but they played some really solid hockey and came away with the lead on a goal from Benoit Pouliot, who returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch.
This goal came as a result of some good forechecking by the Sabres. Pouliot takes away the first pass option and Jack Eichel covers the stretch pass up the middle. This eventually forces the Columbus defenseman to send a hard pass around up the boards where Okposo is waiting to intercept. Okposo eventually works it back to Eichel, who shows good patience setting up Okposo for a high danger scoring chance, and Pouliot taps home the rebound to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead. It was a very good first period for the Sabres, something that’s been a rarity this year. They outshot the Jackets and created some serious pressure in the offensive zone.
Things didn’t start so well for the Sabres in the second period, as they only registered two shots in the first ten minutes, while Columbus applied some heavy pressure in the offensive zone, forcing Linus Ullmark to make some key saves in his season debut.
Linus has been stellar pic.twitter.com/I7HLquuM5A
— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) January 12, 2018
The third period featured more of the same. The Blue Jackets hemmed the Sabres in their own end, firing at will on Ullmark while the Sabres seemed content with just icing the puck. However, a fortunate bounce for Okposo gave them some much needed breathing room.
This is just a case of Seth Jones looking over for Okposo one too many times. He spots him at the blue line as Brendan Guhle picks up the puck, once more as Okposo dumps it and a third time when the puck goes to the end boards. In doing so he was sure where his man was but forgot to check on the puck. By the time Jones went to retrieve the puck, it had already bounced back to the middle from a different angle than Jones had expected, giving Okposo and easy tap in and the Sabres a 2-0 lead. It’s the kind of mistake you’d expect maybe one of the Sabres d-men to make but it just goes to show it can happen to the best of them, including a defenseman headed to the All-Star game.
However, Columbus would eventually cut the lead on the power play thanks to some slick work by Artemi Panarin.
Not to take anything away from Panarin, because it was a nice goal, but this was some less than stellar work from the Sabres penalty kill. He essentially walks his way in like he was playing a video game set on the lowest difficulty. Scott Wilson gets caught flat-footed at the blue line, and Justin Falk winds up fishing for an invisible puck. Panarin eventually works it to the slot and finishes off a gorgeous backhander to cut the lead to one.
The final six-plus minutes were painful to watch as the Sabres continued to sit back and just chip pucks off the glass or just send it down for an icing. They did manage to hang on and pick up some insurance in the final seconds, courtesy of an Eichel empty net goal to give them their first win in six games.
Zone entries/exits vs Columbus 1/11/18
|Controlled entries against:||8||2||6||4||1||3||24|
|Controlled entries denied:||0||0||1||0||0||0||1|
|Dump ins against recovered:||2||3||1||2||2||1||11|
|Dump ins against opponent possession:||3||0||0||0||1||1||5|
Shot assists/set ups:
Scandella and Reinhart: 2 each
Rodrigues, McCabe, Okposo, ROR, Pominvile: 1 each
Ullmark and Guhle were on everyone’s radar and they did not disappoint. Guhle was a rush-joining machine and created a lot of chances while Ullmark looked calm, cool and collected in his first call up of the year. They’ll be sent back to Rochester as the Sabres are on their bye week but this game helped give fans a nice glimpse of what’s to come.
Okposo has quietly put up eight points in his last eight games. Whether it’s thanks to Eichel or not, it’s encouraging to see the points start to come for Okposo as the effort has been there for some time now. I’m not sure what his future on the team is beyond this year, as his contract does present a slight problem, but if he can finish the second half strong perhaps he’ll have a spot in the Sabres top six next season.
The Sabres got absolutely destroyed in the possession category after the first period. Even after adjusting for score effects (leading/trailing), the shot attempts share was 56.87% to 43.13% in favor of Columbus. I get that they wanted to play sound hockey and protect the lead, but the long term game plan can’t be to play 20 out of 60 minutes in each game and hope you pull out the win. Aside from the fact that it’s unbelievably boring, it’s completely unsustainable for a team that’s not so great defensively.
Speaking of possession, it’s been a rough season for Sam Reinhart, but the possession numbers are starting get back to normal for him. He led the sabres at a 60% CF 5v5 (on ice for 9 attempts for and 6 against). Hopefully this uptick in numbers helps him put up some points.
Rasmus Ristolainen seems to be trending in the opposite direction, seeing his possession numbers steadily dip, and tonight may have been the low point. Aside from the fact that he looked gassed and out of position on many Columbus possessions, he was a team worst 29.4% CF at 5v5 (on ice for 14 shot attempts for and 33 against). There’s a lot of talk about needing to move players like Kane, Lehner and sometimes even O’Reilly, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if Botterill started entertaining offers for Ristolainen while his value remains high.