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HipKat

'Fast,' effective Sabres show some resilience with another comeback

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Observations: Don Granato wasn’t concerned about his players’ psyche when he reached the dressing room during the second intermission Saturday night.

A coaches’ challenge was unable to reverse Artemi Panarin’s go-ahead goal for the New York Rangers, and the Buffalo Sabres came within a split second of allowing another before time expired in the second period.

Both moments may have broken the Sabres in the past. With the ghosts of a franchise-record 18-game winless streak exorcised, Granato stood in front of his players and used a short speech to demand more of what has made them successful since he took over as interim coach March 17.

The Sabres proceeded to show the fans in attendance at KeyBank Center that the roster is capable of far more than it accomplished over the season’s first three months. Victor Olofsson tied the score with a one-timer from the high slot in the third period and Linus Ullmark stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout, giving the Sabres a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Rangers.

“They really knew they were playing well and they knew they could elevate,” Granato said. “So, all I mentioned to them was, ‘You’ve got another level, you know it, and let’s find it and let’s enjoy it. Let’s embrace this. This is fun.' … I didn’t need to say a lot. I thought they were in a good spot.”

 

This game illustrated how far the Sabres have come in only two weeks and the power of ending a 34-day run of futility that plummeted Buffalo to the bottom of the NHL standings before former coach Ralph Krueger was fired.

Aside from yet another late comeback, the most notable difference was the speed in which the Sabres attacked the Rangers. This was evident when Buffalo tied the score 1-1 at 13:01 into the first period. Rasmus Dahlin made a perfect weakside breakout pass to Taylor Hall, who advanced through the neutral zone before finding Casey Mittelstadt bolting down the right wing.

Mittelstadt carried the puck with speed during the 2-on-1, faked a pass to Hall and fired a shot inside the far post for his third goal of the season.

“We’re a fast team, especially when we get the puck moving north,” Mittelstadt said. “I think we’ve just done such a good job making little plays, leaving the puck for the next in a better place. Simple things that changed. Obviously, there’s things we can build on and still get better at, so I think that’s the exciting part of it.”

The goal punctuated a first period in which the Sabres generated seven high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5. Consistency had been elusive, but this may have been their most well-rounded effort under Granato.

 

Buffalo earned two power plays in the second period by sustaining pressure in the offensive zone. It also made a strong push in the third, capped by Olofsson's one-timer from the high slot with 3:41 remaining. The play developed when Sam Reinhart won a battle along the left-wing wall and Kyle Okposo got the puck to Olofsson in space.

“I think we’re making some good plays coming out of our own end, which is huge,” Olofsson said. “Kind of getting the middle with speed and coming through the neutral zone with speed. I think that helps a lot coming in on the rush. That gives us more of an opportunity. I think that’s the big difference.”

Most importantly, the Sabres generated more offensively without committing egregious mistakes in their own end. They kept the Rangers to the perimeter, regained possession and started the breakout that gave their skilled players an opportunity to create.

One prominent mistake cost Buffalo, as defenseman Adam Fox advanced from the blue line to the top of the right circle before finding Panarin with a cross-ice pass for the go-ahead one-timer goal with 2:08 remaining in the second period.

Krueger’s ultra-conservative approach was built around limiting scoring chances against, but the Sabres never generated enough offensive in transition and they were a perimeter team because their defensemen were always stationary in the offensive zone. Not anymore.

 

Tage Thompson’s shot from the slot counted as the shootout winner, giving the Sabres points in four straight games. Their 8-23-6 record remains the worst mark in the NHL, but the season’s final five weeks is all about forging an identity.

“There were emotions and things that could be very emotional within the context of the game, and we battled right through it, stayed right on it and we were rewarded for it," Granato said.

Here are other observations from the game Saturday night:

1. Ullmark was the difference again: The 27-year-old goalie made 28 saves between regulation and overtime, including a diving stop on rookie Vitali Kravtsov late in the third period. But what Ullmark has accomplished in the shootout is remarkable. Panarin did not stand a chance against Ullmark’s patient approach. Neither did Mika Zibanejad.

Ullmark’s .868 career save percentage ranks first in the NHL all-time among goalies who have appeared in at least 10 shootouts.

“I think he’s probably one of the best goalies in the world,” said Olofsson. “He’s so patient. … It’s really hard to figure him out.”

 

2. The Sabres have a power-play problem. We’ll start with the good news. This rejuvenated group earned back-to-back penalties in the second period by beating the Rangers to loose pucks and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone. Buffalo had only one power play over its previous two games.

The first power-play unit is still ineffective without Jack Eichel. Opposing penalty kills are aware the Sabres will try to force passes to Olofsson in the right circle or Hall in the middle. This power play is going nowhere fast until Buffalo establishes a different threat, whether it’s Reinhart or Dahlin. The second unit struggled to enter the zone during its shift in the second period.

3. Dahlin isn’t broken. The 21-year-old simply lost his confidence playing in a system that restricted his ability to contribute offensively. A defenseman with Dahlin’s skill can feel more engaged in the game by using his skating and skill to help generate in 5-on-5 situations. Krueger would never allow this to happen, though.

Krueger essentially tried to turn Dahlin into Rasmus Ristolainen. Granato installed a system like Phil Housley’s in the way that it allows defensemen to skate deep into the offensive zone and expects a forward to cover at the blue line. Sure, there are breakdowns at times, but it makes a remarkable difference in a team’s 5-on-5 game.

“To me he has (settled down) and that’s where we need him; we need him to take a deep breath and we need to get him in the situations where he can read and react and I say ‘learn from it,’ but it’s more adjust to it,” Granato said of Dahlin. “He has such a high skill set, when a mistake is made, he can self-correct quick and we want to put him in situations where he’ll learn and have the opportunity to self-correct quick.”

 

 

 

 

 


“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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