Sabres' Ristolainen showed he can be in front of either net using his strength

The defenseman was key in Jeff Skinner's overtime winner on Tuesday

Paul Hamilton
December 12, 2018 - 2:01 pm

Photo: Marilyn Indahl - USA TODAY Sports

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Rasmus Ristolainen is one of the biggest and strongest players on the Sabres team. With that in mind, I was intrigued when Phil Housley parked Ristolainen in front of the net during the overtime 4-on-3 power play on Tuesday.

No. 55 did a terrific job in front. First of all, the Kings couldn’t move him. Then, he battles for a puck and scoops it towards a wide open Jeff Skinner for the game-winning goal.

I remember when Lindy Ruff put Richard Smehlik in front of the net for about 10 games and the Sabres power play soared because Smehlik couldn’t be moved. I wondered if having Ristolainen in front of the net is something we could see more of and Housley said, “No. I think it was a unique situation. If it’s a 5-on-3 or 4-on-3 we can try to move some people around, give the defending team some different looks, make them make decisions and it was just a really good play where we sunk him down to the net and the guys read off it.

“It was just a play that L.A. had never seen from us.”

Being in front of the net is not foreign to Ristolainen, but this was the first time he did it in the NHL, “Yes, I did it before back in Finland and if I would be forward, I would probably be standing there all game long, but yes, I liked it.”

Since Ristolainen isn’t used to being in front of the opponent’s net, I wondered what was going through his mind. He said, “I wasn’t really thinking much, just trying to screen the goalie and make some traffic and maybe confuse their D a little bit and try to get their attention more to me than to the other guys.”

Ristolainen enjoys being on top on the power play and he set up Jack Eichel for the PP goal that pulled the Sabres to within one goal. Seven of Ristolainen’s 20 points have come with the extra man. He’s not concerned where they have him as long as he’s out there, “I can be on top, I can be the guy for the one-timer position, I can be playmaker, I could be net-front, it doesn’t matter.”

After the Sabres' first power play, Rasmus Dahlin slammed his stick on the ice and then snapped it in half. Dahlin had fanned on a few great one-timer opportunities and got angry. Ristolainen chatted with him to calm him down, “I saw him come to the bench angry and I just told him that we did everything pretty well and if we stick with it, we’re going to score and not to get too frustrated. It’s good to be angry, but you know emotions can get too high or too low.”

Ristolainen likes Dahlin back there on the power pay with him. He said, “I think we can read off each other, we have five pretty good players, we can make plays, we can shoot, we can do pretty much everything.”

Ristolainen and Kyle Okposo missed Wednesday’s practice with maintenance days while Patrik Berglund was still sick.

Carter Hutton had another good practice and is ready to go when Phil Housley calls on him. He said he’s been doing well and could’ve played Tuesday, but Housley wanted him to get another practice, “I’m ready to go, I don’t know what their plan is, Howie can do the usual business that he does.

“It is what it is, I was ready to go because if I can sit on the bench, I can play, but we went with it and Linus played well.”

Marco Scandella practiced for the second straight day and Housley said, “It’s two good days in a row. We’ll see how he reacts after the practice.”

Housley said he’ll talk to the trainers later Wednesday about Scandella’s availability for Thursday.

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