Sabres start slow, but some players showed well in Toronto loss

Tage Thompson and C.J. Smith continue to push for roster spots

Paul Hamilton
September 21, 2018 - 11:21 pm

Photo: Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

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(WGR 550) - The Sabres had a real rough start in Toronto, but came back to play much better. Phil Housley has said all along that his coaching needs to be better and I thought it was in this game.

At 19-years-old, Casey Mittelstadt showed in the first period that at this point in his hockey development, he’s no match for a star like John Tavares. Showing no hustle on the backcheck when Tavares scooped up a rebound is not what I’m talking about. He just looked very confused and Housley saw pretty quickly and inserted Rasmus Asplund in between Tage Thompson and Alex Nylander. Asplund is a terrific two-way center and should be a good NHL player at some point, but the 20-year-old gave the puck away on a regular basis, so Housley turned to the old, reliable veteran in Vladimir Sobotka. That settled everything down and the Sabres played much better. 

Brendan Guhle is only 21 and has not had a good preseason at all. He was weak in front of Linus Ullmark when Chris Mueller simply lifted his stick and scored. You can't be that casual and expect to stay in the NHL. He also is not fighting to get himself free of checkers who are taking his ice away from him immediately. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Guhle is going to be an excellent NHL player, but if I were Jason Botterill, a message would be sent and he would be part of Rochester’s camp by Monday. It’s possible he still may need a whole year of development.

Lawrence Pilut was not good in the Prospects challenge, but he has shown well in two preseason games. He played 25:31 against the Leafs and was good for most of the game. Pilut has five years in the SHL and will be 23 before the year ends, so with Matt Hunwick injured, he could earn a spot on opening night. It depends if Housley wants to keep seven or eight defensemen.

I did not like Nylander’s game in the first period, but this season is different for this 20-year-old. He went out and did something about it. I thought he played well in the final 40 minutes and almost scored on a breakaway after picking Tavares’ pocket.   

Tage Thompson wired a goal that many would not be capable of scoring. Thompson has been very good since he arrived in Buffalo in August. On the goal, he made a move to the slot that put down defensemen Connor Carrick and then did a toe drag before quickly rifling a shot past Garret Sparks. Thompson had a chance to tie the game in the third period when he did it again, but he ripped the shot over the net.

Thompson is one of the few forwards that can get to Rochester without being waived and he’s trying to make things difficult on Housley. The problem he had on Friday is he and Nylander were on the ice for four of Toronto's five goals. Thompson also needs to use his size more to win more battles. 

Mittelstadt struggled a lot during this game and it’s just going through growing pains for him as the highly talented kid finds his way in the NHL. There will be stretches where he plays very well and then stretches where he struggles.

C.J. Smith has had two very good training camps and is also making things hard for the final roster scoring a skillful goal after a good play along the wall by Nick Baptiste.

No cuts yet as the same two teams play in Buffalo on Saturday, although it’s likely none from Friday’s game will play in Saturday’s. Amerks training camp starts Monday in Rochester and some of these players will be there.

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