The Sabres string together two excellent games

Buffalo gets three of four points from Tampa Bay and Washington

Paul Hamilton
February 23, 2019 - 4:38 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - The Sabres spent three periods in Tampa and the first period against the Capitals showing us what they are capable of. They skated, they hit and best of all, they played with urgency.

On Saturday, the Capitals couldn’t handle what was thrown at them in the first 20 minutes. Jack Eichel went right to work getting on a puck fast in the offense zone. As he cycled it to Jeff Skinner, I could hear Jason Pominville yell from the press box. He was wide open and Skinner put the pass right on his stick. Pominville isn’t going to miss very often from there.

Zemgus Girgensons drove Washington crazy with the way he was on them every time they touched the puck. He finished every check and worked hard to get the puck when he didn’t have it. He did make one mistake on the penalty kill that led to Carter Hutton having to stop Evgeny Kuznetsov wide open in front.

Girgensons easily could’ve cleared the puck out of the zone, but he saw John Carlson flat-footed and tried flipping it by him. Carlson knocked it out of the air, but Hutton bailed his teammate out.

Overall, that penalty kill was excellent with many Sabres hurling themselves in front of pucks and getting into passing lanes. Hutton made big saves too.

Casey Mittelstadt missed the game due to illness and Evan Rodrigues took his place on his line. Rodrigues did a great job through the neutral zone to spring Sam Reinhart, who beat Braden Holtby short side.

The first half of the second period wasn’t as good. A bad decision by Matt Hunwick allowed Alex Ovechkin in alone and he scored his 44th goal.

Hutton came flying across his crease twice to stop Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly. Both thought they had wide open nets. Hutton has looked confident against two of the best teams in the NHL in Tampa Bay and Washington.

I think the injury to Jeff Skinner rattled this group for a few minutes, but they got their game back late in the period.

On a late power play, Rasmus Dahlin’s stick blew up on a one-timer. He quickly went to the bench for a new twig and kept a puck in that looked like it was going to be cleared. Eichel put another one right in his wheelhouse and Dahlin didn’t miss that one to give the Sabres its two-goal lead back.

In that period, Jeff Skinner was tripped by Carl Hagelin. It was a gruesome injury and he had to be helped to the room. I was thinking about what the team was going to do to replace this guy in March. Somehow, some way, Skinner came back out and played the third period, not looking slow at all. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an injury that looked that bad and seen the player return in the same game.

I thought the fans got a real treat watching their team in the third period. At 4:16, the Capitals cut the lead to one, but it didn’t deter the Sabres in the least. They kept moving forward, they kept showing urgency to keep the lead and just 1:27 later, Reinhart is in front to tip home his second goal of the game.

Buffalo out-shot Washington 12-8 in that all important third period and had 38 shots overall. That’s 68 shots and three out of four points against two of the best teams in the NHL.

I’m just going to keep saying, the last two games are why fans are so upset and frustrated with this team. They are perfectly capable of playing games like this and had they played the majority like this, we wouldn’t be taking about if they’re going to make the playoffs, we’d be talking about when playoff tickets go on sale.

Lawrence Pilut was sent down to Rochester on Friday, while C.J. Smith went down on Saturday. As far as why Pilut went down, Phil Housley said, “Lawrence’s development is right where it should be. He’s played a lot of good hockey for us, he’s played 25 games for us up to this point, but I think his play has slipped and just get him back down to Rochester and play some more meaningful minutes and we’ll see where that takes him.”

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