Wow wow wow and wow what a game! The Sabres took on the Detroit Red Wings at the famous Joe Louis arena in what was an epic game with an epic finish. After falling behind 3-1, the Sabres rallied back to score two quick goals in the third period by Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. A poor Gionta penalty gave Detroit a power play that they took advantage of tying the game at 4. In overtime Evander Kane rang the puck off the cross bar and it went to a shootout. Brad Richards took it from there scoring the only goal to give the Red Wings the extra point and a 5-4 victory. Here are my 5 takeaways from the divisional matchup.
1. Rasmus Ristolainen is nearing elite status- What can you say about this guy? An incredible sophomore year continues to get better as Ristolainen became the first Sabres defenseman to have 4 points in a game since Toni Lydman did it in 2008. It was the first 4 point game from any Sabre since Thomas Vanek against Toronto in 2011.
His shot from the point has been unstoppable all season long. He assisted on all 4 regulation goals including two on the power play. He now has 18 points on the year which is good enough for 7th among NHL defenseman.
His defensive play has been impressive as well. On a breakaway with 3 minutes to goal, Ristolainen broke it up with an incredible stick lift, showing off the incredible reach he has.
Talk about a steal of a draft pick by Buffalo a few years back. Man oh man!
2. Evander Kane is getting hot- Somebody traded Evander Kane. Unbelievable. After a slow start to the season, Evander Kane is heating up. He has 4 points in his last 4 games including two goals tonight against Detroit. Kane is a true sniper that when added with a Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly, can be one of the most efficient goal scorers in the NHL.
Kane showed his speed, toughness, and offensive ability in all three periods tonight. You saw Kane make smart decisions with the puck deciding when to shoot and when not to. You saw Kane relentlessly skate to the puck and use his body to move Red Wings off the puck. He isn't afraid to get chippy either. Kane and Zetterberg nearly threw down in the second period after both exchanged hits.
In overtime Evander Kane nearly capped off the game with a game winning power play goal on the 4 on 3 when he took a shot from the point that rang off the cross bar near Mrazek's low blocker.
3. Linus Ullmark is still a work in progress, yet still effective while developing- The rookie 22 year old goaltender did not have the smoothest game, but with how the game was going, constant shots and offensive opportunities from both sides, it wasn't going to be a 2-1 result.
Ullmark stopped 41 of 45 shots in regulation, he looked sharp at times including a rob on Henrik Zetterberg who tried roofing the puck backhand. He was sharp and calm when Buffalo needed him most late in the third period to secure the 1 point the Sabres received. I believe Bylsma made the right move starting Ullmark tonight, however you could see the young goaltender have some rust to shake off. Especially on the Abdelkader goal.
The former SHL goalie of the year would probably like to have all 4 goals back. Ullmark was in position for all 4 at the top of the crease but just couldn't seem to find the puck or react quick enough.
Remember he is still adjusting to the speed level of the NHL so it is understandable as to why he is making the mistakes he has thus far.
Hopefully Bylsma allows Ullmark to build off this performance and learn from it. Every time the Swedish net minder has struggled, he has bounced back in a large way the following start.
Linus Ullmark is a work in progress but while that may be true, he continues to keep the Sabres in games and put them in position to win in the end.
Chad Johnson may be hot but Ullmark is the future at goalie for Buffalo.
4. Ryan O'Reilly is the MVP of the season through 25 games- The fact that Buffalo could acquire two #1 centers in under 10 minutes is almost unreal. Yet it is real!
Ryan O'Reilly had another assist against Detroit giving him 12 on the year with a team high total of 20 points. Yet it isn't just his offense that has made Ryan O'Reilly the heart and soul of the Buffalo Sabres. It is his leadership, playmaking ability on special teams (Both PP and PK), and his resiliency no matter the circumstances.
At 24 years old you wouldn't expect O'Reilly to be so mature, however watching him progress throughout the season, it is easy to see that the players look to O'Reilly when things are getting tight. He is one of the hardest working players on the ice every shift.
He never takes a shift off. Look at the final period against the Red Wings for example, OReilly played all 4 minutes of overtime and set up the play that almost gave Buffalo the win on the power play.
O'Reilly was second behind Rasmus Ristolainen in ice time spending 26:14 on the ice.
Gionta may wear the C on his jersey, but O'Reilly has the C in his heart. Cheesy right? Don't care.
Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
5. The Sabres have a top 5 power play- Buffalo continued to have success on the man advantage going 2 for 5 against the Red Wings. Zemgus Girgensons and Evander Kane both scored on the power play after getting in front of the net and taking advantage of a Ristolainen wrist shot from the point.
Girgensons goal was especially nice after tipping a #RistoRocket through the five hole of Mrazek.
With all the fire power on offense, it is no surprise the power play has been so dominating this season. Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen, you name it Buffalo has it. That isn't even mentioning Cody Franson or Matt Moulson and Jamie Mcginn who have also contributed in large ways to the power play.
It really seems like everything is coming together for the Sabres. All 4 lines are giving coach Dan Bylsma consistency and variety each and every night. To think you get down the list of names and hit a proven 20 goal scorer like Matt Moulson after naming around 7 or 8 other players is just an awesome feeling.
Buffalo now has a record of 10-12-3 with 23 points, 4 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild card spot.
Pretty nice to hear Buffalo and playoffs in the same sentence without laughing is it not?
The Sabres come back to the First Niagara center on Friday to take on the Arizona Coyotes. No this time I won't need a paper bag and a "I Like Eich" sign!