Its safe to say the Buffalo Sabres are hot. After a 5-2 victory tonight against the Arizona Coyotes, the Sabre have now won 3 of their last 4 games and are only 3 points out of a wild card spot. Far too many times this season a team who comes in on back to back nights ends up dominating Buffalo. Not this time. The Sabres controlled the speed and pace of the game. This game was the 4th straight where Buffalo had 4+ goals.
Here are my 5 takeaways from the impressive victory.
1. Evander Kane is red hot- Many were concerned about Evander Kane after a slow start to the season, and a lower body injury that sidelined the sniper. Now he has 6 points in his last five games and has 6 total goals on the season. We are starting to see the power forward with unstoppable speed and accuracy in his shot that Winnipeg was accustomed to seeing for many years.
Kane scored two more goals tonight and was a +3 against Arizona. He was smart with his decision making and took the momentum back on the Buffalo side after Marcus Foligno took a crucial high stick penalty.
I think the Sabres won this trade don't you think? Evander Kane is putting the entire NHL on notice that he is a force in this league.
Kane isn't afraid to get chippy either. He has been one of the main enforcers along the boards.
2.Sam Reinhart is also hot- If you are talking about a player that has improved more than anyone on this team, it is former second overall pick Sam Reinhart. His hockey IQ is so impressive. Reinhart was in the perfect position on his wrap around goal that tied the game up at 1.
With former team Canada line mates in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair having impressive performances, Reinhart came out with a chip on his shoulder proving he is as effective in the NHL early on in his career.
Reinhart's shot was vastly improved. He had 4 more shots tonight including a big opportunity in the third ripping a shot from the left faceoff circle.
His 7 goals on the year is now 2nd highest behind Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel who are tied for first with 8.
3. Chad Johnson continues to be a steady force in net- Goaltending is no longer a weakness for the Sabres. After Linus Ullmark got the nod and stopped 42 shots against Detroit, head coach Dan Bylsma decided to give Chad Johnson the nod. Johnson was one of the hottest goaltenders in the month of November and has carried that steady play into December.
Johnson wasn't tested often tonight stopping 18 of 20 shots. He however made the necessary saves in big moments.
Both goals by Arizona were not Johnson's fault. Max Domi was alone on a breakaway after catching Cody Franson napping on the wrong side of the ice. Johnson was beat glove side from a back hand with more speed on it than a baby cheetah. The second Domi goal was a bit of a fluke.
Off the faceoff won by Martin Hanzal, Domi through it on the net from the faceoff circle beating Johnson glove side again. Bogosiain was in front trying to stop the puck from getting through which disallowed Johnson to follow where the puck was going.
The offense dominated which made Chad Johnson's job easy. However earlier in the season you were seeing the same style of play with different results due to the inconsistencies of Johnson's game. He went from being a sporadic, flashy goaltender who made a few big saves, to being a fundamentally sound goaltender that has good rebound control and vision.
Johnson does often get caught napping and being out of position but you have to take the good with the bad in the veteran goalie.
A little bit of luck went Johnson's way again tonight as the Sabres won a challenge that overturned a goal that would have put the Coyotes down only 4-3. The veteran goalie's glove was hit several times which withstood him from bringing his glove up to stop the point blank shot.
4. 13 different Sabres had a point- Everyone seemed like they were on their A game for the Sabres. Buffalo had a point from 13 different players. Gionta, Moulson, Larsson, and McCabe were the only Sabres not to record a point. Larsson and Gionta continue to struggle while the top 6 for Buffalo have thrived.
Eichel and Jamie Mcginn played fantastic together including a one time goal from Eichel to Mcginn that put the Sabres up 2-1. Everyone remembers the O'Reilly trade for Zadorov and O'Reilly, many thought Mcginn was just a side piece that didn't have much impact. He has proven he can be an impactful player on all 4 lines. He now has 5 goals and 6 assists on the year.
The Reinhart-O'Reilly-Kane line could be the next great line in the NHL. The wild run of chances in the second period were created by the incredible passing by this line. All of their talents fit each other. Reinhart is a playmaker who loves to distribute the puck, Kane is a pure sniper and Ryan O'Reilly can do it all. He is the jack of all trades.
5. It is nice to root for the Sabres and not the Coyotes again- Remember the famous game in March last season when we all rooted for the Sabres to lose to the Coyotes at the First Niagara Center? I do. That loss ended up putting Buffalo in prime position to land a top 2 pick and it did. Although I was pro tank it is nice to see the improvement in both teams and not have to have bizzaro rooting interests in such depressing hockey. Both Buffalo and Arizona are filled with young, exciting talent. This is what tanking was all about though. Suffer but know that these enjoyable days would come.