The Buffalo Sabres are now 3-0 in the preseason with an impressive 5-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. In front of 17.626 fans at the First Niagara Center, there was a lot of good things to take from the game last night. Some players took a step back, but some players made a statement with their performances.
Carolina got the first goal of the game with a goal by Zack Boychuk when he beat Miller on the blocker side from the face-off dot. Buffalo was horribly outshot in the first period 19-8, but Ryan Miller held the Hurricanes to just one goal. Tyler Ennis had a strong defensive game in his own end, and was able to pick-pocket some Carolina skaters and create some chances for the Sabres. In the second period, Joel Armia capitalized on a mistake by Anton Khudobin behind his own net. Armia gathered the loose puck and put the wrap-around in the net to tie the game 1-1. Chris Terry made it 2-1 shortly after on a nice pass from Radek Dvorak right in front of the net. Right before the period ended, Johan Larsson tipped a Brayden McNabb shot from the point past Khudobin to tie the game 2-2. The beginning of the third period was a disaster for the Sabres. Buffalo looked sloppy in their own end and could not generate any offensive opportunities for almost eight and a half minutes. But the second half of the third, Buffalo was able to fire on all cylinders and close out the Hurricanes. Cody Hodgson scored the game winning goal on an absolutely beautiful snap pass from Thomas Vanek. Then, Johan Larsson tipped another shot from Brayden McNabb to make it 4-2, and McNabb slapped a bullet past Anton Khudobin late to make the score 5-2.
Brayden McNabb was, by far, the best player on the ice last night for the Sabres. He finished the night with one goal and two assists in 18:23 TOI. McNabb originally was given credit for Larsson's second goal, but it was later determined that Larsson had indeed tipped the shot. McNabb was paired with Mark Pysyk, who was his regular partner in Rochester before Pysyk was called up. Both played extremely well with strong skating and smart puck handling abilities. McNabb looked like a different defender on the ice last night compared to the defender I saw in camp earlier. McNabb looked slow as if his knee was still bothering him. I was proven wrong because McNabb made a strong case to the organization that he is still in the race to make the 23-man roster. Not only was McNabb playing well offensively, he played very well in his own zone, and was able to throw is body around and make some hits and block shots. If he keeps it up, McNabb could still win a job with the Sabres.
The second star of the game last night was Johan Larsson, who scored two of the five goals scored by the Sabres. Larsson was on a line with Corey Tropp and Ville Leino, and also took on some penalty kill responsibilities. Larsson was strong with the body, protecting the puck and keeping defenders at bay. He was also creating plenty of opportunities for himself and his line mates to score in the Hurricanes end. With a performance like last night, I believe Johan Larsson has already won a spot on this roster as either a 3rd or 4th line center. I like him centering Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford because all three seem to have chemistry together. Larsson was also 71-percent on his face-offs last night, including the one he won that led to his second goal of the game.
The game's third star was Joel Armia, who scored his first goal of the preseason. Armia had a pretty good game playing on the top line with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson. Armia was able to net the first goal of the game, and later added an assist on Hodgson's game winning goal. Armia skated well with his fellow line mates and looked like he had a better game than in Columbus. Armia will probably get his chance throughout the rest of the preseason, but will he start with the Sabres? I think he needs more time to adapt to the North American style of hockey.
Rasmus Ristolainen played on a pairing with Henrik Tallinder as Mike Weber had the night off. Ristolainen played well once again, but did not do anything more to stand out amongst everyone else. At times, he had to cover for Henrik Tallinder, who did not have the best of games. In 19:05 TOI, Ristolainen had three hits, one shot on net, but was on the ice for both Hurricanes goals. Ristolainen is going to be able to play throughout the preseason and continue to prove his worth to the Sabres.
Mikhail Grigorenko did not stand out at all last night playing with Tyler Ennis and Brian Flynn. Grigorenko looked like he was behind the play on numerous occasions and did not produce anything offensively. Grigorenko failed to register a shot on net, but he was a +1 and he did win 71-percent of his draws. He was not playing with any explosiveness and he was not creating any chances for anyone. Am I worried with Grigorenko? A little, but I still feel like he has got what it takes to rebound and still be a great young talent in the NHL.
While one Russian struggled, another Russian continues to impress. Nikita Zadorov, once again, stood out to me and played his heart out. Zadorov played on a pairing with Tyler Myers, and both seemed to work well together. When Myers would take an offensive rush, Zadorov stayed back on the play and covered for Myers well. Zadorov had three hits, including a big hit on Canes forward, Patrick Dwyer. Zadorov also registered three shots and was a +1 in 22:35 TOI. I wish Zadorov would have a chance to stay in Buffalo, but he will most likely be sent back to London of the OHL soon.
Tyler Myers, playing with Zadorov, was very strong with the puck and his mental game has improved a lot. Myers has proven his word, so far, and he is in great physical condition. Myers had two shots and two blocked shots in 22:26 TOI. I am happy to see Myers back on top of his game, and maybe we will see Myers playing at a Norris Trophy caliber this season.
Through three games, Buffalo has proven that their young talent has a bright future in the NHL. It is going to be a very good run to the end of the preseason for guys like Armia, Larsson, McNabb, Ristolainen, and also Zemgus Girgensons. I believe that we are going to have an exciting young group of guys that will be fun to watch in Buffalo and also in Rochester. Sabres play next tomorrow night against Toronto as part of a home-and-home preseason series with the Maple Leafs. After this series, the rosters will begin to get smaller and smaller. We will begin to see who will play in Rochester, and who will have an immediate impact with the Buffalo Sabres.
12 days now until Detroit. Fasten your seatbelts folks. October 2 will be here faster than you think.
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