One week ago, the Buffalo Sabres left home flying high after beating the Arizona Coyotes 5-2. The Sabres had scored 17 goals in their previous four games, going 3-0-1 in the process. Today, the Sabres woke up wondering what happened, as the team lost all three of their west coast games, scoring just seven goals in those three contests.
It wasn't for lack of trying, however, and one man tried to put the team on his shoulders last night to break them out of their slump. Rasmus Ristolainen had himself a whale of a game, scoring three goals on four shots and over 25 minutes of ice time. Per Sabres PR, it was the first hat trick by a Sabres defensemen since Phil Housley in 1988, and the the first for any Sabres since Thomas Vanek in January of 2013. And since all three goals came in the third period, Risto became the first Sabres defenseman to do that since Jerry Korab in 1978, and the first NHL defensemen to score three in one period since Al MacInnis in 1998.
The 21-year old defenseman has now set a career high in points, scoring 21 points in 29 games, and is now tied for fifth in the NHL among defensemen for points this season. There's a lot of hockey left to be played, but right now it looks like Rasmus is poised to join the NHL's elite.
The only problem with Ristolainen's efforts was that it came too late - entering the third period, the Sabres were already down 2-0 thanks to goals from Sean Monahan and Marcus Granlund. The Sabres showed signs of wearing down on the road, getting outshot by the last place Flames 22-14 through two periods. And while Risto was completing his hatty, the Flames jut wouldn't stop scoring - or more accurately, Chad Johnson could't stop anything the Flames were throwing at him. Johnson did not have a good game here, and showed why he's been a career backup.
The Sabres will get a chance to come home and regroup before facing the Kings on Saturday. Maybe by then the rest of the team can get on Rasmus' level.