Score: Sabres 3 | Jets 2
Shots: BUF 36 | WPG 21
Buffalo Sabres Goals:
1) Power (Dahlin, Thompson)
2) Thompson (Tuch, Skinner)
3) Olofsson (Skinner, Dahlin)
1) Schmidt (Wheeler, Lowry)
2) Dubois (Scheifele, Wheeler)
Plus 1: Revenge of the Comrie
Eric Comrie knows the Canada Life Centre very well. Originally drafted by Winnipeg in the second round (59th overall) in 2013, he started 21 total games for the Jets including 10 wins in 16 starts last season. Due to the lack of games played, Comrie did not qualify for restricted free agent status, allowing him to sign with Buffalo as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. Obviously, this was an important game to him, and the team knew it. A full team effort put the Jets on their heels most of the game, and it could have been a blowout had it not been for a stellar performance by former Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck. Comrie was solid all night and made some key saves early before Buffalo took control of play. The two late goals against were two high danger chances that come when Winnipeg had a man advantage on the ice. After the game, Comrie raved about how this is the closest and most fun team he’s ever been a part of. If he and the other goalies can continue to provide quality performances like this, the fun is only just beginning.
Minus 1: Late Game Heartburn
The Sabres have an unfortunate habit of relinquishing third period leads. The Sabres found themselves with a three goal third period lead with five minutes remaining in the game. To that point, they had continued their domination of the Jets until Nate Schmidt snuck into the high slot on the powerplay to get Winnipeg on the board. Although the lead was still two goals, the momentum had flipped. Dubois would add another with 53 seconds left after the Jets pulled Hellebuyck. Buffalo didn’t give up a scoring chance in the dying seconds of the game, but it was too close for comfort after a mostly dominant performance. As a young team, learning how to finish games strong is vital to sustained success. The perennial cup contenders rarely surrender third period leads and this is a skill the Sabres will need to develop moving forward.
Plus 2: Owen the All-Power-Ful
It took Owen Power much longer to notch his first goal of the season than he would have liked. However, in less than a week, he’s gone from goal-less to a three-game goal scoring streak. He opened the scoring for the second game in a row with a crafty wrist shot that beat Hellebuyck low blocker. The young rookie has already proven to be an impact defender this year, but the goal scoring is an added dimension to his game that should make opposing teams sweat. With Dahlin putting together a Norris caliber season and Power’s constant improvement, Buffalo has the luxury of rolling out at least one dynamic defenseman on the ice for ~75% of games. That is a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. Any reservations about selecting a 2nd defenseman 1st overall in the draft have certainly been alleviated, and it is already paying dividends.
This was a much-needed team effort to secure the win for Buffalo. The defense stepped up in the absence of Samuelsson who is dealing with a lower body injury. Hopefully he is not out long term, and Granato did not rule him out for Saturday’s game at Minnesota. Dylan Cozens also left with an injury but would have returned if there was more time in the game according to the coach. Kale Clague performed well with Dahlin in Samuelsson’s absence. The Thompson line continues to Globetrot opposing teams with another beautiful tic-tac-toe goal late in the second period.
Not only was this win personally important to Comrie, but it was also vital in their playoff race. Pittsburgh seems to refuse to finish games in regulation as they lost in a shootout to Washington in last nights’ matchup of the current wild card spot holders. Buffalo is 3 points behind Washington with 3 games in hand and 2 points behind Pittsburgh with the same number of games played.
Buffalo continues to improve, and their hard work is being reflected in the standings. They are in striking distance of a playoff spot and are ramping up the intensity in each game. This is crucial in a playoff race where each game becomes tougher than the last and fatigue can be a factor. For the first time since 2011, the Sabres are relevant when nearing the All-Star break. Get ready for a wild ride.