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Tage Me Out to the Puck Game

Before I begin, I encourage everyone to continue to send their thoughts, prayers, and well wishes to Damar Hamlin and his family as he currently remains in the hospital in critical condition. Many inside and outside the NFL/sports community have shown incredible generosity, empathy, and compassion in this difficult time. It is tough to find the right words, so I’ll leave it with: Prayers up for Hamlin.

Now on to the recap:

Score: Sabres 5 | Capitals 4 (OT)

Shots: BUF 29 | WSH 32

Buffalo Sabres Goals:

1)     Tuch (Thompson, Skinner)

2)     Thompson (Dahlin, Cozens)

3)     Thompson (Tuch, Lyubushkin)

4)     Jost (Mittelstadt, Power)

5)     Thompson (Tuch)

Washington Capitals:

1)     Milano (Mantha, Irwin)

2)     Ovechkin (Kuznetsov)

3)     Dowd (Milano)

4)     Ovechkin (Sheary)

Plus 1: Who Else?

Tage Thompson may not be human. The NHL’s second leading goal scorer has been traumatizing goaltenders with his lethal release and shocking velocity. Not only did Thompson reach 30 goals in fewer games than any Sabre since Pat LaFontaine (31 games in 91-92), but he continues his clutch streak with his 5th game winning goal of the season. He is clearly the offensive leader of this young Sabre team. However, the outstanding play of Alex Tuch has been a large factor in Thompson’s remarkable season. On two of Thompson’s goals, including the game winner in overtime, the entire play started by the hustle and relentless forecheck of Tuch. The Syracuse native had a 3-point night himself with the opening marker and assists on two Tage tallies. His physical traits were obvious when Minnesota drafted him 18th overall in 2014, but it’s how he thinks the game that really makes the difference. He has been a perfect compliment to the offensive duo of Sinner and Thompson because he has the hands of a playmaker, size of a power-forward, and mind of a complete hockey player.

Plus 2: Seeing Greatness

Stop me if you’ve heard this over 800 times since the fall of 2005: Alex Ovechkin has lit the lamp. The NHL’s 2nd all-time goal scorer put on a show in the second half of the game to notch his 807th and 808th goals against the Sabres. Although not a positive for Buffalo, one must appreciate seeing true goal scoring greatness in his late 30’s. The 37-year-old now has 28 goals on the year in only 40 games, and he could have easily had another goal or two with the offensive chances he generated. Not only was he an offensive threat, but he was also a consistent physical threat all night. Most notably, he threw Owen Power to the ice as Power attempted to protect the puck. The term “Generational Talent” gets thrown around too loosely these days, but there is no doubt “Alex the Great” is a generational player.

Plus 3: Power’s Deception

Power has had a tremendous impact in his rookie season with the Sabres. He may not be lighting up the scoresheet (13 assists and no goals on the year), but he is a catalyst for offense, excellent in transition, and a detriment to the opposition’s attack. In the defensive zone, his long reach and positional awareness allow for him to break up offensive cycles and dangerous cross ice passes with regularly. Multiple times the Capitals looked primed to generate a high-danger chance, but Power was able to deny the chance with a well timed and executed poke check. His breakout passes are nearly always flawless allowing forwards to hit the opposing line with speed. In the offensive zone, he routinely uses his body to shield the puck on the wall while pinching and keeps the pressure on the opposing defenders. On the Sabres tying goal late in the third period, Power showcased some of his underrated deception. He was on his off point and faked like he was going to take a point shot toward Kuemper, but he slid the puck down to Mittelstadt on the wing instead. Power understands that at 20-years-old, his shot is not the most dangerous in the league. That makes the ability to draw defenders to him and sneakily send the puck to a more dangerous shooter important. Without the fake, the Sabres likely don’t tie the game. On a night where Dahlin wasn’t spectacular, Power’s emergence allows for Buffalo’s continued push for a playoff spot.

Final Thoughts

This was an important game for the Sabres and the city of Buffalo. We have all been crushed by what happened to Hamlin and continue to pray for his continued improved health. Hockey-wise, this was a vital matchup against a Capitals team that Buffalo is competing against for a wild card spot. This win brings the Sabres within 4 points of Pittsburgh for the final playoff spot with one game in hand. There were many great performances by the entire team who are clearly in sync with the city they play for. Once again, this incarnation of the Buffalo Sabres showed up in a big moment and delivered.

The most poetic moment: Tage Thompson’s overtime winner was his 3rd goal of the game, in the 3rd minute of overtime, for his 3rd hat trick of the season, on the 3rd of January. Damar Hamlin’s number is 3. Enough said.

Talking Points