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Noted Thoughts: When Preseason Games Mean Something and Nothing
Sabres beat Carolina 4-2, but lose Kyle Okposo to an upper-body injury
BUFFALO — Preseason games are like the “Whose Line Is It Anyway" of sports. The rules aren’t made up, sure, but the points are meaningless and the record just doesn’t matter. That’s the end result anyway, it’s the process that has meaning even if the outcome isn’t what you’d want to see in the regular season.
The Buffalo Sabres 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes doesn’t mean squat for the standings. Buffalo had four different goal scorers and Tage Thompson even had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the first period. A fun time had by all in what was shaping up to be a cake walk of a game against a Hurricanes lineup that could generously be called light on NHL talent.
Buffalo had a 3-0 lead after two periods and cruised through the second period mostly playing keep-away with the puck and ensuring the clock kept running. Honestly, you can’t ask for more out of a preseason game than that. The sooner it’s over, the better.
But the Sabres got a little sloppy at the start of the third and gave up two goals in 19 seconds to make it unfortunately interesting. The upside to this is it created some drama and allowed for an opportunity to see how the Sabres, who played what will essentially be their opening night lineup. Rather than allow Carolina’s momentum to overwhelm them, the Sabres resisted and added an empty-net goal in the final 1:20 to ice the game.
It’s that kind of effort coach Don Granato was happiest to see out of his team in the end.
“What I said to the team, you’re in the NHL, you’re going to give up leads, you’re going to get scored on,” he said. “You just can’t go the whole season with everything working perfect and dominate 60 minutes every night. So, I’m more concerned with how we respond when something unfortunate happens. And then 19 seconds later, the next unfortunate thing happens. That’s my concern…We can easily see on film the body language of the guys, the way they moved and backed off stuff or stopped being fearless and aggressive…so it is actually good that that happened.”
If there’s ever a time to run into a learning moment during a game, you couldn’t ask for a better time than in the preseason. And ultimately, they came out on top with a (meaningless) win and passed a pop quiz of how to handle a suddenly adverse situation against a (much) lesser opponent. Having a team headlined by Ryan Dzingel and Jesperi Kotkaniemi get within a goal is one thing, while doing that against Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov may yield a vastly different outcome…but it’s a learned moment just the same and those lessons can carry over. For a young team seeking to take another step on the path to eventually getting back to the postseason, those moments are important and needed.
The preseason: Where making something out of nothing happens and everyone is thankful for it.
The worst thing to happen to any team is to have injuries occur, particularly in the preseason. Likely future Sabres captain Kyle Okposo missed his final shift of the second period and the entirety of the third with what Granato said was an upper-body injury. Thankfully, it is not a head injury so everyone can breathe a sigh of relief there. But it will keep him off the ice the next few days and bears keeping an eye on as the regular season begins in just over a week.
“It is going to be a shorter-term injury, but he will not skate the next few days until we see how he responds. But it won’t be a long-term deal,” Granato said.
What this potentially does is open up the forward position for guys like J-J Peterka and Anders Bjork to both possibly make the big club out of camp should Okposo miss time into the season. The Sabres roster was all but officially settled even before the game against Carolina on Tuesday night, but should Okposo need to miss time, at least the Sabres depth up front can weather his absence while also allowing those players more of an opportunity to show they belong even after he returns.
· I liked seeing the physicality from Mattias Samuelsson and Rasmus Dahlin early on in the game, particularly on the shift that led to the opening goal of the game by Vinnie Hinostroza. The hits they delivered in disrupting Carolina’s attempts to cycle the puck got them disoriented. That befuddlement turned into a 2-on-1 for Hinostroza and Jeff Skinner and a money goal.
Hits aren’t always what you want to see because it means your team doesn't have the puck…HOWEVER, if the hits turn into taking the puck away and creating scoring opportunities then they’re totally OK and great. But seriously, Samuelsson is going to make opponents miserable with how much he thrives on being physical and his coaches and teammates will love him for doing all that while also not taking himself out of the play.
· I disliked the urgency from a couple of guys. Peterka and Peyton Krebs were helped out by how well Cozens played but he did a lot to pick them up through chunks of the game. Granato pointed out that he had to give a couple of his younger guys a bit of a reminder on the bench that he wanted to see more from them. They’re young and they’re going to learn. The growing process is never easy nor seamless.
· I was a little critical of Henri Jokiharju after the game against Philadelphia for freelancing a bit and making life a little tougher for his defense partners. My eye test told me he was a bit better tonight in that regard, although there was one backhand pass he tried to send to Owen Power across the slot in the middle of the ice that nearly turned into a Hurricanes goal.
· The Gordie Howe hat trick for Thompson was cool, but how he turned up his speed to blow past Hurricanes defenseman Ethan Bear on his goal was very cool.