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Well lookee what we have here
The Sabres are halfway through the Western Canada trip and they've already earned their two most impressive wins
Let’s keep this short and sweet because, jeez it’s late and I spent a good part of the previous night getting everything together for the Reverse Retro bonanza piece at Bleacher Report.
The Buffalo Sabres four-game road trip to Western Canada and Seattle right at the start of the season is great but daunting. The great parts are the weather up north because when teams make this trip anytime between late-November and early March there’s a decent chance they’ll wind up in arctic hell. That’s just creature comfort stuff though.
The real upside is how neither of a couple of the Western Conference favorites, Edmonton and Calgary, are really clicking and have all the kinks worked out. Obviously the same goes for the Sabres, but the footing is a bit more equal this time of year than arctic hell time.
Beating a team with two of the five best players in the NHL and a team that plays an intense style with a coach that knows how to get the best defending out of his players and still score a ton is very difficult. And yet, here the Sabres are sitting 2-0-0 after a 4-2 win against the Oilers and a 6-3 win against the Flames.
The Sabres are 3-1-0 with two games left on the roadie in Vancouver and Seattle. The Canucks have had a hell of a time holding leads but it’ll be their home opener against Buffalo so throw out a lot of what’s been learned because home openers bring a lot of extra juice for the home team. Seattle, meanwhile, is showing signs they’re going to be a high-event team. Matty Beniers is legit and Shane Wright got his first NHL goal on Wednesday. Their goaltending, however, is still troublesome for them and now they’ve got Buoy to really scare things up.
What’s worked for them in the past two games is really easy to spot.
Rasmus Dahlin remains a freak show, part three (or more?)
Dahlin has a goal in each of the first four games. He’s the first defenseman in NHL history to start a season in such a way. Setting an NHL mark means doing something impressive and as impressive as the offense is, his defense is just as strong. After seeing him struggle out of the gate in each of his first four seasons, watching him absolutely dominate in games, particularly at the offensive end, is a monstrous glow-up.
Dahlin has taken so much upon himself to improve and all anyone has talked about leading up to and into the season is how no one on the team works harder than Dahlin. He’s fiercely competitive, extremely annoying to opponents, and demands as much of himself as he does his teammates.
You always watch young players and how they grow up to see what sort of character they’ll develop. In Dahlin’s case, he’s become an impressive leader and someone who has a take-no-shit way about him. It’s the sort of thing former players turned pundits on intermission shows salivate over.
This would normally be the time to break out fancy stats and really show off what he’s done…but he’s playing the most minutes and their last two games have had heavy score effect factors skewing the possession/shots attempted metrics. With tongue firmly planted in cheek: Watch the game, nerds—Dahlin is killing it.
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Goaltending settled, question mark?
Eric Comrie has been superb in goal. He’s made three straight starts, is 2-1-0 and boasts a .930 save percentage. He made 46 saves against Edmonton and another 40 against Calgary. He’s the first Sabres goalie in franchise history to win consecutive games with 40-or-more saves.
If in your memory you thought Ryan Miller, Dominik Hašek, Don Edwards, or any other Sabres goalie had done it before, sorry to tell you you’re wrong. With all recognition that it’s still early, Comrie is bringing the temperature down from all the offseason heat about whether or not Sabres goaltending would be competitive, never mind good.
Now here’s something to think about: How does this hot start affect how Granato deploys Comrie and Craig Anderson right now? If nothing else, it allows the coaches to better get a feel for the kind of pacing they need to keep them both on top of their games. Riding the hot hand isn’t necessarily something you do immediately. Besides, it’s not as if Anderson played poorly in his start opening night (35 saves, one goal allowed).
The smile on Casey Mittelstadt’s face after the game against Calgary told a lot. It showed he was happy for the win, happy for his old roommate Dahlin, and happy to score his first goal of the season and add an assist. Relief? Maybe, but it’s certainly good he found the net at last.
After the injury hell he went through last season when he appeared poised to have the breakout season many anticipated, getting out a little slowly to start had to be annoying for him. Scoring a brilliant shorthanded goal in the first period is a nice way to break into the goal column.
“Tuch around and find out” — Nick Mendola
When you come up with a line that may or may not be original in the Sabres spheres of influence and drop it with appropriate timing, that deserves a stick-tap.
Tuch’s first career hat trick was the difference in the game and even though he works so smooth and plays so hard, you can forget there’s some wicked skill involved in his game. His second goal was the highlight of his three.
Tuch rejoining Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson on a line has certainly sparked Tuch. Thompson got his first goal of the season against Edmonton and Skinner is next up to get a goal. The way he played on Thursday night showed me he’s getting his groove back and that goal won’t be too long now.