5 Observations: Sabres top Isles 3-2 in OT

Posted at 10:58 PM, Dec 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 22:58:19-05

Let’s throw out some quick facts that will surely make any Sabres fan smile.

-With Jack Eichel in the lineup (eight games) the Buffalo Sabres are 5-2-1 (12-11-6 on season).

-Buffalo (30 pts.) is now only five points behind the Boston Bruins (35 pts.) and Ottawa Senators (35 pts.), who currently hold the second and third playoff spots in the Atlantic division. Buffalo has a game in hand compared to the Senators, and three games in hand with the Bruins. Woah, that escalated quickly. 

Good teams find ways to win games they have no business winning. Whether or not the Sabres are a ‘good’ team is still up in the air, but on Friday that’s exactly what they did, knocking off the Islanders 3-2 in overtime.

Five observations from Friday’s win:

Rasmus Assistolainen

I can’t take credit for this nickname, but it’s so fitting, isn’t it? Ristolainen now has 19 assists in 29 games after his helper on Johan Larsson’s second period goal. Those numbers are unbelievable. The 21-year-old defender has nine points (2G, 7A) in Buffalo’s last five games — yeah, that’ll do just fine.

But wait, just like an infomercial, there’s more! In overtime wouldn’t you know it, Ristolainen was the guy to burry the game winner on a wrist shot from the slot. He trailed the play, streaking up the ice, firing a perfect shot past Islanders goaltender Jean-Francois Berube.

Ristolainen did have one moment in the game that left everyone scratching their head late in the second period. After a long shift, he slid a perfect drop pass to an Islanders forward, gift-wrapping a gorgeous scoring chance. It looked like he fell for the old stick-tap trick, thinking his partner McCabe was behind him — but he clearly wasn’t. 

Regardless, this is the best hockey Ristolainen has ever played and he looks, dare I say, ELITE.

Winning games you aren’t supposed to win

This quote hits the nail on the head:

“We definitely were’t at our best tonight,” Kyle Okposo said after the game. “But, we found a way to win that game with the way that we came out in the third period, we took it to them, that was pretty good.”

To the scorecard we go:

1st period — Isles (not even close)
2nd period — Split decision
3rd period — Sabres (not even close)

Hey, If you’re going to start slow you better dominate late, and that’s exactly what the Sabres did.

Slow Start

However, you can’t get outshoot 16-7 in a period and expect to win every game. Quite frankly, the Sabres were lucky to only be down only one goal after the first period. But this isn’t something new — the Sabres have seemed to make a habit out of slow starts at home, but Friday against the Isles may have been one of the slowest. Aside from one shift from the Moulson-Eichel-Okposo line, no one really generated any chances. Eventually these slow starts are going to come back to bite the Sabres, assuming nothing changes.

Lehner looks lavish

A big reason the Sabres were still even in the game after the first period was the play of Robin Lehner. After a questionable game on Tuesday against the Kings, Lehner looked composed and made a couple ridiculous saves to keep the Sabres within one. His best save of the night came when he slid across the crease to stop Andrew Ladd from point-blank. It often goes unnoticed, but the Sabres goaltending has been stellar this year. If that continues, the Sabres could really start to string some wins together. 

Deep breathes, deep breathes

In the third period all of KeyBank Center collectively gasped when Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk hit Jack Eichel from behind into the boards. Boychuk went to the box for two minutes and Eichel got up after only a few seconds — but this could’ve ended a lot worse. The Sabres went to the power play with Eichel, but after his shift he went to the bench and disappeared into the locker room.  He was back on the ice a few minutes later, buzzing around like usual.

After the game Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said he didn’t see the hit, but the reaction from the corwd could put anyone’s heart in their throat. He’s not kidding.