Just hours after learning the news that Jack Eichel would be out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain the Buffalo Sabres had a chance to win their third straight. Instead, they came up short, scoring only one even-strength goal [extra-attacker], falling to the Colorado Avalanche 5-4.
Five observations from Sunday's loss:
Dreadful night for Ristolainen
Rasmus Ristolainen likely had his worst game of the season and quite possibly his career on Sunday against the Avalanche.
His rough night started less than a minute into the game as his pairing [partnered with Nathan Beaulieu] completely lost Colin Wilson and Alexander Kerfoot. The two converted on an easy 2-on-0 to give the Avs a 1-0 lead 43 seconds into the game.
Less than 10 minutes later Ristolainen made his second big mistake of the night when trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone on the Sabres first power play of the game. Ristolainen just missed making the play, allowing Matt Nieto a breakaway. He didn't miss, firing a perfect wrist-shot off the crossbar and in to give the Avs a 2-1 lead.
The second period didn't prove to be any better for Ristolainen who made yet another mistake that led to an Avalanche goal. This time he was outmuscled by Gabriel Landeskog to allow a clean lane for Wilson, who extended the Avs lead to 3-1.
After the third goal and third crucial mistake, Ristolainen was glued to the bench for every even-strength shift in the second period and a good chunk of the third. His only ice-time came on the Sabres power play and penalty kill attempts. He finished the night with an atrocious minus-four plus/minus rating.
To say Ristolainen has been a season-long problem for the Sabres would be a stretch. At times he has been dominant and the Sabres have relied on him heavily. That wasn't the case on Sunday after he had one of his worst games as a pro.
Casey Nelson has strung together some pretty impressive games since getting called up from Rochester last month. After a few rough outings against the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars (his first two games this season), Nelson has been one of the Sabres most consistent defensemen at both ends of the ice.
— Renegade Denver (@TRSNDenver) February 12, 2018
On Sunday he displayed one of his greatest attributes -- his speed -- burning past Nail Yakupov and Erik Johnson to follow his own rebound and score his first career NHL goal. After a solid stretch, it was nice to see Nelson finally get rewarded after 30 NHL games.
Nelson, like almost everyone else on the Sabres blue line, has his moments that make you scratch your head, but he's trending in the right direction. With the injuries to Zach Bogosian and Jake McCabe, Nelson won't be heading back to Rochester anytime soon.
The little things
Almost every time the Sabres play Jack Eichel does something amazing. What often goes unnoticed are the 'little things' he does, like carrying the puck down the ice and creating space for his teammates.
For the first time this year, Eichel was out of the lineup after suffering a high-ankle sprain on Saturday against the Bruins. His absence was noticed, especially when paying attention to the aforementioned 'little things'.
Watching the Sabres try and enter the zone on their power plays was concerning. Once they finally got into the zone they couldn't sustain any pressure and would turn the puck over seconds later.
Normally Eichel would be the guy with the puck on his stick, dishing it off to his teammates and setting them up. He would also be the player that would take it from the defensive zone all the way down the ice and set up the cycle. Without him, the Sabres looked out of sync and slow carrying the puck up the ice.
These struggles are to be expected when you lose your best player. With the severity of the injury, Eichel won't be back anytime soon. Things could get worse before they get better.
Time for the other guys to step up
So where do the Sabres go from here? With the trade deadline only a few weeks away, chances are Evander Kane will be shipped out of town. That puts a lot of pressure on players like Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville to produce.
Ryan O'Reilly was awesome tonight.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) February 12, 2018
O'Reilly stepped up on Sunday against his former team, scoring a goal and adding two assists. Okposo also picked up an assist, giving him 14points in 14 games. Reinhart has also been solid, with 14 points of his own in the Sabres last 12 games.
Pominville, however, has been ice cold. He doesn't have a point since Jan. 11 and has only one goal since Dec. 10. If the Sabres are going to win some games in these next few months they'll need more from Pominville and more of the same from O'Reilly, Reinhart, and Okposo. Some secondary scoring would be nice too, but let's not get carried away.
Shorthanded goals for everyone!
Colorado and Buffalo sit in the bottom two spots in the NHL when it comes to allowing shorthanded goals. Naturally, the teams exchanged shorthanded goals within two minutes of each other in the first period thanks to Benoit Pouliot and Nieto.
In the second Nelson continued the fun, scoring the Sabres second shorthanded goal of the evening. Fun fact from Elias Sports Bureau, with his goal, Nelson became only the second player in Sabres history to score his first NHL while shorthanded. The only other -- Kevin O'Shea in 1971.