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5 Observations: Sabres drop a close one to Washington 2-1

Capitals Sabres Hockey
Posted at 9:45 PM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-15 21:45:53-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Sabres fell to 0-2-0 on Friday night as the Washington Capitals came out on top 2-1. An early second period goal from Jakub Vrana opened up the scoring. Rasmus Ristolainen tied the game early in the third, but it didn't last long.

A spill in the defensive end led to the eventual game-winner: Tom Wilson scored from the circle and the Sabres didn't have another equalizer in them.

5 observations from Friday night's game:

Hall doing the little things:

He's a Hart Trophy winner. He's been a perennial all-star. We all know what Taylor Hall can bring to the table, and he already put it on display in his debut. But tonight, two plays that Hall made that won't show up on a stat sheet stood out.

When the Capitals were already up 1-0 in the second period, they had a great chance to double their lead in an unsettled rush that led the puck below the goal line. Hustle and back checking from Hall broke up a pass towards the crease and kept the wind out of Washington's sails.

The other was during an extended offensive possession late in the second period. It's small, and it's subtle, but he fully extended to knock an errant puck back to a teammate and keep things going.

The new spark plug line:

On that late possession, the Sabres' puck possession was firing on all cylinders. There was nothing to show for it, at least not yet, but the strong results came from a line tweak: Sam Reinhart joined Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall for the shift.

That same trio led to the tying goal early in the third period. Similarly to the Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart line last year, this could prove to be Ralph Krueger's secret sauce when the original lineup isn't getting it done.

Eichel will almost always be with Hall or Reinhart this season if I had to guess. But if he gets both of them at even strength for long stretches, buckle up.

Free Jeff Skinner:

But the formation of the spark plug line provided an opportunity to elevate Jeff Skinner. It was ripe for the picking. But the $9 million forward was still with Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan.

On the second power play, alongside the likes of Dylan Cozens, Eric Staal, and Tage Thompson, Skinner looks much more at home. Without them, he looks like he's playing 3D chess in the offensive zone.

With the emergence of Victor Olofsson last season, Skinner found himself in forward purgatory often last season. There were time where he didn't have a complete line when Buffalo went with seven defensemen.

Sloppiness kills:

Linus Ullmark played a solid game between the pipes. He backed up the claim that goaltending is like riding a bike for him. His only goals allowed came after bad Sabres mistakes.

Early in the second period, a perfectly timed zone entry combined with a mistake by Rasmus Dahlin led to all the time and room in the world for Jakub Vrana. High, glove side.

Then, after the Sabres found a tying goal early in the third, Colin Miller fell over and lost the puck in his own end. Nicklas Backstrom found Tom Wilson. Guess where he put it? Up high, glove side.

Steps in the right direction:

On Thursday night, the Capitals allowed the Sabres to hang around. On Friday, the Sabres kept themselves in it. There's no doubt about that. Ralph Krueger found his spark plug line. Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen got involved on offense. Rookie Dylan Cozens was finding good looks. And Ullmark was solid.

It might be like riding a bike, but the Sabres are just getting warmed up. And the Capitals, at least on paper, are one of the best teams in the new-look East Division. Two games in, there's a lot ore to like about this year's squad as opposed to 2019-20.

Buffalo has the weekend off before heading to Philadelphia for a pair of games against the Flyers on Monday & Tuesday. Puck drop on the 18th is at 7:30 p.m.