BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — As the calendar turned to 2019 the Buffalo Sabres kicked off the new year with a win, knocking off the Florida Panthers 4-3. Jeff Skinner scored twice while Tage Thompson and Sam Reinhart each added a goal. The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Sabres dating back to the holiday break.
5 Observations from Thursday:
With their win against the Panthers, the Sabres have officially reached the halfway point of the season with 41 games played and 41 games to go. If you told most fans at the start of the season the Sabres would be 22-13-6 after 41 games I'd imagine they would've been pretty content.
Ohhh, we’re halfway there.— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) January 4, 2019
After 41 games the #Sabres are 22-13-6 [50 points]. Despite their recent struggles, I’m sure a lot of fans would’ve been happy with that record at the halfway point.
But after a rough December, the Sabres will need to bounce back in January if they are going to secure a playoff berth. If the Sabres would've lost in regulation on Thursday, they could've found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture after weeks sitting comfortably in postseason contention. For some perspective, the Sabres are on a 100-point pace with 50 points in 41 games so far this season.
Regulation Rock Star
It has been overshadowed by the performances of some of his teammates but Linus Ullmark is having an exceptional season. With his win against the Panthers, Ullmark improves to 9-1-3. Not bad for a rookie [seriously, he's still considered a rookie].
His counterpart Carter Hutton has recently cooled off after a red-hot start, making me wonder if they'll start to distribute the games more evenly during the second half of the season. As of Thursday, Hutton has played in 28 games compared to 14 for Ullmark [games played, not starts]. Their numbers are nearly identical when you look at goals against average and save percentage but the big difference is in the win column. With a big matchup against the Bruins on Saturday, it'll be interesting to see who Housley turns to. If it was my decision, I'd ride Ullmark until he slows down.
Despite their captain out of the lineup with an upper-body injury the Sabres desperately needed a win to snap their current three-game losing streak. Florida has been a team that had given the Sabres trouble earlier in the season and on home-ice with plenty of teams within striking distance, this was a game the Sabres had to have. And they did -- so kudos to them for picking up two points without their best player.
Definitely Not An All-Star
Who said Jeff Skinner needs Jack Eichel to score goals? Less than five minutes into the game the Sabres winger scored one of his prettier goals of the season, pulling a pretty move around Panthers winger Denis Malgin and then sending a perfect shot past Roberto Luongo while tumbling to the ice.
It was an All-Star play by a player that deserves to be heading to San Jose. But because of the current format, several deserving players won't be making the trip. Skinner is currently one of eight players who can be added to the Atlantic Division roster as part of the "Last Men In" fan vote on NHL.com. If you'd like to cast a vote for the Sabres leading goal scorer [he's second in the NHL] head here:
Where was the penalty?
Frank Vatrano opened the scoring for the Panthers in the second period on a two-on-one, firing a wrist shot past Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark. But in my opinion, the play should've been blown dead before the rush even began, therefore negating the goal.
Seconds earlier, Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle knocked over Sabres defender Ramus Dahlin, taking him out of the play. Immediately following the hit, Vatrano and teammate Colton Sceviour stormed up the ice with an odd-man rush where they made no mistake.
It was a blatantly obvious interference and not only was it not called, but it also cost the Sabres a goal. Missed calls happen and they often go both ways. But to me, this mistake was especially bad.