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Five Observations: Sabres break skid with 3-2 win over Devils

Sam Reinhart, Mackenzie Blackwood
Posted at 3:34 PM, Feb 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-20 15:34:17-05

NEWARK, N.J. (WKBW) — For the first time since their COVID-19-related pause, the Buffalo Sabres got back into the win column Saturday afternoon. A pair of Sam Reinhart goals in the second period had the Sabres up 3-0 on New Jersey, which wound up being enough for Buffalo to hold onto a 3-2 win.

Even with the win, Buffalo sits last in the east in both points and point percentage. They visit the New York Islanders for their next game on Monday night.

Five observations from Saturday's game:

Breaking the skid

The first win back from a COVID-19 pause took much longer than it needed to. As frustrating as this week has been on the ice for the Sabres, the monkey is finally off their backs. The last time Buffalo scored multiple goals at even strength was also the last time they won a game. It's funny how those two correlate.

Sweating it out

The two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey; it's an age-old mantra. Once Sam Reinhart scored towards the end of the second period, it looked like Buffalo could at least cruise. But down the stretch, this team hit the brakes.

It's bad enough to shut down when you trail early. Head coach Ralph Krueger called it a psychology issue this past week. But a lead pretty much fell into this team's lap, and they almost gave it away. Clears for the whole game seemed sluggish and lazy still. But that was ramped up in the third period when it mattered most and the Devils brought on an extra skater.

Cozens adding a jolt

This afternoon's tilt was Dylan Cozens's first back since he was added to COVID-19 Protocol. It couldn't have come at a better time on several fronts: He was able to take the place of Tage Thompson after an abysmal outing on Thursday. The youthfulness of one of the NHL's few teenagers was something that head coach Ralph Krueger was looking forward to.

Clearly Cozens was looking forward to it, as well. He was able to rejoin veteran center Eric Staal and was playing well at both ends, and on neutral ice, all afternoon. To go back to the psychology of the team, the wide eyes and energy of a rookie could've been what the doctor ordered.

Reinhart returns to form

Two goals from the Sabres' mainstay winger elevated Buffalo to the win Saturday. Alongside Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson, his linemates for most of the 2019-20 season, Reinhart was able to get to the net and win the battles down there. And those battles paid off both at even strength and with the man advantage.

Defensive depth going forward

The emergence of Will Borgen alongside Rasmus Dahlin today is a welcome surprise for Buffalo's blue line. Rasmus Ristolainen opened up to a Finnish news outlet about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on Friday. This morning, Ralph Krueger speculated that it'd be a few more weeks until he returns.

Then, against the Devils, Jake McCabe left the game with an apparent leg injury. Suddenly, the Sabres' best defensive pairing looks like they'll both be out for the foreseeable future. Henri Jokiharju will likely be let out of the dog house to get back into action, but the even strength production on offense will have even more pressure to continue until the Sabres get healthy on the back end.