BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — February continued to be a rough roller coaster for the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night. After leading for a majority of the first and second period, the blue and gold fell short to the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime.
Pavel Zacha had the winner on his stick 1:17 into overtime. The Sabres host the Flyers this weekend; their next tilt is on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
Five observations from Thursday's game:
We knew Jeff Skinner was going to be scratched for the third straight game. Ralph Krueger said this morning he doesn't know what a dog house is, but Skinner is certainly in it. The surprise at puck drop was a lack of Jack Eichel.
I'm not going to put on a tinfoil hat and throw around trade destinations for the Sabres' superstar. But to be talked about as a lack of confidence and struggling mentally by your coach, to missing morning skate for "rest," to a scratch for the lower body seems fishy.
John Vogl of The Athletic dug up what looks like Eichel wincing coming off the ice earlier this week. But if that were the case, why not just say so? The Sabres don't travel again until Monday, so the gametime decisions could very well continue since travel isn't a factor for almost a week.
Respect the zone
Linus Ullmark himself has described it as just being "in the zone." He entered the night 20th in save percentage, so clearly it comes and goes. But even on nights where he gives up three, the play of the Sabres' defense could easily give up seven.
Such was the case for the first period before he left the game abruptly. He had 15 saves, including several at point blank. Knowing full well you don't get "the zone" every single night, if there's any hope of turning the season around, Buffalo needs Linus Ullmark.
Sloppy clearing kills
Well, it didn't kill Buffalo in the first period because of Linus Ullmark. But haphazard, no look passes right through prime real estate gave New Jersey some of their best looks. The most common offenders were by the trio of Jacob Bryson, Matt Irwin, and Henri Jokiharju.
The injuries on the blue line are going to be difficult to overcome for an already struggling Sabres team. By season's end, you can at least get two of those guys of the lineup with the return of Rasmus Ristolainen and Will Borgen.
Power play still producing
On paper, a Buffalo power play unit without Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner isn't pretty. Dylan Cozens being elevated to the first unit leaves the second group pretty barren outside of Eric Staal. But it still found a way to cash in.
Casey Mittelstadt's zone entry was improvised, and almost definitely outside of the scheme. But it worked. And Buffalo's league-best power play still found a way without its two highest paid forwards. Despite the loss, that's something to hang their hat on.
Speaking of Mittelstadt...
Sure, Staal connected with Casey Mittelstadt right on the doorstep. But before that, Casey Mittelstadt weaved right through the heart of the Devils' penalty kill in a brief reminder of why he was taken in the first round.
He was more responsible tonight in his own end than in the past. He showed off the Mitts (see what I did there?) on the zone entry mentioned earlier. He's got three points in five games and, regardless of how long Eichel and/or Skinner sit, has more than earned a longer look, maybe even a permanent spot going forward.