The Buffalo Sabres had their first home game of 2018-19 (pre-season) and iced a very talented roster. Their opponents on the other hand, didn’t. The Penguins dressed a weaker lineup and it reflected on the ice.
The Sabres controlled play, and were by far the better team for a majority of the game. Things got a little close at the end but with goals from Sobotka, McCabe and Eichel the Sabres got a 3-2 win.
While it’s preseason and the score is the last thing that matters, getting a win against a weak lineup is something that was expected. It wouldn’t have been good to lose to a weak penguins lineup when a majority of your NHLers are playing.
Aside from the final score here’s a few things that stood out to me:
Rasmus Dahlin looks great in debut
While he didn’t register a point tonight, Dahlin showed exactly why he is a cornerstone defenceman. He made subtle plays that every player must make, used his elite IQ to create turnovers and offensive chances, and he didn’t shy away from taking chances on the ice.
Here’s a subtle breakout pass that leads to a Sabres scoring chance down the ice:
*Gasp* Did the Sabres break the puck out cleanly and create a good scoring chance on the rush?!? pic.twitter.com/4m1nCnDxf2
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) September 18, 2018
And here he is intercepting a pass in the neutral zone leading to a shot:
Dahlin Neutral Zone Interception leading to a shot pic.twitter.com/9MUY4YKZhk
— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) September 19, 2018
It’s obvious that his ceiling is high, and it is going to extremely fun to watch him develop over the years. It’s also clear that it won’t take him long to become the Sabres’ best defenceman.
Another Rasmus dominates
While Dahlin is going to get a lot of attention this season (and rightfully so) we may finally see Rasmus Ristolainen turn into a dominant two-way defender, something he was projected to be.
Tonight we saw Ristolainen showcase all of his abilities, he pushed the play offensively by carrying the puck up the ice and jumping into the rush. He defended his own blueline extremely well, and blocked shots every chance he got.
But most importantly he did what he always does, he punished the other team physically. He plastered Daniel Sprong early in the game and set a physical tone for the rest of the game.
Ristolainen no longer has to shoulder the load of the Sabres’ blueline and it looks like we are going to see his best all-around season yet (even if it’s only been one pre-season game).
Jack Eichel is good at hockey
Jack Eichel started a little slow, but in the second period he took off. He showcased his speed, his skill, his strength and his improving two-way game.
Another thing that Eichel does that may go unnoticed is that he has an extremely easy time exiting his defensive zone and entering the offensive zone with control of the puck. He’s an elite transition player and it didn’t go unnoticed tonight.
Even if he had 0 points tonight he would have impressed… but then Eichel did what Eichel does. He scored a highlight reel goal that brought the crowd to it’s feet:
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) September 19, 2018
This goal had it all, speed, skill and was just flat out nasty. Jack’s head fake froze DeSmith and probably would have froze 9/10 NHL goalies. It’s not surprise that Eichel is the Sabres best forward and tonight he showed why.
Okposo…still isn’t himself
I want to start out by saying I’m not fully giving up on Okposo yet but tonight didn’t inspire confidence.
He was a step slow, was off on his passes and wasn’t processing the play at his normal level. While I think Okposo’s top line days are behind him I think he could have great success in a third-line role playing with Berglung and a Nylander or Thompson.
There is still time, but Okposo needs to show drastic improvement to re-inspire confidence.