The Sabres entered Friday night’s game in a six game slump without a win (0-4-2)… all against Western Conference teams. A visit by Carolina was just what they needed.
Jack Eichel’s laser under the crossbar in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and proved to be the game winner.
In the first, with David Legwand and Ryan O’Reilly screening Cam Ward, Josh Gorges blasted a shot from the point to open the scoring. The goal, Gorges first as a Sabre, found its way through traffic like an experienced Black Friday shopper, giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
Despite the lead after one period, the Sabres hardly started the way they wanted to. They were very sloppy for much of the period, with plenty of giveaways in their own end. The Canes controlled play, applying pressure for stretches, and dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 18 of 23. Buffalo was outshot 11-3. Shot attempts were a lopsided 24-6 for Carolina.
The Hurricanes tied it in the second period. Brian Gionta got stripped of the puck by Elias Lindholm, allowing Eric Staal to take the puck to the crease. Victor Rask put it by Johnson to even the score at 1-1. Gionta was shaking his head… he knew he was on the hook for that one.
Carolina plays hard on the puck, so it’s no surprise they lead the NHL in Corsi rating. With better goaltending and a few finishers on their team, they’d be lethal.
Jack Eichel’s 8th of the season gave the Sabres the lead back, 2-1. He skated in from center ice, took a few strides over the blue line as the D-men gave him space. He then roofed a snap shot over Ward’s right shoulder. It was a missile. Word must be circulating among defensemen that you’ll likely get smoked by Eichel if you make the first move.
With goals in two straight games, Eichel is on pace for 29. No Sabres rookie has had 25 in a season since Vanek in 05-06.
Gionta put the Sabres up 3-1. Going hard to the net, he tipped home a Matt Moulson pass short side on Ward. The puck hit the post then deflected off Ward and into the back of the net. It was a big goal, putting the Sabres up by two. “It was nice to get one back,” Gionta said postgame, clearly referencing his first period giveaway.
The Canes pulled Ward in favor of Eddie Lack in the third period. Giving up 3 goals on 14 shots can make you susceptible to the hook. It didn’t matter. Six minutes into the period, Buffalo went up 4-1 as Jamie McGinn hustled down low and scooped a pass out to Legwand who was all alone in front. He quickly whipped it past Lack. It was a delayed cheer as the red light took forever to go on.
Chad Johnson, who was 12-for-12 on save attempts in 32:02 of ice time in relief of Linus Ullmark on Wednesday, was in goal for Buffalo. He looked sharp, playing the angles well, and not giving up any rebounds. Oddly, five of Johnson’s 33 career wins are against the Hurricanes.
With freshly carved turkey on their side, Buffalo has logged a 19-7-3 all-time record in their 29 games played on the day after Thanksgiving, including a 17-6-3 record in home games and a 8-1-1 record since 2003.
Ristolainen, with an assist on Gorges’ goal, tied O’Reilly for the team lead with 10 assists and is second on the team with 14 points. He logged a team high 24:25 of ice time. With production and discipline, Ristolainen is proving his worth. He’s one of just four NHL defensemen with at least 15 games played and no penalty minutes.
Buffalo was without Tyler Ennis who missed his second-straight game with an upper-body injury.
The Sabres play five of their next six games on the road, starting with Saturday night’s game against the Nashville Predators. Game time is 7:30 p.m.