The Buffalo Sabres’ youth shined against the Winnipeg Jets Saturday afternoon at the First Niagara Center, overcoming an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the Jets by a score of 3-2.
The Jets would get on the board early, when rookie winger Nikolaj Ehlers skated around defenseman Jake McCabe and shot it past the glove of Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson to give the Jets the 1-0 lead. Ehlers’ goal, his 14th of the season, was assisted by Mark Scheifele, who extended his point streak to three games.
Less than one minute later, Jets’ rookie Andrew Copp scored on a play that was nearly identical to the play that Ehlers scored on not one minute earlier. Copp skated around Mark Pysyk and took the puck to the crease, but was unable to slide the puck into the net. After the puck was caught in Pysyk’s skates, it somehow ended up in the back of the Buffalo net, giving Copp the fourth goal of his NHL career. The goal was reviewed twice, once to see if the puck was kicked in and another to see if Chad Johnson was interfered with following a coach’s challenge, but ultimately, the call on the ice stood, increasing the Jets lead to two.
With just under ten minutes remaining in the first, Hudson Fasching picked up the first goal of his NHL career on just his second shot. Fasching received the puck off of a pass from Pysyk in the neutral zone, and carried the puck into the corner. Fasching eventually took the puck to the net, and shot it across Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson to give Fasching a goal in his NHL debut. Also picking up an assist on the play was Casey Nelson, who was also making his NHL debut Saturday afternoon.
Although the first period was full of goals, the next goal wouldn’t be scored until the 1:23 mark of third period. A face-off in the Winnipeg zone was won by Zemgus Girgensons, who’s shot went off of the crossbar. The puck went directly to the stick of Sam Reinhart, who shot it into the empty net to score his 21st of the season. Reinhart’s goal marks his fourth goal of the season against the Jets, as he scored his first career hat trick in the team’s first meeting in Winnipeg last January.
Jack Eichel would give the Sabres the lead for the first time in the game just minutes after Reinhart tied the game at two. Eichel skated into the Jets’ zone uncontested, and was able to wrist the puck past Hutchinson to register his team leading 23rd goal of the season, his 50th point his young career. Reinhart picked up the only assist on Eichel’s goal, giving him his second point of the afternoon. Eichel’s goal would prove to be the game winner, as the Sabres would defeat the Jets by a score of 3-2.
The Sabres youth were the real stars of the game, as all three of the goal scorers were 20 years of age or younger, and all six of the Sabres that registered points in the game were under the age of 25. Reinhart’s goal and assist in the game bring his point total to 39 on the season, only bringing more attention to what can be considered one of the more unappreciated rookie campaigns league-wide in recent memory.
Forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson made their NHL debuts Saturday afternoon, and both were able to pick up points in their first NHL game. Fasching was promoted to the first line after a strong showing in the first two periods, finishing the game with just over 12 minutes of ice time. Fellow rookie Jack Eichel said that Fasching “brought a lot of energy” to the team, suggesting that Fasching may be a key player for Buffalo in years to come.
After letting in two goals in the first five minutes of the first game, Chad Johnson finished the game strong, stopping 17 out of 19 Winnipeg shots. Johnson continues to have the best season of his career, as he has been in net for more than half of the Sabres victories this season.
The Sabres only have seven games remaining in the 2015-16 season, with the next game taking place Monday night at the Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are in the middle a playoff push, and the Sabres will look to spoil Detroit’s playoff hopes by picking up their second win of the season against the Red Wings in the Motor City.