The Buffalo Sabres opened their quest to win consecutive NHL Prospect Tournaments today by defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 in Traverse
Listening to Paul Hamilton and Brian Duff on the broadcast, which came courtesy of ESPN 1520 and Sabres.com, it was evident that captain Chad Ruhwedel and the rest of the Sabres prospects came to play. Buffalo’s forwards were consistently rushing back on defense; the Sabres defensemen played intelligent, confident hockey; and the Sabres even managed to score on the power play, courtesy of the 8th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Rasmus Ristolainen.
Goalie Nathan Lieuwen was an athletic force between the pipes, stopping 26 of the shots he faced, including a number of saves that had Hamilton screaming in excitement into the microphone. Overall, Lieuwen seemed to be much sharper than his Blue Jackets counterpart Oskar Dansk, especially in the early stages of the game, when Dansk allowed two goals in the first 3:11 while Lieuwen held the Blue Jackets off of the scoreboard until after the midway point of the first period. Lieuwen closed the game strong by holding the Blue Jackets off of the board in the final 20 minutes.
In addition to Ristolainen’s second-period PP goal, the Sabres got scoring from prospects Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey. The Sabres also got some muscle out of 16th pick Nikita Zadorov, who had no problems mixing it up from time to time and who single-handedly killed off the final six or so seconds of the game by pinning the puck up against the boards in the Sabres’ defensive end of the ice.
The Sabres will take on the New York Rangers tomorrow, beginning at 4 p.m. The game will once again be broadcast live by ESPN 1520 and Sabres.com.
Tonight’s game was a solid, yet predictably uneven, effort by the young Sabres. The energy and effort were off the chart throughout the game, but some sloppy play and ill-timed penalties were made by the young boys in blue and gold. Still, the team sounded well-prepared, confident, and in some cases ready to compete for roster spots when training camp begins next week. There’s nothing like a tournament to get the young guys fired up to play, and when you add to this the fact that these guys are feeling the pressure of having to repeat as champions, this is a nice little trial-by-fire for the Buffalo Sabres prospects. They earn a solid B+ from me tonight, and I look forward to seeing if they can couple tonight’s intensity with a bit more polish tomorrow afternoon against the Blueshirts.