Monday, January 16, 2017

Sabres flip the script against Carolina

credit: the Daily Nonpareil

Friday night's shellacking by the Carolina Hurricanes saw a number of narrative flips for the Blue and Gold.

For much of the season, youth has been leading the way. The future core of Eichel, Risto, Reinhart have had their hands on the wheel for much of the season and results have been more erratic than the driving pattern of a car controlled by three people at once. Veterans like Gionta, Moulson, Gorges and Franson have largely failed to provide the guiding light for which they were hired, leaving the kids to careen through the fog with wild abandon.

Those trends have been reversing in the past couple games and on Friday night, they flipped completely.

Eichel, Risto and Reinhart suddenly appeared to be in the full throes of a sophomore slump as the Sabres veterans started emerging from their holiday hangover.

Eichel's once-clairvoyant moves suddenly looked like cheap parlor tricks. His untimely obsession with the Though-the-Legs drag suggests he's been spending too much time watching YouTube dangle videos, and not enough time romanticizing the kind of gritty hard work that might engorge Don Cherry.

Reinhart had been mostly trending upwards since starting his season off on the wrong foot. He's expected to be the rocksteady Jonathan Toews to Eichel's flamboyant Patrick Kane, but on Friday he looked more like he had rocks tied to his feet. Reinhart was caught flat-footed and defensively in No Man's Land's several times as red jerseys swarmed around him. His -3 on Friday is tied for the worst single game (with 2/9/16 vs Florida) plus-minus of his NHL career.

Even the Mighty Norris-tolainen looked human against Carolina, only somewhat justifying his omission from this year's All-Star "Game." On the third Carolina goal,  Elias Lindholm had him chasing shadows along the half wall before turning and burning toward the net, firing a shot on Nilsson that led to a tap-in rebound goal.

The Sabres' veterans on the other hand made solid contributions. Gionta found a way to tally the team's first shorthanded goal. Bylsma and Wood's killers will hopefully be able to catch the spark of that first shorty and drag the PK unit up from the sub-basement.

With a run of massive divisional games coming fast and furious through the end of the month, the Sabres young core needs to atone for abysmal performances against Carolina, while the veterans need to continue to have an influence.

We've seen what this team is capable of when firing on all cylinders and it's playoff caliber.

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