The Buffalo Sabres showed impressive resolve on Thursday night in Tampa Bay and it carried over to Saturday’s home matchup with Washington. In an impressive all-around effort, the Sabres scored a big 5-2 win thanks to points from 10 different players and Sam Reinhart’s third career hatrick.
That wasn’t a typo, the by way. 10 different Sabres got on the scoresheet to propel the victory over a potent Washington team. Buffalo has desperately lacked secondary scoring this season and haven’t had many games like this at all. Jack Eichel (2 A), Jeff Skinner (A), Jason Pominville (G), Evan Rodgriues (A), Rasmus Dahlin (G), Rasmus Ristolainen (A), Matt Hunwick (A), Conor Sheary (A), Sam Reinhart (3 G) and even Carter Hutton (for God’s sake) got in on the offense to down a Capitals team that had won four of its last six entering the game. That’s right, even Carter Hutton had an assist in addition to his 31 saves. Alex Ovechkin upped his NHL leading total to 44 and Andre Burakovsky also scored for the Caps.
Though it was a strong offensive showing all-around for Phil Housley’s team, Reinhart shined the brightest and recorded the third hatter of his career, and all three goals were impressive. His first made it 2-0 Buffalo 12:51 into the first with a laser shot into the top left corner that made Washington’s former Vezina winner Braden Holtby look silly. A perfect redirection of Hunwick’s point shot made it 4-2 at 5:43 of the third, and it rained hats after he fired it the length of the ice into Washington’s empty net at 19:04 off a pass from Hutton, who earned his first point of the year. It was Reino’s best game of the season by far as he continues to add to his career-best point total. He now has 55 on the year.
Housley reunited the J-Crew on Saturday after putting Rodrigues with Eichel and Skinner didn’t really work out. Putting the Crew back together paid almost immediate dividends, however. Buffalo opened the scoring 3:40 into the first on a nifty passing play. Eichel beat Matt Niskanen to the puck in Washington’s left corner and slid a backhand pass behind the net to Skinner, who then backhanded a no-look pass to Pominville in front, and the latter upped the Population to 14 to ice the brilliant play. Hopefully this persuades Housley to keep the line together instead of breaking it up every other game because the trio delivers far more often than not. Skinner gave Sabres fans a fright when he had to be helped off the ice in the second after being tripped by Carl Hagelin, but he later returned and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
A brief aside: to anyone who thinks that Skinner and Eichel are carrying Pominvile, watch what the 36-year-old does when the other two have the puck and see if you still believe that afterwards.
Buffalo gained two big points with the win and are now four back of the last Wild Card spot, although Carolina and Pittsburgh play tonight still. If the Stars and Flyers respectively can hold them off, Buffalo could climb to within two with a victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday. That’s a big if, though.
The most frustrating part of the Sabres’ second-half struggles is that the team would be in a playoff spot if it could piece together a few wins. Buffalo still hasn’t strung together consecutive victories since December and it’s incredibly sad that it would be considered an accomplishment if they could win back-to-back games. Nevertheless, the team can make its chances infinitely better by doing so.
Though the last two months have been beleaguering, it’s impossible to give up on this season when the Sabres are only four points out. Toronto will be a tall task on Monday, especially in Scotiabank Arena. But if Buffalo can avenge its loss to Auston Matthews and co. from back in December, the Sabres will be in business.