OPINION: Rasmus Ristolainen returns to Buffalo for first time

The former Sabres defenseman scored, but Buffalo broke its nine-game home losing streak

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Rasmus Ristolainen made his return to Buffalo on Saturday for his first career game against the Sabres.

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Of course it was weird for him to walk into a building where he spent the first eight years of his career.

“It was weird, even last night landing and going to the hotel, but it’s nice to be back and nice to see some close people to me,” Ristolainen said just before Saturday's game.

Back in July just before Round 1 of the 2021 NHL Draft, the Sabres pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Robert Hagg, a first round pick later that evening (Isak Rosén) and a second round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

When looking back on that day, Ristolainen was not at all upset or bitter when the Sabres traded him.

“It was time for me to see something new," the 27-year-old said. "At first, there was a little bit of sadness and it was good for me to go somewhere else, but I liked being in Buffalo. I liked living here, I liked the fans, they were great so there were good memories. But I was here to play hockey, and the hockey part was tough. Personally, I couldn’t do enough, and the team, we weren’t even close to making the playoffs.”

In September of 2013, Ristolainen started his professional career in North American. He feels there wasn’t a better place for him to start that with the Sabres organization.

“When I was 18, I came to Buffalo and I think it was the perfect place for me," Ristolainen said. "I didn't speak too good English, and before I had lived with my parents. I was, mentally, a little kid, and now I’m a grown man. So it’s been nice to see a little bigger city, and there’s more things to do.”

Ristolainen wasn’t the only one to leave Buffalo, as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe, Linus Ullmark and others are gone. Ristolainen knows that when you lose, you must make changes.

“That core was here for a while and things didn’t work, out so you’ve got to make some changes," he said. "We were the people that got traded, and that’s part of the business.”

Ristolainen said he liked playing for Sabres head coach Don Granato, and there’s a mutual respect between them. He also revealed how they have stayed in contact, texting throughout the season.

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Sure enough, Ristolainen scored the Flyers' opening goal on Saturday.

However, Buffalo played its best game in weeks, breaking a nine-game home losing streak. For the first time since March of 2008, three players scored two goals in the same game for the Sabres.

Peyton Krebs connected for his first two NHL goals, while Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner both had two goals and an assist.

Skinner has seven goals and 10 points in his last nine games, Thompson has four goals and six assists for 10 points in over his last eight games.

Meanwhile, Alex Tuch has seven assists and 10 points in his first nine games with the Sabres.

Michael Houser allowed three goals on 33 shots, but I liked his mental toughness after the Ristolainen goal, which went right through him. He certainly should’ve made that stop. But Houser was right back into the game and made several key saves the rest of the way to go to 2-0-0 on the season.

After blowing leads on a regular basis, I thought this team showed a different swagger in this game. They got ahead 1-0 and fell behind 2-1, but they just looked very confident in themselves and showed very little hesitation.

Buffalo has picked up points in four of its last six games, going 3-2-1.

They next get a return trip to Ottawa on Tuesday night. They beat the Senators last Tuesday, 3-1.

***Photo: Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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