OPINION: Rousek, Savoie lead Buffalo past New Jersey

The Sabres are 2-0-0 at the Prospects Challenge
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Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The New Jersey Devils came into Saturday’s contest against Buffalo at the Sabres Prospects Challenge with four players that had played in the NHL, including goalie Nico Daws who has played 25 games. Buffalo had a lineup that had played no NHL games and still won the game, 7-4.

Daws let in six goals on 20 shots faced, while at the other end, Rochester Americans goalie Beck Warm stopped 27 out of 31 shots. Unless there’s an injury to Tomas Suchanek on Monday, Warm will finish the tournament 2-0-0 with a 4.00 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage.

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Lukas Rousek was chosen the No. 1 star of Saturday’s game and it was richly deserved. The Czech winger was Buffalo’s sixth-round pick in 2019 and missed most of last season following knee surgery. Rousek made it back to play 19 regular season games with the Amerks, scoring one goal and three assists for four points.

It was in the Calder Cup Playoffs where Rousek saw limited action, but still added two goals and four assists for six points in 10 games. It was clear how good he was with the puck, and I remember Amerks head coach Seth Appert saying during last season’s playoffs that all his teammates want to play on his line because he’s such a smart player.

Rousek helped Buffalo tie the game in the first period just 51 seconds after New Jersey had taken a 1-0 lead. Rousek did a great job shaking loose behind the net and laid a perfect pass out to Ethan Richter, who had snuck in from the left point.

In the third period with the Sabres leading 4-2, Rousek turned on the afterburners to break in on net. Daws stopped him, but Isak Rosen never stopped skating and hit the open net on the rebound.

Rousek was active at both ends of the arena. The 23-year-old is very good on the forecheck, and is often the first man back on the back check. He’s an elite passer, and has a pretty good shot too.

I remember mentioning on our airwaves right after the playoffs that I wouldn’t be surprised, in the least, if Rousek gets some NHL games this season. If injuries hit, I think the Sabres would be very comfortable in calling him up.

Matt Savoie spent the first two periods on Thursday night trying to force offense, and as the second period went on, Savoie looked fatigued. Thanks to an injury to Josh Bloom, Appert double-shifted Savoie in the third period and he was anything but tired. The more he played, the better he got.

I think on Saturday, the ninth overall pick in 2022 picked up right where he left off and had a great game for the second star.

Savoie got hit hard a few times, but he was fearless along the wall and in traffic. He seems to find seams in the offensive zone to make himself available, which is how Spencer Sova found him for his goal.

Sova, by the way, also had an assist on Rosen’s goal, as he wildly backhanded the puck up to Rousek. Sova’s goal in the second period made it 4-1 Buffalo.

Sova is an invitee to camp after playing in the OHL last season with the Erie Otters.

The Sabres' third first-round pick back in July was Jiri Kulich. Injury kept him out of Thursday’s game, but he did play Saturday. Despite having a rough go of it, he still had a goal and two assists. His goal was an empty-netter.

As the game went on, I could tell Kulich was getting very frustrated with his play. After he put away the empty netter, he waved to the sellout crowd.

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Buffalo is now 2-0-0 in the Prospects Challenge, while New Jersey and Boston are 1-1. The Bruins face the Devils, while the Senators play the Canadiens.

If things fall right, Buffalo will have clinched the Prospects Challenge before they host Ottawa on Monday afternoon.

***Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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