Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - Not only does the young Buffalo Sabres defensive corps have so much promise, but we are already seeing results on a nightly basis. That has been on display throughout the first quarter of this season, with different players stepping up into prominent roles regularly.
Defensemen are always going to rank at, or near the top in average ice-time during the season, but if you take a look at the Sabres' top-three in that category, you would see three of the key pieces of the young core that is providing a spark.
It should be no surprise that Rasmus Dahlin leads the team with an average ice-time of 26:08 per-game. The former No. 1 overall pick in 2018 can do it all for the blue and gold. Not only is he performing at a point per-game pace through 21 games, but his ability to use his size to his advantage has added that extra element to his game.
I also love that as soon as Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was run into by Nikita Kucherov on Monday night, there was Dahlin to make the forward pay the price. If you are a coach, you are willing to trade the power play for standing up for your goaltender every single time.
It is too bad that the Sabres did not get a power play out of the scrum, but that was a sign that Dahlin is not going to let anyone run over his goalie. Too many times in the past, the response would be meager, at best, from others.
Next up is Owen Power at 23:36 of average ice-time per-game, the only other player above 20 minutes to this point of the season. The 20-year-old appeared in eight games last season and is just 30 games into his NHL career, but is already showing the promise of what a No. 1 overall pick can bring.
Power added his 10th assist of the season on Jack Quinn’s first period goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is still in search of his first goal this season, but added a pair of goals to go along with one assist before the end of the 2021-22 campaign last year.
Mattias Samuelsson missed several games this season due to injury, and his absence was noticeable along the blue line.
Since returning, though, he has allowed Power to slide back down to pair with Henri Jokiharju. The Finnish-born rear guard is just 23-years-old himself, and has worked with several different defensive partners in his time with the Sabres.
One thing that should start to show up for this young group of defensemen is the recognition of the opponent the more times they see the likes of Tampa Bay and the Toronto Maple Leafs each season. Learning the opposition’s tendencies on the ice will only help them get better, and play with more confidence.
I asked Power about playing against Tampa Bay, specifically, for the second time this season. He acknowledged that facing the Lightning twice this month helps.
"It helps just kind of knowing how they [the opposing team] play a little better, it gives you a better idea going into the game what it’s going to be like," said Power. "You’ll pick up stuff in the game, what maybe certain guys do or what the other team’s trying to do, and make adjustments during the game."
With Dahlin and Samuelsson assisting on Dylan Cozens’ third period go-ahead goal, the trio was all credited with, at least, a point in the 6-5 overtime loss.
There is a lesson to be learned from not being able to finish a two-goal lead and win in regulation, but that is a lesson the whole team has to figure out.