The Toronto Maples Leafs and Buffalo Sabres faced off against each other having both played the previous night. Exhaustion can be a great equalizer when it comes to unevenly matched teams.
Looking at the talent of the two rosters, you could be tempted to say Buffalo was the chief beneficiary of this. Considering the Sabres we’re also playing their third goalie - Aaron Dell - well, the tale of the tape gets tangled.
When you watch the two teams actually play a game against each other, the Sabres look like they belong. They could keep pace, they could drive play, they could score along with the best in the league so far.
There isn’t a lot of space for moral victories, but looking like, on any night, you can play and perform like a major league club is a big improvement.
This isn’t trying to be patronizing either!
The Sabres are missing important pieces right now - Henri Jokiharju, Casey Mittlestadt, Craig Anderson, and Victor Olofsson - and still competing and generating chances. We may all have to have a conversation about the Sabres maybe not being the worst.
This doesn’t make them a playoff team, but bad teams make the playoffs all the time in the NHL. Why not the Sabres?
Here are some observations:
1.) Tage Thompson - A tall man
I’m not kidding, this dude towers. Watching him celebrate his goal with his teammates and he is basically patting them on the head like he is a teacher taking a picture with his kindergarten class.
There isn’t a ton of size on the team right now, and there isn’t a lot of size on the way. Alex Tuch, who was part of the Jack Eichel trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, is 6-foot-4, but is currently on the mend. Dylan Cozens is 6-foot-3, but is still young and filling out.
Am I saying Thompson is a big part of where the Sabres are going? Times are wild out here.
2.) Ruotsalainen has the juice
There was a moment towards the beginning of the third period of the game where it seemed like there was only one Sabres player on the ice who knew where the puck was. That player was Arttu Ruotsalainen.
The 24-year-old played with a calm mind, was able to acquire the puck in traffic, and was enabling quick breakouts out of the zone. It's those types of plays that are gonna make a difference for this season.
Can they gain possession of the puck in their own end and then get it out? If you have a man on the roster who can, they must keep him.
3.) Dos a Sabre
When trailing 4-2 midway through the third period, it would be very familiar to see Sabres fans making a quiet exit from the building with the team showing nothing left in the tank.
Look, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know if it will last, but the team has drive now. Back-to-back goals from Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin - especially because it was those two - just feels like it could be a big deal.
I’m thinking about how the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team beat Mexico by 2-0, and how a team with a lot of young players knew how big a deal it was to win by that exact score against that exact opponent.
Dos A Cero.
The stakes are nowhere near as important here, but when your building is taken over by fans of an opposing team and the reputation is that they come on the road to see their team lose anyway, I wonder if the young and new players to the organization felt a connection to, or were at least aware of that.
It is a grand tradition to have, just making Leafs fans boiling mad a couple of times a year. Even if the Sabres didn’t win, it always feels like it’s harder than it should be for Toronto here.
The season can’t be all bad if this iteration of the Sabres is going to keep it up.