OPINION: Tokarski steals point for Sabres in New Jersey

Buffalo lost its edge in the final 35 minutes of the game

(WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres' game in New Jersey against the Devils on Saturday was the tale of two games.

For the first half of Saturday's game, it was all Sabres. They were pushing the pace of play, and the Devils couldn’t keep up at all.

Buffalo got an early power play goal from Dylan Cozens, as Zemgus Girgensons screened goalie Nico Daws, who was making his NHL debut.

Daws had to make great saves in the first period on Tage Thompson off the rush and Arttu Ruotsalainen, who split the defense and walked in.

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Cozens made a very nice play turning a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2 by simply being patient coming up the left wing. Jeff Skinner went to the net, taking both defensemen with him, leaving Vinnie Hinostroza to come into the rush late and rip one past Daws. However, his shot rang off the crossbar.

Daws was welcomed into the NHL by making 12 first period saves.

Buffalo got an early break in the first period when Ruotsalainen took a hooking penalty. On the delayed penalty, with Daws pulled for the extra attacker, Dustin Tokarski made a save and the puck was under him. Nico Hischier dug at the puck underneath him and pushed his pad and the puck into the net.

The goal was immediately waved off for pushing the goalie into the crease, which was very obvious. Lindy Ruff disagreed and challenged the play. Of course, the call was upheld and Ruff and the Devils lost their power play.

Buffalo was still OK until about seven-to-eight minutes into the second period.

The Sabres had to kill consecutive penalties to Victor Olofsson and Jacob Bryson and they weren’t the same after. During the second power play, Tokarski had to stop Tomas Tatar twice, and then the save of the night happened when Marian Studenic came down the left side after Colin Miller put his head down and just plowed a shot into one of the Devils' shin pads. Studenic was stopped by Tokarski, and then was absolutely robbed on the rebound. Yegor Sharangovich scooped up that rebound, turned and hit the post.

The 32-year-old veteran netminder also made a good save on Dawson Mercer before the period was over.

Tokarski wasn’t done, as he stoned Frederik Gauthier in alone, giving him 29 saves in the final 43 minutes.

It took New Jersey 45:52 to finally get a puck by Tokarski when Dougie Hamilton’s shot hit the back wall and came right out to Hischier, who put it away.

After killing those second period penalties, it was obvious the Sabres were playing back-to-back games for the first time all season.

I’m not going to blame the hard practices, because all through the preseason, the Sabres' level of intensity and compete didn’t waiver in the third period. It happens to every team during a season, and it will happen again to Buffalo.

The trick is to find ways to get points when those games happen, and Tokarski, who Granato called the freshest man in the lineup, did it this time.

Ever since Jeff Skinner showed up in Buffalo, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing as to why he rarely plays in overtime. It was the same in Carolina, as they didn’t use him much at 3-on-3 either.

The reason being is he’s so bad defensively. He hurts his team more than helps them, and that was never more evident than it was on Pavel Zacha’s overtime goal Saturday night.

First, as Zacha came through the neutral zone, Skinner half-heartedly waived his stick at him and did a flyby. He had another chance inside the zone and for some unexplained reason, Skinner just glided by the play and kept going to the far side of the ice where there were no players. He did a wide circle and hung Cozens and Rasmus Dahlin out to defend three guys.

It was, honestly, the worst play I have ever seen in NHL 3-on-3 overtime. If I’m the coach, that effort puts Brett Murray in the lineup on Monday.

I asked head coach Don Granato about it after the game, and he said he’s not going to criticize anybody’s play until he gets a chance to go over the tape.

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Tokarski made 37 saves, but somehow didn’t get one of the three stars of the game, which are a joke in the NHL. In two games, he has a 1.40 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.

Through it all, the Sabres are 3-1-1, picking up seven out of a possible 10 points in five games played. That puts them second in the Atlantic Division, three points behind the 5-0-0 Florida Panthers.

The team gets Sunday off before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.

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