TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – The 2014 NHL Prospect Tournament is over for the Buffalo Sabres and they’ll head home with a lot of new lessons learned.
The Sabres finished 0-3-1 after a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday at Centre Ice Arena.
After a disappointing effort on Monday against Dallas, Sabres tournament coach Chadd Cassidy liked the way his team responded against the Blues. They came out hard for their first shift and rebounded from a performance that no one on the team was happy about.
“That’s what we ask our guys, is to compete and they played with a lot of determination today,” Cassidy said. “I thought they played desperate. We piled up the shots and scoring chances and didn’t get the result, but it was a much better effort today.”
WATCH: POSTGAME INTERVIEWS
Robby Fabbri, St. Louis’ top pick in this year’s draft, scored twice on the power play to put the Blues up 2-0.
Justin Bailey got Buffalo on the board 1:02 remaining in the second period while on the man advantage. Bailey threw a puck on goal, followed up down the wing and netted the rebound. Daniel Catenacci and Rasmus Ristolainen assisted on the goal.
It’s one of many golden opportunities Bailey has had in the tournament. After he scored, a look of relief was clearly visible on his face. He had a great backhand chance late in the first period that was stopped but he finally broke through later on.
“I think it was a huge relief, especially at the time the goal came,” Bailey, who scored 25 goals for Kitchener last year, said. “It gave us some momentum in the third, but for me it was a huge boost.”
The fourth line generated some good chances as well, but things didn’t go in their favor. Forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas made a strong move to the front of the Blues net midway through the second period and scored. However the goal was disallowed because officials determined that the net had come off its moorings before the puck crossed the line.
Buffalo controlled play for most of the third period, holding an 11-3 shot advantage through the final 20 minutes. They ended up out-shooting the Blues 38-16 in the game.
Andrey Makarov started in net for the Sabres, stopping 14 shots. Niklas Lundstrom picked up the win for St. Louis.
SHORTAGE OF GOALS
One reason Buffalo struggled to win games this year in Traverse City was a lack of offense. Buffalo scored only six goals in four games with half of them coming against the Stars on Monday. However, oddly enough, with the exception of that Dallas game, the other three games were tightly contested.
And even without 2013 third-round pick Nicholas Baptiste, who missed the tournament due to injury, the Sabres still had plenty of firepower on the roster. However, the various line combinations couldn’t click in time and Buffalo was unable to execute.
“Nobody saw us going 0-4 in this tournament, but you never know. You’ve got a lot of young guys here and the thing that probably we didn’t see coming was our inability to score goals,” Cassidy said. “When you don’t score, you’re not going to win hockey games. If you really take a good look at it from a coaching perspective and when we stand back, three of the four games, we played pretty darn well.”
A TIGHTER GROUP THROUGH ADVERSITY
One thing the tournament can do is bring the group closer together and start to build the chemistry that other, older teams in Traverse City have been able to develop.
“There’s a lot we can learn from this tournament. There are a lot of good players and I think we realized that first hand,” 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart said. “Obviously we didn’t take anyone lightly coming in, but it was battle right from the start and we’re trying to take as much positive as we can out of this.
Reinhart finished the tournament with only one assist, but didn’t look out of place in the tournament and made some heady passing plays throughout. One player that was impressed with Reinhart’s play was 2013 first-round pick Nikita Zadorov.
“I like playing with him and I think he’s one of the best centers I’ve played with in my life. He’s so easy to play with,” the defenseman said of Reinhart. “I think it’s great to have that smart center on your team.”
Including Reinhart and Zadorov, the Sabres had a total of 10 first and second-round picks on their Traverse City roster. The talent was there, but they weren’t able to break through.
“I know we have a pretty good team and a lot of talent over there,” Zadorov said. “But I don’t know, we had so many shots today, so many scoring chances and we’ve got to score. Maybe it’s not our tournament.”
What they can do, however, according to Bailey, is take all they can from these experiences.
“Moving forward as a group, I think we’ve learned a lot about each other losing the games that we lost this week,” he said.
ZADOROV BOUNCES BACK
After being benched against the Stars, Zadorov had a lot to prove to Cassidy in the game on Tuesday. Zadorov played some key situations against St. Louis and, like the team, rebounded with an honest effort.
“I liked his game a lot today. He played desperate. He played a team game today,” Cassidy said. “I thought he was much sharper out there today and I thought his teammates could rely on him to play the right way today. That’s going to be a big step for him.”
Zadorov said he felt better on the ice as well.
“I just tried to play hard, just tried to the best for the team to help my team win,” he said.
As for the game against Dallas, Zadorov said all he can do is move on and not dwell on it.
“That wasn’t my day and I can say, ‘Bad things happened,’” he said. “Don’t look back and keep going and play my game.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
One player that impressed Cassidy over the course of the tournament was Ristolainen, Buffalo’s top pick in 2013 (eighth overall). Ristolainen was named the captain of the team in Traverse City and has used his time off the ice to further his development.
Over the course of last season and this summer, the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman has really committed to a healthy diet and exercise. He now checks in at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds (down eight pounds since last year), but he said he’s as lean as ever and his play in the tournament showed that he has already come a long way since he was drafted.
“Rasmus was as good as we could ask him to be. He played big minutes, he played really physical, great leadership,” Cassidy said. “It’s hard to say what guys played really well because we didn’t get the results. I thought a lot of guys played hard, but I thought the leader of that group was definitely Rasmus.”
He wrapped up his Traverse City tournament with a goal and an assist.
Main camp opens up on Thursday with the first on-ice sessions starting at 11 a.m. on Friday. All on-ice practices during training camp are open to the public.