Rasmus Ristolainen has been a big part of the Buffalo Sabres defense this season and Saturday night against the New York Rangers will mark his 99th career NHL game.
The 20-year-old Finnish defenseman, in his second NHL season, has four goals and 11 points in 63 games this season. Drafted eighth overall in the 2013, Ristolainen has learned a lot in his two pro seasons in North America and is looking to finish the season out strong.
“I think I’ve been going forward in every situation,” he said after Friday’s practice at HARBORCENTER. “I need to get some big steps in the summertime before next year and just try to enjoy these last 15 games.”
He’s also looking to find some more stability and consistency in his game. There were stretches in the middle of the season when Sabres coach Ted Nolan wanted to dial his minutes back a bit and keep him in positions in which he could succeed.
Ristolainen has averaged over 19 minutes per game this year and his ice time lately has increased. He played 25:35 in Washington on Saturday and 24:51 in Toronto on Wednesday.
“There’s been ups and downs for me. For next year and forward, I’m just trying to keep the level the same all the time. Right now it’s been a little up and down too much.”
In the offseason, Ristolainen put a heavy focus on improving his dietary habits and his training regime. He came into camp about 20 pounds lighter this year and said that work has really helped him this season.
He missed a few games back in December due to illness and Nolan thinks he’s bounced back well from that bout – in large part because of how he approaches the game off the ice.
“The one thing about him, he’s very mature for his age,” Nolan said. “He doesn’t get rattled too much. If he makes a mistake – sometimes when you’re younger, you have a tendency to let that bother you for the rest of the period and sometimes the rest of the game. But for him, he seems to shake it off pretty quick.”
THE NEW TOP LINE
Alternate captain Matt Moulson had three points against Toronto as did his linemates Tyler Ennis and Johan Larsson. It hasn’t been the smoothest season for Moulson, who has had four 30-goal seasons in his career. He has just 10 in 64 games this year. However, he’s been working hard to stay positive through it all.
“I don’t think any of us are having the year as a team or personally that we wanted to have at the start of the year. It could be for a lot of different reasons, but you’ve got to find ways to get goals,” he said. “Obviously we haven’t done a good enough job of that personally and as a team. You have to just keep finding ways.”
He hopes that his new line can develop some chemistry and consistency through the final stretch of 15 games. He’d played with Ennis a lot this season, but Wednesday was the first time Larsson had a shot on the top line. Each player ended up with a goal and two assists, factoring in on all three Buffalo goals.
“The situation we’re in and how we’re doing, there’s obviously going to be a lot of mixing of lines and trying to get guys going,” Moulson said. “That’s only natural, but I think you’ve just got to get used to whoever you play with.”
Nolan liked what he saw from the line and how Larsson stepped up to the plate.
“The one thing I really liked about him is he separated a lot of big guys from the puck with his body position,” Nolan said. “He moved his legs offensively as well as defensively. He was gritty. [Maple Leafs captain Dion] Phaneuf, a couple times he got him rattled and being a pain in the rear out there. Those are all the things you have to do to separate yourself.”
26 Matt Moulson – 22 Johan Larsson – 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno – 84 Philip Varone – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 59 Tim Schaller – 19 Cody Hodgson
49 Jerry D’Amigo – 37 Matt Ellis – 20 Zac Dalpe
6 Mike Weber – 61 Andre Benoit – 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Andrej Meszaros – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
51 Nikita Zadorov – 24 Tyson Strachan
35 Anders Lindback
31 Matt Hackett