|(Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota treated Thursday night’s game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season and a young Sabres lineup couldn’t keep up.
With a roster consisting of only a handful of veterans, the Sabres dropped a 6-1 contest to the Wild on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota played its regular season starters in its final tune-up of the preseason.
Buffalo falls to 4-2 in preseason play with the loss. Like the Wild did on Thursday, the Sabres will use Friday night’s preseason finale against Columbus as an opportunity to field a lineup close to the one that will play when the regular season opens on Oct. 8.
But despite the difference in the Thursday's lineups, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma was unhappy with his team’s performance after the game.
“There [were] two teams at two different levels,” he said. “We didn’t move our feet and got out-competed at pretty much every turn.”
Tim Schaller scored Buffalo’s only goal in the loss, an unassisted score in the second period off a turnover in front of the Minnesota net. Chad Johnson made 36 saves in net for the Sabres in his final preseason start.
Minnesota controlled the puck for the majority of the game, and it showed in the shot differential. The Sabres only generated three shots on goal in the first period, a period in which the Wild scored three times. On the night, Buffalo was outshot 42-11.
Jason Zucker, Tyler Graovac, Zach Parise, Nino Niederreiter, Zac Dalpe and Thomas Vanek each scored a goal for Minnesota and Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle each tallied two assists. Zucker opened the scoring 5:10 into the game when he tapped in a rebound off of Johnson’s pad.
Graovac and Parise both scored later in the first period, the latter with a power play goal, and Niederreiter beat Johnson to his glove side in the second. Dalpe and Vanek, both former Sabres, each scored in the final three minutes of the game.
The Buffalo players weren’t willing to accept the lineup differential as an excuse for the lopsided loss.
“You’ve just got to play a full 60 minutes,” Schaller said. “Against a good team like this no matter what the lineup is, you can’t take a shift off; you can’t take a period off. We could’ve beat them tonight, even with the lineup we had, we were all working hard but we just got to play the whole 60 minutes.”
JOHNSON HEATS UP
He wasn’t happy with the amount of goals that were scored, but Johnson was strong in net for the Sabres in the second and third periods. Had it not been for some stellar saves in the third, the final score easily could have been more lopsided in favor of Minnesota.
“We forced our goaltender to be great tonight,” Bylsma said. “He stopped [almost] 40 shots and a number of them big ones; it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Johnson stopped two one-timer attempts from the Wild, one with his glove at point-blank range and another with his pad, in the third period. Then, he made a strong stop on a breakaway to cap off his solid stretch.
“Right from the start too I felt pretty into it,” he said. “I mean I’m not happy with letting six goals in, that’s obviously disappointing but I think again like I said in preseason, with rosters and everything you kind of have to take it with a grain of salt and look at the positives.”
KALETA EXITS EARLY
Patrick Kaleta’s preseason debut came to an unfortunate end when he left the game with a lower-body injury early in the first period. Kaleta came into camp hoping to earn an NHL contract after signing an AHL deal to play in Rochester on Sept. 12.
Bylsma said afterward that he was unsure whether or not Kaleta had aggravated the same lower-body injury that had forced him to miss the majority of camp up to this point.
RISTO LOOKING TO REBOUND
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen struggled at the beginning of the game when he opened playing on the left side opposite Chad Ruhwedel. It was the first time Ristolainen had ever played on the left, he said, but he too made no excuses following the loss.
“Everything’s a little different on the left side there but still I’ve got to be better,” he said.
For the second game in a row, Ristolainen played a team-leading 23:34 of ice time and then played the majority of the practice 3-on-3 overtime period afterward.
While Bylsma’s original plan was to play the defenseman on both Thursday and Friday, he said he would reevaluate the situation before determining whether Ristolainen will take the ice against Columbus.
If Ristolainen has any say in the decision, he’ll be out there at First Niagara Center.
“If it’s my choice, oh yeah,” he said. “This one can’t happen anymore and I want to fix it.”
The Sabres will end their preseason at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on MSG with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call or heard on WGR 550.