Success on the power play was a hallmark of the Buffalo Sabres' win in Ottawa on Tuesday night, with three of their five goals having come with the extra man. Buffalo had entered the contest already ranked 11th in the League at 20 percent on the power play, yet their performance against the Senators gave reason for even more optimism moving forward.
For the first time this season, the Sabres were able to utilize their complete top unit of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen. It took a mere seven seconds into their first power play of the night for Eichel to feed Okposo for a goal, which set the tone for how they'd perform the rest of the night.
"From bringing the puck up the ice, the plays we made, the execution on the entries on the power play was at another level for us and in zone as well," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "If you want to watch the three power-play goals, you're' going to see another level of execution moving the puck from Rasmus to Ryan to Kyle to Jack."
Video: Sabres in :90 (11/30/16)
Reinhart said after the game on Tuesday that he thought Ristolainen moved the puck on the power play as well as he had all season, and Ristolainen finished the game with two assists to show for it. It marked his first multi-point outing since a three-assist performance in Edmonton on Oct. 16.
Eichel was involved on both of Ristolainen's assists. Ristolainen fed Eichel coming off of a faceoff on their first power play, which led to Eichel's pass across to set up Okposo for a goal. On the second power play, Ristolainen drew the attention of the penalty kill before passing to O'Reilly at the point, who in turn fed Eichel for a one-time goal.
"He's a world-class player," Ristolainen said of Eichel. "He can make things happen and that's what he showed last night. On the power play last night, I tried to get the puck to him. He wants the puck, he's good with the puck and like I said he can be the difference maker."
Still, success isn't given, and Ristolainen was sure to point out Buffalo's power play in the second period as an example of why they must continue to make the right decisions with the puck. On that power play, the Sabres struggled to gain offensive zone time and the top unit didn't put a shot on net. They rebounded with another goal from O'Reilly late in the third period.
"We've got to remember that we've got to keep it simple," Ristolainen said. "That power play in the second period, that was awful. We need to keep it simple, that's how we make things happen and that's how we score."
A new D-pair
Off of the power play, Ristolainen played on a pair with Jake McCabe for the first time this season on Tuesday after previously being paired with Josh Gorges. Bylsma said he was particularly pleased with Ristolainen's ability to breakout the puck and like him and McCabe as a pair overall.
"I can play with whoever the coaches want me to play with, all the [defensemen] are great and it's easy to play with anyone," Ristolainen said. "Jake is kind of similar to how I am, a two-way D-man that's good with the puck. We had some good shifts there. Still, there's a lot of work to do."
The Sabres won't have much time for Ristolainen and McCabe to grow accustomed to each other. They host the League's highest-scoring offense in the New York Rangers on Thursday.
"We don't have the luxury of time," Bylsma said. "We've got the Rangers coming down the pike and they're gonna have a big task in front of them."
Lehner remains day-to-day
Robin Lehner is still day-to-day with the hip injury that forced him to exit the game in the first period on Tuesday. Bylsma said that Lehner sustained the injury on the only goal he allowed to Mike Hoffman in the first period.
"I don't have any further update other than what we gave last night, it's hip and it's day-to-day," Bylsma said. "He's lobbying to back up tomorrow but he's going to see how it is in the morning."
Bylsma did not rule out a call-up from Rochester to serve as the backup to Anders Nilsson against the Rangers.