5 Questions With Rich Spalding of Sabre Noise
Several young players around the league have been emerging this year, including forward Sam Reinhart. Talk about his progression and what he means to the Sabres’ future.
RS: Reinhart had an absolutely forgettable start to his 2016-17 campaign: just 2 goals and 4 assists in his first 15 games, this coming after his 23-19-42 rookie season. Fans who were hoping Samson would step up in Jack Eichel’s absence were sorely disappointed, but it remains to be seen whether Reinhart can ever be a go-to guy.
Having said that, Eichel’s return, coupled with the Sabres’ decision to slide Reinhart from right wing back to center, has sparked a resurgence in his game. With 23 points, Reinhart is now third on the team in scoring. He may not be as flashy as Eichel, but the Sabres absolutely need him to become a 60+ points-per-season player if they ever want to become a playoff team.
Evander Kane has been in the NHL spotlight, unfortunately, for off-ice issues. Blackhawks fans went through something similar with Patrick Kane. Talk about how Evander Kane has managed the attention and how it has affected his game.
RS: Evander Kane did nothing to endear himself to Sabres fans for the first two months of the 2016-17 season. Of course, the fact that he broke a few ribs on opening night cost him a few games and kept him from getting into a rhythm early, but after his latest off-ice stunt there were not many Buffalo fans who were feeling too sympathetic for Kane, who managed only 4 points (all assists) in his first 12 games this season.
Ever since Kane found the back of the net on December 3, though, he has been one of the Sabres’ best players, amassing 9 goals in Buffalo’s last 14 games. In a way, that early-season injury could have saved Kane’s career in Buffalo; without an injury to blame, his 13-game goal-less drought to open the season would have had an already fed-up Sabres faithful screaming for his head.
For now, he is only making news when he makes plays on the ice, which is exactly what Buffalo fans had hoped from him back in 2015-16.
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The Sabres have had some nice wins this year against the Penguins, Rangers and Wild. Could this be a trap game for the Blackhawks?
RS: It’s easy to look past the Sabres if you are the Blackhawks, but with 8 losses in OT (the most in the NHL) and 11 of their 23 total losses decided by just one goal, the Sabres are one of those teams whose position in the standings could look a whole lot different if just a few pucks had bounced differently.
I don’t know if I would call a nationally-televised game a trap game, especially when the Blackhawks are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games — that might be giving the Sabres a bit too much credit — but the Blackhawks could wind up with a fight on their hands late in the third period if they don’t assert their will early and often.
Rasmus Ristolainen is currently tied for the team lead in points with 25. He played all 82 games and was fourth in scoring last year. Do you see him being one of the future leaders of the Sabres if he sustains this type of scoring?
RS: Advanced statistics seem to hate him, but somehow Rasmus Ristolainen continues to generate points for the Buffalo Sabres! His 25 points are tied with 3 other defensemen for 5th-best among all NHL blueliners, and just one point behind Duncan Keith, but you wouldn’t know it because he plays for a garbage team and doesn’t have as cool a nickname as Shayne Gostisbehere.
Risto is just as important to Buffalo’s chances of becoming a playoff team as Eichel and Reinhart are, and I expect him to be wearing an “A” as early as next season.
How does Jack Eichel match up with the Blackhawks’ centers?
RS: Eichel treated reporters to a rare display of emotion in the locker room following his team’s disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins this past Saturday. He responded with a powerplay goal in Buffalo’s convincing 4-1 win in Madison Square Garden, giving him 5 points in his last 4 games.
Eichel has a tendency to be lazy in the neutral zone, and often tries to do a bit too much when he feels his teammates are not getting work done, but this is as pissed off and focused as he has ever been in his young career. Eichel is beginning to embrace the leadership role that a player of his talent should exert, so he should be a handful for whomever is lucky enough to be tasked with the job of shutting him down.
Richard Spalding’s prediction
My pick? Blackhawks take the Sabres 4-2, but it might require an empty-netter in order to finish a highly-motivated Sabres squad off!