Over the last week, Rasmus Dahlin has morphed into a dynamic defenseman again, shaking off three dreadful months to help ignite the Buffalo Sabres.
Dahlin, 20, enjoyed his best night this trying season in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils inside Prudential Center. After tying the game in the second period, he corralled a bouncing puck inside the blue line and deftly created center Casey Mittelstadt’s game-winning power-play goal 10:20 into the third.
“We don’t win that game without him rising to the level he can rise to,” interim coach Don Granato said on a Zoom call following the Sabres’ second straight win. “He made a couple of big plays to tip that game back our way and that’s what you hope for out of guys with his talent. Special player, fun to watch and very engaged right now.”
Dahlin, the first overall pick in 2018, clearly lost his confidence under former coach Ralph Krueger. His wretched minus-34 rating still ranks last in the NHL.
The slick Swede possesses the talent to control a game when he carries the puck, yet he never seemed to have it earlier this season.
These days, Dahlin has Granato’s blessing to do what he wants with the puck.
“I’ve spoken about Rasmus Dahlin quite a bit in the last week with that as the focus, giving him the green light for lack of a better way to say it to go,” Granato said. “And he’s been great.”
Dahlin’s newfound confidence was evident on Mittelstadt’s goal. He was just inside the blue line with Travis Zajac approaching him as the puck bounced.
If Dahlin couldn’t keep it, Zajac would’ve had a short-handed breakaway.
“That is a key play, key moment that could swing either way,” Granato said.
But Dahlin kept the puck, skated around a defender and shot the puck from the right circle. Mittelstadt simply redirected it past Devils goalie Scott Wedgewood.
“I grabbed it and I saw Mittsy’s stick there in front of the net so I was just shooting at his blade,” Dahlin said.
Mittelstadt, who has compiled three goals and five points during a four-game point streak, said he “didn’t have to do much.”
“He makes it look so easy,” Mittelstadt said of Dahlin. “But I don’t think people at home know how hard of a play that is and then to get your head up and find me in front.”
Granato said that play “is exactly why we need him playing with confidence.”
“When you’re not confident, you second guess the bounce of that puck, you hesitate and then it’s the breakaway the other way,” he said. “When you’re in the zone, you react on instincts and his instincts are incredible.”
Dahlin also scored by pinching in from the point, another sign of his growing confidence. Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour and winger Rasmus Asplund also beat Wedgewood before defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s empty-net goal sealed it.
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark made 27 saves. Mittelstadt assisted on Asplund’s goal.
The Sabres have a five-game point streak (3-0-2) and have won two straight contests for the first time since Jan. 24-26.
“It’s such a great feeling,” Dahlin said of the Sabres’ recent success. “You see the guys are smiling on the bench and we’re playing. People do mistakes and we’re good to just keep going and not care about them. Everyone has confidence and everyone wants to play with the puck now.”