BUFFALO – For years, Sabres coaches have said they want to trim Rasmus Ristolainen’s ice time. For years, the workhorse Finnish defenseman has kept skating big minutes.
Of course, those coaches – first Dan Bylsma and now Phil Housley – haven’t had many options beyond Ristolainen. Bad teams usually don’t possess much defense depth.
An injury or a struggling defenseman means the Sabres must lean on Ristolainen, 23, even more.
Thanks to Jake McCabe’s early departure from Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Anaheim, Ristolainen played a season-high 32 minutes, 39 seconds on a night he was struggling.
“He’s going to get about 25 minutes, depending on what type of game it is,” Housley said this morning. “I feel that if we can keep him around 24 or 25, that’s where he’s at his best.”
After that mark, Housley said, Ristolainen’s play begins to dip.
“It just seems like his process is slow, his passes are slow, he’s slow to react,” Housley said. “So we’re going to try to keep him at a good number. But obviously, where we are, the players we’re missing on defense, it’s hard, but we’re going to try to spread those guys around.”
Ristolainen hasn’t averaged below 25 minutes an outing since 2014-15. The five-year veteran has averaged 26:28 – his exact number as last season – through 44 appearances this season. So far, he has only skated below 25 minutes nine times.
Housley will move Ristolainen beside Nathan Beaulieu for tonight’s tilt against the New York Islanders inside KeyBank Center. Marco Scandella, his regular partner, will play with Casey Nelson.
Ristolainen’s errant pass in overtime Tuesday helped sink the Sabres.
“He understands he hasn’t played well since the All-Star break,” Housley said. “He puts enough pressure on himself. I have no problem with the way he’s been competing down low and battling. I think just the execution on passes, getting shots to the net has to be better.”