Casey Mittelstadt scored Saturday. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres finally winning again, playing confidently: ‘It’s all come together’

BUFFALO – In barely a week, the Sabres have transformed from the NHL’s laughingstock into a team that plays a fast, active brand of hockey.

Right now, they’re creating offense, limiting chances against and – believe it or not – are pretty exciting to watch. They look nothing like the hapless team that just endured an embarrassing 18-game winless streak.

Interim coach Don Granato has the Sabres playing to their strengths and feeling confident. After Saturday’s come-from-behind, 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers, they’re on a four-game point streak (2-0-2).

“The last few games it’s all come together and we’re playing a lot better,” center Casey Mittelstadt said on a Zoom call. “You can feel it on the bench, just the belief and the battle out of everyone.”

For the second straight game, the Sabres scored late to force overtime inside KeyBank Center. Winger Victor Olofsson tied it with 3:41 left in regulation, one-timing linemate Kyle Okposo’s pass high in the slot.

Then winger Tage Thompson, who tied Thursday’s game with 3.6 seconds left, scored the shootout’s only goal.

Goalie Linus Ullmark’s shootout stop on Kaapo Kakko secured only the Sabres’ eighth win this season. Ullmark’s .868 career shootout save percentage ranks first all-time among goalies who have participated in at least 10 shootouts.

On Saturday, after Artemi Panarin scored twice in regulation, Ullmark stoned him in the shootout, holding still as the Rangers superstar tried to bait him into moving.

“He’s probably one of the best goalies in the world,” Olofsson said. “He’s so patient. It’s really hard to kind of go around him. … You saw a couple of those today. He’s just so patient. It’s really hard to figure him out. We feel really confident with him in the penalty shots, for sure.”

Ullmark’s presence, of course, has helped revitalize the Sabres. They received wonky goaltending during his long absence recovering from a lower-body injury.

His presence surely instills confidence in his teammates. But the Sabres have quickly developed a belief they can win because they’re playing the right way.

When the Sabres trailed 2-1 after two periods, Granato said he “wasn’t concerned about our guys’ psychologically at all.”

“I was concerned about the score and being down to the degree that you can be concerned about that,” he said. “But I felt our guys were executing what they should be executing.”

The Sabres have been finally started blocking out adversity and focusing on their next challenge.

“They were immersed in the moment,” Granato said. “They weren’t riding the emotions that you could ride with what transpired through two periods. They really knew they were playing well and they knew they could elevate.

“So all I mentioned to them was, ‘You’ve got another level, you know it, and let’s find it and let’s enjoy it. Let’s embrace this. This is fun.’”

The Sabres might finally be having some fun for the first time this season.

How have they started creating offense and playing defense?

“It’s a mix of a couple things,” said Mittelstadt, whose first-period goal tied the game at 1. “We’re a little bit more patient coming out of our zone and coming up the ice. We’re willing to come back and regroup and just find the open man. Our D have done a great job jumping up on the weak side. That always opens things up for the forwards. I think a mix of that and we’re just going back hard through the middle.

“I think if you make a mistake, put your head down, take three hard strides back and you should be right back in it. Just cover the middle of the ice, keep shots to the outside, keep it consistent for the goalies has made a big difference.”

Mittelstadt said the Sabres are “a fast team, especially when we get the puck moving north.”

“We’ve just done such a good job making little plays, leaving the puck for the next in a better place,” he said. “Simple things that changed. Obviously, there’s things we can build on and still get better at, so I think that’s the exciting part of it.”

3 thoughts on “Sabres finally winning again, playing confidently: ‘It’s all come together’”

  1. The Sabres are playing hockey again. They won’t win every game. But I think they have turned the corner. What is impressive right now is the group of players that is doing it. The Sabres are a bunch of no names, a group thrown together by Covid, injuries and other circumstance, young guys that in a normal season might not even be together, many would be in the AHL Now they are learning how to win, and stick to a game plan for 3 periods. Right now Don Granato and his assistants look like a geniuses. I said I couldn’t watch the Sabres anymore, but right now this is better than sweet. Dahlin, Mittelstadt, Okposo, Tage Thompson, so many who struggled in the NHL are playing like fans have hoped for years to see. If the team can keep this together, it’s more valuable than any playoff berth in a truly surreal and chaotic season, the strangest season the NHL has ever experienced in modern times. There’s still a ways to go, but there’s hope. It’s starting to be fun again. GO SABRES!

  2. Yes this is nice. Especially to see the younger players playing with a lot of heart. I’d like to see the team get rid of hall(a non performer) and even Eichel. That guy needs to go. He should not even be the captain of the team. Nothing but a baby since he’s been in Buffalo. Get players with a lot of heart and grit that want to play!! Just my little rant. Been a fan for over 50 years.

  3. It is good that they are playing well but this is a lost season at this point. All of the cliches about “..it coming together..” and “…being disciplined…” yadda yadda ring hollow and are too little too late. They should test drive the players they want to keep and plan for next year. Hopefully, they will get a real coach who could really do the job.

    I have been a die hard Sabres fan since 1970 and have stood with them through thick and thin. However, this team, and the current owners have just broken my heart and I can no longer support them.

    The only constant to this decade long debacle are the owners. I once thought that there could be no worse an owner than Dan Snyder of the Washington Football Team (no, I will never be WFT fan).

    However, the Pegulas have demonstrated a level of incompetency and blatant disregard for the people of Buffalo. They should do the city a favor and sell the team to somebody who is actually able to run it.

    It is painful to say this but it will be a very long time before I can support this franchise.

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