Casey Mittelstadt leads Buffalo in points. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Slick assist helps Sabres’ leading scorer Casey Mittelstadt emerge from slump

BUFFALO – Early in Thursday’s overtime, Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt grabbed defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s pass and immediately pivoted toward the net.

For a second, it appeared Mittelstadt could shoot from the right circle. But he was intent on dishing the puck during the four-on-three power play.

In the past, Mittelstadt explained, he might’ve tried to force a pass to center Tage Thompson, whose one-timer from the circle can be lethal. He looked in that direction – “I was trying to sell it,” he said – but knew Dahlin was battling his way to the net.

When Mittelstadt spotted winger Jordan Greenway in front screening goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, he deftly fed Dahlin, who one-timed the puck at 1:42 to clinch the Sabres’ 3-2 road victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“He was waiting, waiting, waiting until I got to my spot,” Dahlin said prior to Saturday’s 7-2 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in KeyBank Center.

In helping secure the Sabres’ 16th road win, Mittelstadt, 25, ended a season-long five-game point drought and showcased what can make him such a dynamic presence.

“Confidence, poise, manipulated some pretty good hockey players in a … pretty challenging atmosphere,” Sabres coach Don Granato said of the nifty assist. “So lots of maturity and skill combination – skill and then awareness of time and space. …

“Lots of guys have skill, but they don’t have the poise and presence to wait until Dahls is in the optimal spot and take advantage of the fact that Greenway had taken away Vasilevskiy’s eyes.”

Mittelstadt deflected credit for the goal to Dahlin.

“Ras did a heck of a job driving through there and just ended up being open,” he said. “So didn’t seem like too hard of a play for me.”

As Thursday’s slick assist illustrates, Mittelstadt has knack for making difficult plays look easy. He has emerged as the Sabres’ leading scorer this season, compiling 14 goals and 47 points in 62 games.

Over the last year – from March 4, 2023 through Sunday – he has compiled 49 assists 68 points in 84 games, offensive totals that ranked 29th and 53rd, respectively, in the NHL entering Monday’s games and first among Sabres. His 57 even-strength points during that stretch ranked 19th overall.

In recent weeks, he has endured his first slump since the middle of last season. He had just two points – one goal and one assist – in his previous 10 outings before Thursday’s overtime assist. On Saturday, he scored a power-play goal and assisted on captain Kyle Okposo’s goal before going pointless in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

“When you kind of have moments when you’re feeling it, I think I’ve realized it comes and goes to a degree,” said Mittelstadt, who was recently moved to a line between Okposo and Jeff Skinner. “Obviously, it’s more so what are you gonna do when it’s gone? Even for the past couple weeks, I think, personally, I’ve created a ton of chances, I’ve had a ton of chances.”

Granato traces Mittelstadt’s consistency to being “more mature.”

“He’s got more hindsight and more experience going into this season as a resource to use,” he said. “I think it’s nothing more than that. He’s always been competitive, he’s always worked, he’s always had those character traits.”

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